Blog

  • 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 Nomada.gt, 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.”

    Read More

    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.

    Read More

    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.

    Read More

    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.

    Read More

    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 Change.org 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

  • Guatemalan Customs Fraud Scandal Taints Lawyers, Judges

    May 14, 2015

    by Louisa Reynolds

    On May 8, Guatemalan authorities arrested three lawyers representing defendants in a massive customs tax fraud case known as Caso SAT that has thrown the current administration into a state of disarray and forced Vice President Roxana Baldetti to resign.

    The UN Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala—CICIG), which launched the investigation into the La Linea corruption network, accused lawyers José Arturo Morales, known as “Chepito,” Jorge Luis Escobar and Ruth Emilsa Trigueros of running a “law firm of impunity” that bribed corrupt judges to make unjustified decisions favoring organized crime groups. 

    A total of 27 individuals—including the director and former director of Guatemala’s Superintendencia de Administración Tributaria (Tax Administration Superintendency—SAT)—Álvaro Omar Franco Chacón and Carlos Enrique Muñoz Roldán, have been arrested as part of the wider investigation into La Linea.

    Wiretap recordings show how six other leading defendants in the case—Francisco Javier Ortiz, known as “Teniente Jerez,” Salvador Estuardo González, known as “Eco,” Miguel Ángel Aldana, Mónica Patricia Jáuregui, José Rolando Gil, and Carlos Ixtuc—used the three lawyers to bribe the judge presiding over the case, Marta Josefina Sierra González de Stalling, in exchange for obtaining release on bail and unguarded house arrest instead of prison.

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    Tags: Guatemala, Caso SAT, corruption

  • U.S. Senate Votes Against Fast Track for Trans-Pacific Partnership

    May 13, 2015

    by AQ Online

    The U.S. Senate voted 52-45 on Tuesday against a bill that would grant President Barack Obama a “fast track” to close the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal. This outcome not only marks a defeat for one of Obama’s trade priorities, but also highlights the challenges he faces within his party ranks.

    The TPP is a multilateral trade agreement among 12 countries that together represent approximately 40 percent of world GDP and nearly a third of world exports. Chile, Mexico and Peru are the three countries from Latin America that are included in the agreement.

    In a joint press conference with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in April, Obama said, "TPP will help level the playing field. [It] will have strong protections for workers and the environment and help us set high standards for trade in the 21st century." 

    Yesterday’s results fell just shy of the 60 votes Obama needed to enact a legislative procedure known as Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which enables trade deals such as the TPP to be voted on by Congress with a “yes” or “no” approval without amendment. Congress has enacted TPA since 1974, but it expired on July 1, 2007. Under current law, the trade promotion authority must be voted on and renewed by Congress every two years.

    Democrats have been the most vocal opponents of the TPP. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren co-authored an opinion piece in the Boston Globe with Connecticut Representative Rosa DeLauro earlier this month, citing corporate influence and a lack of transparency as reasons to reject the deal.

    “Powerful corporate interests have spent a lot of time and money trying to bend Washington’s rules to benefit themselves, and now they want Congress to grease the skids for a TPP deal that corporations have helped write but the public can’t see,” they said.

    In addition to these issues, other bipartisan concerns about the TPP include the lack of provisions on human trafficking, currency manipulation, child labor laws, displaced workers, and unfair trade practices, among others. These pending concerns reveal that TPA is not the only hurdle the TPP deal is facing right now.

     After the vote, Obama called on ten Senate Democrats who had publicly backed the fast track provisions in order to discuss the outcome and work on a strategy to get the votes he needs. The outcome of these discussions are yet to be disclosed, but will certainly shed more light on the future of TPP.  

     

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    Tags: TPP, trade, President Obama

  • Baldetti’s Resignation Deepens Guatemalan Political Crisis

    May 13, 2015

    by Nic Wirtz

    Guatemalan Vice President Roxana Baldetti resigned last Friday, ending a tumultuous three weeks of protests after an investigation raised questions about her possible involvement in a high-profile corruption scandal known as Caso SAT. Baldetti’s former private secretary, Juan Carlos Monzón, was recently accused of organizing a corruption network targeting Guatemala´s tax collection agency—the Superintendencia de Administración Tributaria (SAT)—and is now at large.

    President Otto Pérez Molina praised Baldetti’s “brave decision” in a press conference on Friday.  He said, “This was a voluntary, personal decision of the vice president.  It was thoughtful, difficult, courageous, but consistent with her principles and values.”

    The vice president was facing a congressional impeachment hearing this week, after the Supreme Court unanimously ruled to send one of the four motions filed against Baldetti about her possible involvement in Caso SAT to Congress. 

    Baldetti’s resignation marked the culmination of a difficult period. In March of this year, she was left on the sidelines of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Guatemala.  She received further scrutiny after the disappearance of Monzón, who is suspected of masterminding the SAT’s fraud. By the time Guatemala’s business elite from the Comité de Asociaciones Agrícolas, Comerciales, Industriales y Financieras (Coordinating Committee of Agriculture, Commercial, Industrial and Financial Associations—CACIF) withdrew their support for Baldetti, the writing was on the wall.  A few days later, the Conferencia Episcopal de Guatemala (Episcopal Conference of Guatemala—CEG) publically condemned fraud committed by the SAT.

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    Tags: Guatemala, Roxana Baldetti, Caso SAT, corruption

  • Mexican Officials Investigate Possible Vaccine-Related Deaths

    May 12, 2015

    by AQ Online

    After two infants died and 29 others fell ill after being vaccinated against hepatitis B in the southern state of Chiapas on Friday, the Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social (Mexican Social Security Institute—IMSS) announced yesterday that it has sent samples of the vaccines to Mexico City for analysis. The move follows the launch of an investigation into the case by the Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos (CNDH) on Saturday, and a visit to the affected families by the IMSS director, José Antonio González, and the governor of Chiapas, Manuel Velasco, on Sunday.

    On Saturday, the IMSS announced the national suspension of tuberculosis, rotavirus, and hepatitis B vaccinations, but later clarified that the suspension applied only to the lots of hepatitis B vaccine used in the municipality of Simojovel, where the affected children were vaccinated. “We still don’t know what caused the problem,” said Rodrigo Romero Feregrino, secretary of the Asociación Mexicana de Vacunología (Mexican Vaccinology Association). “We must wait for the results of the investigation. I think it was a human error.”

    According to the Mexican daily La Jornada, the principal theory among specialists and the Mexican Secretaría de Salud (Health Secretariat—Ssa) is that the deaths and sickness were caused by errors in the storage or handling of the vaccines. According to Rafael Gual Cosío, the director general of the Cámara Nacional de la Industria Farmacéutica (National Pharmaceutical Industry Chamber—Canifarma), the vaccines may have been spoiled due a lapse in temperature control during storage or transport.  In an interview with the news site El Economista, he said, “What surely happened here is that part of the vaccine that was sent to this locality didn’t maintain adequate cold chains, at some point it was broken, and that’s what could have caused the vaccines to decompose.”

    Meanwhile, the parents of the children in Chiapas await answers. “They ask for justice,” Marcelo Pérez, a priest in Simojovel municipality said. “They want a deep investigation into what really happened, and why. That’s what they ask for. There’s a lot of pain.”

    Tags: Vaccines, Simojovel, IMSS

  • Monday Memo: Castro visits Pope—Chilean Cabinet—Colombian Coca—Guatemalan Corruption—Central American Geothermal

    May 11, 2015

    by AQ Online

    This week’s likely news stories: Raúl Castro has an audience with the Pope; Michelle Bachelet shakes up her Cabinet; Colombia bans coca spraying; a Guatemalan judge is linked to a corruption scandal; Germany will invest in Central American geothermal projects.

    Cuban President Meets with the Pope: Cuban President Raúl Castro met with Pope Francis this Sunday at the Vatican and thanked the Pope for his assistance in improving relations between the U.S. and Cuba. On several occasions, the Pope has called on the U.S. to end its embargo on Cuba. Castro said he was so influenced by his audience with the Pope that he might return to the Roman Catholic Church. The Pope is planning to visit Cuba on his way to the U.S. in September 2015.  Also this weekend, French President François Hollande travelled to Cuba in the first visit by a French leader since 1898. Hollande is expected to meet with Castro on Monday, although the Cuban government has not confirmed whether or not there will be a meeting. France hopes to benefit from new openings with Cuba, and Hollande is travelling with business leaders as well as ministers.

    Bachelet Names New Ministers to her Cabinet: On Monday, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet announced changes to nine ministers in her cabinet, following her request last week that all of her ministers resign. New appointments include Finance Minister Rodrigo Valdés, Interior Minister Jorge Burgos, Minister of the Government Secretariat Jorge Inzunza, and government spokesperson Marcelo Díaz. Tiago Severo, Latin America economist at Goldman Sachs, noted that “Rodrigo Valdes is certainly going to be most likely perceived as a market-friendly new minister, who could perhaps instill a renewed sense of confidence in the outlook for the economy.” The reshuffling of the cabinet comes amid record low approval ratings for Bachelet after a number of corruption scandals marred the administration. 

    Colombia Announces Ban on Coca Spraying: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced this weekend the decision to stop using glyphosate in the country's coca spraying programs. On Saturday, he asked the National Drug Council to ban glyphosate sprayin gdue to the recent announcement by the World Health Organization that the substance is likely carcinogenic. The aerial spraying of coca fields, a program started in 1994 and backed by the United States, has been highly controversial. Farmers have claimed that the herbicides have killed their coffee plants and other crops, and citizens have called on the government to end the program due to the health risk. Santos stated that despite the decision, he will continue to fight drug trafficking in Colombia.

    Guatemalan Supreme Court Justice Implicated in Corruption Scandal: On Monday, Guatemalan Supreme Court Justice Blanca Stalling was implicated in the corruption scandal that forced Guatemalan Vice President Roxana Baldetti to resign on Friday. Wiretappings uncovered by the AP include a conversation between lawyers, suspects, and businessman Luis Mendizábal that reveal a judicial bribery scheme to get suspects detained in the recent customs corruption scandal released. In the phone call, Mendizábal reportedly told defendant Javier Ortíz that he would be released soon, and mentioned Stalling. Stalling denies any wrongdoing.

    Germany to Invest in Geothermal Energy in Central America: On Saturday, Nicaraguan news site El 19 reported that Germany will lend $112 million for geothermal energy projects throughout Central America. This weekend, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega met with Klaus Krämer, the head of the Division of Regional Development Policy for Central America and the Caribbean of the German Economic Cooperation and Development Ministry, to discuss the program and how Nicaragua can participate. Following the meeting, German Ambassador in Managua Karl-Otto König stated that there is a strong desire on both sides to continue collaboration. Last Thursday, the German Development Bank extended a line of credit of $6.71 million to Nicaragua for a water treatment project in Managua.

    Tags: Raul Castro, Michelle Bachelet, geothermal energy, Roxana Baldetti

  • Unpopular Austerity Measures May Be Brazil’s Best Path to Growth

    May 8, 2015

    by Flora Charner

    A proposed government austerity package may keep Brazil from a credit rating downgrade, but could cost President Dilma Rousseff some of her biggest supporters: the country’s labor unions.

    Lawmakers in Brazil’s lower house passed a proposed bill this week that would limit thousands of workers’ access to social security benefits. The MP 665 bill was approved by a narrow 252-227 vote during a heated debate late Wednesday. 

    Finance Minister Joaquim Levy called the legislative decision a “victory” and said it could potentially lower government spending by 18 billion reais ($5.9 billion) this year.

    “It’s a victory for all of society,” Levy told journalists in Brasília on Thursday. “We will meet our objectives so that we can start an agenda that goes beyond the fiscal adjustment.”

    Earlier this week, representatives from the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (Unified Workers’ Central—CUT) met with the ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT) congressional leadership and said they were against the bill.

    CUT is considered one of the largest unions in the country and one of the PT’s founding groups, and has been a strong supporter of Rousseff and former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s governments.

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    Tags: Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, Joaquim Levy, Brazilian Economy

  • Sixty Percent of Latin Americans Will Have Internet Access in 2016

    May 8, 2015

    by AQ Online

    The number of Latin Americans with access to the Internet will increase by 20 percent over the next twelve months, according to the Latin American and Caribbean Internet Address Registry (LACNIC). The Uruguay-based NGO is one of five Regional Internet Registries in the world that assigns and administers IP addresses to local Internet service providers—it also advocates for Internet development in the region.

    LACNIC’s director, Oscar Robles, shared his organization’s prediction of increased Internet usage in a private breakfast with news reporters on Thursday in Montevideo. Robles, who is from Mexico and was appointed director of the organization in April, said that predicted growth in Internet usage could be attributed to improved regulations and new education initiatives. He estimated that at the end of 2015, there will be 370 million Internet users in Latin America and the Caribbean, which is more than half the region’s population.  

    Internet availability still varies among countries in the region, and Robles said that governments should democratize access by “providing a certain level of promotion and awareness that the Internet is necessary to meet the needs of society”.

    Robles praised specific countries for leading the region in Internet expansion. In Brazil, government regulations allow multiple service providers to operate in the country, encouraging connection in both urban and remote locations. In Uruguay, the Plan Ceibal initiative equips school buildings with WIFI and provides laptops for students.

    Robles also stated that Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru are the Latin American countries most ready to implement the new version of Internet Protocol (IPv6), which will replace the previous version (IPv4) and assigns a unique alphanumeric address to computers on networks and also routes Internet traffic.

    “While IPv4’s days are numbered, the fact that certain technologies exist that can help mitigate this situation have provided operators with a false sense of security, Robles wrote in April. “In some countries of the Latin American and Caribbean region, a significant percentage of networks (ASN) support IPv6 and are currently ready to handle IPv6 traffic.”

    On Thursday, Robles also suggested that IPv6 would secure a greater sense of Internet autonomy for the region—referring to revelations from whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013 that the U.S. National Security Agency had spied electronically on other countries.

    Read an AQ article about Internet usage in Latin America from our Spring 2015 issue on technology.

     

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    Tags: Internet acces, Digital Divide, Information Technology

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