• From Guatemala to Peru, Protests Sweep Across Latin America

    June 17, 2015

    by AQ Online

    In his 1982 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez spoke of the conflict and violence plaguing Latin America, including El Salvador’s 12 year civil war and Argentina’s Dirty War. “There have been five wars and seventeen military coups; there emerged a diabolic dictator who is carrying out, in God's name, the first Latin American ethnocide of our time,” he stated in his speech.

    Nearly 30 years later, Latin America is much more stable—most countries in the region are democratic, there is high voter turnout in elections, significant advances have been made in technology and innovation, and the region has experienced greater economic growth than before. While “Gabo” would be glad to see the progress in Latin America today, he might have been shocked by the new trend that is taking hold as protests, corruption scandals and political instability are burgeoning across the region, and an emboldened middle class is pushing back.

    Every Saturday for nearly two months thousands of protesters have filled the Constitution Square outside Guatemala’s City Palacio Nacional de la Cultura (National Palace of Culture) demanding the resignation of President Otto Perez Molina amid a customs corruption scandal. In Honduras, protesters are calling for President Juan Orlando Hernández’s resignation after he was accused of accepting illegal funds from the Honduran Social Security Institute to help finance his presidential campaign in 2013. Dissention in both countries is arising from the middle class and is being led by social media and grass roots organizations.

    Similarly in Peru, President Ollanta Humala’s approval rating has fallen to a new low according to a report by Ipsos published Sunday in the Peruvian newspaper El Comercio. The newspaper claimed that several factors are contributing to Humala’s declining approval rating, including the recent allegations of corruption against his wife, Nadine Heredia, over a money-laundering operation. In Ecuador, President Rafael Correa also faces low approval rates due largely to his new plans to raise taxes on inheritances and real estate profits, spurring nationwide protests.

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    Tags: corruption, Scandals, Central America

  • In Boost to Colombia Peace Talks, FARC to "Hand Over" Child Soldiers

    June 16, 2015

    by AQ Online

    The use of child soldiers by armed groups is one of the most regrettable aspects of Colombia’s long-running internal conflict, and is a sticking point in the peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, that began in November 2012. Human rights organizations have accused the rebel group of forcibly recruiting children, and the Colombian military reports that the FARC have trained children for dangerous combat duties such as using grenades and planting mines. 

    FARC representatives have vacillated between downplaying and justifying the presence of children among their ranks. In an interview with AQ published last fall, Andrés París, a negotiator for the FARC in Havana asserted that the forces practices adhered to international humanitarian law. “We are the people’s army, so all people have the right to participate: children, women and adults,” París said, adding, “we don’t have 10-year-old kids carrying AK-47s.”

    No one knows for certain how many children currently remained mired in the conflict. While the Colombian government estimates that the FARC alone retains 2,000 underage combatants, FARC negotiator Iván Márquez stated in an interview last February that the guerrilla had determined that only 13 fighters younger than 15 are among its ranks.

    In a hopeful sign, FARC negotiators announced yesterday that they expect to reach an agreement for the “handover” of children under the age of 15 who are within their ranks. According to a statement, the guerrilla’s negotiators hope to “finalize, together with the government delegation, the protocols needed to make good on this promise during the course of” the next round of peace talks, which begin tomorrow.

    The FARC announced in February that it would put an end to the recruitment of individuals younger than 17 years old. After the announcement was criticized for not going far enough, the guerilla organization declared for the first time that it would work to discharge children younger than 15.

    Speaking from Stockholm, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said, “Let’s hope it’s true. That would be a step in the right direction.”

    The announcement comes at a time of increasing tension in the peace process. While the two sides reached an agreement to establish an independent truth commission to look into human rights violations perpetrated over the course of the conflict, talks have been strained by a resumption of violence since the FARC’s declaration of a unilateral ceasefire in December, including a ground attack by the FARC on April 15. In his remarks from Stockholm, President Santos said of the attacks, “They are completely irrational acts that undermine people’s confidence in the peace process.”

    Tags: Colombia Peace Talks, child soldiers, FARC

  • Monday Memo: Mexican Same-Sex Marriage—Haitian Deportation—U.S. and Venezuela Meeting—Nicaraguan Protest—ELN Leader Death

    June 15, 2015

    by AQ Online

    This week’s likely news stories: Dominican Republic set to deport individuals of Haitian descent; Mexican high court paves way for full marriage equality;  U.S. and Venezuelan officials meet in Haiti, address strained relations; Nicaraguans protest Chinese-funded canal project; top ELN commander killed in Colombia

    Dominican Republic to Deport Dominicans of Haitian Descent: The Dominican Republic will proceed as planned on Wednesday with the mass deportation of over 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent who have not been regularized under the Plan Nacional de Regularización (National Regularization Plan). These individuals, many of whom were born in the Dominican Republic and have never been to Haiti, will be rendered stateless. According to the Nation, police trucks have begun nightly limpiezas (cleanings) in poorer neighborhoods, detaining “Haitian[s] or dark-skinned Dominicans with Haitian facial features.” Created following the passage of Sentencia 168-13 in September 2013, the Plan Nacional retracts citizenship from anyone born to undocumented parents residing in the country.  It has received widespread criticism and has failed in the eyes of human rights organizations—many have been unable to register due to the government’s failure to provide residents with the necessary government identification documents to apply.

    Mexico’s Supreme Court Deems State Laws Banning Same-Sex Marriage Unconstitutional: Mexico’s Supreme Court quietly opened to the door to the nation-wide legalization of same-sex marriage on Friday. The court ordered the publication of a jurisprudential thesis in which it declares that any state-level law that defines marriage’s purpose as “procreation, and/or defines [marriage] as being celebrated between a man and a woman is unconstitutional.”  The finding does not overturn state laws, but obligates the country’s district judges to grant injunctions to individual couples claiming that their marriage rights have been denied. “What has to happen is that the state laws have to be reformed so that couples have the same rights and they don’t have to spend time and money,” said José Luis Caballero, a constitutional scholar at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City. “A couple with resources can get married. A couple without resources can't.”

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    Tags: Dominican Republic-Haiti relations, Same-Sex Marriage, John Kerry, Nicaragua Canal, Ejército de Liberación Nacional

  • Judge Finds Probable Cause for Murder Charge in Tamir Rice Death

    June 12, 2015

    by AQ Online

    In Thursday’s ruling, Judge Ronald Adrine found probable cause to prosecute Cleveland officer Timothy Loehmann with murder, involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide and dereliction of duty for the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. The Cleveland municipal judge also announced grounds to prosecute Officer Frank Garmback, Loehmann’s partner, who was at the scene, with negligent homicide and dereliction of duty. Judge Adrine wrote that he was “still thunderstruck by how quickly this event turned deadly,” after reviewing the surveillance video.

    After waiting nearly seven months for a decision, the Rice family considered the ruling a victory. “We are very much relieved and it is a step towards procedural justice and people having access to their government,” said Walter Madison, one of the Tamir family’s attorneys, to the Guardian. Madison said the ruling communicates that “the police are public servants and not the public’s master.”

    However, arrests cannot be made until the county prosecutor for the case, Timothy J. McGinty, files a complaint. While Madison said on Thursday that he could not foresee any justifiable obstacle to a prosecution, McGinty released a statement the same day indicating hesitation to rush filing a criminal complaint. “This case, as with all other fatal-use-of-deadly-force cases involving law enforcement officers, will go to the grand jury,” he stated. “That has been the policy of this office since I was elected. Ultimately, the grand jury decides whether police officers are charged or not charged.”

    Rice was fatally shot by Officer Timothy Loehmann on November 22 after his pellet gun was mistaken for a firearm. He was with his 14-year-old sister when a 911 caller reported Tamir waving his air-soft gun, emphasizing that the gun was “probably fake.” Somehow this information was not relayed to responding officers Loehmann and Garmback. Within two seconds of arriving at the scene, Loehmann fired two shots, fatally hitting Rice in the torso. Tamir’s sister ran to him, but was forced to the ground, handcuffed and placed in the police car. The officers stood beside Tamir’s body for at least four minutes without giving first aid and it took the ambulance eight minutes to arrive.

    Tamir’s death came at a time of serial shootings of unarmed black individuals by law enforcement, sparking protests across the country calling for reforms in race relations and police use of force. This movement, coined Black Lives Matter, has prompted national dialogues on police brutality—an occurrence that is also widespread throughout other countries in the hemisphere. In 2013, Brazilian police officers killed at least 2,212 people in 2013, according to the Brazilian Public Security Forum, compared to 461 deaths caused by police in the United States the same year. Brazil’s pacificação (pacification) processes, police occupation of favelas, have also coincided with increasing violence against women in Rio. Protestors from Mexico’s movement for the Ayotzinapa 43 stood in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Movement during New York City’s Million’s March last December, calling for an end to state repression.

    Tags: police brutality, U.S., Black Lives Matter

  • Copa América Begins in Chile Amid Protests

    June 11, 2015

    by AQ Online

    In an environment of international soccer scandal and domestic frustration, Chile will kick off its run as host of the Copa América today when it takes on Ecuador in the first match of the three-week tournament. Chilean President Michele Bachelet will help inaugurate the tournament Thursday as student protesters try to draw attention to the country’s education system.

    A wave of student protests marked the lead-up to the event, beginning in the country’s capital of Santiago on Monday. Protestors have promised to continue demonstrations throughout Copa América’s duration. Students are protesting the country’s education system, which many say continues to foster inequality and diminish student autonomy.

    In May, Bachelet responded to years of student protests by signing into law a bill that bans for-profit universities and aims to progressively end family co-pays for schools that receive public funding. While the bill addresses key student demands, activists have called the move insufficient, and protests have revamped as the president’s approval rating has fallen to historical lows in the midst of political scandals and a cabinet reshuffle.

    The Confederación de Estudiantes de Chile (Confederation of Chilean Students —Confech), the country’s leading coalition of university students, estimated that 200,000 “students, professors, workers, and citizens” attended a march it led in Santiago on Wednesday.

    "We are seeing the support from Chilean society for our demands, which are essential for change and the transformation of education in Chile,” Confech spokesperson Nicolás Fernández told reporters. On Thursday, high school students and striking teachers marched through Santiago’s main thoroughfare.

    Meanwhile, a year after Latin America’s impressive collective success at the 2014 World Cup, the Copa América will determine a winner from 12 teams from South America’s Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries, along with Jamaica. Competition is expected to be tough, with Argentina, Brazil and defending champions Uruguay the favorites to take the title. Colombia and Chile, which is looking to end a nearly 100-year losing streak, are considered dark horses.  The tournament will conclude on July 4.

    Tags: copa america, Chile student protests, Education reform

  • Brazil Plans to Fight Economic Woes with $64 Billion Infrastructure Plan

    June 10, 2015

    by AQ Online

    On Tuesday, the Brazilian government unveiled a 198.4 billion reais ($64 billion) infrastructure plan aimed at restoring economic growth through private investments in the country’s depleted roads, rail and ports. “The increase of investments in the Brazilian economy must be done by the private sector,” said Brazilian Planning Minister Nelson Barbosa. “There is a huge demand for better infrastructure in Brazil.”

    Battered by high inflation, rising unemployment and a corruption scandal at state oil company Petrobras, Brazil is on the brink of a recession that is expected to be the worst in 25 years. During a ceremony to announce the spending plan on Tuesday, President Dilma Rousseff said the government plans to use market-friendly procedures to calculate the return rate on projects such as roads, where concessions will go to bidders that offer the lowest toll rate.

    The government also aims to reduce its role in infrastructure projects, as the planned concessions will feature reduced subsidized funding from the Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social (National Social and Economic Development Bank—BNDES).

    “Our model of concessions will guarantee that consumers get quality services at fair prices and companies get an adequate return on their investments,” said Rousseff during the ceremony. The concessions include about 2, 715 miles of highways, expansion of existing freight railways and even a railway linking the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean via Peru. Repairing the roads will allow Brazil to get its commodities like soy beans to the market.

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    Tags: Dilma Rousseff, Brazil, Infrastructure Investment in Brazil

  • Un breve análisis sobre el primer año de gobierno en El Salvador

    June 9, 2015

    by Julio Rank Wright

    El segundo gobierno del Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN) recién cumplió su primer año de gestión bajo el mando del Presidente Salvador Sánchez Cerén. El primer aniversario de Sánchez Cerén llegó bajo la sombra de uno de los meses más violentos desde los Acuerdos de Paz en 1992. El mes de mayo terminó con 641 homicidios, una cifra que a todas luces debe alarmar. De cara al primer año de gobierno, es preciso intentar hacer un breve recuento de lo bueno y lo malo del primer año de gestión, así como una rápida reseña sobre el estado de la oposición política en el país.

    Lo bueno: es casi inevitable concluir que la labor más aceptable dentro del gabinete de gobierno ha sido la del Canciller de la República al frente del Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores. El Canciller Hugo Martínez ha logrado mantener unas relaciones cordiales y fructíferas con los Estados Unidos, el principal socio comercial y el aliado estratégico más importante, a pesar de las posturas históricas anti-estadounidenses que han exhibido su partido. La gestión del Plan de la Alianza para la Prosperidad ha posicionado a Martínez como un funcionario con capacidad de negociación. Proyectar una imagen positiva y buscar inversión extranjera en El Salvador cuando ocurren 641 homicidios en un mes no es tarea fácil.  Después del primer año de gobierno, Martínez demuestra, una vez más, que él es uno de los funcionarios más capaces del gobierno y una carta importante para el FMLN.

    De igual forma, estos primeros 12 meses de gestión han afirmado el rol protagónico del Vicepresidente Óscar Ortiz. Las intenciones de jugar un rol proactivo en los acercamientos con el sector privado y en la promoción de inversión extranjera han ayudado, aunque no es suficiente, a aminorar los desacuerdos entre otros miembros del gabinete con el sector privado. Aún no queda claro si Ortiz, otra carta importante para el FMLN, se ha dado como producto de su propia astucia política o por una determinación de su partido y del presidente mismo de que debe jugar un rol importante en el gabinete. Menos claro está si en lo que resta de la gestión, Ortiz asumirá liderazgo en los planes de seguridad pública, un área donde habría tenido resultados positivos como funcionario previo a su elección.

    La tercera cosa buena es el obligado distanciamiento de la retórica chavista. Ciertamente las bases del FMLN y ciertas posiciones oficiales del gobierno de Sánchez Cerén en el exterior y en foros multilaterales han fallado en exigir respeto a los derechos humanos en Venezuela; sin embargo, esa ambigüedad no es exclusiva del gobierno de El Salvador. En Latinoamérica, todos y cada uno de los países, sin excepción, son cómplices del silencio con respecto a Venezuela.

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    Tags: Salvador Sánchez Cerén, El Salvador Politics, FMLN

  • Colombia Strikes Physical Exam Requirement for Gender Change

    June 9, 2015

    by AQ Online

    Ten transgender Colombians will today be the first people to take advantage of new rules  that simplify the process by which individuals can legally change their gender. The decree, which was signed by the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of the Interior and went into effect last Friday, eliminates the need for psychiatric or physical examinations to prove an individual’s gender identity.

    Under the new rules, individuals need only submit a copy of their civil registry form, a copy of the identification card and a sworn declaration expressing their wish to change their gender identity in the civil registry to a notary public. The notary public has five business days to complete the procedure. Any subsequent change to one’s legal gender identity can only be made after ten years, and an individual can only change his or her gender identity twice.

    According to a statement released by the Ministry of Justice yesterday, the rules will have “positive consequences for [Colombia’s] trans population, which, until now, has been subjected to tedious judicial procedures.”

    The ministers of justice and the interior, Yesid Reyes and Juan Fernando Cristo, along with representatives from various transgender rights organizations, will attend proceedings today at a notary public in Bogotá to publicly present the decree

    “Judges used to order bodily inspections to determine if people had physically changed their sex, or demanded a psychiatric exam to know if the applicant had gender dysphoria,” Reyes said. “Both exams were profoundly invasive of privacy rights and were rooted in unacceptable prejudice. The construction of sexual and gender identity is an issue that doesn’t depend on biology.”

    Tags: Colombia, LGBT Rights, Transgender

  • Monday Memo: Mexican Elections—G7 Climate Summit—EU-CELAC Summit—Argentine Debt—Honduras Protests

    June 8, 2015

    by AQ Online

    This week’s likely news stories: Mexico’s ruling party wins the congressional elections; Canada and Japan block a G7 statement on carbon emissions; Latin American officials to discuss Mercosur at EU-CELAC Summit; Argentina’s debt inflates after U.S. court ruling; protestors demand Honduran president’s resignation.

    Mexico’s Ruling Party to Maintain Majority in Lower House after Elections: Despite nationwide protests over its handling of a housing scandal and the unresolved disappearance of 43 students last October, Mexico’s ruling party appeared likely to keep its congressional majority after Sunday’s legislative, mayoral and gubernatorial elections. Mexico’s national electoral institute projected that President Enrique Peña Nieto’s Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) and its allies would secure between 246 and 263 seats in the country’s 500-member lower house. One of the notable governor races was in the state of Nuevo León, which elected the country’s first independent governor since a 2014 reform allowed independent candidates to run. Jaime Rodríguez Calderon, nicknamed “El Bronco,” called his election “the beginning of a second Mexican revolution.”

    Canada Blocks G7 Statement, Agrees to Cutting Carbon Emissions: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper committed to reducing carbon emissions by 2050 during the second day of the G7 climate change summit in Bavaria today. Both Canada and Japan had blocked an earlier statement on greenhouse gas reductions  in order to avoid binding targets, and were referred to as “the most difficult [countries] on every issue on climate” by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, host of the G7 summit. Senior government officials from Canada stated that Canada will make efforts to reduce carbon emissions by means of a “target that is in line with other major industrialized economies.” The G7 countries—Canada, the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States—will continue climate change talks in France this December.

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    Tags: Partido Revolucionario Institucional, Stephen Harper, Mercosur, Argentina, Juan Orlando Hernández

  • FARC and Colombian Government Agree to Truth Commission

    June 5, 2015

    by AQ Online

    On Thursday, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC—Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrillas and the Colombian government announced an agreement to establish an independent truth commission to investigate human rights violations committed during Colombia’s 50-year internal conflict.

    The 11 anticipated commissioners, to be elected by a seven-member committee, will carry out investigations for a period of three years. However, according to the statement, the commission does not have the authority to impose penalties and any information unearthed by the commission will be inadmissible in a court of law. Cuban and Norwegian representatives from the Havana peace talks said that the commission would begin to function after the parties sign a final agreement and the FARC lay down their arms.

    While this marks a milestone for the two-and-a-half-year peace talks in Havana, the agreement may receive pushback from victims and relatives seeking legal remedy and redress.

    Moreover, violence continues to threaten the peace negotiations. During a televised speech in March, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos declared a suspension of aerial bombing after the FARC announced an indefinite unilateral ceasefire in December. However, he reinitiated air strikes after guerrillas killed 10 soldiers in a ground attack on April 15. The FARC ended the ceasefire in May due to what they said was Santos’ “inconsistency.” On May 21, three bombing raids resulted in the death of 27 rebels.

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    Tags: Colombia, FARC, Colombia Peace Talks

  • Brazil’s Corruption Graveyard

    June 4, 2015

    by Stephen Kurczy

    At a secondhand bookstore in Brazil, I recently found an old copy of Graham Greene’s novella-turned-screenplay “The Third Man." Set in the shadowy streets and sewers of post-World War II Vienna, a police investigation reveals that the leader of a crime ring has faked his death to evade police. A coffin is exhumed, a body is found missing, and an iconic sewer chase scene ensues for Orson Welles in the 1949 noir film.

    I could have opened up a local newspaper to read a similar tale unfolding.

    A suspected ringleader in Brazil’s largest corruption investigation was recently alleged to have faked his death in 2010 to escape prosecution, and on May 20, a congressional committee ordered for his coffin in the city of Londrina, in southern Brazil, to be dug up and for a DNA test to be conducted on the corpse. Former congressman José Janene was thought to have died in a hospital of heart disease in 2010, but now rumors swirled that he was living in Central America with a $185 million Luxembourg bank account.

    Digging up corpses could be a sign that Brazil’s corruption investigators will leave no stone (or gravestone) unturned, or that the unfolding scandal at Petróleo Brasileiro S.A. (Petrobras) has devolved into a witch-hunt. In either case, the development showed the extent to which officials need to distance themselves from a scandal that has cost Petrobras at least 6.2 billion reais ($2.1 billion) in graft-related losses, implicated dozens of major domestic and multinational firms, and pushed President Dilma Rousseff’s popularity to record lows.

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    Tags: Brazil, corruption, Petrobras

  • Report Accuses Red Cross of Failed Haiti Relief Efforts

    June 4, 2015

    by AQ Online

    A joint report by ProPublica and NPR released Wednesday alleges that the Red Cross “repeatedly failed” in its efforts to provide adequate support to Haiti after the country’s 2010 earthquake. Among other shortcomings, the report says the aid group only built six houses, despite announcing two high-profile housing projects and raising nearly $500 million in the earthquake’s aftermath.

    The investigation—which includes field studies in Haiti, interviews with Haitian officials and former Red Cross employees, and transcripts of internal memos and emails—found the organization’s claims that it has housed 130,000 Haitians to be false. Among other allegations, the report says the Red Cross consistently used its earthquake recovery efforts to raise funds—which ultimately exceeded the amounts actually needed for the group’s efforts on the ground—and then failed to be sufficiently transparent in how those funds were used.

    Responding to the investigation’s allegations, the Red Cross released a statement Wednesday, saying that it was “disappointed” by NPR and ProPublica’s reporting, citing a “lack of balance, context and accuracy” which it believes is characteristic of the multiple critical pieces about the group that ProPublica has published in recent months.

    On its impact in Haiti, the group said it has helped more than 100,000 people move into “safe and improved housing” and “continues to meet the needs of the Haitian people” despite challenges arising from “changes in government, lack of land for housing and civil unrest.” In its statement, the Red Cross did not cite specific examples of its funding or projects, nor did it address the NPR/ProPublica claims that large amounts of funding were lost to overhead and management costs, accusations that conflict with claims from the Red Cross’ CEO that 91 percent of donations go to help Haitians.

    In addition to its statement, the Red Cross released a fact sheet on their website listing what it calls “myths” about its recovery process in Haiti and referring readers to its Haiti Assistance Program.

    Tags: 2010 Haiti earthquake, Red Cross, Natural Disasters

  • Youth Voters Prove Crucial for Guyana and Suriname Elections

    June 3, 2015

    by Mat Youkee

    In May, South America's two smallest countries went to the polls with differing results. On May 11, Guyana's People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) was ousted from government after 22 years. Two weeks later in neighboring Suriname, incumbent president and former military leader Dési Bouterse led his National Democratic Party (NDP) to a handy victory and looks set to extend his presidency by another five year term.

    What links both elections is the increasing importance of young voters in deciding outcomes. Breaking with past generations, young voters in Guyana and Suriname today are mobilized by social media rather than rallies, care little for the partisan politics of the past and appear to be more likely to vote on issues rather than for the ethnic parties of their parents' generation. 

    Guyana and Suriname have populations of roughly 800,000 and 540,000, respectively, and both countries possess remarkable ethnic diversity. In Guyana, citizens of South Asian descent are the largest group, accounting for 43 percent of the population, and the Indo-Guyanese PPP/C has used its demographic advantage to win five consecutive elections since 1992.

    However, in recent years, economic mismanagement and corruption scandals have eroded support for the PPP/C and have galvanized the opposition. This time around, an alliance between the Afro-Guyanese A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance for Change (APC)—the latter a multiethnic party founded in 2005—won 33 seats in Parliament to the PPP/C's 32.

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    Tags: Guyana, Suriname, Elections

  • Bachelet’s Approval Rating Drops to Historic Low

    June 3, 2015

    by AQ Online

    Despite last month’s cabinet shuffle in response to a series of corruption scandals that have shaken Chile’s political establishment, President Michelle Bachelet’s approval rate has dropped to an all-time low of 29 percent, according to a poll conducted by Gfk Adimark.

    “Both the anticipated Cabinet change and her annual State of the Union address had marginal positive effects […] however, the tense climate of mistrust and accusations surrounding how political activities are financed were ultimately more important,” said the pollster.

    Since taking office for her second term in May 2014, Bachelet has been faced with many challenges, including a series of corruption scandals within her government and family. Last September, an independent national prosecutor’s office and the Internal Tax Service discovered that one of Chile’s largest financial holdings companies, Penta Group, used false invoices and tax fraud to circumvent electoral laws and conceal illegal corporate financing for political campaigns. Additionally, in February, Bachelet’s son, Sebastián Dávalos, was accused of using his influence to obtain a $10 million loan to buy land for his wife’s consulting firm, Caval.

    Bachelet has responded to the corruption scandals with a series of anti-corruption measures aimed to restore public faith in Chile’s political system. In addition to her cabinet reshuffle, Bachelet appointed an advisory council to propose new regulations on the ties between politics and business. In her May 21 State of the Union address, Bachelet acknowledged the difficulties facing her government and stated that she was not going to sweep the nation’s recent troubles “under the carpet.” She also discussed her plans to reduce inequality in Chile by providing housing subsidies, greater access to healthcare, labor reform to strengthen unions, and a bill to make universities free for the majority of students. 

    While Bachlelet has passed important reforms in education, taxation and the electoral system and has announced measures to curb corruption, she faces a challenging job ahead. “There is a political crisis when over 70 percent of the population believes that the political system doesn’t work, that people lie and that the system should change,” said Marta Lagos, director of the regional public opinion firm Latinobarómetro. “As long as the government doesn’t address this crisis, its program of reforms will take a back seat.”

    Tags: Chile, Michelle Bachelet, corruption

  • Civil Society Groups Decry Education Reform Rollback in Mexico

    June 2, 2015

    by AQ Online

    A group of civil society organizations and ordinary citizens denounced on Monday the suspension of a key provision of the sweeping education reform package signed by President Enrique Peña Nieto in September 2013. The provision—which provided for the evaluation of Mexican teachers and linked raises and promotions to candidates’ performance on these evaluations—was suddenly and indefinitely suspended last Friday by the Secretaría de Educación Pública (Public Education Secretariat—SEP).

    In a statement released yesterday, organizations including México Evalúa (Mexico Assesses), a public policy think tank, the Instituto Mexicano de la Competitividad (Mexican Institute for Competitiveness) and Mexicanos Primero (Mexicans First) asserted that the suspension of teacher evaluations “nullifies the education reform, betraying millions of students in our country.”

    The move has also been denounced by the Instituto Nacional para la Evaluación de la Educación (National Institute for the Evaluation of Education—INEE), an autonomous organization created by the education reform package. “The measure that has been announced is an assault on the INEE’s competency and a violation of its constitutional autonomy,” the INEE declared in a statement on Saturday.

    The introduction of standardized teacher evaluations has been a hot button issue since the beginning, generating strong opposition from the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (National Coordinator of Education Workers—CNTE) a dissident faction of the national teachers’ syndicate that largely represents teachers from Mexico’s poorer, southern states. Teachers in the states of Michoacán, Oaxaca and Guerrero remained on strike after the original reform package passed, claiming that the reforms were discriminatory towards teachers from these poorer, more Indigenous regions.

    More recently, the CNTE had threatened to disrupt the upcoming June 7 elections. On Monday, CNTE members in Oaxaca reportedly broke into two electoral offices in the state—destroying ballots and other electoral materials—and blockaded several more.

    Tags: Mexico, Education reform, Enrique Peña Nieto

  • Monday Memo: Marches in Venezuela—Guatemalan Protests—Chilean Education Law—Transgender Inmates in Rio—Colombian Murder Trial

    June 1, 2015

    by AQ Online

    Thousands Amass in Venezuela for Anti-Government Protest: Nearly 3,000 Venezuelan demonstrators clothed in white marched in Caracas on Saturday in the largest protest since last year’s surge of anti-government demonstrations. In a video filmed from his jail cell prior to the protests, former opposition Mayor Leopoldo López encouraged supporters to protest peacefully to demand the release of political prisoners, an end to censorship and a date for the nearing legislative elections. López and former Mayor Daniel Ceballos were both imprisoned in 2014 for mobilizing protests in 2014 that resulted in 43 deaths, and both men went on hunger strikes last week to protest their imprisonment. Protestors in Caracas spoke out against inflation, violent crimes and shortages, and smaller protests occurred in other cities across the country.

    Guatemalans Call for President Resignation: Nearly 20,000 protestors from across Guatemala gathered in the capital on Saturday to call for the resignation of President Otto Pérez Molina over charges of corruption. Protestors converged in the Plaza de la Constitución for the sixth consecutive weekend after scandals in the government have prompted several government officials, including former Vice President Roxana Baldetti, to resign.  While Pérez Molina has not been accused of any crimes, his administration has been troubled by allegations of pervasive corruption. Presidential elections are set for September, and the president has vowed not to step down before completing his term.

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    Tags: Leopoldo Lopez, Otto Perez Molina, Michelle Bachelet, LGBT Rights, Luis Carlos Galán Sarmiento

  • Is Brazil’s World Cup Next on the List?

    May 29, 2015

    by Flora Charner

    The U.S. Justice Department accused more than a dozen people this week of being involved in a massive FIFA corruption scandal that spanned more than two decades. Several high-level officials were arrested in a luxury Zurich hotel Wednesday, including former Confederação Brasileira de Futebol (Brazilian Football Confederation—CBF) President José Maria Marin.

    “Our investigation revealed that what should be an expression of international sportsmanship was used as a vehicle in a broader scheme to line executives’ pockets with bribes,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said during a press conference Wednesday in New York. “These individuals and organizations engaged in bribery to decide who would televise games; where the games would be held; and who would run the organization overseeing organized soccer worldwide.”

    Marin, who led the jogo bonito’s governing body from March 2012 to April 2015, is facing charges of corruption, racketeering and bribery. According to the indictment, Marin split an $110 million kickback with four others in order to help Uruguayan company Datisa secure global distribution rights for next month’s Copa América and the four future editions of the tournament, including the special centennial cup to be held in the U.S. next year. He also allegedly requested bribe payments from Brazilian sports marketing firm Traffic for distribution rights of the country’s Copa do Brasil.

    Others arrested Wednesday were accused of taking bribes to influence the winning bids of the 2010 South Africa World Cup, 2018 Russia World Cup and 2022 Qatar World Cup, with the latter’s  selection facing scrutiny for its poor human rights record.  Most of these transactions were done using U.S. bank accounts, which triggered the alarm of American authorities in the FBI, IRS and DOJ.

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    Tags: FIFA, FIFA corruption, Brazil, World Cup

  • Cuba Officially Removed from U.S. Terrorism List

    May 29, 2015

    by AQ Online

    The era of acrimonious relations between Cuba and the U.S. may soon come to a close as Cuba’s designation on the U.S. Department of State’s list of state sponsors of terrorism (SSOT) has officially been rescinded after a final decision from Secretary of State John Kerry today.

    On April 14, President Barack Obama announced his plan to remove Cuba from the list after declaring that Cuba had “provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.” Cuba’s inclusion on the SSOT list—where it was listed alongside Iran, Sudan and Syria—had been cited by Cuba as a major impediment to restoring relations.

    Congress’s 45-day window to block Obama’s decision to lift the SSOT designation expired today with no override from Congress—despite the fact that Obama’s decision was initially met with mixed reactions.   Cuba will also be removed from the Department of Treasury’s sanctions list, “a place reserved for nations that repeatedly provide support for international acts of premeditated, politically motivated violence against non-combatants,” according to the Bradenton Herald.

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    Tags: Cuba, SSOT, U.S.-Cuba relations

  • Serving a Movement: A Model for Executive Action Implementation

    May 28, 2015

    by Nick Katz

    Last November, President Barack Obama announced a historic executive action that could allow up to 4.4 million undocumented immigrants to gain relief from deportation and apply for employment authorization documents. This initiative was an important victory for the immigrant rights movement, which had pushed the president to act to protect immigrant families. 

    President Obama’s executive action would expand the President’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and create a new program called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) to request deferred action and employment authorization for undocumented parents who have at least one U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident child. Although it fails to include more than half of the undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and does not provide permanent immigration status to beneficiaries, this executive action would keep millions of immigrants from being torn away from their families and allow them to more fully engage with their communities—including through lawful employment that would boost our economy by tens of billions of dollars over the next decade.

    Since Obama’s announcement, immigrant rights groups around the country have worked hard to determine the best approach to ensure that their communities have access to high-quality information and can take advantage of this important opportunity for their families. This task has been complicated, however, by recent legal challenges.

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    Tags: Immigration, DACA, DAPA, Comprehensive Immigration Reform

  • FIFA Officials Arrested on Corruption Charges

    May 28, 2015

    by AQ Online

    Swiss authorities arrested fourteen people—including a number of top FIFA officials—in Zurich on Wednesday on corruption charges involving the international soccer governing association. Twelve of those arrested are from Latin America and the Caribbean.

    The U.S. Justice Department in New York issued the charges, which included accusations of money laundering, wire fraud and racketeering. Those indicted—including Jeffrey Webb, who is president of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONACAF)—have been accused of receiving bribes totaling more than $150 million over the past 20 years to determine where matches would be held and who would televise games, among other decisions. All FIFA officials arrested in Zurich are resisting extradition to the United States.

    Following the arrests, a second, separate investigation was opened by the Swiss Office of the Attorney General into the bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups scheduled to take place in Russia and Qatar.

    Latin American football fans and soccer stars like Argentina’s Diego Maradona and Brazil’s Romario have publicly welcomed the corruption charges. While the arrests could potentially affect the Copa América tournament in Latin America, set to begin on June 11 in Chile, so far the tournament is set to continue.

    President of FIFA Sepp Blatter, who is up for re-election to a fifth term on Friday and has resisted calls to step down, was not among those charged. FIFA issued a statement supporting the investigation and “welcoming actions that can help contribute to rooting out any wrongdoing in football.”

    Read more about FIFA in Americas Quarterly Hard Talk: Does FIFA’s corruption hurt the beautiful game?

    Tags: Soccer, FIFA, corruption

  • Rousseff Signs Investment Agreements with Peña Nieto

    May 27, 2015

    by AQ Online

    Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff met Tuesday with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico City to foster a closer relationship between the two largest markets in Latin America and the Caribbean. This event was Rousseff’s first official visit to Mexico since she first became president in 2011.

    Rousseff kicked off her official visit to Mexico on Monday evening and was welcomed by the Minister of Foreign Relations José Antonio Meade. She arrived with a delegation of business representatives interested in exploring investment opportunities in Mexico.

    On Tuesday, Rousseff and Peña Nieto signed investment agreements and other accords to increase air travel and tourism. They also agreed to review their bilateral preferential trade agreement (the acuerdo de complementación económica Brasil–México, known as ACE 53) in an effort to lower tariffs overall and extend reduced tariffs to over 6,000 new products. As ACE 53 currently stands, less than half of the products that Brazil exports to Mexico are included in the list of goods with reduced tariffs.

    Together, the Brazilian and Mexican economies comprise 62 percent of Latin America’s GDP and make up 58 percent of Latin America’s exports. The bilateral trade between the two countries stood at $9.2 billion in 2014, up from $ 5.7 billion in 2006. With the new agreements, the countries hope to double their trade within the next decade.

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    Tags: Dilma Rousseff, Enrique Peña Nieto, trade, investment

  • Is Hillary Still the Best Candidate?

    May 26, 2015

    by John Parisella

    Following US presidential politics is a favorite Canadian pastime, and the2016 campaign will be no exception. While the Canadian opinion is ultimately inconsequential, as we will continue to be a key ally, friend and economic partner to the USA, no matter who wins the presidential election, I can already predict that an overwhelming majority of Canadians hope Hillary Clinton will be the next President.

    Despite fluctuating relationships between United States Presidents and Canadian Prime Ministers, our countries have more in common—given our shared geography, economics and politics—than any other allies on the planet.

    The 2016 race is on, and from the outset I believed a Clinton-Bush rerun likely to occur. This being said, both Hillary and Jeb Bush have stumbled of late, leading observers to question whether inevitability will carry the day. Hillary is still dogged by the email controversy, and her responses to and management of the issue seem slow and erratic. It looks like old politics—a throwback to the 1990s type of spin and verbal platitudes.

    At the same time, Jeb Bush's responses on Iraq were quite simply pathetic in style and content, considering the predictability of the questions. The advantages of name recognition and establishment connections seemed, as with Clinton, also out of the 1990s. Bush is no longer the one to beat, there are newer faces emerging. For example, Florida's Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul appear fresher.  Look for a new player who could upset the prohibitive favorites such as Ohio Governor John Kasich, whose strategic state will guarantee him a close look for the top spot or that of Vice President.

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    Tags: Hillary Clinton, U.S. Primary Elections, Jeb Bush

  • Colombia Recognizes Sexual Violence Victims

    May 26, 2015

    by AQ Online

    On Monday, Colombia commemorated the first annual National Day for the Dignity of Female Victims of Sexual Violence caused by the Internal Armed Conflict in an effort to highlight the toll the country’s ongoing conflict has taken on women.

    Colombia’s National Victims Registry estimates that during Colombia’s five-decade-long civil war, members of armed rebel groups and national security forces have sexually violated nearly 9,000 women and girls and just over 1,000 men and boys.

    On a national level, Colombia’s National Health Institute reports that 5,243 cases of sexual violence have been reported thus far in 2015, an average of 38 per day.

    Last year President Juan Manuel Santos signed into law Decree 1480, which seeks to provide justice for victims of sexual violence in the context of the armed conflict. Earlier in 2014, a report from Zainab Hawa Bangura, the UN’s special representative on sexual violence in armed conflict, found that in 2012 and 2013, 154 people were victims of sexual violence related to the ongoing civil conflict.

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    Tags: FARC peace negotiations, Sexual violence, Jineth Bedoya

  • Corruption Network in Guatemalan Health System Exposed

    May 22, 2015

    by Nic Wirtz

    Guatemalan authorities arrested 17 people, including the head of the Guatemalan Central bank, on Wednesday in an ongoing investigation into fraud at the Instituto Guatemalteco de Seguridad Social (IGSS—Guatemalan Institute of Social Security) that resulted in the deaths of at least five kidney failure patients.

    In December 2014, IGSS changed its supplier of kidney dialysis treatment from Baxter to PISA, a Mexican firm, awarding it a 116 million quetzal contract ($15.67 million). This was to provide dialysis for 530 patients. However, CICIG wiretaps revealed that IGSS employees, businessmen and the head of the Bank of Guatemala stood to make 15-16 percent of the contract in kickbacks.

    The Procuraduría de Derechos Humanos (PDH—Human Rights Ombudsman) received a number of complaints this year about the treatment, including a lack of personnel and poor facilities. Since December, a number of patients have died, while others have contracted peritonitis, an inflammation of the abdomen. On May 15, IGSS revoked the contract with PISA, citing "deficiencies in the educational plan" of patients and announced there would be a new tender for the service.

    Ramiro Lorenzana, a doctor and spokesman for PISA, responded to complaints in an interview with, saying, “Patients are already in a terminal phase of the disease. Anything that happens today is down to them experiencing a failure of their kidneys. I insist they will die sooner or later.”

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    Tags: Guatemala, Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala

  • Additional Guatemalan Officials Resign Amid Allegations of Corruption

    May 22, 2015

    by AQ Online

    Guatemala’s Ministers of Interior, Energy and Mining, Environment, and the Secretary of Intelligence resigned on Thursday, amid a series of corruption scandals. The resignations come two weeks after Vice President Roxana Baldetti was forced to step down due to a top aide’s involvement in customs fraud.

    Despite the resignations, President Otto Pérez Molina refuted claims that his government is collapsing. “[Rumors] that the cabinet is being dismantled [are] totally false, none of the ministers have indicated that they want to leave, not even in the most difficult of moments. I am making this decision with each one of them. Therefore, this is just a speculation. They are leaving their post at my request,” the president said.

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    Tags: Guatemala, corruption

  • Pinochet’s Former Secret Police Chief Receives Additional Sentence

    May 21, 2015

    by AQ Online

    Manuel Contreras, the former police chief during Chile’s 1973-1990 military dictatorship under Augusto Pinochet, received a 15-year sentence for murder on Wednesday, adding to the 490-year term he is currently serving. In 2013, the Supreme Court convicted Contreras, 86, for the December 1974 disappearance of Alejandro de la Barra and Ana Maria Puga, members of the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR—Revolutionary Left Movement). Four other officials from the Pinochet era were also convicted by the Court.

    The Court’s rulings are a historical feat in Chile, marking the first time that disappeared Chileans have been acknowledged as victims of secuestro permanente (permanent kidnapping), which enables the crimes to be prosecuted despite the country’s 1978 amnesty law. The only way Contreras would have been able to evade a prison term on permanent kidnapping charges was “by producing the remains of the disappeared person or fully demonstrating that he or she is indeed dead,” according to Latin America Press.

    Contreras has been found guilty of a slew of atrocities. Throughout Pinochet’s dictatorship, Contreras headed the Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA—National Intelligence Directorate), an agency responsible for managing torture centers where hundreds were slain. Contreras completed a seven-year prison term between 1994 and 2001 for the 1976 assassination of former Ambassador Orlando Letelier in Washington DC. In 2004, Contreras was sentenced to 12 additional years in prison for the kidnapping and disappearance of a MIR guerrilla member Miguel Ángel Sandoval. Contreras received a 490-year sentence for crimes against humanity carried out during the early years of the military regime.

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    Tags: Chile, Augusto Pinochet, Rule of Law

  • Immigration Activists Mark National Day of Action

    May 20, 2015

    by AQ Online

    Immigration reform activists staged rallies and protests across the United States on Tuesday as part of a national day of action, calling for the implementation of President Barack Obama’s executive actions for undocumented immigrants. The day of action fell on May 19, the original date that one of the president’s blocked executive action programs, Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA), was to begin accepting applications.

    Under DAPA, certain undocumented parents of U.S. citizens or permanent residents would be eligible for deportation relief and could apply for work permits. DAPA is an offshoot of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which was to be expanded on February 18. On February 16, a federal judge in Texas issued an injunction against DACA’s expansion and DAPA’s launch, and both programs remain delayed.

    Still, proponents of DACA and DAPA are pressuring lawmakers to push for the programs’ implementation and are preparing members of the undocumented community to be ready if and when this happens.

    On Tuesday—six months after Obama first announced DAPA—immigrant rights and labor groups held demonstrations, voter registration drives and town-hall meetings in 33 cities in 20 states, many outside government buildings and the offices of lawmakers who have supported a multi-state lawsuit against the program. On social media, DAPA advocates—including presidential candidate Hillary Clinton—used the hashtag #Fight4DAPA to keep the programs on the national agenda.

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    Tags: DAPA, executive action, Undocumented immigrants

  • Mexico and Canada Threaten U.S. with Sanctions over Meat-Labeling Rule

    May 19, 2015

    by AQ Online

    Mexico and Canada won a final appeal from the World Trade Organization (WTO) yesterday, when the trade body upheld an early decision that found that U.S. country-of-origin labeling (COOL) requirements for meat products violated international trade law. Both countries have warned that they may pursue punitive measures against U.S. exports unless the requirement, which was adopted in 2009 and amended in 2013, is dropped. The USDA describes COOL as a “consumer information program.”

    The Canadian Ministers of International Trade and Agriculture and Agri-Food, along with the Mexican Secretaries of Economy and Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food, issued a statement yesterday that said, “Once again, the WTO has confirmed Canada and Mexico’s long-standing position that the United States’ mandatory COOL requirements for beef and pork are blatantly protectionist and are a violation of the United States’ international trade obligations,” adding that “our governments will be seeking authorization from the WTO to take retaliatory measures against U.S. exports.” According to estimates, the COOL requirements have cost Canada $1 billion a year. Industry groups have argued that the rule hampers trade in livestock due to the added costs of tracking animals along the supply chain and separating them according to country of origin.

    Republican lawmakers in the U.S. have signaled that they will move to repeal the legislation. “It is important now more than ever to act quickly to avoid a protracted trade war with our two largest trade partners,” said Michael Conway, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, whose office has reportedly downplayed the impact of COOL requirements on food safety.

    U.S. consumer groups, however, have decried the ruling. “Today’s WTO ruling ... effectively orders the U.S. government to stop providing consumers basic information about where their food comes from," said Lori Wallach, director of Global Trade Watch at Public Citizen, a consumer group.

    Meanwhile, U.S. beef and cattle producers have offered mixed responses. Ron Prestage, president of the National Pork Producers Council, called the prospect of Mexican and Canadian tariffs on U.S. exports a “death sentence for U.S. jobs and exports,” urging Congress to act quickly. Others, including Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, maintain that any resolution to the dispute “must involve continuation of a meaningful country-of-origin labeling requirement.”

    Tags: WTO, Country of Origin Labeling, NAFTA

  • Veteran Judge Sworn in as Guatemala’s New Vice President

    May 18, 2015

    by Louisa Reynolds

    Judge Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre was sworn in as Guatemala’s new vice president on May 15 after his predecessor, Roxana Baldetti, was forced to step down in the wake of a major corruption scandal.

    Maldonado Aguirre was not originally included in the shortlist of candidates that President Otto Pérez Molina sent to Congress. The original list included police reform commissioner Adela Camacho de Torrebiarte, Minister of Labor Carlos Contreras and Adrian Zapata, executive secretary of the Cabinet for Rural Development. But due to a constitutional impediment, Contreras was replaced by PP Congressman Oliverio García Rodas.

    However, if Congressman García Rodas left his seat in Congress, he would have been replaced by former Vice President Roxana Baldetti’s personal assistant, Daniela Beltranena, which would have exacerbated the widespread discontent with the current administration. This forced Pérez Molina to remove García Rodas from the shortlist and replace him with Maldonado Aguirre.

    In the final vote count, 115 members of Congress voted for Maldonado Aguirre, 14 voted against him and 29 were reported absent.

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    Tags: Guatemala, Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre, Otto Perez Molina

  • The Next Chapter for China in the Americas

    May 18, 2015

    by Eric Farnsworth

    Chinese Premier Li Keqiang begins an eight day trip to South America today, landing in Brazil with a promise of some $50 billion in Chinese investments in Brazilian infrastructure. This trip follows on and is consistent with the promise that President Xi Jinping made in January to invest $250 billion in Latin America and the Caribbean over the next 10 years. 

    Talk about checkbook diplomacy: whether each of these investments is ultimately consummated—and China has a history of big announcements that go unfulfilled—Latin American and Caribbean nations are paying attention. 

    The promise of infrastructure development is not unwelcome, even by the United States, which sees chronic underinvestment in Latin America’s creaking infrastructure to be a limiting factor in regional development.  Resources are insufficient, and Chinese largesse meets a need.  At the same time, China is not pursuing charity. Investments up to this point and into the future are clearly focused on the procurement of strategic natural resources, including energy and agriculture, and also the infrastructure to bring them to market—i.e. get them to China.

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    Tags: Li Keqiang, China-Latin America, Foreign Investment

  • Monday Memo: Guatemalan Protests—Costa Rican Discrimination—Chinese Investment—Guyana Election—Technology in Honduras

    May 18, 2015

    by AQ Online

    Demonstrators Call for Pérez Molina’s Resignation:  Thousands of protestors marched across 13 cities in Guatemala on Saturday to call for President Otto Pérez Molina’s resignation. The protests came as a response to a customs tax fraud scandal uncovered by the Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala—CICIG) in April that led to the resignation of Vice President Roxana Baldetti earlier this month, though she denies involvement in the scheme. The protests were organized via social media, without any clear leadership. While Pérez Molina had originally announced his intent to let CICIG’s mandate expire, the scandal later prompted the president to announce that he will request a two-year extension.

    Costa Rica orders Executive Action against LGBT Discrimination: In honor of International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia on May 17, Costa Rican Vice President Ana Helena Chacón announced new legislation that will punish public workers found discriminating against others on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. While the decree does not outline what the sanctions for discrimination will be or how they will be issued, the decree does mandate training on equal access for employees of public organizations, as well as the redefining of a couple or partner to include same-sex partners for all institutions under the executive branch. Chacón, who has long been a supporter of LGBT rights, announced the decree on Friday at Costa Rica’s Casa Presidencial. Despite the new measure, same-sex marriages and civil unions are currently not recognized in Costa Rica.

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    Tags: President Otto Pérez Molina, LGBT Rights, Chinese Investment in Latin America, David Granger

  • Brazil: Up for Sale

    May 18, 2015

    by Stephen Kurczy

    Brazil is up for sale, and bargain-hunters from Sam Zell to Stephen Schwarzman are looking for deals.

    If the country’s economy could be spread onto a monopoly board, distressed domestic utilities like Companhia Energética de Minas Gerais S.A. (Cemig) would be selling for a bargain, while infrastructure like airports and railroads would be begging for investment. Meanwhile, any of the dozens of companies implicated in a massive corruption scandal at state-run oil company Petróleo Brasileiro S.A. (Petrobras) might seem impossible to give away amid the ongoing risk of legal liability and financial fallout.

    In that context, foreign investors are rolling the dice that Brazil will stage a turnaround. C’mon snake eyes!

    It takes a certain type of investor to be drawn to the country right now. The economy is expected to contract more than 1 percent this year. The government is in a state of political paralysis amid calls for President Dilma Rousseff’s resignation and Congress’ refusal to sign off on belt-tightening measures meant to avert a sovereign credit downgrade. Rich Brazilians are fleeing for Miami.

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    Tags: Brazil, Foreign Investment, Brazilian Economy

  • Dominican Republic Denies Extension Request from 18 Haitian Migrant Rights Organizations for the National Regularization Plan

    May 15, 2015

    by AQ Online

    On Wednesday, the Dominican Republic government denied a deadline extension request for applications to the Plan Nacional de Regularización (National Regularization Plan) from 18 advocacy organizations dedicated to defending Haitian migrant workers’ rights. The deadline for registration is scheduled for June 17. Roudy Joseph, spokesman for the coalition of organizations, announced that a document would be submitted to Haitian Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Daniel Supplice, calling on the Haitian government to formally appeal for an extension until December.

    The decision to deny the extension request comes during a time of deteriorating relations between the Dominican Republic and Haiti following the passage of Sentencia 168-13 in September 2013, a law that effectively rendered hundreds of thousands of Haitians residing in the Dominican Republic stateless. The ruling retracted citizenship from anyone who was born to undocumented parents residing in the country. After immense pressure from the international community, the Dominican government established the Plan Nacional de Regularización in June 2014 to offer legal status to immigrants, primarily Haitian, who either entered the country illegally or who had been rendered stateless as a result of Sentencia 168-13. Over 200,000 people have already applied to register. Those unable to meet the deadline may face deportation.

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    Tags: Haiti, Dominican Republic, Dominican Republic-Haiti relations, citizenship

  • La guerra es contra el glifosato

    May 14, 2015

    by Jenny Manrique

    Más de 20 mil firmas alcanzó en pocos días la petición hecha en la plataforma para acabar con la fumigación con glifosato de cultivos ilícitos en Colombia. La abogada ambientalista Astrid Puentes Riaño de la Asociación Interamericana para la Defensa del Ambiente (AIDA), autora de la iniciativa, espera recaudar 25 mil apoyos antes de este 14 de mayo, que es cuando el Consejo Nacional de Estupefacientes se reúne en Colombia para decidir sobre la petición del presidente Juan Manuel Santos, de acabar con el uso del herbicida en la guerra contra las drogas.

    Aunque no es un camino expédito, (el período de transición para encontrarle reemplazo al herbicida se vence el 1 de octubre), después de 16 años de ensayo y error usando la aspersión aérea, el viraje del debate es excepcional:  ahora la guerra es contra el glifosato.

    La reciente evaluación de la Agencia Internacional para la Investigación sobre el Cáncer, que aumentó la calificación de riesgo del agrotóxico para la salud humana, vino a respaldar lo que por años han dicho organizaciones de derechos humanos en departamentos como Putumayo y Nariño, conceptos de la Corte Constitucional en Colombia y un sinnúmero de estudios científicos: el glifosato hace más mal que bien.

    Los cultivadores re-siembran con facilidad las zonas asperjadas sin mencionar que muchas veces son sus cultivos para consumo los que terminan afectados. Según un paper de la Universidad de los Andes, para eliminar una hectárea de coca con glifosato, hay que fumigar 30, lo que cuesta 72.000 dólares, muchísimo más del valor en el mercado de los kilogramos de droga que esa hectárea podría producir. Ya Colombia tuvo que pagar a Ecuador una indemnización de US$15 millones, cuando el gobierno de Rafael Correa denunció al de Álvaro Uribe ante la Corte Internacional de la Haya por fumigar en zona fronteriza afectando la salud de los pobladores.

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    Tags: Colombia, glifosato, salud, Narcotráfico

  • Brazil’s Lower House Passes Amendment to Austerity Bill in Setback for Government

    May 14, 2015

    by AQ Online

    On Wednesday, Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies passed its second austerity bill in a week, just hours before approving an amendment that changed the bill’s direction and increased federal spending for retirees. If passed by the Senate, the amended bill faces a possible presidential veto and represents a roadblock to the government’s strategy for increasing revenues.

    The initial bill, which passed by 277 votes to 178, limited sick leave and restricted access to social security pensions for relatives of deceased employees in an attempt to save an estimated 7.5 billion reais ($2.47 billion) in public funds. The measure was a key component of the government’s strategy to balance fiscal accounts and avoid an impending credit downgrade, and its initial passage represented a win for President Dilma Rousseff’s current fiscal agenda.

    However, amid backlash from the country’s largest labor union, the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (Unified Workers' Central—CUT) and members of the president’s Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT), the lower house passed the amendment with a vote of 232 to 210. Nine PT members approved the changes to the bill, while five did not attend the vote. O Globo reports that the bill would not have been changed had all PT members in the lower house voted against the amendment.

    Bloomberg called the amendment to the austerity measure the “first major setback” for Finance Minister Joaquim Levy, who has pushed an austerity agenda in order to reduce a growing federal deficit. Levy called last week’s approval of a bill reducing social-security benefits a “victory for all of society.”

    Rousseff has threatened to veto the second bill after Wednesday night’s amendment passed, and is negotiating with labor unions and lawmakers to avoid a congressional override of the veto.

    Seven more amendments to the bill were scheduled for a vote on Thursday.

    Tags: Joaquim Levy, Austerity, Brazil budget