This week’s likely top stories: U.S. trade delegation arrives in Cuba; Venezuela receives a $5 billion Chinese loan; Caribbean’s longest fiber optic cable nearly complete; NGO says Honduras leads the world in per capita murders of environmental activists; Argentina sues five companies over Falklands oil exploration.
Governor Cuomo and U.S. Companies Visit Cuba: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo led a trade mission to Cuba on Monday, joined by executives from Pfizer, MasterCard and JetBlue, as well as State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and officials from the Plattsburgh International Airport, the New York Genome Center and the State University of New York. The trip is the first of its kind since U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced renewed diplomatic relations between the two countries in December 2014. According to Cuomo, the members of the delegation from New York will “serve as ambassadors for all that New York state has to offer and will help form the foundation for a strong economic relationship between New York and Cuba as legal restrictions on trade are eased in the future.” The delegation plans to meet with several Cuban officials and businesses during their 26-hour trip.
Venezuela Accepts $5 Billion in Loans from China: On Sunday, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced that his government has received $5 billion in Chinese financing for development. Maduro traveled to China in January 2015 and announced at the time that the country would be providing Venezuela with over $20 billion in investment. However, Maduro did not confirm yesterday whether the $5 billion was part of that amount. The loan will be helpful for Venezuela, which is currently suffering rising inflation and shortages of goods amid falling oil prices.
On Thursday, the U.S. government imposed sanctions on three leaders of Mara Salvatrucha (“MS-13”), a gang of 30,000 members spread throughout El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and the United States. The gang, whose leadership is concentrated in El Salvador, has been listed as a Transnational Criminal Organization since 2012 by the U.S. Department of Treasury for crimes that include human trafficking, drug operations, kidnapping and murder.
One of the founding members of MS-13, José Luis Mendoza Figueroa, was among the three men—all Salvadoran nationals—hit with sanctions. The other two, Élmer Canales Rivera and Eduardo Erazo Nolasco, are members of regional “cliques” that take direction from the gang’s central leadership. The three men are imprisoned in El Salvador, but, according to the U.S. Department of Treasury, have been able to direct gang operations (such as moves into new territories and recruitment of new members) from behind bars.
MS-13 cliques in the United States generate money that is funneled to gang leadership in El Salvador. The sanctions permit the U.S. government to freeze any assets the three men may have in the United States and bans American companies and citizens from doing business affiliated with the gang.
John Smith, acting director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in a statement that “MS-13 ranks among the most dangerous and rapidly expanding criminal gangs in the world, and poses a direct threat to communities across the United States and Central America […] Today’s designation will disrupt these illicit activities and help to further protect the United States and international financial system from abuse.”
In a related effort to curb Central American gang operations, El Salvador Prisons Director Rodil Hernandez announced from San Salvador on Thursday that 31 gang members, including sanctioned MS-13 member Erazo Nolasco, had been transferred from regular prisons to the isolated maximum security institution Zacatecaluca. Hernandez explained the move was part of the reclassification of the most dangerous prisoners after investigations proved they had ties to recent gang attacks on state institutions.
On Wednesday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos ordered the resumed bombing of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) after an early morning attack by the rebel group killed at least 10 soldiers and left 17 injured. In the deadliest clash since the FARC announced a unilateral cease fire nearly four months ago, guerillas ambushed the soldiers with grenades and firearms in the rural southwestern province of Cauca.
In a televised press conference, Santos described the attack as “deliberate” and said it “implies a clear rupture of the promise of a unilateral ceasefire.” Santos’ order to resume bombing suspends the truce he made in March in response to the FARC’s adherence to its cease fire.
The killing of the soldiers is a significant setback to the ongoing peace talks between the government and the FARC that, after more than two years, seemed to be making conclusive progress. Since the FARC’s December announcement of a unilateral cease fire and Santos’ subsequent ban on air raids on FARC camps, the FARC had agreed to end its recruitment of child soldiers and the two groups recently agreed to work together on a historic landmine removal project. The group had also reached agreements with the government on land reform, political participation of ex-rebels, and joint cooperation against drug trafficking.
The murder of Indigenous activist Pascual Pablo Francisco, whose body showed signs of torture when he was found dead on March 27 in the northern department of Huehuetenango, is the latest episode in a long-standing conflict between the Guatemalan government and the Mayan Q’anjob’al community over the construction of a hydroelectric dam on the K’anbalam River.
The conflict dates back to 2011, when Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina’s government granted the company Hidro Santa Cruz, a subsidiary of Spanish corporation Hidralia Energía, a license to build the dam. Indigenous communities that would be affected by the project say that they were not consulted—a violation of International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 169 on the rights of Indigenous and tribal people, which states, among other things, that governments should establish or maintain procedures to consult affected Indigenous communities “before undertaking or permitting any programmes for the exploration or exploitation of […] resources pertaining to their lands.”
The government has since held a series of meetings with community leaders conducted by the Oficina Nacional de Diálogo (National Office for Dialogue) to resolve the conflict, but participants have been unable to reach an agreement.
Meanwhile, two other licenses were subsequently granted to the company Promoción de Desarrollos Hídricos, S.A. (PDHSA) in the nearby municipality of San Mateo Ixtatán. The Ministry of Energy and Mining is also evaluating three other license applications for hydroelectric dams to be built in the municipalities of San Mateo Ixtatán, Santa Eulalia and San Pedro Soloma. According to a recent report published by Contrapoder magazine, if these applications are successful, Huehuetenango would become the third most important department in Guatemala in terms of hydropower.
On Tuesday, President Obama’s announcement of his intention to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism (SSOT) was received with both praise and dissent from Cuban and U.S. politicians. Despite the controversy, the announcement marks a significant change in not only U.S.-Cuba relations, but also U.S.-Latin America relations.
The announcement followed President Obama’s meeting with Cuban President Raúl Castro at the Summit of the Americas in Panama last week, where Cuba made an inaugural appearance and where the two countries’ heads of state met officially face-to-face for the first time since 1959. Cuba’s designation as an SSOT was one of the “sticking points” in the negotiations to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba.
President Obama said that Cuba had "provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.” White House press secretary Josh Earnest added that although the U.S. still had differences with Cuban policies and actions, they were not "relevant" to the terror list.
The director of U.S. relations at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, Josefina Vidal, acknowledged the U.S.’s move in a statement: “The government of Cuba recognizes the just decision made by the President of the United States to remove Cuba from a list on which it never deserved to belong [...] As the Cuban government has reiterated on multiple occasions, Cuba rejects and condemns all acts of terrorism.”
On Tuesday, the White House announced that it plans to remove the designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism (SSOT), representing another step forward in the normalization of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba.
The first announcement of this nature was made on December 17, 2014, when U.S.–Cuba rapprochement was first announced. President Barack Obama instructed the U.S. State Department to review Cuba’s status as an SSOT. This was completed on April 9, prior to the Summit of the Americas held last week in Panama, with Secretary of State John Kerry recommending that Cuba be removed from the list.
Cuba was designated as an SSOT on March 1, 1982. The removal of the SSOT designation will allow a broader range of goods to be exported to Cuba, certain federal financial assistance to be directed towards Cuba, and will ease companies’ disclosure requirements of activities involving Cuba, among other changes.
In order for the SSOT designation to be officially lifted, the U.S. State Department's report must justify that Cuba has not provided support for international terrorism in the past six months, and that the Cuban government will not do so in the future. Congressional leadership has 45 days to review and act on this report.
Although the removal of Cuba from the SSOT list is an important diplomatic step towards normalizing U.S. relations with Cuba, the key provisions of the U.S. embargo against Cuba, including restrictions on investment, trade, and financial transactions with Cuba, will remain in place.
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Chilean President Michelle Bachelet signed a law on Monday allowing same-sex civil unions. The law, known as the Acuerdo de Unión Civil (Civil Union Accord—AUC), falls short of recognizing same-sex marriage, but establishes “civil cohabitation” as an officially recognized marital status that affords many of the same rights as marriage, such as visitation, inheritance and pension rights.
Same-sex marriages established abroad will be recognized as civil unions in Chile. “We are taking a fundamental step forward in rights, justice and respect for individual freedom,” Bachelet said at a ceremony at the presidential palace.
Monday’s signing ceremony marks the end of the law’s four-year-long political odyssey, and fulfils a promise Bachelet made as a candidate to support the law, which was originally introduced under a different name by her predecessor, Sebastián Piñera. “We are truly excited, because as of next October, couples will be able to legally enter into a bond that, years ago, was a dream, even a taboo,” said Rolando Jiménez, the director of the Movimiento de Integración y Liberación Homosexual (Homosexual Liberation and Integration Movement—Movilh), an LGBT rights organization.
The government now has six months to draft the regulations that will guide the law’s implementation. The Civil Registry, which will be responsible for registering the new unions, is undertaking a training program for its employees to avoid discrimination. Because the law establishes a new marital status—rather than extending an existing status to LGBT couples—the registry is also developing new software in preparation for the law’s implementation. It is estimated that over 2 million Chileans may be eligible to contract civil unions once the law goes into effect.
Anti-government protesters once again took to the streets across Brazil on Sunday, this time in smaller numbers, but with the same demands for President Dilma Rousseff to leave office.
This is the second march in less than a month in which Brazilians have spoken out against Rousseff and the ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT). At least 500,000 people gathered in 24 cities throughout the country, chanting slogans like “Out with Dilma” and “Impeachment Now.”
On March 15, nearly two million people participated in one of the largest protests in Brazil’s recent history. Discontent over unpopular austerity measures and a kickback scandal involving state-run oil giant Petrobras and the PT were major catalysts.
“The Workers Party failed Brazil,” Cristiano Jacobs, a Rio de Janeiro businessman, said during the march. “They have left Brazil broke.”
Rousseff is facing historically low approval ratings. In a recent Datafolha poll, 60 percent of Brazilians said they believe she is doing a "bad" or “terrible” job. 2,834 people were interviewed April 9 and 10, with a margin of sampling error of 2 percentage points. The same poll showed that 63 percent of those interviewed support opening the impeachment process against Rousseff.
This week’s likely top stories: Brazilians demonstrate against corruption; Colombian generals investigated; Obama and Castro hold meeting; Puerto Rico seeks debt help; Chilean communities fight mining companies over water.
Hundreds of Thousands Protest Corruption in Brazil: Hundreds of thousands of Brazilians took to the streets on Sunday to protest government corruption. Estimates of participants vary, but police say almost 700,000 citizens protested, while organizers of the demonstrations claim the number was closer to 1.5 million people. The protests, which took place in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and across Brazil, were smaller than the ones that took place in mid-March 2015. Demonstrators then and now claim that President Dilma Rousseff was aware of the bribery taking place at Brazil's state oil company, Petrobras, during her tenure there, and yesterday, many called for the president's impeachment. Rousseff’s approval rating sank to just 13 percent following last month’s protests.
Colombian Generals Are Investigated for “False Positives”: The office of the Attorney General of Colombia announced on Sunday that approximately 22 army generals are being investigated for their suspected involvement in the “falsos positivos” (“false positives”) scandal during the term of former President Álvaro Uribe. The case involves thousands of civilians who were promised jobs and then murdered and dressed up as paramilitaries by the armed forces in order to up the military’s kill count. So far, 800 members of the military have been imprisoned and over 5,000 linked to the scheme. Attorney General Eduardo Montealegre Lynett stated that the investigation should conclude by the end of 2015.
Presidents Obama and Castro Meet at Summit of the Americas: At the seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama on Friday and Saturday, a showing of anti-U.S. sentiment by Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and the Venezuelan and Bolivian delegations was overshadowed by a historic meeting between Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro. The face-to-face meeting—which was the first between presidents of the U.S. and Cuba in over 50 years—was mostly symbolic, but demonstrated the two leaders' willingness to work together despite ideological differences. Latin American leaders praised the U.S. for renewing relations with Cuba, and experts are now analyzing how Obama can best leverage the renewed credibility. The leaders did not issue a joint declaration at the end of the summit, as a result of President Nicolás Maduro’s demand to include a denunciation of U.S. sanctions in Venezuela.
Puerto Rico Calls on Former IMF Officials to Help with Debt: Puerto Rico’s government and investors have asked former International Monetary Fund (IMF) officials for help in resolving the island's debt crisis. Puerto Rico has hired Anne Krueger, the IMF’s former first deputy managing director, as a consultant, and hedge funds that own Puerto Rican bonds have reportedly approached Claudio Loser, the former director of the IMF’s Western Hemisphere department. Puerto Rico has over $7 billion in debt, and last month, Fitch Ratings downgraded its debt to a “B” rating. On Wednesday, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority faces a debt payment deadline, but is currently negotiating with creditors about restructuring.
Chilean Citizens and Mining Company Continue Dispute: Citizens in Caimanes, a small community in the north of Chile, are locked in a dispute with mining company Antofagasta Minerals over water, a precious resource in the arid region. Citizens claim that the Los Pelambres copper mine’s tailings dam is contributing to water scarcity and that the mine’s activity is contaminating water in their community. Juan Olivares, one of the citizens that has criticized Antofagasta Minerals, said this weekend, “They say we are looking for an economic reward. That has never been the goal […] We want the law to be respected in Chile.” A recent court ruling ordered the company to demolish the dam, but the company will appeal the decision, and is also exploring further investment in the area.
As a crowd gathered outside the entrance of the Summit of the America’s Hemispheric Civil Society and Social Actors Forum on Wednesday—one of four sponsored gatherings being held on the margins of the summit—a small parade of youth hoisting large Cuban and Venezuelan flags approached. Chanting revolutionary slogans such as “Viva la revolucion! Viva Cuba libre! Viva Venezuela,” they quickly forced their way to the entrance, where they were blocked by de facto bouncers attempting to sift those with badges through the chaos. “All of us or none of us, damn it!” one protester yelled.
The scene was a clear manifestation of the tension leading up to today’s summit, as Cubans from two opposing political poles—both claiming to represent the real Cuba—have flooded to Panama to be heard. Big name Cuban dissidents such as Berta Soler and Miriam Celaya headed human rights forums this week sponsored by the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba and Florida State University-Panama. Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez represented her new publication, 14 y medio, in the press pit—alongside Granma and other Cuban state publications. While famed Cuban musician Silvio Rodríguez inaugurated the parallel People’s Summit on Thursday, his son Silvito El Libre was slated to perform at a hip hop show sponsored by the Nation Endowment for Democracy in another part of town.
Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela has been under fire from both sides of the Cuba divide since he invited Cuban President Raúl Castro to the summit (Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama soon after issued their historic announcement of U.S.-Cuba rapprochement on December 17). Miami hardliners and Cuban dissidents condemned the temporary detention of dissident Rosa María Payá after she arrived at the Panama City airport, as well as the perceived legitimization of Cuba’s current government by Panama. Meanwhile, the Cuban government and pro-Castro groups protested the reported arrival of Guillermo Fariñas—recently pictured with Luis Posada Carriles, who was involved in the 1976 bombing of the Cuban flight 455—and Félix Rodríguez, implicated in the death of Che Guevara.
Argentina and the U.K. summoned each others’ ambassadors this week as tension between the two countries escalated over the territorial dispute involving the Falkland Islands, known as the Malvinas in Argentina.
Yesterday, the Argentine government announced that Deputy Foreign Minister Eduardo Zuain had called in British ambassador John Freeman to demand an explanation over media reports that the U.K. had conducted mass electronic surveillance on Argentina between 2006 and 2011 to prevent Argentina from launching attempts to reclaim the Falklands. The allegations, made earlier this month by the online publication The Intercept, were based on documents previously released by U.S. National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.
A statement released by the Argentine Foreign Ministry indicated Zuain also warned Freeman that Argentina would initiate legal action against multiple British energy companies for carrying out petroleum exploration activity on the continental shelf off the coast of the Falklands without the permission of Argentina’s Energy Secretariat. Later on Thursday, Argentina filed a lawsuit at the general prosecutor's office in Buenos Aires against the British firms Rockhopper Exploration Plc, Premier Oil Plc, Falkland Oil & Gas Ltd, Noble Energy Inc. and Edison International Spa. The lawsuit follows press releases from the oil companies Premier Oil Plc and Falkland Oil & Gas Ltd. on April 2 that they had made an oil well discovery off the South Atlantic Islands after nine months of drilling.
The events in Buenos Aires were preceded by a diplomatic meeting in London on Wednesday between British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and Argentine ambassador Alicia Castro. Hammond reportedly told Castro that his government disapproved of the “unacceptable” statements made by Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in recent weeks. On April 2—exactly 33 years after the 10-week Falklands War (Guerra de las Malvinas) broke out between the UK and Argentina in 1982—Fernández de Kirchner had stated that “International law and dialogue, not militarization, are the path to a reunion and sovereignty. We will see the islands form part of our territory again. It’s not just wishful thinking.”
A British Foreign Office spokesman said on April 9 that the U.K. “has no doubt about its sovereignty over the Falkland Islands and surrounding maritime areas, nor about the Falkland Islanders’ right to decide their own future. We object strongly to recent statements by the Argentine president and the Argentine ambassador to London and so summoned the ambassador to account for these.”
Clashes between Cuban and Venezuelan dissidents and pro-government supporters marked the initial proceedings of the Summit of the Americas in Panama City on Wednesday, two days before the summit officially begins. Cuba’s participation in the summit for the first time has sparked encounters between pro-Castro supporters and the Cuban exile community, many members of which are critical of Cuba’s invitation to the summit and the U.S. government’s warmed ties with the country.
A civil society forum, attended by Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, began an hour late after Cuban officials and supporters staged a protest against the presence of Cuban dissidents, whom they referred to as “mercenaries” and “terrorists,” as reported by EFE and AP. Venezuelan representatives also left the event in a show of support for the Cuban delegation.
Also on Wednesday, police reportedly arrested 12 people after supporters of the Cuban government came to blows with dissidents outside the Cuban embassy.
Cuban activists began arriving in Panama over the weekend, when it was reported that Rosa Mariá Payá, a high-profile Cuban dissident, was detained by Panamanian authorities upon her arrival in the country. Officials later released Payá and issued an apology.
Meanwhile, a protest in a Panama City park reportedly drew approximately 300 Venezuelans who demanded the release of political prisoners in their country.
Lilian Tintori, the wife of imprisoned Venezuelan opposition figure Leopoldo López, arrived in Panama Wednesday alongside Mitzy Capriles de Ledezma, the wife of imprisoned Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma. On Tuesday, prosecutors in Venezuela formally charged Ledezma with attempting to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro. The two women have decried what they describe as a deteriorating respect for human rights Venezuela and have called for the release of their husbands and more than opposition 30 mayors detained by the government. Tintori is reportedly expected to meet with President Bill Clinton while in Panama City.
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In Latin America, it is difficult for a pledge of $250 billion in direct investment to go unperceived, especially when the money is coming from China. At the China–Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) forum in Beijing in January, Chinese President Xi Jinping signaled that his country will continue to literally build its way into the region with its investments in Latin American infrastructure projects.
Latin America is in no position to reject China’s capital flows: Chinese economic growth is expected to hover around 7 percent, in stark contrast to the OECD’s forecast of 2.5-3 percent growth for the Latin American region as a whole.
In an effort to promote a more robust South-South cooperation and with the intent of competing with the United States as Latin America’s number one trading partner, Chinese investment in the region increased over 71 percent in the past year. More noteworthy is the fact that in 2010, total Chinese financing to Latin America exceeded that of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and U.S. Export-Import Bank combined, as the Inter-American Dialogue’s Margaret Myers has noted. For quite some time now, the Chinese dragon has been flying high in Latin America, especially in the Venezuelan, Argentinean, Brazilian, and Ecuadorian skies.
Two questions come to mind: what are the underlying conditions for Chinese investments in the region, and, more specifically, how do these loans differ from those offered by Washington in the early 1990s?
The IMF released a study yesterday that urges advanced and emerging economies to make increasing potential output a policy priority. The study also seems to support the idea that the global economy is in a period of “secular stagnation”—a period of chronic low growth, low interest rates and low inflation—a theory that has been debated by several economists since the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008.
The study, “Lower Potential Growth: A New Reality,” one of the analytical chapters of the IMF’s April 2015 publication of the World Economic Outlook, states that global potential output growth fell sharply since the onset of the financial crisis and is expected to remain lower than pre-crisis levels. Potential output is defined as the level of economic growth consistent with stable inflation. For advanced economies, the slowdown began in the early 2000s, when potential growth fell from 2.4 percent to 1.9 percent between 2001 and 2007. In emerging economies, potential growth during this period actually increased from 6.1 percent to 7.4 percent.
The study highlights how potential growth for all economies rest on the following three factors: employment growth, capital growth and productivity growth, which includes human capital growth. The financial crisis’ effect on these three factors differed for advanced and emerging economies. For advanced economies, the financial crisis meant lower employment levels (due to demographic changes), lower capital growth linked to decreased investment, and a short-term drop in total factor productivity. For emerging economies, total factor productivity suffered the most after the crisis—especially by those countries with higher foreign direct investment inflows from the United States—while employment growth was stable and capital growth actually increased.
In the past week, politicians and various experts have been weighing in on the negotiated framework between Iran and the permanent members of the UN Security Council (plus Germany) in Lausanne, Switzerland. While the Iranian nuclear deal appears on the surface to be quite an accomplishment, getting to a final agreement is no sure thing.
Some highlights of the deal include implementing an inspection regime, reducing the number of installed centrifuges from 19,000 to about 6,000, imposing limits on enriching uranium beyond a certain level considered crucial for making a bomb, transforming the mission of some existing nuclear installations, and reducing the stockpile of low enriched uranium. All in all, the goal is to prevent the creation of a nuclear bomb. Should Iran act contrary to its commitments, all options remain—including new sanctions or military action.
The major players, Iran and the United States, have been putting their respective spins about the meaning of the announced deal. In Iran, authorities claim that it will signal the immediate end of crippling sanctions. In the United States, the Obama administration argues that the agreement is the best way to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb and to ensure greater political stability in the region.
Opponents of the agreement have a completely different take. Saudi Arabia remains concerned about Iran’s regional intentions, and the current conflict in Yemen involving the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels is doing nothing to alleviate those concerns. Israel’s freshly re-elected prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has predictably trashed the agreement as a “bad” deal that must not be allowed to occur. He says it is a sure path to a nuclear bomb that could possibly destroy the state of Israel. U.S. Republicans, supportive of Netanyahu, have generally taken the view that Obama is so desperate to sign a deal that he is doing little to protect U.S. national interests.
The Comisión de Recursos Hidráulicos (Hydraulic Resources Commission) of Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies initiated a period of public hearings today to inform a new draft of the Ley General de Aguas (General Water Law), which will regulate the management of country’s water resources.
An earlier draft of the water bill, which appeared to have been “fast-tracked” for approval, provoked concern among civil society organizations, agrarian groups, academics, and some opposition lawmakers about the privatization of water services and the process that produced the bill, which critics said was not transparent. Concerns include the bill’s proposals to limit the human right to water to 50 liters per day, to liberalize water provision and management—including the licensing of private enterprises for the development of large-scale hydraulic projects—and to limit the independent study and testing of the country’s water resources.
According to a statement released by the commission, the earlier bill—popularly known as the Ley Korenfeld (Korenfeld Law) after the bill’s principal framer, David Korenfeld, the director of the Comisión Nacional del Agua (National Water Commission—CONAGUA)—“must give way to a new one based on public hearings where specialists, officials, community representatives, civil society organizations, research and higher education institutions, business and chamber of commerce representatives and the general public can make their proposals.” Korenfeld is currently under fire for employing a government helicopter for private use.
Meanwhile, proponents of the original bill have rejected claims that the the provisions it contains regarding the licensing of private companies to perform water management and provision services constitutes an effort to “privatize” the country’s water resources. The president of the Comisión de Aguas y Saneamiento (Water and Sanitation Commission) of the Chamber, Kamel Athié, denied that granting such licenses constitutes privatization of the resource and noted that the bill includes language describing water as a national security issue.
The Summit of the Americas in Panama this week could produce public performances worthy of an Academy Award nomination. Following recent efforts to re-establish diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba, Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro may stage a carefully choreographed handshake.
This eagerly anticipated moment could usher in a new chapter of U.S.–Latin American relations, as leaders south of the Rio Grande have repeatedly called for an end to U.S. aggression against Cuba. However, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro could upset the party by criticizing recent U.S. sanctions against Venezuela, which have been unanimously rejected by the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).
Yet beyond the theatrics, there could be very important diplomatic exchanges behind the scenes, which could prove pivotal for the world’s response to global climate change.
The United Nations climate change negotiations are headed towards a major deadline this December in Paris to create a new global agreement. The Summit of the Americas presents an ideal place for the U.S. and Latin American and Caribbean leaders to candidly and privately discuss the issue.
This week’s likely top stories: The Summit of the Americas commences in Panama; petition criticizes U.S. action against Venezuela; Argentine Central Bank inspects Citibank; TSJ initiates missiles trial in Bolivia; Canada and Venezuela discuss investment in Venezuelan oil.
Americas Summit Begins This Week in Panama: The seventh Summit of the Americas will take place this week from April 10 to 11 in Panama City, the first summit in which the leaders of all 35 countries in the hemisphere—including Cuba—will participate. Topics such as climate change, immigration, violence, and energy needs will be on the agenda, although U.S.–Cuba relations may dominate the summit. Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro will meet in person for the first time since they announced renewed diplomatic relations in December 2014, and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson confirmed on Friday that there would be an “interaction” between the two leaders. Meanwhile, Cuban dissidents have been invited to a separate meeting for civil society at the summit. Cuban dissident Rosa María Payá A. stated on Twitter yesterday that Panamanian authorities stopped and searched her at the airport upon arrival in Panama, and she was released after several hours.
Petition against Obama’s Action on Venezuela Gains Ground: Critics of President Barack Obama’s March 9 executive action that declared Venezuela a national security threat have circulated a petition that had gained over 8 million signatures by Saturday. The petition began in Venezuela, although many countries throughout the region have expressed their support for Venezuela. In March, all member nations of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) rejected Obama’s action against the country, which also included sanctions against select Venezuelan officials accused of human rights abuses and corruption. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro thanked supporters via Twitter on Sunday. Growing tension between the U.S. and Venezuela, which have not had full diplomatic relations since 2008, threatens to overshadow other issues to be discussed at the Summit of Americas this week.
Argentina’s Central Bank Sends Inspectors to Citibank for Supervision: On Monday, the Argentine Central Bank sent regulators to Citibank headquarters in Buenos Aires for an inspection. Central Bank president Alejandro Vanoli said that the inspection aimed to ensure that Citibank would be able to run normally without CEO Gabriel Ribisich, who was dismissed by the Central Bank on Wednesday for not following local regulations regarding Argentine interest payments on restructured debt. The Central Bank gave Citibank 24 hours to find a replacement for Ribisich, but the deadline was extended to Monday, due to the closure of banks for local holidays. Local entities, such as the Argentine Banks Association, the Argentine Business Association and the United States Chamber of Commerce in Argentina expressed their support for Citibank and criticized the decision. Citibank could still appeal the decision today.
On Wednesday, nearly 800 people filed a $1 billion lawsuit against Johns Hopkins University for its role in a research study that infected more than 1,600 Guatemalans with sexually transmitted diseases in the 1940s and 1950s. The plaintiffs include family members of individuals who died from complications from diseases they contracted during the study, which sought to study penicillin’s effect on the spread of gonorrhea, chancres and syphilis among sex workers, mental patients, prisoners, and soldiers.
The research, known as the U.S. Public Health Service Sexually Transmitted Disease Inoculation Study of 1946-1948, came to light in 2010, prompting apologies from President Barack Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to then-Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom. The next year, a presidential commission on bioethical research called the study a “gross violations of ethics,” and said the experiments constituted “especially egregious moral wrongs because many of the individuals involved held positions of public institutional responsibility.”
Such individuals included the U.S. surgeon general, the U.S. attorney general, Army and Navy medical officials, the presidents of the American Medical Association and the National Academy of Sciences, and experts from Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and the Universities of Pennsylvania and Rochester, who participated on a government committee that reviewed the research proposal and approved it for funding.
Johns Hopkins spokesperson Kim Hoppe called the lawsuit an “attempt by the plaintiffs’ counsel to exploit a historic tragedy for monetary gain.” Robert Mathias, the lead counsel for Johns Hopkins, called the lawsuit "baseless,” saying the university “did not initiate, pay for or direct” the study. A Rockefeller spokesperson called the experiments "morally repugnant," but said the foundation would fight the lawsuit, stating that it had no role in the study’s planning, funding or execution.
The lawsuit, filed in Baltimore Circuit Court, also named the Rockefeller Foundation and pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb as defendants. The victims’ lawyer, Paul Bekman, said the case was about “accountability and responsibility.”
Wednesday’s lawsuit isn’t the first related to the nearly 70-year-old study. Victims and their families filed a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. government in 2012, but the government rejected the suit on the grounds that the U.S. government can’t be sued for damages it caused abroad.
La pregunta que el cofundador y director de Personal Democracy Media, Micah L. Sifry, se hizo en su libro, “The Big Disconnect: Why the Internet Hasn’t Transformed Politics (Yet)” (“La gran desconexión: Por qué Internet no ha transformado la política (aún)”), ocupa desde hace años la mente de activistas, politólogos, hackers, periodistas y todos aquellos quienes creemos que la democracia y la transparencia son valores intrínsecos de las sociedades.
Y por eso, cada vez son más comunes los espacios en que, de manera voluntaria, esta nueva tribu de transformadores que quieren cambiar la política a través de la red se da cita para crear herramientas tecnológicas que ayuden a los funcionarios públicos a mejorar su desempeño dentro de los órganos del poder público, y a crear canales de comunicación directa con los ciudadanos para escuchar sus opiniones y asimismo rendirles cuentas.
En encuentros cívicos semanales o por un día entero, los “hacktivistas” se ofrecen para realizar talleres sobre los datos públicos, realizando visualizaciones de estadísticas o creando aplicaciones para entender órganos tan complejos como el Congreso. Estas sesiones son conocidas como “hackatones” (hackathons).
Precisamente el Ash Center para la Gobernanza Democrática y la Innovación del Harvard Kennedy School, junto con fundaciones como Opengov y PopVox, patrocina actualmente una competencia entre equipos multidisciplinarios (no sólo para programadores) para diseñar propuestas para ayudar al Congreso de Estados Unidos ser más eficiente, eficaz y responsable ante los ciudadanos. La competencia, conocida como #Hack4Congress, ya tuvo lugar en Cambridge y San Francisco, y se realizará la última “hackaton” en Washington DC el próximo 29 de abril. Los equipos ganadores de las tres ediciones presentarán sus propuestas a los legisladores y el personal del Congreso de EEUU a finales de la primavera.
With the conclusion on Tuesday of the first formal talks between Cuba and the United States on human rights, both countries agreed that they were capable of holding a “respectful, professional [and] civilized conversation” on the issue of human rights.
Representatives from both countries met yesterday in Washington DC in the first of many dialogues to be held between the U.S. and Cuba as part of the process to normalize bilateral relations, first announced by U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro on December 17, 2014.
The U.S. delegation was led by Tom Malinowski, the U.S. undersecretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor. Meanwhile, Pedro Luis Pedroso, deputy director of multilateral affairs and international law at the Cuban Foreign Ministry, headed the Cuban delegation.
Cuban Ambassador Anaysansi Rodríguez Camejo acknowledged “differences” between the two sides in terms of how human rights “are protected and promoted in their respective countries as in the international arena.”
When my mother decided to bring my brothers and me to this country from Mexico six years ago, she did it because she wanted us to have a better future. My mom is a single mother with five children, and she always explained to us that the educational system here was much better than in my country. That was the simple reason why she brought us to the United States. Right now, I’m in 11th grade, and my dream is to go to college and have a good career.
Being in college would mean a lot to me: not only because of how proud it would make my mom, but because I would be the first woman in my family to go to college. But without financial aid, college is something that my family would not be able to afford—it’s just too expensive. The problem is, without the New York State DREAM Act, I can’t apply for New York’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) because I’m undocumented. Simply put, I can’t pursue my dreams because of my immigration status.
The New York State DREAM Act had brought me high hopes of going to college. I am willing to work as much as it takes to qualify for tuition assistance if the DREAM Act passes and opens up the door to college to me. It would also make my mother—who gave up everything to bring us to this country for a better education—less worried about whether or not I’ll be able to go to college.
The companies being investigated by Brazil's Federal Public Ministry include large banks such as Santander, as well some of Brazil’s largest public and private enterprises, among them Embraer and the country’s embattled state-run oil giant, Petrobras. The companies are suspected of paying bribes to members of Brazil’s Conselho Administrativo de Recursos Fiscais (Administrative Council of Tax Appeals—CARF), a body within the Finance Ministry that deals with tax disputes, in order to reduce or avoid fines for tax evasion.
The federal investigation, called Operação Zelotes (Operation Zealots), began in 2013 but exploded into the public consciousness last Thursday, when federal police raided CARF headquarters and the offices of several of the companies and individuals believed to be involved in the scheme. While no arrests were made, authorities seized 1.3 million reais in cash (about $400,000), as well as reams of documents. Investigators have shown that the scheme has cost government coffers $1.8 billion, but believe that the real number could be as high as $5.9 billion.
Several companies, including Brasil Foods (BRF) and Marcopolo, have released statements denying any wrongdoing. In a press release, BRF stated that it will “take all measures necessary to protect its interests.” Others have taken a different tack. Federico Paiva, one of the prosecutors leading the investigation, indicated yesterday that several of the companies under investigation have signaled their willingness to enter into a plea bargain. The Federal Public Ministry has reportedly begun to analyze those proposals today.
This week’s likely top stories: Bolivia holds local elections; Cuba and the U.S. to discuss human rights; Caribbean Bitcoin exchange launches; UNASUR head urges closing of U.S. military bases in the region; Chile rejects Bolivian aid for flood victims.
Bolivia’s MAS Party Loses La Paz in Local Elections: Bolivian citizens elected local government leaders on Sunday, with President Evo Morales’ party, Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement Towards Socialism—MAS) winning most governments, according to unofficial results. MAS won four out of nine provinces (Pando, Potosí, Oruro and Cochabamba) outright, and led in two other provinces that will now advance to a second round of votes on May 3, due to a close race. However, MAS lost La Paz, as well as Santa Cruz and Tarija provinces. Félix Patzi, from the Solidaridad y Libertad party (Solidarity and Liberty) secured approximately 52 percent of the votes for the governorship of La Paz. Official results are expected later on Monday.
U.S. Confirms Human Rights Meeting with Cuba: On Friday, a U.S. government spokesperson confirmed that U.S. and Cuban officials will meet on Tuesday, March 31 in Washington, DC for a preliminary discussion on human rights. The undersecretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, Tom Malinowski, will lead the U.S. delegation. Pedro Luis Pedroso, deputy director of multilateral affairs and international law at the Cuban Foreign Ministry, said that the Cuban delegation will detail the country’s current and past successes in the area of human rights. This will be the fourth round of talks since the re-establishment of ties between the two countries. U.S. President Barack Obama hopes to re-open embassies before the Summit of the Americas in Panama on April 10-11.
Caribbean Bitcoin Exchange Launched: The Caribbean Bitcoin exchange “Bitt,” which is based in Barbados, was launched on Monday. Bitt, powered by digital currency exchange software company AlphaPoint, will be operating after confirming $1.5 million in seed funding from venture capital group Avatar Capital. The exchange will allow customers to trade in 11 fiat currencies, including the U.S. dollar and the euro. CEO Gabriel Abed praised the positive impact that Bitt will have. “By facilitating trade between traditional and digital currency markets, Bitt is creating the platform for very low-cost international commerce and remittance between the people who need it most—the millions of unbanked and underbanked citizens in the Caribbean,” he said.
March 26 marked the sixth straight month that Mexicans around the world have mobilized to express their dissatisfaction and frustration with the wave of violence, impunity and corruption that has swept the country in the past decade.
According to the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances, more than 23,000 Mexicans are currently registered as missing, journalists and scholars are threatened and silenced, and everyday spaces are invaded by the various manifestations of this violence. The disappearance of 43 students from the teachers’ college of Ayotzinapa—with the clear involvement of local authorities, police and members of drug cartels in Guerrero—and the deaths of six others in the same protest last September, has stoked the fire of an already actively engaged civil society.
From the Movimiento por la Paz con Justicia y Dignidad (Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity), which marks its fourth anniversary this month, to the #YoSoy132 movement that began in 2012, the clamor for peace, justice, truth, and accountability has only grown stronger.
The Mexican government has attempted to put an end to the protests and criticism by bringing the Ayotzinapa case to a quick conclusion and by recently replacing Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam, infamous for muttering “ya me cansé” (“I’m tired”) at a press conference after the students’ disappearance—a phrase that was quickly repurposed as the slogan of a massive protest movement on social media under the hashtag #YaMeCansé.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov culminated a four-country tour of Latin America on Thursday in what was widely seen as Moscow’s latest bid to counteract Western sanctions over Russia’s policies in Ukraine and Crimea. Earlier this week, Lavrov met with heads of state Raúl Castro in Cuba, Juan Manual Santos in Colombia and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. Lavrov ended his trip Thursday after visiting Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina and meeting top officials at the Central American Integration System (SICA) in Guatemala City to discuss Russia's relationship with Central America.
This is the second visit the foreign minister has paid to the region within the last year—in April 2014, barely a month after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, he traveled to Nicaragua, Cuba, Chile, and Peru. Several months later, in July 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin also made stops in Argentina, Cuba and Nicaragua prior to attending the BRICS international conference in Brazil.
Lavrov said that one of his main objectives in Havana on Tuesday was to discuss U.S. trade policies with the island. While he remarked that the normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations is viewed positively by Russia , he also called for an immediate end to the U.S. trade embargo. Lavrov also declared Washington’s policies “totally inconsistent,” comparing the U.S. détente with Cuba to its tense relationship with Venezuela.
“Even as the U.S. was taking this step with Cuba, it was simultaneously pressuring Venezuela, declaring it a threat to U.S. national security. We would like the United States to stop looking for enemies in its geographical surroundings and listen to a unanimous voice of Latin America and the Caribbean Basin,” he stated.
Despite recent speculation that Nicaragua and Russia intend to re-establish military ties through Nicaragua’s purchase of Russian fighter jets, reports from the meeting in Managua on Wednesday did not include specifics about such negotiations. Instead, Ortega voiced a desire to collaborate on projects related to agriculture, transportation infrastructure, civil aviation, satellite navigation, and the pharmaceutical industry.
When the Canadian House of Commons adopted a resolution back in early October 2014 to join the coalition to combat ISIS beyond its foothold in Syria and Iraq, there was a provision for a renewal of the commitment in six months. This Tuesday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper introduced a new motion to extend Canada’s role in the coalition for another year. A major modification, however, expanded operations to include airstrikes in Syria—a sovereign country torn by civil war with a leader who has committed his own atrocities.
This being an election year, debate in the House has predictably strong partisan overtones.
The Harper government, fully conscious of the majority support Canadian have expressed in recent polls for Canada’s participation in the coalition, has argued to extend the ISIS mission to avoid a greater security threat at home. The so-called lone-wolf terrorist acts in the autumn in both St.-Jean, Québec (where a Canadian soldier was killed), and on Parliament Hill in Ottawa (where a reserve soldier standing guard was also killed) only reinforced Canadian support.
Bill C-51, the proposed legislation to give increased powers to Canada’s intelligence-gathering agency (CSIS), also benefits from majority support, even as the debate rages on between those wanting stronger security measures and those fearful of the lack of civilian oversight for the protection of civil liberties. It is fair to say that the Harper government sees further gain for its electoral prospects.
On March 25, Chile’s Interior Ministry declared a state of emergency for cities in the country’s northern Atacama and Antofogasta regions after flash flooding from the worst rains in two decades left at least four people dead and 22 missing. Meanwhile, high temperatures and strong winds in southern Chile are making it harder for authorities to fight forest fires that have raged for weeks and have affected over 11,000 acres in three protected areas.
Overflowing rivers in northern Chile forced residents out of their homes and onto roofs, while mudslides cut off road access to several small towns. Approximately 1,500 people had to take refuge into shelters. On Wednesday evening, 48,000 people were without drinking water and 38,500 were without electricity.
In response to the flooding, President Michelle Bachelet traveled to Copiapó in Atacama on Wednesday evening after authorizing the armed forces to assist in rescue operations.
On Monday night, Uruguayan Minister of Foreign Affairs Rodolfo Nin Novoa announced that Uruguay will no longer offer asylum to additional Guantanamo prisoners, amid reports that one of the ex-prisoners currently living in Montevideo is threating to go on a hunger strike.
Novoa said in a press conference that the decision by Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez’ administration to not receive any more ex-prisoners from Guantánamo Prison was “definitive.” The minister also added that Uruguay would postpone the arrival of refugees from Syria until the end of the year due to “cultural and infrastructural shortcomings” and a need to better plan “these kinds of operations.” Forty-two Syrian refugees arrived in Uruguay last October after the government admitted them on humanitarian grounds.
Minister Novoa’s announcement marks a departure from the foreign policy agenda of former Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, who received a total of six released prisoners from Guantánamo on December 7, 2014, making Uruguay the second country, after El Salvador in 2012, to receive detainees from the U.S. prison in Cuba. This February, prior to his departure from office, Mujica visited five of the six former prisoners in their home and encouraged them to learn Spanish as quickly as possible so they can go back to work and restart their lives. Four of the former prisoners are from Syria, one is Palestinian, and another is Tunisian.
Former prisoner Jihad Ahmed Mustafa Dhiab, 43, reportedly said that he would begin a hunger strike and chain himself outside the walls of the U.S. embassy in Montevideo in order to demand that the U.S. offer compensation for the years of torture and imprisonment he has suffered. However, Dhiab’s lawyer told the press in Uruguay that Dhiab has no such plans.
Brazil’s economy is expected to contract by 0.83 percent this year and inflation to climb to 8.12 percent, according to the Brazilian Central Bank’s weekly survey of financial experts, which was released yesterday. The growth forecast for 2016 was also lowered from 1.3 percent last week to 1.2 percent this week. According to Bruno Rovai, an analyst at Barclays, “[…] incoming data supported our view that Brazil will face a recession this year, and that any strong recovery will be hard to achieve next year.”
Yesterday’s survey marks the 12th consecutive week of worsening forecasts on the Brazilian economy, and come at a tense time for Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who is dealing with an escalating corruption scandal involving the state-run oil company, Petrobras. Rousseff has also received criticism, including from traditional allies, for austerity measures that her government has introduced to manage Brazil’s deficit and inflation woes.
“We do not discard the possibility that political risks could increase in the next few weeks, given Petrobras’ audit result deadline or corruption investigations escalating further,” said Rovai. Petrobras is due to publish its audited fourth quarter results at the end of the month.
This week's likely top stories: Intelligence chiefs to be replaced in Peru; Citigroup is permitted to process Argentine debt payment; Costa Rica sets global clean energy record; former Spanish PM to defend Venezuelan opposition leaders; Ayotzinapa victims’ families visit Amnesty International.
Peruvian Intelligence Chiefs Fired amid Spying Allegations: The Peruvian Presidency of the Council of Ministers issued two resolutions that were published on Sunday, announcing the dismissal of Ivan Kamisaki, the executive director of the National Directorate of Intelligence (DINI), and accepting the resignation of Javier Briceño, the national intelligence director. Kamisaki and Briceño were accused of spying and misconduct after media outlets published information allegedly gathered by DINI on citizens, including former President Alejandro Toledo and current Defense Minister Pedro Cateriano. In February, Prime Minister Ana Jara announced that DINI would be temporarily closed for restructuring in response to complaints that it had spied on opposition politicians.
U.S. Judge Authorizes Citigroup to Process Argentine Debt Payments: Citigroup announced in a statement on Saturday that U.S. judge Thomas Griesa has authorized the bank to resume processing interest payments for Argentine bonds, with payments now scheduled for March 31 and possibly June 30, 2015. The bank had been caught in the middle of the dispute between the Argentine government and U.S. “holdout” creditors who refused to restructure their debt, leading Argentina to go into default for the second time in 13 years in August 2014. Previously, Griesa had permitted Argentina to pay restructured bond holders, but later decided that Argentina could not pay those creditors until it had paid holdouts. NML Capital, one of the holdouts, said it had reached an agreement with Citibank on Sunday to allow the interest payments to resume. The bank recently said it could lose its banking license in Argentina if it is not allowed to make interest payments.
Costa Rica Sets Renewable Energy Record: On Sunday, Costa Rica set a global record for renewable energy use, cementing its status as a world leader in clean energy. The Central American nation has experienced heavy rainfall in recent months, and on Sunday, the country set a record by going 75 days in a row using 100 percent renewable energy. Costa Rica relies on four hydroelectric dams to supply its energy needs, has not used fossil fuels since December 2014. Renewable energy expert Jake Richardson warned that the country should make sure to diversify its renewable sources, as the availability of hydro power can vary widely with the seasons, and hydroelectric dams can harm river ecosystems.
Former Spanish Prime Minister to Defend Venezuelan Opposition Leaders: Felipe González Márquez, Spain’s Socialist Prime Minister from 1982 to 1996, will join the defense team of imprisoned Venezuelan politicians Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma, announced his spokesperson Joaquín Tagar on Monday. González, a lawyer by profession, has expressed concern about the current political and economic crisis in Venezuela. López has been incarcerated since February 2014 and Ledezma, the mayor of Caracas, was arrested in February 2015 for an alleged plot against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
Families of Missing Mexican Students Appeal to Amnesty International: Felipe de la Cruz, the father of one of the survivors of the tragic attack on students in Ayotzinapa, Mexico in September 2014, spoke to the U.S. branch of Amnesty International on Saturday in New York City. The families of the students went to Amnesty International to present their case in hopes of receiving recommendations from the human rights organization on how to advance their cause. The families also aim to visit the United Nations, but a meeting has not yet been confirmed. Saturday’s presentation was part of “Caravana 43,” a tour of 43 cities across the U.S. to boost support for an independent investigation into the victims’ fates.
A new round of negotiations will begin on March 27 over Panama’s $225 million Barro Blanco hydroelectric project—now 95 percent complete, but the source of a long-standing feud between the Generadora del Istmo S.A. (GENISA) company, the contractor for the dam, and the Ngäbe Buglé Indigenous group, which is vehemently opposed to the project due to environmental concerns.
After a wave of local protests stalled construction work on February 9, the Panamanian government launched negotiations with GENISA and Indigenous communities on February 21. The government has since agreed to investigate alleged environmental violations committed by GENISA, including the mismanagement of solid and hazardous waste and failure to coordinate the use of explosives and flammable substances with the fire department.
GENISA is a Panamanian company created specifically for the construction of the Barro Blanco dam. The project has been financed through equity capital, as well as loans provided by the German Investment Corporation (DEG), the Netherlands Development Finance Company (FMO) and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI).
The talks are being led by a high-level committee headed by Panamanian Vice President and Foreign Minister Isabel de Saint Malo de Alvarado, and facilitated by the UN in the district of Tolé, 400 kilometers west of Panama City. Other committee members include Security Minister Rodolfo Aguilera, Interior Minister Milton Henriquez, Labor Minister Luis Ernesto Carles, and Minister for the Environment Mirei Endara.
March has been a tough month for the Brazilian government. In the past few weeks, millions of people have taken to the streets to protest against President Dilma Rousseff and demand her impeachment, the country’s local currency devalued to its lowest exchange rate in 12 years and state oil giant Petrobras continued to be engulfed in one of the biggest corruption scandals in the country’s history.
To top it off, national unemployment went up and Rousseff’s popularity hit an all-time low. Pollster Datafolha released figures this week showing the president’s approval rating reached 13 percent, the lowest presidential approval level since 1992.
In an effort to rebound from these negative numbers, Rousseff is schedule to announce some changes to her government roster. This comes after Minister of Education Cid Gomes resigned earlier this week.
She also presented an anti-corruption government package before Congress on Wednesday that introduced reforms such as requiring government officials to have no criminal records (known as “Ficha Limpa” or clean slate), making it illegal for unregulated slush funds to be used in the financing of electoral campaigns, and granting the judicial ministry the power to seize goods and properties of those convicted of corruption.
“Prevent and battle,” Rousseff said as she introduced her latest defensive strategy. “This is what we see as the essential strategy in order to deepen Brazil’s commitment with democracy.”
On Thursday, Chilean president Michelle Bachelet announced new measures to curb corruption in Chile’s public sector. Speaking from the government palace La Moneda in Santiago, Bachelet declared that all public sector officials will be required to annually submit a declaration of financial assets, with the first submission deadline set for April 30, 2015. Bachelet also plans to amend the constitution to mandate that former presidents continue to file the declaration of assets even after they have left office. Bachelet asserted that she will make the first move by declaring her own assets.
While outlining the plan, Bachelet remarked that “solutions must be at the institutional level to keep our democracy strong. The Chilean state is based on public trust, respect for institutions and that pact of trust must be renewed.”
The declaration comes amid a series of political scandals that have troubled the country in recent months, including a case involving Bachelet’s son, Sebastián Dávalos. Dávalos resigned from his position as socio-cultural director of the presidency in February following allegations that his family received preferential treatment for a private-sector bank loan they sought to purchase land. In a separate high-profile case, several political figures that founded the financial company Penta Group were detained earlier this month on charges of tax fraud and bribery. A third recent case of corruption involves the Chilean fertilizer group SQM, which is accused of illicit campaign financing.
Bachelet’s plan received mixed responses. Opposition leaders said the plan did not go far enough to fight corruption. Eduardo Engel, president of Chile’s anti-corruption board, argued that while the plan sends a strong signal, it would not be the end of the corruption battle. “This is a very powerful first step […] but it must only be seen as the first step and not as something that completely solves the problem.”
Guatemala City, Guatemala
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
San Salvador, El Salvador
Julio Rank Wright
Christian Gómez, Jr.
Johanna Mendelson Forman