Vice President Joe Biden spent just under 24 hours in Trinidad and Tobago, where he sought to renew America’s bonds with the Caribbean through a small summit-like meeting with leaders of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Dominican Republic. In that short period of time, it became apparent that the traditional dynamic that has characterized the relationship between the Caribbean and the United States may be coming to an end.
Perhaps this is due to the growing fiscal strength of a region, which currently sees economic growth rates that are twice that of Europe. Perhaps it is due to the increasing regional engagement of the world’s other great economic power, China. Whatever the reason, the archetypical “banana republic”-style heads of government that some in the U.S. may be accustomed to were not on hand during this meeting.
By all accounts, the dialogue held between Vice President Biden and the many Caribbean heads of government in attendance was bold, frank and—in the words of Trinidadian Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar—at times “brutal.”
The issues of rum subsidies and criminal deportations quickly rose to the top of the agenda. Caribbean leaders are insistent that the subsidies offered by the U.S. government to rum producers in their Caribbean territories is having a substantial negative impact on the trade economies of the rest of the Caribbean. Regarding criminal deportation, the complaint is that non-American citizens who are sentenced to more than one year in a U.S. prison are subsequently deported back to their country of origin upon their release. Yet, the receiving government is often prevented from getting information from the federal or state governments about the deportee’s offense.
While Prime Minister Stephen Harper was conducting a Latin American tour last week, a firestorm was in full force concerning questionable expenses of prominent Conservative senators Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin. Before Harper actually left for Latin America, his respected chief of staff, Nigel Wright, had already resigned from his post after making the decision to give Senator Duffy $90,000 to pay a portion of his debt to the Canadian public.
Meanwhile, the official opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) called for the outright abolition of the Senate—an appointed upper chamber of the Canadian Parliament. This has been the traditional position of the NDP for years. Prime Minister Harper has long been a strong proponent of major senate reform both during his opposition years and now. His approach revolves around the concept of a “Triple E Senate”—elected, equal and effective. The third Canadian parliamentary party, the Liberal party, having benefited for many years from dominating the Senate, has been far more ambiguous about its vision. Currently, legal issues regarding senate reform have been referred to the Canadian Supreme Court for a ruling.
The original intent of the Senate was to provide “sober second thought” on legislation emanating from the lower House—the House of Commons. In addition, the Senate was meant to play a role in defending provincial responsibilities and interests. The Federal Cabinet nominates senators. Over the years, the Senate has comprised a mix of party officials being rewarded for past services and prominent citizens called to another form of civic engagement.
To most Canadians, the Senate is not a major force or concern regarding how the nation conducts its business. So, abolition? Reform? Perhaps we need to start with the question: Is it still a legitimate body in today’s modern parliamentary system?
After visiting Colombia and Trinidad and Tobago this week, U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden began a three day tour of Brazil today that is expected to focus largely on energy cooperation and economic growth.
Biden’s first stop on his tour is Rio de Janeiro. While there, the vice president will address energy-sector business leaders, tour a Petrobras deep-water oil exploration research facility and visit community leaders in a favela. On Friday, he will travel to the capital city of Brasilia to meet with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.
The discovery of large oil reserves off the coast of Brazil could help reduce U.S. dependence on oil in the Middle East, and U.S. technology designed to extract shale gas could serve as the foundation of an energy deal between the two countries. Vice President Biden and President Rousseff are also expected to discuss Rousseff’s October trip to the United States. It will mark the first state visit by a Brazilian executive to the U.S. in nearly twenty years.
In addition to the bilateral agenda—which includes energy cooperation and development projects in science and technology as part of Brazil’s Science Without Borders initiative—the vice president’s trip also reiterates the United States’ interest in Latin America as a strategic economic partner. Prior to Biden’s tour of the region, President Obama visited Mexico and Costa Rica earlier this month.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, Peru was plagued by a wave of terrorism mainly attributed to the Shining Path, a Maoist guerrilla group. In their attempt to violently overthrow the government, guerillas carried out assassinations, bombings and brutal massacres.
The Peruvian government reacted by suspending constitutional rights and mobilizing its intelligence agencies as paramilitary groups massacred villagers suspected of supporting the Shining Path. Now, 20 years after the Shining Path's power waned with the arrest of its founder, Abimael Guzmán in 1992, some Peruvians fear that a new iteration of the group has risen up.
The Movimiento Por Amnistia y Derechos Fundamentales (Movement for Amnesty and Fundamental Rights—Movadef) was founded in 2009 by lawyers for Abimael Guzmán and is considered a political arm of the Shining Path. According to its website, the group aims to create political transformation through promoting workers' rights. But Movadef is motivated largely by its goal of securing the release of Guzmán, as well as other first-generation guerrilla leaders who are currently serving life sentences in prison. The group claims that providing amnesty to Shining Path leaders will lead to national healing and reconciliation.
Movadef has expanded rapidly in recent months, with supporters popping up from Argentina to Chile. Many Peruvians remain shocked by the group’s ability to gain support in universities and the teachers' union, and to appeal so easily to the nation’s youth. Although Peru's economy is one of the fastest-growing in Latin America, residents point out that stark inequalities still exist. Some suggest that Movadef is more organized and accessible than the government's own agencies, many of which are notoriously inefficient.
On Monday, various Mexican government officials were joined by the representative of the United Nations' Human Rights office in Mexico at an event to mark the creation of a special investigative unit to search for missing people. The unit will be part of the attorney general’s office and will increase the number of federal investigators dedicated to these cases from 6 to 12 people; a group of federal police agents will provide support. The International Committee of the Red Cross will also provide technical assistance to the new unit.
During a press conference on Monday, Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam said that the new unit will improve institutional coordination by guaranteeing that the same investigators and forensic experts remain on cases until they are solved. “Today we want to eliminate the bureaucratic mess […] we are going to exhaust all options and be completely transparent in regard to the results of the program,” he said.
Interior Secretary Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong recognized the victim’s families’ dissatisfaction with the current system and said that the government will use all necessary resources to locate their missing family members. In the absence of a coordinated system, many of the victims’ families have had to take full responsibility for investigations and shoulder the costs of the investigations.
Mexican authorities are also working on creating a single database of missing individuals. Official records report that 26,121 people disappeared during Felipe Calderón’s presidency (2006-2012) in a wave of violence associated with the government’s crackdown on narcotraffickers, a put together by the previous administration and made public earlier this year. According to Osorio, the number of disappeared could be “significantly lower," as some of the people who were reported as missing had left their homes temporarily or decided to migrate, and thus should be removed from the official list.
At the end of the press conference, families responded to the government’s announcement by saying, “We don’t want promises, we want results.” To date, official sources have not revealed the amount of funds that will be directed to the special unit.
Alfonso Portillo, the former Guatemalan president, was extradited to New York last Friday to stand trial on charges of laundering at least $70 million through U.S. banks.
A U.S. grand jury indicted Portillo on money laundering charges in 2010, and by 2011 he had run out of appeals. The Constitutional Court ruled that the former president should be extradited to the U.S. in August 2011.
As rumors swirled about the potential extradition on Friday morning, Portillo was asked by a national newspaper if he had heard anything. He replied, “I’m watching TV, so it is not true.” An hour later, Portillo was being taken to La Aurora International Airport, where an eight-seat private jet was waiting to take him to the United States with an escort of four members of the U.S. Secret Service.
“This is an abuse, this is a kidnapping, they have broken the law in the process. I have appeals pending,” fumed Portillo in an interview with Radio Sonora.
Mauricio Berreondo, Portillo’s attorney, told reporters his version of events. "[Guatemalan officials] showed up at the hospital, said, 'get dressed, put on this shirt and we are taking you to the Air Force base.’”
On Friday, Human rights organizations across Latin America will take to the streets to protest the May 20 decision by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court to overturn the genocide conviction of former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt. The Guatemalan general was sentenced to 80 years in prison on May 10 for ordering the deaths of at least 1,771 members of the Ixil Maya ethnic group during his 1982–1983 rule.
Protesters in Argentina, Mexico, Honduras, Peru, and Nicaragua will march to the Guatemalan embassy in each country in solidarity with the victims of the violence. Human rights activists in Guatemala City will also march from Parliament to the Supreme Court of Justice, ending in front of the Supreme Constitutional Court. Organizers in Guatemala expect some 10,000 participants.
The idea for the marches arose on Wednesday after 70 human rights and victims’ organizations throughout the hemisphere—including the Fundación Rigoberta Menchú (Rigoberta Menchú foundation), the Asociación de Familiares de Detenidos y Desaparecidos (Association of the Families of the Disappeared and Detained) and the Comisión Nacional de Viudas (National Commission of Widows)—signed a statement calling the decision to annul Ríos Montt’s conviction “illegal” and demanding that the court reestablish the conviction.
Participants in today’s demonstrations see Ríos Montt’s conviction for genocide and crimes against humanity as a triumph for international human rights. Ríos Montt was the first dictator to be convicted of genocide in Latin America. After the defense lodged several appeals with the court over alleged irregularities in the case, the constitutional court annulled the conviction and returned the trial to where it was on April 19.
Trinidad and Tobago, known more for Carnival and sandy beaches, is not often discussed in terms of its strategic importance to the United States. Yet there are several reasons that this small two-island nation appears on U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s itinerary for his trip to Latin America next week. After traveling to Brazil and Colombia, home to the two largest economies in South America, Biden will visit Port of Spain just over four years after President Barack Obama was in Trinidad for the 2009 Summit of the Americas.
The juxtaposition of this small island nation with the extremely large and influential nations of Brazil and Colombia may appear odd. However, Trinidad and Tobago is quickly becoming a much more important player in regional affairs and an increasingly important friend of the United States.
While it is not the oil exporter that Mexico, Canada, and Venezuela are, Trinidad and Tobago falls just behind Ecuador and Brazil, on average, as a Western Hemispheric supplier of crude oil. Additionally, Trinidad and Tobago is the largest supplier of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to the United States. Trinidad and Tobago’s position as an energy exporter becomes even more significant in the context of the U.S. goal to reduce its dependence on Middle Eastern supplies of energy.
Over the last decade, proximity to the Venezuelan coast has also made Trinidad and Tobago a prime transit point for drug traffickers moving narcotics out of South America to markets in Europe and the United States. Incidences of violent crime and narcotics-related gang activity have peaked, leading the government to declare a state of emergency in August of 2011. To help combat drug gangs, the Trinidadian government has worked with the United States government through a variety of programs, including the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative.
On Wednesday, during a one day visit to Peru, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a new aid package aimed in part at helping regional governments more effectively reinvest taxes and royalties from mining in programs to alleviate poverty.
During the first official visit to Peru by a Canadian prime minister, Harper met with executives from Canadian mining companies before meeting with Peruvian President Ollanta Humala to reveal the new $53 billion aid package. The package, which more than doubles Canada’s aid to the Andean country, includes funds to develop mechanisms to more efficiently and transparently allocate the $4 billion regional governments have amassed in unspent royalties.
Humala, who campaigned on a platform of social inclusion and poverty eradication, imposed the mining royalties as part of that commitment. But that money lies idle in government bank accounts, while half of Peru’s rural population continues to live below the poverty line and violent anti-mining protests have sprung up.
Canada has a large presence in Peru’s mining sector. Currently 75 Canadian mining companies are engaged in gold, silver or copper exploration throughout Peru.
Canada’s increased investment in Peru is part of a broader initiative rolled out by the Canadian government in fall 2012 to ensure that Canada’s federal spending goes toward efforts that boost the country’s commercial interests and to encourage investment in socially and environmentally responsible industries.
The Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF) reports this month that Latin America and the Caribbean received an estimated $61.3 million in migrant remittances in 2012. In the new study, “Remittances to Latin America and the Caribbean 2012: Differing Behavior Across Subregions,” the MIF suggests that the weak economic recovery experienced in major remittance-sending markets such as the United States, Spain and Japan is continuing to impact remittance flows to the region. However, despite challenges such as persistent levels of unemployment in host countries, Latin American migrants continued to demonstrate the resiliency of remittance transfers. Stable money transfer practices resulted in a 0.6 percent growth in remittance flows last year.
Migrant remittances are person-to-person money transfers of small amounts—usually between $200 and $400 per transfer depending on the country—and are most commonly used to cover the day-to-day expenses of the recipient families. These small amounts of money add up, and in 2012 migrant remittances to Guyana, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua represented over 15 percent of GDP. In Haiti, remittances comprised 25 percent of GDP.
While 0.6 percent growth is obviously modest, the MIF reports that certain sub-regions within Latin America and the Caribbean displayed juxtaposing trends in their remittance flows. South America and Mexico actually experienced a reduction in remittances—a 1.1 percent decline overall in South America and a 1.6 percent drop in Mexico. Central America, however, closed out the year with a surprising 6.5 percent gain in remittance volume.
The presidents of Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru—which together represent 36 percent of Latin America’s GDP—begin arriving in Cali, Colombia, today for the seventh Pacific Alliance Summit. Spanish President Mariano Rajoy, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, and representatives from Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and Uruguay will also be attending the presidential summit on Thursday.
Members of the Pacific Alliance bloc, created last June, are focusing on decreasing trade barriers and fostering the free circulation of goods, services, capital, and people. One way it seeks to accomplish this is by making the elimination of travel visas between member-states a requirement—a sticking point that could deter Canada from becoming a member. The rapidly-growing alliance differs from other regional groups such as Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (ALBA), Mercado Común del Sur (Mercosur) and Unión de Naciones Suramericanas (UNASAUR) in that it seeks to capitalize on global flows rather than protect against globalization.
This week’s meeting marks the seventh presidential summit in two years to promote greater economic opportunities and deepen cooperation between Latin America and Asia-Pacific countries. While the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) already includes Asian members, Mexican Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergio Alcocer believes that the Pacific Alliance’s focus on bilateral trade agreements across the Pacific could open up Asian markets before the TPP.
By a majority of 3-2 the Guatemalan Constitutional Court ruled on Monday to throw out General Efrain Rios Montt’s guilty verdict and 80-year sentence for genocide and crimes against humanity, returning the trial to the proceedings of April 19.
The Constitutional Court also threw out the acquittal of former intelligence chief Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez. The court has 24 hours to comply with the order and moves are already underway by the defense to have Judge Yasmín Barrios and the two other judges, Pablo Xitumul and Patricia Bustamante, recused from the case.
"The court ensured justice,” said defense counsel Francisco García Gudiel on Monday. “There were many too many legal aberrations in this case, and time and again we have been proven right.”
Observers are waiting for the written judgment to come through from Constitutional Court Secretary General Martín Guzmán. However, the ruling seems to backtrack on previous statements that the trial could not be returned to a prior date. It may also go against Guatemalan law, which states that once a verdict has been reached, the trial cannot be returned to a previous date and must instead be dealt with in the Appeals Court.
The decision returns the trial to April 19, when Judge Barrios and Judge Carol Patricia Flores argued over who had jurisdiction over the hearing. Judge Flores, who presided over a portion of the pretrial hearing, wanted to return the trial to November 23, 2011, the day before she was recused. Judge Barrios refused to do this and continued the trial, calling the move illegal and an overreach of Flores’ power. The Constitutional Court has since ruled that the trial should have been suspended while the legal arguments were heard.
With a full-blown scandal over the expenses of some senators engulfing the Canadian Senate, an ongoing inquiry into corruption in Québec’s construction industry, and the daily whirl of allegations from the Republican leadership toward the Obama administration on Benghazi, the IRS, and Associated Press reporters, it is not surprising that young people may be questioning themselves these days about the value of civic and political engagement.
Rarely a day passes without a media story about a scandal, unearthed by the diligent work of an investigative reporter, reaching the mainstream networks. It is no small wonder that cynicism and skepticism are growing about the workings of the body politic or civil society, and whether getting involved and making a difference is still as relevant in today’s world as it was in more recent times.
The temptation to sit on the sidelines and criticize from afar those who are betraying the public trust is becoming more comfortable than joining the fray, fighting for one’s beliefs or a noble cause, and trying to bring about change to a social or political condition. Some actually believe that today’s younger generation—closely wedded to technological innovation—will be more susceptible to growing doubts about the value of civic engagement.
While the current setting in many Western democracies may lead some to pessimism and disengagement, I remain an optimist about the future and why it is more important than ever to get involved.
After two weeks of street protests, the Central Obrera Boliviana (Bolivian Workers Union—COB) will begin negotiations with the Bolivian government today to discuss changes to the 2010 Pensions Act after a series of strikes, marches and road blockades in the capital city.
The COB protests began on May 6 as a means to push for a modification of the 2010 Pensions Act that would allow miners with 35 years in the sector to receive a pension of 8,000 bolivianos ($1,137), while all other workers would receive 5,000 bolivianos ($714). The union is also pushing to increase the retirement pension for miners to 100 percent of their average salary, rather than the 70 percent established under the Act. The government believes such a proposal could cause a collapse of the pension system.
The strike increased in intensity last week with marches and road blockades that partially paralyzed the capital. Eventually, the union accepted the terms of a proposal from Vice President Álvaro García Linera, and agreed to suspend the protests for 48 hours—a precondition to start the dialogue.
During a press conference last night, the executive secretary of the COB, Juan Carlos Trujillo, stated that the COB is willing to resume the talks with the government “to resolve the conflict and bring the peace needed by the country and the people." The talks began at noon, with the participation of Minister of Labor Daniel Santalla, Minister of Government Carlos Romero and Minister of Economy and Public Finance Luis Arce, with COB Executive Secretary Juan Carlos Trujillo representing the workers.
While the talks take place in Cochabamba, thousands of peasants, women and members of Indigenous groups will march today in support of the government of President Evo Morales. He has been very critical of the union’s role by stating that it is only defending the interests of a privileged group, and has called his supporters to “defend democracy” and carry out counter-demonstrations against the protest, which he considers an attempted coup d’état.
Cuando Hugo Chávez asumió la presidencia de Venezuela en 1999, apenas 11 por ciento de la población era rural. En diciembre pasado, al despedirse de la nación a la cual gobernó por más de una década, la cifra había caído a 6 por ciento. Promesas de una revolucionaria reforma agraria, millones de dólares en créditos y decenas de proyectos para garantizar un país autosustentable en materia alimenticia, sólo consiguieron menguar, aún más, las extensas tierras de cultivo de la nación petrolera.
Un año antes, el mandatario lanzó la Gran Misión Vivienda. La justificativa era simple: con un déficit de 2,7 millones de casas, el gobierno metía el ojo en el drama que, al igual que la disminución de la población rural, era, según su perspectiva, “herencia del capitalismo. No habrá otra vía de solucionarlo que con socialismo y más socialismo”.
Esta semana, su sucesor, Nicolás Maduro, parece haber reparado en un detalle: el socialismo, per se, no compra cemento ni levanta edificios. Durante una alocución, afirmó que para que la misión sea viable, los beneficiarios deben pagar el techo que recibieron. “Hemos entregado 381 mil viviendas pero nadie está pagando ni medio. Cómo vamos a sostener la misión para las viviendas de los próximos años? haciendo magia?”. Maduro hizo una aclaratoria que, en años de revolución, ningún funcionario de gobierno se atrevió a pronunciar: “las cosas no pueden ser regaladas”.
Días antes, Lorenzo Mendoza, el director de Empresas Polar, la principal marca de alimentos del país, lanzó al ruedo otra idea que los venezolanos no escuchaban en mucho tiempo: privatización. El joven empresario respondió las acusaciones del gobierno quien lo responsabiliza de ser uno de los artífices de la crisis alimenticia que atraviesa Venezuela. Mendoza hizo pública su disposición a comprar o alquilar plantas en manos del Estado para incrementar las existencias.
El gobierno de Chávez estuvo marcado por nacionalizaciones que, en muchos casos, fueron injustificadas y costaron caro a las arcas nacionales. Poco a poco, la estatal Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) fue asumiendo los gastos de los servicios públicos, educación, salud, infraestructura, banca, propaganda política, y hasta, favores internacionales. Los excedentes petroleros sirvieron para pagar, desde los grandes proyectos sociales del mandatario hasta los conos color naranja que se utilizan en la señalización del tráfico a diario.
El lucro no ha sido el leitmotiv del gobierno socialista, y así, con la intervención del Estado, muchas empresas pasaron de ser operaciones rentables a cargas económicas.
En el rubro de alimentos, no fueron pocas las veces que el gobierno encendió las cámaras para mostrar a los venezolanos ruidosas expropiaciones que democratizarían la tierra, inauguraciones de plantas procesadoras que abastecerían el país, entrega de crédito para cooperativas que trabajarían el campo, pero todos los proyectos dieron al traste dejando al Estado propietario de equipos, complejos y tierras inoperantes.
Para ejemplificar la situación, basta remitirse al componente base de la dieta venezolana que es la harina de maíz, producto estrella de Empresas Polar. De las 24 instalaciones procesadoras del alimento, 3 pertenecen a la marca, 3 a otros capitales privados, y las 18 restantes al Estado. Con apenas 12 por ciento de las plantas, Polar abastece a 48 por ciento del mercado nacional, de acuerdo con los cálculos de Mendoza.
Pero sus cifras presentan un contraste, aún mayor, con el trabajo que el Estado ejecuta en materia alimenticia. Mendoza, quien raramente respondía de forma directa a Chávez, indicó que las políticas gubernamentales han dificultado las operaciones de Empresas Polar en los últimos años. Falta de divisas para la compra de insumos, retrasos en los puertos, alzas en los precios de las materias primas entre 15 por ciento y 414 por ciento pero no en los precios finales de sus productos, aumento de días feriados, cortes de electricidad y la conflictividad laboral han afectado los niveles de la compañía, que para el primer trimestre del año reportó un 10 por ciento más de producción en contraste con 2012. “Hubiéramos podido producir 14 mil 500 toneladas más de alimentos, si no hubiésemos tenido que lidiar con estos inconvenientes”, dijo.
El heredero del consorcio fue más allá y, como quien olfatea el momento oportuno, señaló que a corto plazo, propondrán al gobierno la compra o alquiler de una de sus instalaciones productoras de harina de maíz, para aumentar las existencias del producto en 20 por ciento entre 12 y 14 meses, además de una alianza con el sector privado que permita, a mediano plazo, recuperar al 100 por ciento la producción de este rubro.
A pesar de que el Estado venezolano fracasó de forma evidente en el manejo y control de empresas de varios sectores, la oposición política ha aprendido que, en un país petrolero, hablar de pagos y privatizaciones puede ser un error letal que cuesta caro en elecciones. En 1989, cuando el entonces presidente intentó explicarle al país que las cosas no podían ser regaladas y que la única forma de enfrentar la crisis del momento era con ajustes económicos severos, una explosión social sacudió los cimientos de la capital. La revuelta fue controlada, pero el mandatario no vería el final de su período.
Años después vino Chávez con sus promesas de un mundo nuevo, lleno de reivindicaciones para los pobres, sólo que otra vez, la euforia parece haber pasado, y es Maduro a quien le tocará explicar temas que ni su candidato opositor, Henrique Capriles, tuvo que encarar en la campaña electoral: incluso en tiempos revolucionarios, “las cosas no pueden ser regaladas”.
Each spring, the U.S. State Department releases a report indicating which countries the United States considers “State Sponsors of Terrorism.” Currently the list consists of four countries: Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria. This year, John Kerry’s ascent to U.S. Secretary of State generated a discussion about taking Cuba off the list. Given Kerry’s generally reasonable position on Cuba in the past, it was perhaps not surprising that he considered this option.
Nonetheless, on May 1, the U.S. State Department announced that Cuba would remain on its list. It's a serious mistake.
State Department reports from the last decade have provided no substantive evidence to justify keeping Cuba on the list. In fact, the country’s inclusion is based on dubious allegations. The reports allege that Cuba has provided medical treatment and refuge for terrorist groups from the FARC in Colombia to the ETA in Spain. However, the reports do not acknowledge that the governments of both countries have expressed appreciation for Cuba’s cooperation in this arena.
The reports mention some fugitives from American justice who live in Cuba, but neglect to say that the United States stopped honoring the 1904 extradition agreement between the two countries in early 1959. Cuba has sent back most U.S. fugitives and has generally recognized the validity of U.S. courts, but has occasionally offered asylum to people it considers victims of "political persecution," including former Black Panther Assata Shakur, accused of killing a New Jersey highway trooper in 1973.
Shakur’s asylum in Cuba has precedent in international law, as well as in decisions by U.S. Courts that have determined that not all violent political acts are terrorism. Her case constitutes a reason to raise the issue diplomatically and negotiate a new bilateral extradition treaty, but it is not sufficient motive to keep Cuba on the list. It is no coincidence that those Cuban-American politicians who demand that Cuba unilaterally return these few U.S. fugitives are the same ones who have advocated providing refuge for anti-Castro terrorists like Luis Posada Carriles—who in 1976 was responsible for a bomb that took 73 lives (including the Cuban national fencing team) on a Cuban civilian plane. Posada lives freely in Miami.
Guatemala’s congress and Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina are at odds on how to deal with the ongoing violence between mine security guards and the public in two Guatemalan departmentos.
Tension in the two departments of Jalapa and Santa Rosa prompted Pérez Molina to declare a state of emergency in four towns in early May, with the president claiming that organized criminal groups were causing trouble. "I took the decision with ministers who have been on the ground, not MPs who sit at a desk, who do not even know what goes on inside the country," said Pérez Molina. "The statements of the deputies did not influence me, absolutely not. Nor do I care about their opinion.”
However, the Guatemalan congress rebelled against the enforcement that would remove constitutional rights for citizens. With Congress’s refusal to ratify the States of Siege, Pérez Molina ordered states of prevention to be issued in the four municipalities. States of prevention allow the government to militarize an area, prohibit or prevent strikes or work stoppages, limit outdoor gatherings, use force to break up a meeting or demonstration, prohibit parking in certain areas and require broadcasting bodies to avoid inflammatory or inciting material.
"I am not going to allow this to continue," Pérez Molina told reporters. "We have conducted a six-month investigation in this area with the attorney general's office for various criminal activities."
At the end of April, hostilities between a subsidiary of the Canadian-owned Tahoe Resources Inc. silver mine and San Rafael’s population deteriorated after the company’s security guards shot and wounded six demonstrators that were protesting that the Escobal silver mine would contaminate their water supply. In response, locals kidnapped 23 police officers and an attempt to free the hostages left a police officer and demonstrator dead.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Barack Obama will speak about closing Guantánamo Bay; Venezuela says it is open to normalizing relations with the United States; the FARC says that more time is necessary for peace negotiations; an OAS report calls for a discussion on marijuana legalization; and Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos will likely seek a second term as president.
Obama to Deliver Speech on Guántanamo: U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to discuss the Guántanamo Bay detention center when he delivers a speech on counterterrorism practices this Thursday. As of Sunday, 103 prisoners at Guántanamo were on a hunger strike protesting prison searches that the inmates say involved rough treatment of the Quran. Thirty of the striking inmates are reportedly being force-fed through feeding tubes. Meanwhile, Obama has renewed his commitment to closing the controversial prison, where many inmates have been held for over a decade without being charged.
Venezuela Open to Normalizing Relations with United States: Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elías Jaua said during a TV interview on Sunday that Venezuela would "remain open to normalizing relations" with the United States. Recently-elected president, Nicolás Maduro, has selected Calixto Ortega as a potential Venezuelan envoy to the United States. Jaua said that the appointment of Ortega was motivated by the fact that the U.S. remains Venezuela’s top trade partner. U.S. President Barack Obama has yet to congratulate Maduro for his narrow victory in the country’s April 14 election.
FARC Leader Says Rebels Need More Time for Negotiation: As the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) and the Colombian government marked six months of peace negotiations on Sunday, lead FARC negotiator Iván Márquez said the FARC needs more time to negotiate a "solid basis to build stable and long-lasting peace." The negotiators are struggling to reach an agreement on agrarian reform, one of the FARC’s major requirements for peace. The Colombian government has promised to redistribute land to displaced peasants, but insists that the rebels must cease hostilities before this can happen.
OAS Calls for Discussion to Legalize Marijuana: A drug policy report by the Organization of American States (OAS) released in Bogotá on Friday called for "greater flexibility" in dealing with illegal drugs in the hemisphere and said that decisions regarding the decriminalization or legalization of marijuana will need to be taken "sooner or later." The 400-page study emphasizes drug abuse as a public health issue and argues that criminal prosecution is inappropriate for dealing with drug addicts. Though the study considered the possibility of legalizing marijuana, it also noted that there was “no significant support” among member countries for legalizing cocaine.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos Suggests he will seek a Second Term: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos suggested on Friday that he will seek a second term as president in 2014, though he must wait until November to make the announcement official. “I would like many of our policies to continue beyond August 7, 2014,” Santos said, referring to the last day of his current term. Colombia's elections will be held on May 25, 2014, but presidential candidates cannot announce their candidacy until six months before that date.
I was born in June 1976, only weeks after Argentina’s most violent dictatorship began. Early in the morning on a sad March day before I was born, my father was taken away by the military regime. He didn’t meet me for the first time until almost a year later.
I was lucky; thousands of children never saw their parents again. More than 30,000 individuals—Argentines and foreigners, students and workers, people with or without university degrees, politicians and non-politicians, activists and non-activists, even priests and nuns—were tortured, abused, raped, killed, and disappeared by a self-appointed dictatorship that launched a “national reorganization process.” In many cases, the captors would wait until captured pregnant women had their babies before they kidnapped the newborns and killed and hid the bodies of the mothers.
The leader of the 1976 military junta, Jorge Rafael Videla, died this morning at 87 years old.
I grew up watching my country go through a bumpy transition from dictatorship to democracy. I have a clear memory of the madness of the Malvinas War in 1982, the hope and happiness of the democratic restoration in 1983 and the Juicio a las Juntas (Trial of the Juntas) in 1985. I also have a vivid memory of the anguish created both by President Raúl Alfonsín’s Ley de Punto Final (“full stop”) and Ley de Obediencia Debida (“due obedience”) amnesty laws, and President Carlos Menem’s pardons that, in my view, ruined the progress made in the Trial of the Juntas.
En los últimos años, se ha presentado en México un fenómeno social muy preocupante. En muchas de las regiones azotadas por la violencia del crimen organizado, las poblaciones se han unido para crear las llamadas “policías comunitarias”—grupos de autodefensa civil integrados por vecinos de las mismas comunidades que se dedican a realizar las labores de vigilancia y combate al crimen organizado que las autoridades responsables han dejado de hacer. Éste fenómeno se ha presentado principalmente en los estados de Michoacán, Guerrero, Oaxaca y Morelos y ha provocado más de un enfrentamiento con los gobiernos estatales y municipales, así como con los cuerpos de policía oficiales.
El general Óscar Naranjo Trujillo, colombiano que funge como asesor externo de Enrique Peña Nieto para asuntos de seguridad, ha dicho últimamente que el Estado debe asegurar el monopolio de la aplicación de la justicia y el monopolio legítimo del uso de la fuerza. Según él, “cuando a una autodefensa se le empieza a llamar policía, se produce una distorsión que realmente, lejos de invocar el deber ser, destruye el deber ser y es imaginario.”
Indudablemente, en condiciones normales, el Estado es el único que debe ostentar el monopolio del uso de la fuerza y la aplicación de la justicia. Eso ocurre en cualquier país medianamente civilizado. Sin embargo, el problema en México es mucho más complejo que eso.
Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs José Antonio Meade met with Russian Senator Valentina I. Matvienko president of the Federation Council of the General Assembly in Mexico City, to celebrate a cooperation agreement signed earlier in the week that highlights the importance of stronger relations between the two countries.
During a ceremony earlier this week Ernesto Cordero, president of Mexico’s Permanent Commission of Congress (Comisión permanente del Congreso de la Unión) said that both countries are being called upon to play a leading role in the global economy for their notable industrial development and natural resources. Lawmakers stressed that bilateral trade between Mexico and Russia has continued to grow—reaching $5 billion last year—as has tourism with over 80,000 Russians visiting Mexico in 2012.
Bilateral discussions between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto will continue in the coming months when they meet at the summit of leaders of the Group of Twenty (G20), to be held in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on September 5 and 6, 2013, and at the XXII Annual Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum (APPF) from January 12 to January 16, 2014, held in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
In addition, earlier this week, Mexican Deputy Secretary of Foreign Affairs Carlos de Icaza and Russian Vice Minister of External Relations Serguey A. Riabkov committed to solidifying new strategies to strengthen bilateral agreements on maritime transportation, nuclear energy and extradition measures. They also addressed the Russian government's decision to suspend the import of meat products from Mexico as well as the anti-dumping measures placed on Russian steel imports by the Mexican government. De Icaza announced that passengers can now purchase direct flights between the Mexican and Russian capitals. Riabkov signaled his government’s willingness to sign the Suppression of Visas Agreement in Ordinary Passports (Acuerdo de Supresion de Visas en Pasaportes Ordinarios) — an agreement that is being considered in Mexico to abolish travel visas for tourists visiting both countries.
On Wednesday, after a nearly two-week recess, the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) resumed peace talks in Havana, Cuba, with this ninth round seeking to reach an agreement on agrarian reform. Talks originally began in November 2012.
Only the first of five items on the agenda at the talks, agrarian reform is one of the most controversial. The negotiations have been delayed twice as the two parties have struggled to agree on methods for land redistribution and restitution. Discussions around agrarian reform also seek to address plans for rural development as well as infrastructure and land improvement. Other topics include promoting agricultural production and establishing a social security system for rural areas to include health care, education, housing, and poverty eradication. The current round of talks is scheduled to continue through May 25.
In addition to agrarian reform, talks must still find compromise on four other agenda items: ensuring political participation of members of the rebel group, combatting drug trafficking, ending armed conflict, and compensating victims of conflict.
The talks resume just a day after President Juan Manuel Santos called on negotiators to speed up the negotiations, which were initially expected to conclude by November 2013. On Tuesday, Santos also urged the rebels to disarm, stating that, ultimately, no peace agreement could be reached otherwise.
Fighting has continued in Colombia since the negotiators last met. A member of the FARC leadership, Leonidas Zambrano Cardozo, also known as "Caliche," was killed in a clash with soldiers in southwest Colombia on May 4 and clashes between the FARC and Colombian police throughout the country on Tuesday left five FARC members and a police officer dead.
It was 5:30 am on Tuesday, May 7, when a “full trailer” truck (which can carry loads up to 75.5 tons) transporting LP gas skidded off the Mexico City-Pachuca highway, exploded and caused a horrific tragedy, resulting in over 20 deaths and structural damage in the settlement of San Pedro Xalostoc, Ecatepec.
Initial investigations from authorities have determined that the cause of the accident was human error on the driver’s part. They’ve also stated that both the company and the transport unit involved were registered and verified and met maintenance and security standards. The gas company involved has already declared it will fully cooperate with the government’s investigation and, if deemed responsible for the tragedy, will pay damages.
Unfortunately, for a federal government concerned more with appearances than substance, this is not enough. Vast coverage on national media has urged President Enrique Peña Nieto’s team—through the Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes (Ministry of Communications and Transport—SCT)—to seem like it is on top of things by pledging to prioritize reforms that will prevent accidents like this one in the future, no matter the collateral damage of those reforms.
Anyone who has driven down U.S. and Mexican highways can attest that Mexican highways are inferior and more dangerous. The materials used in Mexico are substandard and make roads slippery. Road development and maintenance are also terrible: highways have too few guardrails, too many potholes, poorly planned intersections, terrible signaling, and sharp inclines on dangerous curves. Many of our highways have tolls, but you wouldn’t know it from their disrepair. Moreover, there is no effective urban planning. In many cases, highway speed limits are set without consideration for residential areas near the road. Houses built within 165 feet (50 meters) of a non-protected high speed highway are normal in Mexico.
It was U.S. President John F. Kennedy who set the goal of putting a man on the moon in the early 1960s. It was Neil Armstrong who would be that first man to step on the moon, saying: “It was one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Now, Canadian Commander Chris Hadfield, whom Armstrong inspired to become an astronaut, has just ended his space odyssey by singing David Bowie’s Space Oddity, once again fascinating us with space travel and exploration.
Commander Hadfield’s latest voyage in space began in December 2012, and took command of the International Space Station two months ago. Since he began his voyage, Hadfield has treated us to extraordinary visuals, communicated daily in a personal way through social media, and demonstrated amazing musical skills in a space capsule. More than any other astronaut, he made us enter his world, educated us, made us feel special, and once again made us believe in science, imagination and achievement.
During his third mission, the 54-year-old astronaut from Sarnia, Ontario, made many in his country and beyond feel the excitement, the joy and the challenges of being in space. His messages, often delivered in both of Canada’s official languages—French and English—probably did more to unite his fellow Canadians than any law or politician has in several decades.
The National Council of Justice of Brazil, headed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Joaquim Barbosa, ruled yesterday that government licensing offices cannot deny homosexual couples marriage licenses. The ruling is expected to accelerate a law legalizing same-sex marriage in the Brazilian Congress.
Basing their decision on the Supreme Court’s 2011 ruling that recognizes same-sex civil unions and guarantees homosexual and heterosexual couples the same rights under the constitution, the council ruling bars notary publics from denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The ruling also calls for government licensing offices to convert a civil union into a marriage if requested by the couple. While 14 of Brazil’s 27 states have already legalized same-sex marriage, national legislation has failed to pass the Brazilian Congress, which has a strong religious faction.
Barbosa rejected the notion that a congressional decision was necessary to begin issuing marriage licenses. "Are we going to require the approval of a new law by the Congress to put into effect the decision that was already taken by the Supreme Court? It makes no sense," he said on Tuesday, adding that the high court’s decision should be followed by the lower courts as it “is binding." A challenge of the council’s decision by the Supreme Court is not likely.
Should Congress act and pass legislation regarding same-sex marriage this year, Brazil would follow Argentina and Uruguay and become the third Latin American country to legalize gay marriage.
In March, inflation in Brazil surpassed the government’s target ceiling for the first time since 2011 as the country’s IPCA consumer price index, which is produced by the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatistica, rose 6.59 percent over 12 months—just above the target of 6.5 percent.
The impact on the economy was felt quickly by poorer Brazilians. Prices for basic food items such as onions, tomatoes, carrots, manioc flour, garlic, and potatoes increased over 50 percent over the last year.
According to a study by Fecomércio, Brazil’s commerce federation, the ability to acquire basic food products did not change for Brazilians from the upper classes (classes A and B), but the Brazilian middle class (class C) was forced to reduce spending by 3 percent points between January and March. Meanwhile, the lower classes (classes D and E) saw their consumption of basic food products decrease by 11 percent in three months.
As a result, Brazil’s central bank has decided to increase interest rates from 7.25 percent to 7.5 percent. The government also decided to eliminate all federal taxes on a list of basic food items. “We’re experiencing…a natural growth in inflation due to seasonal factors,” said Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega, who said that inflation was “under control” and that the summer crop harvest would decrease the cost of produce for consumers.
Update, May 15, 2013: President Nicolás Maduro and Lorenzo Mendoza, president of Empresas Polar, met last night and resolved their differences, with both pledging to work together to overcome any food shortages.
May 14, 2013 - Lorenzo Mendoza, head of Empresas Polar S.A., Venezuela’s largest privately-held food company, refuted government claims that his business is sabotaging the local food market. Mendoza’s comments came in response to President Nicolás Maduro’s accusations over the weekend that Polar is attempting to exacerbate food shortages and destabilize the economy by cutting output of staples like corn flour—which is used to make arepas, or patties, a staple in the Venezuelan diet.
In a press conference held in the company’s headquarters in Caracas on Monday, Mendoza said restrictive state regulations were the real cause of Venezuela's food shortages and that his company was being treated as a scapegoat. While Polar controls 48 percent of the corn flour market, Mendoza explained that his company couldn’t be responsible for overall food shortages because it only accounts for 9 percent of total food consumption in the country.
The head of Polar said that the company increased its corn flour production and sales by 10 percent during the first four months of 2013, compared to the same period in 2012. He also announced that Polar is willing to buy or lease some of the state-owned production plants to increase local production of corn flour.
Venezuela’s scarcity index, which measures the amount of goods that are out of stock on the market, rose to 21.3 percent in April, its highest level since the central bank began tracking it in 2009. Inflation also jumped 4.3 percent last month, led by an increase in food prices. The combination of price controls, which analysts claim choke domestic output, together with government limits on accessing dollars further contributes to delays in acquiring raw materials. The government is trying to solve both problems. According to Finance Minister Nelson Merentes, accessing dollars will be resolved in the short-term, and the Venezuelan government plans to import 700 thousand tons of food from Mercosur countries to combat its food shortages. Brazil and Argentina are studying the possibility of emergency food sales to Venezuela.
Mendoza is scheduled to meet with President Maduro today. According to a statement on its company Facebook page, Polar said that it would attend all the meetings requested by the government and that it is willing “to cooperate with the search for solutions that favor the Venezuelan people.”
Ending a seemingly unbreakable deadlock, the U.S. Congress has made tremendous inroads toward passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Several weeks ago, a bipartisan group of senators popularly known as the “Gang of Eight” released their highly anticipated reform proposal. Days later, tens of thousands descended upon Capitol Hill in a “Rally for Citizenship,” demanding a legal framework for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the United States. Public support is at an all-time high, with bipartisan polls showing as many as 77 percent of Americans in favor of a path to citizenship.
Despite tremendous advancements, divisive tensions have persisted around a series of proposals to ensure that the legislation is inclusive of all immigrants. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced an amendment last week to extend existing citizenship and residency benefits to binational same-sex couples. Inspired by the proposed United American Families Act (UAFA), the measure seeks to benefit an estimated 24,700 couples by granting foreign-born same-sex partners access to legal permanent residency through green cards. Although it is a seemingly sensible measure to ensure that the comprehensive reform bill serves all immigrants, conservative opponents have said it would threaten Republican support and derail hopes for bipartisan consensus.
Opposition against UAFA stems from a moral objection to marriage equality for same-sex couples. Pundits have labeled it a “wedge issue” and prominent reform advocates such as Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) have said it would cost their support. Yet despite this rhetoric, the bill makes no change to existing definitions of marriage, which are decided by states and are currently under review by the U.S. Supreme Court as they pertain to same-sex couples. Furthermore, UAFA boasts bipartisan support from numerous Republicans, including the bill’s co-sponsor, Senator Susan Collins of Maine and former Congressman Jim Kolbe of Arizona. During a recent visit to Costa Rica, President Obama joined a chorus of supporters and called the measure “the right thing to do” in guaranteeing equality for all Americans.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Rios Montt convicted of genocide; Venezuelan military to fight insecurity; Panama announces continued electricity rationing; FIFA expresses concerns over Brazil’s World Cup stadium; and China’s vice president travels to Venezuela.
Rios Montt found guilty: On Friday, a three-judge tribunal sentenced the 86-year-old former dictator of Guatemala, Efrain Rios Montt to 80 years in prison. Rios Montt was convicted of genocide for ordering the deaths of nearly 2,000 people of the Ixil Maya ethnic group between 1982 and 1983. He is expected to appeal the court’s decision, a process that promises to drag on a trial that, over the course of two months, has been beset by numerous delays. The conviction is seen as a victory not only for Guatemalans who endured the violence, but also for international human rights more broadly. It marks the first time a former head of state had been found guilty of genocide by a court in his or her own country. A hearing on Monday will focus on compensation for the victims.
Venezuela’s military deployed to fight crime: Today, some 3,000 military troops will deploy to the streets in several neighborhoods throughout Venezuela as part of President Nicolás Maduro’s efforts to tackle the country’s daunting and rising crime rate. Venezuela has the highest number of homicides per capita in Latin America and polls during the recent presidential election revealed that insecurity tops the list of citizen concerns. Troops will be concentrated in the municipalities of Sucre and Baruta—both areas dominated by opposition supporters and, according to the government, two of the most dangerous regions of the country. Critics say the move violates the constitution, but Maduro maintains that the troops are necessary to protect the Venezuelan people.
Strict electricity rationing to remain in place in Panama: On Sunday, Panama’s government announced that most of the restrictions on electricity use that went into place last week will continue until further notice. The rationing, which curtailed business hours and drastically limited the use of electricity-intensive devices, comes amid a severe drought that has dried up the water sources that power the country’s hydroelectric plants. While other restrictions will remain—and in some cases tighten—schools, which were closed last Wednesday to Friday, will reopen today. However, the government has instructed schools to keep the air conditioning off and to use lights sparingly. Over the course of the week, the government will monitor energy supply and modify restrictions as necessary.
FIFA warns Brazil about construction timeframe: As Brazil prepares to host the World Cup in 2014, FIFA, the games’ governing body, issued a warning about delays in the construction of six soccer stadiums. FIFA’s concern came after as second test at the Maracanã stadium was cancelled due to unpreparedness. The Maracanã stadium, along with the others in Cuiabá, Manaus, Natal, Curitiba, Porto Alegre, and São Paulo must be handed over to FIFA and tested twice by December, according to FIFA. Yet, the current timeline is that the stadiums are unlikely to be completed before February or March.
Vice President of China travels to Venezuela: China’s vice president, Li Yuanchao, arrived in Venezuela on Sunday, beginning a four-day visit focused on deepening the bilateral relationship and establishing alliances with the new administration of President Nicolás Maduro. On Monday, Li will participate in a memorial to former President Hugo Chávez, followed by a series of meetings over the course of the week with Venezuelan leaders, including the minister of science and technology. Li hopes to prioritize educational and technology exchanges between the two countries. He will also meet with the ministers of energy and economy, President of Petróleos de Venezuela Rafael Ramírez, and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, among others. The two countries are expected to sign accords on issues such as oil and mining. Li will then travel to Argentina on May 16.
Guatemala City, Guatemala - Former Guatemalan president Efraín José Ríos Montt was found guilty on Friday of genocide and crimes against humanity and sentenced to 80 years in prison. His co-defendant, former intelligence chief José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, was acquitted of all charges.
With the threat of the trial regressing to November 2011, Judge Yasmín Barrios pressed on with the closing arguments on Friday morning before retiring to consider a verdict with the three-judge panel.
Upon returning, Judge Barrios delivered her verdict, threatening the Ríos Montt attorneys with jail should they interrupt or attempt to leave again.
In a 30-minute monologue Judge Barrios agreed that the prosecution had proven that genocide against the Mayan Ixil had occurred and had been carried out by the Guatemalan Army. She blamed the Cold War anti-Communist context of the conflict as the underlying factor for the genocide, exacerbated by institutional racism.
Con seis años consecutivos al frente de la Cancillería venezolana, si algo podía esperarse del estreno de Nicolás Maduro como presidente era fluidez en la política exterior. Sin embargo, en sus tres primeras semanas al mando del país, el heredero del fallecido líder, Hugo Chávez, ya acumuló cuatro desencuentros internacionales manejados con reacciones poco diplomáticas.
Al canciller español, José García Magallo, lo mandó a “sacar sus narices de Venezuela” cuando manifestó su disposición a “hacer algo” para “garantizar una Venezuela en paz”. Al representante de la diplomacia peruana, Rafael Roncagliolo, le dijo haber “cometido el error de su vida” al presentar un pedido a la Unión de Naciones Suramericanas (Unasur) para evaluar un comunicado que solicitara a Caracas “tolerancia y diálogo”. Tildó al mandatario americano, Barack Obama, de ser “el jefe mayor de los diablos” y acusó, sin formalizar su denuncia, al ex Jefe de Estado colombiano, Álvaro Uribe, de encabezar un “complot” para asesinarlo.
En medio de una crisis de legitimidad nacional, debido a que su contendiente, Henrique Capriles Radonski, solicitó la impugnación de las elecciones del 14 de abril que le concedieron la victoria con un estrecho resultado electoral de 225 mil votos, Maduro se embarcó en su primera gira internacional. Escogió países amigos: Uruguay, Argentina y Brasil, y fijó visitas breves que tuvieron, entre los objetivos centrales, garantizar alimentos para paliar la persistente escasez registrada en Venezuela.
“Parte de la gira que arranca es para garantizar y fortalecer nuevamente la reserva alimentaria de productos básicos de nuestro país a tres meses”, comentó Maduro el pasado martes antes de abordar el avión que lo llevaría a Montevideo, su primera parada.
Hugo Chávez, oriundo de la región ganadera del país, enfatizó en sus discursos la importancia de librar a Venezuela del yugo petrolero, impulsando el agro nacional y garantizando la “soberanía alimentaria”. Pero, en la práctica, su gestión estuvo marcada por expropiaciones, nacionalizaciones y experimentos económicos que desarticularon y afectaron de forma severa la cadena productiva.
Al tiempo que el presidente Nicolás Maduro se reunía con sus pares en Uruguay, Argentina y Brasil, la oposición venezolana preparó una gira paralela, en cuya parada en Buenos Aires sus miembros fueron recibidos por legisladores opositores al gobierno de Cristina Kirchner.
“No hay manera de ocultarle al mundo que somos mayoría, durante años el chavismo dijo que Venezuela era una lucha entre ricos y pobres, y hoy la mitad votó por nosotros y claramente la mitad de los venezolanos no son ricos. No vamos a retroceder”, resumió el líder opositor y ex alcalde del municipio Chacao, Leopoldo López, para definir la cruzada que emprendió la oposición con el ánimo de contar la realidad de esa otra Venezuela que impugnó las elecciones.
Confiados en que sí hay un acompañamiento internacional a sus denuncias, estas prosperarán y se podrán repetir las elecciones, López y los asambleístas venezolanos Nora Bracho y Freddy Guevara estuvieron esta semana en la Cámara de Diputados en Buenos Aires.
"La mejor manera de definir las elecciones que pasaron [el 14 de abril] es una pelea de David contra Goliat", disparó López en momentos en que Maduro, a quien llaman "El ilegítimo" se encontraba a pocas cuadras en la Casa Rosada con su homóloga Cristina Kirchner.
Ese Goliat representado por la estatal petrolera PDVSA, ministerios, gobernaciones, alcaldías y la Fuerza Armada nacional fue el aparato que, según López, dedicó todo su poder a “contaminar el proceso electoral entero”, razón por la cual la impugnación que interpuso Henrique Capriles esta semana no se debe sólo a los resultados.
“Nuestra queja comienza sobre la mancha anticonstitucional y manipuladora que ocurrió el 9 de enero cuando permitieron la continuidad del gobierno de Chávez [en su ausencia], sólo para que quien iba a ser candidato del chavismo, pudiera ser presidente mientras era candidato”, expresó López.
Con cifras en la mano, López relató todas sus quejas: en 10 días de campaña, el oficialismo tuvo 65 horas de cadena nacional, versus los 23 minutos de publicidad a los que tuvo derecho Henrique Capriles; se reportaron en total 230 violaciones a leyes electorales, y 5.623 irregularidades ocurrieron en las mesas de votación.
Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro marked the end of his three-day trip through Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil yesterday with a meeting in Brasilia with President Dilma Rousseff to highlight Venezuela’s strategic alliance with Brazil.
Maduro traveled to Mercosur member countries for his first trip post-presidential election in an effort to consolidate bilateral ties. In Uruguay, his first stop, the Venezuelan president met with President José Mujica, as well as former Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez, and pledged a “permanent” supply of petroleum. He continued on to Argentina, where he signed 11 bilateral agreements with President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and gave a public address at a soccer stadium where he invoked the legacies of deceased Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez as well as deceased Argentine President Nestor Kirchner.
In Brazil, his final stop, Maduro received a firm endorsement from President Rousseff. The two leaders announced that Brazilian construction and engineering conglomerate Odebrecht will construct a 1.5-million-tonne-a-year urea plant in Venezuela. Venezuela is the second largest market, after Argentina, for Brazilian manufactured goods.
The international trip also carries domestic implications. Eduardo Viola, International Relations professor from Universidad de Brasilia said that “with this trip to Mercosur member countries whose leaders have demonstrated support, Maduro seeks to legitimize his situation, highly questionable in his country, not only because of the tight electoral results questioned by the opposition but also because of the grave economic and public safety conditions which are bleak.”
While an audit of Venezuelan election results began this week, nearly every nation in the region has accepted Maduro's presidency.
A four-month drought has crippled Panama’s electricity supply, prompting the government to close schools and impose strict limits on electricity use on Wednesday—a day after declaring a state of emergency in four of the country’s nine provinces.
In addition to closing schools, new restrictions curtail operating hours for late-night businesses such as supermarkets, bars and restaurants, forcing them to close between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. Wednesday’s restrictions come after orders on Monday for businesses to cut air-conditioning use by four hours each day, among other measures.
Current restrictions will last through Sunday, when officials will determine whether the electricity supply will allow for a loosening of restrictions and re-opening of schools next week. However, a rainless forecast hints of little relief in the coming days.
Panama relies on hydropower for 60 percent of its electricity supply and the dry-spell that began in December has dried up two of the largest basins that feed hydroelectric plants.
In recent years, electricity demand has grown sharply. Between 2011 and 2012, electricity consumption increased nearly 6 percent, according to government statistics, yet supply has hardly grown.
Panama is Latin America’s fastest growing economy with growth exceeding 10 percent in 2012, according to the government. This growth has resulted in the construction of new business, office buildings and shopping centers throughout the country, taxing the energy supply.
Officials hope current measures will cultivate more conservative energy use even after the restrictions are officially lifted. Besides emergency restrictions, Panama has focused on diversifying its electrical grid to incorporate more geothermal sources of electricity to complement existing hydroelectric sources. It is also pursuing initiatives to integrate its electricity grid with other countries in the region, including an ambitious project to connect the transmission networks of six Central American countries and a separate bilateral effort that would link Panama and Colombia with one large power line.
The drought and power rationing have not affected trade on the Panama Canal, which produces its own energy.
Roberto Azevêdo, Brazil’s current ambassador to the World Trade Organization (WTO), will succeed Pascal Lamy as the director-general of the organization on September 1, 2013, becoming the first Latin American to head the WTO since its creation in 1995. A formal announcement is expected today.
Azevêdo claimed the spot over Herminio Blanco, Mexico’s former Trade Minister and chief negotiator for the North America Free-Trade Agreement, in the final round of the six-month selection process which began in December. While Blanco had the support of the influential members such as the European Union, a majority of the WTO’s 159 member-states voted in favor of the Brazilian. Some analysts believe that Brazil’s active role in protecting the interests of developing countries during global trade negotiations contributed to Azevêdo’s popularity.
Azevêdo, who first joined the Permanent Mission of Brazil to the WTO in 1997, will face several challenges as director-general. He will be responsible for reviving the Doha round of talks, which were officially launched in 2001, and maintaining the organization’s relevance as regional and bilateral trade agreements grow in scope. Azevêdo will head his first biennial meeting in Bali, Indonesia this December.