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  • Will the Shale Gas Revolution Solve Argentina’s Economic Woes?

    September 19, 2014

    by Greg Mendoza

    As the shale gas revolution sweeps across Latin America, many governments are beginning to see the industry—and the significant influx of foreign investment—as a quick stimulus to their sluggish economies. Argentina is no exception—with an estimated 16.2 billion barrels of shale oil and 308 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of shale gas in the Vaca Muerta shale formation, the government aims to capitalize on their newfound resource wealth.

    Although foreign investment may help Argentina’s fiscal woes in the short term, it is by no means a panacea for the country’s economic problems, and could in fact encourage poor financial practices.

    Efforts by the Fernández de Kirchner administration to attract foreign investment have begun to bear fruit, with various international oil companies and investment firms increasing their stake in Vaca Muerta projects. Argentina’s national oil company, Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (Treasury Petroleum Fields—YPF), has also made a series of joint ventures with oil companies that will provide the state-owned energy company with much-needed cash and technical expertise to develop unconventional energy projects.

    In addition to an infusion of financial capital, both YPF and international oil companies have been lobbying the Argentine government to create a more favorable legal framework for investors interested in shale oil and natural gas projects. The administration has undertaken efforts to rewrite the 1967 hydrocarbons law, which would simplify taxes, royalties, and licenses and effectively reaffirm Buenos Aires’ control over natural resources. Such a law would be a direct rebuke of the 1994 constitutional amendment that recognized subsoil hydrocarbon resources as property of the provinces where they are located.

    Read More

    Tags: Shale Gas, Argentina, Vaca Muerta

  • Chile Detains Three in Connection to Santiago Metro Bombing

    September 19, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Chilean police arrested three people early yesterday morning in connection to a bomb attack carried out in a Santiago metro station last week. In a statement made after the arrest, Southern Metropolitan Regional Attorney Raúl Guzmán, who is leading the prosecution, said, “We hope that they will be sentenced for these extremely serious acts.” The attack injured 14 and elicited a strong response from the Chilean government, which declared the bombing a “terrorist act” and vowed to charge suspects under the country’s Anti-Terrorist Law.

    Guzmán has claimed that authorities have scientific evidence linking the suspects to the bombing. Nevertheless, the authorities have not ruled out that more people may have been involved in the attacks. “We are carrying out an investigation and will follow all leads in order to determine whether there are others who are responsible for these acts,” Guzmán said.

    Authorities have not released the suspects’ identities. However, Interior and Security Minister Rodrigo Peñailillo indicated that two men and a woman had been detained. According to Attorney General Sabas Chahuán, they are members of an “enclosed anarchist cell.” Only one of the suspects is believed to have carried out the attack, while the other two are being held as accomplices.  The government alleges that the suspects are also connected to another Santiago subway bombing carried out in July. That attack did not cause any injuries.

    The Chilean branch of a Greece-based anarchist organization known as Synomosía Pyrínon Tis Fotiás (Conspiracy of Cells of Fire or Conspiración de células del fuego—CCF) has allegedly claimed responsibility for both the July and September bombings. In a statement published online, the group attempted to deflect responsibility for the attack’s casualties onto the police, claiming that the group alerted authorities about the bomb ten minutes before it detonated. The communiqué goes on to state that the CCF did not intend to injure “consumers and/or workers” but rather sought to target “power’s structures, property, and thugs.”

    Tags: Chile, Terrorism, bombazo

  • Colombia Senate Debates Uribe Paramilitary Links

    September 18, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Colombian lawmakers accused former President Álvaro Uribe of links to right-wing paramilitary groups during a polemic Senate debate on Wednesday. Senator Ivan Cepeda led the questioning of Uribe during a 90-minute presentation in which he introduced documents supporting the former president’s alleged ties to paramilitary groups and drug cartels, including the Medellin Cartel financier Luis Carlos Molina Yepes. Cepeda also played an audio clip allegedly of Uribe congratulating Salvatore Mancuso—then-second in command of the paramilitary group Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia—AUC)—on successfully defeating guerrilla groups in the Córdoba department.

    “Colombia is at a crossroads between perpetuating war, hate and violence or opening the difficult path to reconciliation and peace. Knowing the truth is key for the political process our country is undergoing,” said Cepeda. Uribe, who served as president from 2002 to 2010, was reelected to the Senate in 2014, has long been accused of associations with paramilitary groups, but rebuffed Cepeda’s accusations and eventually left the room in protest. The former president in turn accused Cepeda of “inciting violence” and Senator Jimmy Chamorro of dealing with drug traffickers.

    Colombian newspapers live streamed the debate, which was also broadcast on live television. Tweets with hashtags like #DebateParamilitarismo #EstoyConUribe, #UribeCobarde and #SeRetiraComoUribe flooded Twitter throughout the presentations. The debate comes in the midst of President Juan Manuel Santos’ administration’s ongoing peace talks with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC), taking place in Havana, Cuba.

    Stay tuned for Americas Quarterly’s upcoming Fall 2014 issue, which will take in in-depth look at the current peace talks and ongoing conflict between the Colombian government and paramilitary groups.

    Tags: President Alvaro Uribe, Paramilitary Groups, Ivan Cepeda

  • Latin America on Track to Meet Millennium Development Goal

    September 17, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Latin America has set a record in the developing world for reducing food insecurity, achieving a 9 percent drop in hunger in the last 24 years. The UN announced on Tuesday that hunger in the region fell from 14 percent of the population in 1990 to 5 percent in 2014. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) specifically commended Bolivia and Brazil for their hunger reduction programs, citing them as examples for other countries.

    Brazil, in particular, celebrated being removed from the World Hunger Map as a result of increased spending on food security and social programs. The federal government increased social spending by 128 percent between 2000 and 2012, leading to a more than 80 percent decrease in the number of undernourished Brazilians. The Fome Cero (Zero Hunger) program has also led to poverty reduction, with poverty dropping from 24.3 percent to 8.4 percent between 2001 and 2012, and extreme poverty falling from 14 percent to 3.5 percent in the same period.

    In the Andean region, the FAO labeled Bolivia and Ecuador exceptional cases for their investment in social programs that specifically target typically marginalized communities, such as the large Indigenous populations in both countries. By instituting programs across various sectors, Bolivia was able to reduce extreme poverty by 17.2 percent, and reduce overall poverty by 7.4 percent between 1994 and 2008.

    While other development challenges such as crime and low economic growth exist, Latin America is on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal of halving the percentage of people living in extreme poverty by 2015.

     

    Tags: Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, MDG

  • Argentine Doctors Tried for Involvement in Dictatorship

    September 16, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Three Argentine medical professionals that participated in the clandestine delivery of babies born to female prisoners during the military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983 will be prosecuted for the first time this week. Doctors Norberto Bianco and Raúl Martín, obstetrician Luisa Arroche, as well as former dictator Reynaldo Bignone and retired military general Santiago Riveros will be tried by the Oral Federal Court No. 6 On Wednesday for their role in kidnapping nine babies that were allegedly delivered in the secret maternity ward of the Campo de Mayo Military Hospital between 1976 and 1978.

    During the dictatorship, at least 17 pregnant dissident women were abducted and brought to the military hospital where births were often induced by cesarean section. The babies would then be taken from their mothers and adopted by families that supported the dictatorship, including police and military officers. Prior to this week’s trial, the court had concluded that the kidnapping of babies was a systematic terror tactic used by the military government. Thus far, five of the kidnapping victims were able to discover their true identities.

    On Sunday, human rights lawyer Víctor Abramovich voiced his concern over delays in prosecuting crimes against humanity that took place during the dictatorship, accusing “certain sectors of the judiciary” and defense lawyers of blocking investigations in order to postpone trials for older defendants.

    Over 30,000 citizens are estimated to have been disappeared or killed over the course of the dictatorship. In a 2012 trial, Reynaldo Bignone and Argentine dictator Jorge Videla were sentenced to 15 and 50 years in prison, respectively—though Videla died the following year—and nine others were also convicted for their role in kidnapping an estimated 500 children. Last May, the Attorney General Alejandra Magdalena Gils Carbó noted that there were 74 repressors that had been charged with crimes against humanity and were currently on the run.

    Tags: Military Dictatorship, Jorge Videla, Argentina human rights

  • Rape Another Threat on Migrant Women's Journey North

    September 16, 2014

    by Erin Siegal McIntyre

    For the majority of Central American women and girls crossing Mexico en route to the U.S., rape is another step along the path to the American dream.

    Exact statistics don't exist. Previously, nonprofits including Amnesty International estimated that, in 2010, roughly 60 percent of migrant women and girls were sexually assaulted in Mexico, based on interviews with migrant shelter directors and other experts.

    Yet in late August, as I reported on migration along the western Mexico-Guatemala border, various sources said the number is likely higher—closer to 80 percent.

    Central American women migrants share their stories in the video below.


    “I think almost all of the women are abused on the way north,” lawyer Elvira Gordillo said. Gordillo works in private practice, and specializes in helping trafficked migrant women leave prostitution. “[These migrants] know the price to pay for getting to the United States. The price is being sexually violated.”

    Sex crime statistics are nearly impossible to obtain due to various impediments in crime reporting. Most migrant women and girls don’t have permission to be in Mexico, meaning that reporting rape or assault to Mexican authorities carries a real risk of apprehension and deportation to their countries of origin.

    Worse, authorities themselves can sometimes be the perpetrators.

    Read More

    Tags: Mexico, Central American migrants, Human Rights

  • Stakes Involved in The Scottish Choice

    September 15, 2014

    by John Parisella

    With only a few days left for Scottish voters to decide about their future in or out of the United Kingdom, the international media hype around Scotland’s September 18 referendum on independence has intensified.  The fact that the “yes” side—supporting Scotland’s independence from the U.K.—has narrowed the gap with the “no” side in recent polls only adds to the drama.

    The rather complacent British political and economic establishment is now showing serious concern about the potential of a “yes” victory.  On the other hand, pro-independence movements outside the U.K. appear enthused at the prospect of a “yes” victory on September 18.  Just recently, Catalans in Barcelona took to the streets over their own referendum on independence, scheduled for November 9.

    In Québec, pro-independence emissaries from the Parti Québécois (PQ) and Bloc Québécois (BQ) have gone to Scotland in the closing days of the campaign, and are salivating at the possibility that the 307-year union between Britain and Scotland could come to an end.  Will a “yes” vote have direct repercussions for the independence movement in Québec?  What are the overall implications if the “yes” side wins in Scotland?

    Read More

    Tags: Scottish Independence, Quebec, Referendum

  • Monday Memo: Venezuela in the UN - Brazilian Stalemate - U.S. Deportation - Santander - Ecuadorian protests

    September 15, 2014

    by AQ Online

    This week’s likely top stories: Venezuela is expected to win a seat on the UN Security Council; Brazilian President Rousseff and Marina Silva are tied in a new poll; U.S. deportations are at their lowest level since 2007; Santander’s new chairwoman will maintain the bank's current strategy; Ecuadorian President Correa asks supporters to mobilize against anticipated protests.

    Venezuela likely to earn seat on UN Security Council despite critics: As the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly opens in New York this week, Venezuela is poised to gain a long-awaited seat on the UN Security Council. At a meeting in July, Venezuela obtained unanimous regional support for its candidacy to represent Latin America. While the country still has to gain a two-thirds majority in a secret vote among all 193 UN member countries, there is no rival candidate in the region and Venezuela is likely to win. Critics of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro are concerned about his impact on the Security Council, given the current human rights allegations against his administration. When Venezuela tried to gain a seat in 2006, the U.S. successfully blocked the attempt, claiming that Venezuela would be a “disruptive” influence. U.S. President Barack Obama will preside over a UN Security Council summit the week of September 22.

    President Rousseff and Marina Silva tied in recent poll: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her chief political challenger, Marina Silva, are now statistically tied in the polls as Brazil’s October 5 presidential elections approach, according to a poll released Friday by the Instituto Brasileiro de Opinião Pública e Estatística (Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics—Ibope). The poll indicates that in a run-off vote, Silva would receive 43 percent of the vote while Rousseff would take 42 percent—a much closer race than the previous nine-point gap that put Silva in the lead. In the likely event that no single candidate wins a majority of votes on October 5, a run-off election will take place on October 26.

    U.S. Deportations at lowest level since 2007: U.S. immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials reported that ICE deported 258,608 immigrants between October 1, 2013 and July 28, 2014—the lowest level reported for that 10-month period since 2007, and the greatest decline in deportations since President Barack Obama has been in office. Last year, 320,167 people were deported from the United States during the same period. More than 2 million immigrants have been deported during the Obama administration, but a White House spokesman said that the president’s decision to shift resources to the border to deal with an influx of unaccompanied minors from Central America may be one reason for the recent decline in deportations.

    Santander’s new chairwoman says bank will stick to strategy: After the death of former Santander chairman Emilio Botín, newly-appointed chairwoman Ana Botín said on Monday that she would continue her late father’s strategy to increase international diversification and maintain the bank’s generous dividend policy with shareholders. On Monday, shareholders also agreed to buy 25 percent of the bank’s Brazilian unit, Santander Brasil, for $6 billion. The bank has major operations in ten countries, including Brazil, Mexico and Argentina, and reported a 22 percent increase in profits in the first half of 2014.

    Correa calls on supporters for impending protests: Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa on Saturday asked supporters to rally against expected workers’ protests against his government this coming week. Ecuadorian workers’ organizations are planning a Jornada Nacional de Movilización (National Mobilization) on Wednesday to mobilize for labor rights and to call for reforms to the country’s penal code, water policies, and education system, among other concerns. “If there are 3,000 of them on Wednesday, there will be 30,000 of us,” Correa said.

    Tags: Brazil elections 2014, UN Security Council, President Maduro, President Correa

  • Shaken by Bombing, Chile Commemorates 1973 Coup

    September 12, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Just days after a bomb exploded in a Santiago metro station, Chile commemorated what is perhaps the most divisive event in the country’s modern history—the September 11, 1973 military coup that interrupted Chile’s democracy, and ushered in the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

    In a speech at the presidential palace, La Moneda, on Thursday, President Michelle Bachelet linked the two events, saying that “there is no room for violence and fear” in Chile. Calling democracy the country’s “most precious asset,” Bachelet went on to declare that “we will not allow the culture of respect, of rights and of peace that we are celebrating today, which belongs to all of us, to be trampled, abused or scorned by anyone.”

    The day, however, was marked by violence and signs of general unease. According to local reports, confrontations between security forces and protesters left 10 police injured and led to the arrest of at least 30 individuals. Police sources also reported receiving 35 false bomb alerts over the course of day. It is unclear who is responsible for the false alerts, or whether they are related to Monday’s bombing. Authorities are still investigating Monday’s attack, though government officials have blamed “terrorists.”

    The government also announced yesterday that it intends to repeal the country’s 1978 Amnesty Decree Law. The law covers the period from 1973-1978, and critics say that it shields members of the Pinochet regime accused of human rights abuses from prosecution. The effort to repeal the law was announced by Justice Minister José Antonio Gómez. In an unrelated event, a national legislator, Rosauro Martínez, was arrested in connection to the death of three Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (Movement of the Revolutionary Left—MIR) activists in 1981.

    Tags: Chile, 11 de septiembre, Michelle Bachelet

  • Argentina Passes Debt Restructuring Bill

    September 11, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Early this morning, the lower house of the Argentine Congress passed a bill that will allow for the restructuring of its sovereign debt. After entering into session Wednesday afternoon, members passed the law Thursday morning with a vote of 134 to 99, just over the 129 votes needed for its approval.

    The vote comes after the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a new resolution on Tuesday in favor of protecting countries ability to restructure sovereign debt, with 124 countries in favor, 11 against and 41 abstained. The United States was one of the few countries that voted against the measure.

    Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman expressed his approval of the UN result. “The time has come to give a legal framework to the financial system for restructuring sovereign debt that respects the majority of creditors and which allows countries to come out of crises in a sustainable manner,” he said.

    After entering into selective default on its debt on July 30, the new law will help Argentina pay back its creditors before its new September 30 payment deadline by allowing the payment site to be moved from New York to either Buenos Aires or Paris. However, New York District Judge Thomas Griesa—who froze $539 million in Argentine deposits in the Bank of New York Mellon and ordered the country to repay hedge funds in full before paying back creditors—has declared the law illegal and threatened to take legal actions against it.

    Not everyone in Argentina is in favor of the new bill though. Alfonso Prat Gay, former president of the Central Bank of Argentina, stated that “the fight with the holdouts will be tremendously negative for the country’s future.”

    U.S. Deputy Representative to the UN Economic and Social Council Terri Robl also expressed his concerns about the consequences of the new bill. “If lenders face higher uncertainty regarding repayment they may be less likely to provide financing and will likely charger higher risk premiums, potentially stifling financing to developing countries,” he said.

    Argentina has defaulted twice in the past 13 years and has been involved in ongoing repayment battles with Judge Griesa and billionaire Paul Singer’s hedge fund, NML Capital.

    Tags: Argentina Debt Default, Hector Timerman, Thomas Griesa

  • Arrest of Director of Prisons Helps Take Down Extortion Ring

    September 10, 2014

    by Nic Wirtz

    Guatemala’s Director of Prisons, Edgar Camargo, was arrested on Wednesday, September 3, helping to bring down an alleged extortion group that raked in millions of dollars, property and luxury cars.

    Also charged were the former deputy director of prisons, Edy Fischer, and Byron Lima Oliva, the purported mastermind of the operation, who was serving time at Pavoncito prison for his role in the 1998 assassination of Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi.

    More than 800 policemen descended on Pavoncito last Wednesday, in one of 15 coordinated nationwide prison raids.  Lima Oliva was transferred to Brigada Militar Mariscal Zavala, a maximum security military prison. Camargo later joined him there, after receiving treatment for hypertension at a private hospital in Guatemala City.

    Camargo was named director of prisons in February 2013, after the dismissal of José Luis González Pérez.  González Pérez left office after Lima Oliva was found in a convoy of cars last year, celebrating with various jail officials and women after being allowed out for dental treatment.

    Appearing in front of Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez, a judge in Guatemala’s Corte de Mayor Riesgo (High Risk Court), Camargo appeared unconcerned about the allegations.  "He who owes nothing fears nothing," he said.

    Read More

    Tags: Guatemala, CICIG, Byron Lima Oliva

  • Poll Shows Likely Tie in Brazilian Runoff

    September 10, 2014

    by AQ Online

    A survey published on Tuesday by the polling firm MDA and commissioned by the Confederação Nacional do Transporte (National Transport Confederation—CNT) showed that Brazilian incumbent President Dilma Rousseff would be statistically tied with Partido Socialista Brasileiro (Brazilian Socialist Party—PSB) candidate Marina Silva if the elections went to the second round on October 26. The poll, which surveyed 2,002 respondents from September 5 to September 7, revealed a 4.9 percentage point improvement for President Rousseff and her Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers' Party—PT) from two weeks ago.

    The President had seen her numbers slump in the face of a struggling economy including less than 2 percent growth per year under the PT leader, a recession during the first half of the year, 6.5 percent inflation, and a threat from Moody’s Investor Service to downgrade Brazil’s credit rating. President Rousseff’s popularity also suffered from frustration over the lack of public services that led to over one million people protesting across 100 Brazilian cities shortly before the 2014 World Cup.

    Despite popular frustration, the president’s approval rating seemed to improve in the polls after frontrunner Marina Silva faced criticism for withdrawing her support of marriage equality and nuclear energy. It’s unclear how the corruption scandal at the state-run oil company Petróleo Brasileiro S.A. (Petrobras) will affect the president’s numbers as details continue to emerge.

    The first round of the general elections will be held on October 5, and they will proceed the second round if any one candidate fails to garner more votes than the other two candidates combined. While the MDA poll shows her leading the first round with 38.1 percent, it would not be enough to overcome the combined 48.2 percent support for Silva and Social Democrat Aécio Neves.​

     

    Read More

    Tags: President Dilma Rousseff, Marina Silva, 2014 elections

  • CICIG Investigation Could Be a Game-Changer for Guatemala

    September 9, 2014

    by Mirte Postema

    On September 3, 2014, Guatemala's director of the penitentiary system, Edgar Camargo, and its former deputy director, Edy Fisher, were arrested—as were several others—for their participation in a crime ring run by a convicted felon from inside a Guatemalan prison.

    These arrests were produced following an investigation done by the Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (United Nations International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala—CICIG), which is tasked with the investigation and disbanding of illicit and clandestine security structures in the country. The investigation (which is still ongoing) revealed that a convicted felon, Byron Lima Oliva, was the real authority in the Guatemalan prison system.

    CICIG reported that Lima Oliva had unheard-of privileges, such as access to phones and the Internet, frequently received guests, and left prison when he wished—and documented all this on his Facebook page. Lima's power apparently extended to running a textile factory in Pavoncito prison with the labor of other prisoners, and arranging for benefits—such as cell phones, food, conjugal visits, and the transfers of detainees from one prison to another.

    Those transfers provide a good example of how the crime ring operated: Lima would receive a detainee's request. A sum of money would then be paid to Lima's romantic partner, Alejandra Reyes (now also detained) in the spa she operated in Guatemala City. A small part of that money would be paid to Camargo, who then authorized the transfer. During his imprisonment, Lima thus acquired a large amount of luxury properties, vehicles and horses.

    Read More

    Tags: prison system, Guatemala, Byron Lima Oliva

  • Explosion Goes off in Santiago Metro

    September 9, 2014

    by AQ Online

    An explosion at a fast food restaurant in Santiago, Chile on Monday injured 14 people and has led Chilean authorities to investigate a potential terrorist attack. No one has claimed responsibility for the blast, which occurred at a mini mall next to the Escuela Militar metro station in the residential Las Condes neighborhood. The station remained closed while authorities investigated, although the metro continued to run normally.

    Government spokesman Álvaro Elizalde condemned the incident as a “terrorist act” and affirmed that the government will invoke harsh anti-terrorism laws, which allow for tougher sentences, to bring those responsible to justice. So far in 2014, there have been 30 bombings or attempted bombings in Santiago. In July, another explosion occurred in the metro, though no bystanders were hurt in the incident.

    With Monday’s injuries, citizens will be looking to President Michelle Bachelet for action regarding the increase in bombings in recent years.  Bachelet denounced the attacks as “cowardly,” but claimed that Chile is still a safe country.

    This week, Chile will mark the 41st anniversary of the 1973 military coup d’état that overthrew socialist President Salvador Allende and installed a 17 year-long military government in which thousands of political dissidents were disappeared and killed. The week of September 11 in Chile is often a time of increased protests and violence in the country.

     

    Tags: Chile, President Michelle Bachelet, explosion

  • How to Grow a City: A Look Inside Honduran ZEDEs

    September 8, 2014

    by Zach Weissmueller

    When an outsider looks at Honduras, it’s hard not to see the worst: poverty, institutional corruption and violence run rampant. When a country grabs international headlines for its president being ousted by the military after attempting to extend his own term, or for having by far the highest murder rate in the world, or for being the country of origin for thousands of unaccompanied minors turning up at the U.S. border, it doesn’t inspire confidence in potential outside investors.

    And this is the crux of the Honduran dilemma: investment, industry, and jobs—the very things necessary to put the country back on the right track—remain elusive in an environment of political uncertainty and social unrest.

    Enter the Zonas de Empleo y Desarrollo Económico (Zones for Economic Development and Employment—ZEDEs)—autonomous zones run by private entities that will provide their own judges, police and public services. Proponents of the idea say that it’s a bold move that could transform Honduras and, eventually, struggling nations throughout the world.

    Read More

    Tags: Honduras, ZEDEs, Charter City

  • Monday Memo: U.S. Immigration – Petrobras Scandal – Francisco Flores – Private Equity – Chile’s September 11

    September 8, 2014

    by AQ Online

    This week’s likely top stories: Barack Obama delays executive action on immigration; a former Petrobras director names 40 politicians in scandal; former Salvadoran President Flores turns himself in; private equity fundraising in Latin America this year could reach $8 billion; Chileans remember September 11, 1973.

    Immigration reform stalled: U.S. President Barack Obama’s promise to use his executive authority to reform immigration has hit a roadblock in the run-up to midterm elections, angering immigrant rights activists who hoped he would take action to ease deportations after Congress’ August recess. Polls conducted this summer revealed that voters in states like Arkansas and Iowa were overwhelmingly opposed to executive action on immigration, and a July survey by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press showed that a majority of respondents believed Obama had mishandled the surge of unaccompanied minors at the border this summer. A White House official said this weekend that the president will take action on immigration at the end of the year.

    Petrobras corruption scandal: Paulo Roberto Costa—a former director of Brazilian state-run oil company Petróleo Brasileiro S.A. (Petrobras)  who was arrested in 2013 for corruption—alleged that more than 40 Brazilian politicians received commissions for contracts signed with Petrobras between 2004 and 2012. Brazilian media revealed on Saturday that most of the individuals Costa named were members of the ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT), further complicating President Dilma Rousseff’s re-election bid on October 5. Costa struck a plea deal with prosecutors before naming the politicians. Rousseff said Saturday that she would await official information to “take all appropriate measures” to investigate the scandal.

    El Salvador’s Francisco Flores under house arrest: Former Salvadoran President Francisco Flores, of the ARENA party, turned himself in to Salvadoran authorities on Friday, four months after a warrant for his arrest was issued in May. Flores was accused of misappropriating $15 million during his 1999-2004 presidential term, funds allegedly provided by Taiwan to help with reconstruction efforts after two earthquakes, as well as to fight drug trafficking and crime. On Friday, Flores—who had been missing for months—said he had turned himself in “voluntarily and out of respect for the law.” He is currently under house arrest and denies the charges against him.

    Private equity push in Latin America: Private equity and venture capital fundraising in Latin America has already reached $3.5 billion in the first half of 2014, indicating that year-end totals could reach as high as $8 billion, according to new data from the Latin American Private Equity & Venture Capital Association (LAVCA). In 2011, a record $10.27 billion was raised, and in 2013, investments reached a six-year high—but have decreased by 10 percent for the same period this year. According to LAVCA, information technology attracted 30 percent of total investments, followed by healthcare.

    Chileans march in memory of September 11: Thousands of Chileans marched through Santiago on Sunday to commemorate the anniversary of the September 11, 1973 military coup that overthrew President Salvador Allende and led to the death or disappearance of some 3,000 people. The march was largely peaceful, according to Chilean police, although four journalists were injured when some of the protesters threw objects at the police. More marches are planned for Thursday, September 11.

     

    Tags: Petrobras, Barack Obama, Comprehensive Immigration Reform

  • These Are a Few of My Favorite [AP] Words

    September 7, 2014

    by Christopher Sabatini

    If there are two things that inspire me it’s a ramped up, over-the-top, scurrilous AP story about democracy promotion and a Broadway musical--especially a Rodgers and Hammerstein production.  So, here is my adaptation of the classic Sound of Music,  “My Favorite Things,” based on the recent series of articles published by AP on USAID’s democracy program in Cuba.  The non-bracketed, italicized parts are sung to the music of “My Favorite Things.” 

    Calling USAID agents,
    when they’re just bureacrats.

    [As in the Zun Zuneo story, where it refers to “agents of the US government, working in deep secrecy..”   USAID officers are not agents.  They may be poorly dressed, overly earnest bureaucrats. But agents?  No one describes them that way--except AP.]

    Saying a source,
    “slipped” someone numbers.

    [As in the Zun Zuneo story which says that a key contact “slipped the phone numbers to a Cuban engineer” in London.  Slipped?   It’s a nice verb, but is there really evidence that the numbers were slipped, spy-like, to contact, say, on a park bench?  The story doesn’t say that, but damn it sounds nice, doesn’t it?  Shame it didn’t involve polonium and tea.  Though who knows?  Maybe it did.  Let’s just say so, anyway.]

    Referring to Gross,
    on a top “secret mission.”
     
    These are a few of my favorite words!
    Read More

    Tags: Cuba, Associated Press

  • Cuba and the Summits of the Americas

    September 5, 2014

    by Richard E. Feinberg

    If the U.S. wants to keep the Summit of the Americas process on track and regain some measure of influence in the hemisphere, it will have to change its Cuba policy, pronto. Reframing our policy and saving the Summit process isn’t as tough as it seems; it just takes leadership.

    In coming months, the United States is going to face a tough choice: either alter its policy toward Cuba or face the virtual collapse of its diplomacy toward Latin America. The upcoming Summit of the Americas, the seventh meeting of democratically elected heads of state throughout the Americas, due to  convene in April 2015 in Panama, will force the Obama administration to choose between its instincts to reset Cuba policy to coincide more closely with hemispheric opinion and its fears of a domestic political backlash.

    During her visit to Washington on September 2, Panama’s vice president, Isabel Saint Malo, indicated her intention to invite Cuba to the Summit, but public U.S. statements failed to commit President Obama’s attendance.

    The periodic inter-American summits have become more important than ever for U.S. regional diplomacy, but our Latin American neighbors have said—firmly and unanimously—that unless Cuba is invited, their chairs will be empty. At the same time, the alarming specter of photos of Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro conversing around the same table, apparently as equals, will set off a political reaction among the Cuban-American hardliners, Democrats and Republicans alike—the thought of which gives the White House politicos heartburn.

    Read More

    Tags: Summit of the Americas, Cuba-U.S. relations, Panama

  • Mexico Sees Spike in Reports of Torture and Ill-Treatment

    September 5, 2014

    by AQ Online

    The number of reported cases of torture and ill-treatment perpetrated by Mexican security forces has skyrocketed by 600 percent in the last decade, according to a report published by Amnesty International on Thursday. Last year alone, Mexico’s Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos (National Human Rights Commission—CNDH) received nearly 4,000 complaints regarding human rights violations by federal institutions. Of these, 1,505 specifically reported instances of torture. However, the problem extends far beyond the country’s federal forces. “Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment plays a central role in policing and public security operations by military and police forces across Mexico,” the report states.

    Ordinary Mexicans seem to have taken note of the reported increase in state violence. Amnesty International’s Americas Director, Erika Guevara Rosas, notes that, according to a recent survey carried out by the organization, “64 percent of Mexicans report being fearful of being tortured in the event of being detained.” In the report’s view, however, the Mexican government seems far less alarmed. In a challenge to earlier statements by President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government regarding his administration’s efforts on this issue, the report cites, “a lack of clear political leadership and real political will by successive governments” as a key factor in the increase in abuses.

    The report is the latest in a string of critical assessments of Mexico’s human rights situation. In another report published earlier this year, Human Rights Watch found evidence of “widespread killings, enforced disappearances, and torture.” And after visiting the country in April, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Méndez, declared, “there is an epidemic of torture that needs to be corrected.”

    Tags: Human Rights, Mexico, Amnesty International

  • Resisting the Rush to War

    September 4, 2014

    by John Parisella

    In recent days, Michel Coulombe, the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), took the unusual step of printing an op-ed in both French and English dailies in Canada warning Canadians of the threat of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). He notes that Canadian “nationals” who have joined “nationals” of other Western countries in fighting for the Islamic State represent a threat, not only to the Canadian homeland, but to their respective countries. Coulombe concludes by asserting that involuntarily exporting terrorist acts is just as serious as having it on our homeland.

    In the United States, war hawks, such as Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham, appear on talk shows criticizing the Obama administration for being weak and employing half-measures with respect to ISIS, in a fashion similar to the 2003 pre-Iraq invasion buildup. Talk of escalating U.S. air aids in Syria is now a daily reality. The second beheading of an American journalist will not reduce the pressure.

    Even Democrats are beginning to criticize the Obama administration, which has not shown the kind of sure-footedness expected in a time of crisis.  Granted, the world is more complicated these days: a war in Gaza—currently in ceasefire, but for how long?—Russian aggression in the Ukraine, a serious outbreak of the Ebola virus in Africa and potentially beyond, and now the barbaric, self-declared caliphate—ISIS. Surely, it is difficult to have a textbook response to multiple and diverse crises. Yet, the civil war in Syria has gone on with extremists building their forces, and the U.S. wielding little influence. The ISIS threat of attack is now real and may be what U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recently called “imminent.”

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    Tags: ISIS, Barack Obama, foreign relations

  • Chilean Government Commits Millions to Valparaiso Restoration

    September 4, 2014

    by AQ Online

    On Wednesday morning, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet pledged $510 million for the restoration of Valparaiso after large wildfires devastated parts of the city in April. The blazes lasted several days and killed 15 people and destroyed or damaged at least 15,000 homes in the port city, which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003.

    The money will be disbursed over eight years and will be divided into three tiers—the city overall, neighborhoods and individual homes. Destroyed homes will receive almost $100 million, with the rest of the money being put towards urban development, cultural spaces, public transportation and city infrastructure to reinforce and protect inhabitants from future fires, including safety devices such as fire alarms and sprinklers. Seventy-one percent of the restoration and construction is expected to be completed by March 2018.

    President Bachelet said that the plan’s benefits would go beyond Valparaiso and is meant to reactivate the Chilean economy. “This plan is about more than normalizing life in the city; it is a commitment to change the urban development of the country,” she said.

    While the plan will help the 2,600 families affected by the fire, it is facing criticism for being too narrow in scope. Renzo Trisotti, deputy of the Unión Demócrata Independiente (Independent Democratic Union—UDI) party of Chile’s Tarapacá region expressed his concern with the omission of the northern regions of Chile, also affected by natural disasters earlier this year. “Five months after the two earthquakes affected the northern regions, there are still families living and tents and there is no plan for reconstruction,” he said.

    Tags: Valparaíso, Michelle Bachelet, Development

  • Venezuela Launches Investigation against American Television Network

    September 3, 2014

    by AQ Online

    The Venezuelan government opened an investigation against U.S.-based television network TNT on Tuesday because of the depiction of President Nicolás Maduro on the fictional spy drama “Legends.” In the third episode of the season, the Venezuelan executive is accused of stockpiling chemical weapons to use against anti-government protestors, referencing the protests that engulfed Venezuela in February.

    On Monday night, Venezuela’s Information Minister Delcy Rodriguez requested via Twitter that Conatel—the South American country’s national telecommunications commission—open an investigation because of the “lies and manipulations” against President Maduro on the series. Fox 21, the producer of the series, apologized to President Maduro in an official statement, emphasizing that the representation of the president was purely fictional and that producers “did not intend to imply that the show was reporting any actual events.”

    President Maduro’s approval rating dropped 15 points to 35 percent in the past nine months amid the continued economic crisis that sparked the initial mass protests, according to a recent Datanálisis poll. While the Central Bank of Venezuela has not released economic data since May, the research firm Ecoanalítica has indicated that with its shrinking GDP, limited foreign currency, and car manufacturing collapse, the country is headed toward a recession.

    Tags: Venezuela, Maduro, TNT

  • Los Límites del Consejo de Defensa Suramericano

    September 3, 2014

    by Víctor M. Mijares

    Entre el 14 y el 15 de agosto, en Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, el Consejo de Defensa Suramericano (CDS) llevó a cabo su reunión anual. Desde el momento en que Surinam fue seleccionada por rotación para presidir la Unión de Naciones Suramericanas (UNASUR), de acuerdo a entrevistas realizadas a funcionarios diplomáticos relacionados con la UNASUR, estaba claro que el pequeño estado no tenía la capacidad de manejar toda la organización. Teniendo en cuenta eso, se escogió a Colombia como responsable pro tempore del CDS.

    Pero sólo dos días antes de la reunión, el Congreso colombiano aprobó el acuerdo de cooperación entre Colombia y la OTAN. Este acto, que pudiera parecer una deslealtad colombiana, debe ser analizado a la luz de factores estructurales que están modelando la actitud de los estados en la política internacional.

    Las políticas de cooperación de seguridad de Colombia con fuerzas extranjeras son particularmente controversiales en América del Sur. Sus lazos con el Pentágono, incluso antes la puesta en marcha del "Plan Colombia", fueron un catalizador clave en el nacimiento del CDS. El acuerdo de facilitar el uso de siete bases militares a los EE.UU. y la crisis después de la "Operación Fénix" fueron argumentos de peso esgrimidos por Brasilia, Buenos Aires y Caracas con el objetivo de lograr la disminución de la resistencia colombiana a un tratado de seguridad regional. El acuerdo con la OTAN trae de vuelta las ideas acerca de Colombia como un socio no comprometido con la seguridad regional.

    Read More

    Tags: Colombia, NATO, OTAN

  • Finding Gaston—And Peru’s Gastronomic Heritage

    September 2, 2014

    by Johanna Mendelson Forman

    Food is powerful. After breathing, we all have to eat. And food can bring people together for celebrations or in times of sadness.

    In Peru, food has become the glue that has held together a nation that experienced difficult times over the last forty years. And today food has made Peru one of the most important culinary destinations in the world, even more so than France.

    Much of the credit goes to the talents of a brilliant young chef, Gaston Acurio. As he developed his own cooking style he was able to integrate the best of Peru’s local bounty—its seafood, its grains, and potatoes to create a new brand—a true Peruvian cuisine.

    Gaston Acurio launched a culinary awakening that has made a trip to Lima a must for any self-respecting chef.

    Read More

    Tags: Peru, Cuisine, documentary film

  • Rousseff and Silva Battle in Second Presidential Debate

    September 2, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Presidential hopeful Marina Silva of the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (Brazilian Socialist Party—PSB) and incumbent President Dilma Rousseff of the Partido das Trabalhadores (Worker’s Party—PT) harshly criticized each other’s economic plans, leading to tension during yesterday’s second presidential debate. The Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (Party of Brazilian Social Democracy—PSDB) candidate Aécio Neves and five other candidates also attended the debate, ahead of the first round of elections on October 5.

    A Datafolha poll from August 29 showed a tie between Rousseff and Silva in the first round, with each earning 34 percent of the vote, and predicted that Silva would beat Rousseff in the second round with 10 percentage points. Responding to the threat from her challenger, Rousseff criticized Silva’s plan to strengthen the Central Bank’s independence, affirming that it will make regulation more difficult. She also called into question how Silva will raise the money required to increase spending on public services. Silva claimed that Rousseff’s administration created higher inflation and debt and accused her of failing to place importance on renewable energy.

    Silva became a presidential candidate after her running mate, Eduardo Campos, died in a helicopter crash on August 20.  Over the weekend, the former environment minister under Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva made two “corrections” to her official platform, retracting her support for gay marriage and nuclear power.

    Tags: President Dilma Rousseff, Marina Silva, presidential debates

  • Obama Moving Forward with Immigration Reform Plan

    August 29, 2014

    by AQ Online

    President Barack Obama’s plan to move forward with reforming the U.S. immigration system through executive action will not be deterred by threats from some Congressional Republicans to force a government shutdown, press secretary Josh Earnest said yesterday. “The president is determined to act where House Republicans won't, and there is strong support for that all across the country," Earnest said.

    The comments from the White House come in response to remarks by Rep. Steve King (R-IA), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) that signaled the possibility of the GOP using the budget process to halt any executive action on the issue. "If the president wields his pen and commits that unconstitutional act to legalize millions, I think that becomes something that is nearly political nuclear," Rep. King told the Des Moines Register on Wednesday.

    White House lawyers are in the final stages of building a legal case around Obama’s plan to expand administrative relief that will likely expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) launched through executive action in June 2012 to more recipients. While an announcement of the reforms were excepted by Labor Day, the president’s trip to Estonia and Wales and conflicts in the Middle East will likely delay it until mid-September.​

    Tags: President Barack Obama, Immigration Reform

  • Teacher Strike Continues in Paraguay

    August 28, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Teachers continue to strike in Asunción, Paraguay today, demanding salary increases and greater public investment in education. The strike began across the country yesterday after continuing labor negotiations between the Paraguayan Ministry of Labor and representatives from the education sector failed to reach an accord on Tuesday. Several streets were closed due to the protests and classes were canceled for two days.

    Last week, Education and Culture Minister Marta Lafuente rejected demands set by the Unión Nacional de Educadores (National Educational Union—UNE-SN) for a 10 percent salary increase for all teachers, stating that only those making less than minimum wage should receive a raise. UNE-SN’s demands also include a static investment of 7 percent of Paraguay’s GDP to be allocated to the education sector for better resources and infrastructure improvements.

    “To speak of a quality education is to talk about a better salary, training, better infrastructure, school lunches, and additional benefits,” said union leader Blanca Ávalos. However, the Ministry of Education and Culture claims that they do not have the funds for the additional $27 million that would be needed in order to raise salaries for teachers per UNE-SN’s demands.

    “It’s very easy to grant raises, but we ask for time—we have to know when to give. We can’t be populists and give what we don’t have,” said President Horacio Cartes, asking for the teachers for patience with regard to the reforms.

    Students and medical professionals showed their solidarity with the teachers through their own organized protests throughout the week as discontent with the Cartes Administration continues to mount. This afternoon the teachers will evaluate whether to extend their strike.

     

    Tags: Teachers Strike, Horacio Cartes

  • Peru’s Congress Approves New Cabinet

    August 27, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Following a week of debate, Peru’s Congress approved President Ollanta Humala’s new 20-person cabinet yesterday, which will be led by Prime Minister Ana Jara. The cabinet was voted on a third time after the first two votes had too many abstentions to be valid, and approval was ultimately granted by a minimal margin for victory: 55 in favor, 54 against, and 9 abstentions.

    Opposition legislators had made various demands of the administration before the debate, including that Energy and Mines Minister Eleodoro Mayorga resign. President Humala refused to get rid of any of his ministers, but did make concessions to the opposition, including suspending a law that required independent workers to pay into a pension fund.

    Reacting to the news, Mesías Guevara, secretary-general for the Acción Popular (Popular Action) centrist opposition party said that President Humala “practically lives in a bubble” if he believes that the newly-approved cabinet is a strong one. The vote by Congress bolsters the Humala Administration at a time when it has been involved in frequent disputes with the legislative branch and the president’s approval rating is a paltry 25.8 percent.

    Tags: Peru, President Ollanta Humala

  • Turning Point for Obama and the World

    August 26, 2014

    by John Parisella

    Summer has never been an uneventful period for U.S. President Barack Obama, ever since becoming a candidate for the Presidency in 2007. His dip in political support and public approval often occurs during the sunny months of the summer.  This year is no exception.

    Events in Ferguson, Missouri, showed that the racial divide in America persists despite the twice-elected African American to the White House.  It has been reported continuously in newscast that African Americans have the highest rate of unemployment, the greatest levels of incarceration, and are the most likely to be victims of police brutality. This did not end with Obama’s election and will unfortunately continue beyond. Hopefully, the lessons learned from Ferguson will lead to some improvements in the short to medium term.

    Events beyond the borders of America, including the war in Gaza, the conflict in the Ukraine with Russian interference and the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)—a radical Sunni jihadists group intent on creating an Islamic state in the territory of Syria and Iraq—have also affected Obama’s current approval ratings (around 40 percent), as well as his presidency and likely, his legacy.

    The war in Iraq, started under the Bush administration, has not resulted in stability as the ISIS has taken large portions of land and destabilized the Iraqi government. In Syria, the civil war has morphed into the rise of a self-declared caliphate by the ISIS terrorists with greater implications for security concerns in Europe and North America. Efforts by the U.S. government to achieve a two-state solution peace settlement between Israel and Palestine are now mired in war. And the crisis in the Ukraine remains unresolved as U.S.–Russia relations worsen.

    As we approach the commemoration of the unspeakable tragedy of 9/11, is the world safer? Clearly, the answer is no. I was present in New York City at the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and I can attest to the lasting scar on the American psyche. With foreign recruits  possibly involved  with the ISIS, the Western world, and American security officials in particular, cannot believe that the worst has passed. The fact that the U.S. is now conducting multiple air attacks on ISIS targets in Iraq and in support of the Kurds is indicative that America is changing course in this volatile part of the world. The Obama Administration and the American people have every right to be worried about future homeland attacks or greater involvement in ground conflicts in the Middle East.

    In the weeks ahead, it is likely that the Obama administration will ask for wider war powers. It is also possible that U.S. air raids will take place against the ISIS on Syrian soil. In short, we can anticipate an extension of the current conflict.

    The savage death of American journalist James Foley has brought the potential horror of the ISIS closer to home. While the Republicans and even to some extent Democrats, Hilary Clinton included, have been critical of Obama’s approach  to foreign policy in Syria and other parts of the Middle East, we can expect a closing of the ranks as the threat of the ISIS becomes more imminent to the security of the American homeland.

    Events in the Middle East have received their share of coverage in Canada, but never to the same extent as in the United States. This, however, is about to change as Obama addresses the latest turning point—greater U.S. involvement. Certainly, all this could have negative implications for his presidency and his legacy. More important, however, it will also have more serious consequences for U.S. allies as the conflict will surely escalate.

    Tags: United States, Barack Obama, U.S. Foreign Policy

  • Puerto Rican Law Enforcement Implicated in Criminal Ring

    August 26, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Sixteen former Puerto Rican police officers were convicted of using their position to run a criminal organization, the Department of Justice announced Monday. The charges include racketeering, robbery, extortion, and firearms charges for using their police-issued firearms to commit their crimes. The convicted officers will be sentenced in December.

    The officers stole property, cash and narcotics from suspected criminals, planted evidence in order to extort victims in return for their release, and accepted bribes in return for giving false testimony or failing to appear in court at all, court documents revealed.

    Puerto Rico has been subject to scrutiny since 2011 due to high rates of police corruption and drug trafficking-related violence. The federal government intervened by expanding Operation Caribbean Resilience, a joint initiative focused on dismantling criminal organizations in Puerto Rico led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) with support from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Coast Guard, and the Puerto Rican Police Department, in 2012. The previous year, the murder rate reached a record 1,117 per year, six times that of the U.S. mainland and by 2012 more than 70 percent of homicides on the island that year were related to drug trafficking.

    Puerto Rico’s police department recently released its first report detailing changes to the department as mandated by the federal government after a 2011 report highlighted illegal killings, corruption and civil rights violations within its 17,000-person police force.

    Tags: Puerto Rico Police Department, Corruption Charges

  • Monday Memo: Mexican Police - Peru's Slow Economy - Military Meets FARC - Argentine Debt - Brazil Prison Riot

    August 25, 2014

    by AQ Online

    This week’s likely top stories: Mexico launches a new civilian police force; Peru shows slow economic growth in key commodity sectors; the Colombian military held its first meeting with the FARC in Havana; a U.S. federal judge rejects Argentina’s local debt swap plan; Brazilian authorities are negotiating the release of hostages taken in a prison riot in Paraná state.   

    Mexico launches new elite police force: On Friday, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced the inauguration of a new federal police force or gendarmerie—technically a military force tasked with police duties—aimed at quelling outbreaks of violent crime. The 5,000 new officers will function as a division of the 36,000-strong civilian federal police. National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido García said the gendarmerie will protect Mexico’s economic assets—like oil, mines, and farms—from organized crime, especially in rural areas where criminal activity has negatively impacted commerce or tourism. The new police force comes as a result of Peña Nieto’s 2012 campaign promise to reduce violence. Although homicides have been steadily decreasing since 2011, critics say that the relatively small police force will not significantly impact issues of insecurity, especially in Mexico’s urban centers where most of the violent crimes are occurring nationwide.

    Peru shows slow second quarter growth: Peru’s GDP grew just 1.7 percent in the second quarter of this year, as compared to 6.2 percent this time last year. Meanwhile, domestic demand grew 2.2 percent, versus 7.1 percent in 2013. Peru’s commodity-driven economy experienced a boom over the last decade that saw average growth of 6.4 percent, but Colombia has now overtaken it as the fast-growing large economy in the region. The country’s halted growth comes as a result of weak performance from the mining, fishing and agriculture sectors. "Mining investments have decelerated, but that will be replaced by a cycle of investments in infrastructure projects," said Scotiabank economist Pablo Nano, who still expects 4.0 percent growth on the year.

    Military leaders join FARC in Havana for first meeting: The first meeting between Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) leaders and the Colombian military occurred in Havana last Friday. General Javier Florez, head of Colombia's joint chiefs of staff and one of the FARC's strongest adversaries, represented the military, joining the Colombian government and FARC negotiators for the first time. Humberto de la Calle, the leader of the government's negotiating team, stressed that there is no current discussion to negotiate a cease-fire, but that the government has formed a subcommittee to determine the procedure for implementing a cease-fire once the two sides have reached a final agreement. Lead FARC negotiator Iván Márquez affirmed that the meeting showed just how much the peace talks have progressed since they began in 2012. Negotiators have already discussed land reform, political participation of the FARC and drug trafficking, while disarmament and the final peace deal have yet to be addressed.

    U.S. rejects Argentina's proposal for local debt swap: U.S. Federal Judge Thomas Griesa ruled last week that Argentina's latest plan to avoid its default is illegal and “lawless.” The ruling comes in response to President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s proposal to allow defaulted bond holders the opportunity to swap out their debt for locally-issued debt. The plan was aimed at resuming interest payments to investors who accepted restructured bonds while evading payment to the hedge funds that are owed approximately $1.3 billion. Griesa had previously ruled that Argentina cannot make interest payments to bond holders that accepted restructuring until the Argentinean government paid the holdouts. Griesa strongly criticized the plan but did not hold the country in contempt, explaining that it would not inspire a willingness to cooperate, and instead pressed the two sides to negotiate an agreement.

    Riot in Paraná prison leaves four dead: Four prisoners have been killed and several others injured during an inmate riot at a penitentiary in the southern state of Paraná, Brazil that began Sunday morning. The riot started when a group of inmates overpowered prison guards and in the ensuing chaos, as many as 1,000 prisoners took over several parts of the facility. The riot is said to be caused by prisoners' frustration regarding inadequacies in sanitation and diet at the prison, although many gangs are taking advantage of the chance to seek revenge on enemies. Two guards are currently being held hostage, and Brazilian authorities resumed negotiations today in an attempt to secure their release and end the riot.

    Tags: Mexican Police Force, Peruvian Economy, FARC, Argentine debt

  • Major Student Protest in Chile Ends in Violence

    August 21, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Thousands of students marched in the streets of Santiago and other cities throughout Chile yesterday to express their impatience with the lack of progress made on education reform—a key promise made by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet after she was reelected in 2013. The Universidad de Chile’s (University of Chile) student organization Federación de Estudiantes de la Universidad de Chile (University of Chile Student Federation—FECh) estimated that 80,000 students marched in Santiago yesterday, while the government put the number at 25,000.

    FECh President Melissa Sepúlveda addressed the protesters at the march, warning that, “This is a direct call to the Ministry of Education, so that the agreements from the Right [parties] are not included in the Education Reform [bill].” After Sepúlveda and other student leaders had finished speaking, dozens of mostly young encapuchados, hooded delinquents, destroyed traffic lights, burned dumpsters, threw sticks and rocks toward the Carabineros, the Chilean police force. The Carabineros responded by spraying the protestors with water, shooting tear gas at them, and removing those occupying the Faculty of Law at the Universidad de Chile.  According to Observadores Derechos Humanos Chile (Human Rights Observers in Chile), there were 17 arrests.

    Bachelet sent the first part of her education reform to congress in May, eliminating subsidies for for-profit schools and ending selective entrance policies, but the bill is still being debated in the lower house. Meanwhile, a second round of reforms that would make university education free will be sent to congress later this year. FECh leaders expressed their dissatisfaction with the exclusion of students from the deliberations, and voiced concern over “deals behind closed doors,” and “agreements that would benefit education businesses.”

    Tags: Chile, Education reform, Student Protests

  • Guatemalan Armed Forces Chief Dies in Helicopter Crash

    August 21, 2014

    by AQ Online

    General Rudy Israel Ortiz Ruiz was one of five military officials involved in a helicopter crash Wednesday morning.  After the Fuerza Aérea Guatemalteca (Guatemalan Air Force—FAG) helicopter Bell 206 took off from Huehuetenango for a routine fly-over inspection of units along the Mexican border, the pilot rerouted from landing in Ixquisis to Las Palmas due to inclement weather before crashing into a mountainous forest area 1.2 miles from the El Aguacate village.

    In the helicopter with Ortiz were Brigadier General Braulio Rene Mayen Garcia, Colonel Rony Adolfo Anleu Del Aguila, Major Selvin Ricardo Raymundo, and the pilot, Colonel Juan de Dios Lopez Gomez. According to Defense Minister Manuel Lopez, there were no survivors. Due to the terrain of the crash location, it took over four hours for soldiers and civilians to recover the bodies. Several helicopters were sent by the FAG and the Policía Nacional Civil (National Civil Police—PNC), but the bodies had to be transported by foot to an air base in Huehuetenango before they could be air-lifted to the capital.

    Huehuetenango is known for being a drug trafficking route plagued by Mexican and Guatemalan drug cartels. However, the helicopter was reportedly in good condition and there is no reason to suspect foul play, although there is an investigation underway.

    Ortiz, 51, had served in the armed forces for over 32 years and had been chief of the Estado Mayor de la Defensa Nacional (General Staff—EMDN) since July 2013. Many speculated that Ortiz was in line to become the next minister of defense. Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina gave his condolences to the families of Ortiz and the other officers, praising them for their service to the nation, and declared three days of mourning for the death of the five officials.

    Tags: General Rudy Ortiz, Guatemala, Huehuetenango

  • Investigation into Canadian Rail Disaster Reveals Negligence

    August 20, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Yesterday, Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB) concluded their investigation of the Lac-Mégantic, Quebec train derailment that occurred on July 5, 2013. According to the final report, the accident was caused by a runaway train carrying crude oil that was parked at the top of a hill for the evening, but upon its brakes failing, slid down the tracks and crashed near the center of town resulting in an explosion killing 47 people. The TSB determined that eighteen factors led to the catastrophe, but emphasized a “weak safety culture” as one of the major causes.

    TSB found that the rail operator, Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA), which has since filed for bankruptcy, had a weak safety management system and lacked effective training and maintenance procedures. Their report also criticized the transportation ministry, Transport Canada, for a lack of management and regulation. The investigation found that Transport Canada was aware that MMA carried a higher risk of accidents in recent years due to an increase in the transportation of crude oil, yet performed few audits and failed to follow up when it uncovered problems. 

    The report recommends more comprehensive audits and improved technology to prevent runaway trains caused by brake failure. In January, the safety boards of Canada and the U.S. collaborated on suggestions to improve safety, given that crude oil transportation by train has increased considerably in the last ten years due to advanced technology and the subsequent shale boom. New Democrat Member of Parliament Hoang Mai has attributed the accident to the fact that “conservatives have left companies to monitor themselves,” and other opposition politicians have also blamed the federal government for the disaster.

    Read More

    Tags: transportation policy, Canada, Quebec

  • Pope Francis Mourns Family Members Killed in Crash

    August 19, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Three members of Pope Francis’ family were killed on a provincial road between Rosario and Cordoba in Argentina this morning. Emanuel Bergoglio, the pontiff’s nephew, remains in the hospital in critical condition after surviving the traffic collision that claimed the lives of his wife and two small children.

    The family was traveling to Buenos Aires when they were struck by a truck. Pope Francis just finished a five-day tour of South Korea where he appealed for unification of the Korean peninsula and humanitarian assistance for the economically beleaguered North Korea. The pope, who joked about his own mortality and tenure as the leader of the Catholic Church on Monday, was ”deeply pained” by the news of the crash and asked that believers join him in prayer when informed of the deaths, said Vatican spokesman Reverend Federico Lomabrdi.

    Argentina registered 12.6 traffic deaths per 100,000 people in 2010, putting it slightly behind the Chile and United States in traffic safety.

    Tags: Argentina, Pope Francis

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