May 14, 2015Read More Tags: Guatemala, Caso SAT, corruption
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.
May 13, 2015Read More Tags: TPP, trade, President Obama
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.
May 13, 2015Read More Tags: Guatemala, Roxana Baldetti, Caso SAT, corruption
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.
May 12, 2015Tags: Vaccines, Simojovel, IMSS
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.”
Monday Memo: Castro visits Pope—Chilean Cabinet—Colombian Coca—Guatemalan Corruption—Central American Geothermal
May 11, 2015Tags: Raul Castro, Michelle Bachelet, geothermal energy, Roxana Baldetti
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.
May 8, 2015Read More Tags: Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, Joaquim Levy, Brazilian Economy
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.
May 8, 2015Read More Tags: Internet acces, Digital Divide, Information Technology
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.
May 7, 2015Tags: President Michelle Bachelet, corruption, Chilean Cabinet
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet called for the resignation of her cabinet Wednesday as the fallout from a corruption scandal among top-level officials continues to take its toll on her administration. The president announced her plans to reshuffle the cabinet the same day a new poll put her disapproval amongst Chileans at a record high.
"A few hours ago, I requested the resignation of every minister," Bachelet said during a TV interview on Wednesday, adding that she may decide to keep certain ministers in her cabinet. The president said the decision would have come sooner were it not for a recent series of natural disasters in the country, including severe flooding in the north and the eruption of the Calbuco volcano in the south.
The president’s move—which Reuters reports was received positively by most members of Bachelet’s center-left party—came as her approval ratings fell to the lowest level in her political career. A Gfk Adimark poll released Wednesday measured the president’s disapproval at 64 percent.
Fourteen months into Bachelet’s second administration, the Chilean political class is facing a crisis marked by scandal. In addition to allegations of illicit campaign finance schemes involving wealthy businessmen and right-wing politicians, members of Bachelet’s own family have also been accused of corruption. In Februrary, her son Sebastian Davalos resigned from his position as socio-cultural director of the presidency amid allegations that he and his wife used their political connections to obtain a $10 million bank loan to purchase land they later sold for $15 million.
The cabinet reshuffle is one of several moves the president have made to react to the corruption scandals. In March, Bachelet announced a series of anti-corruption measures requiring government officials to publically declare all assets.
Bachelet has attributed her falling approval ratings to a “crisis of confidence” among Chileans rocked by corruption allegations in a country traditionally perceived as the least corrupt in the region. On Wednesday, she said a new cabinet would represent a “new cycle.”
May 6, 2015Read More Tags: Canada, Alberta, Jim Prentice, Rachel Notley
Any political party that loses an election after 44 consecutive years in office and ends up in third place is the object of some kind of "revolution." Such was the fate of the Progressive Conservative Party in Alberta’s general elections on Tuesday.
The left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP), under the charismatic leadership of Rachel Notley, earned a decisive majority government victory in Canada’s oil-rich province, Alberta, winning 53 out of 87 seats and 41 percent of the popular vote. It is a first for the NDP in Alberta. The party’s closest rivals were the Tea Party-like Wildrose Party, with 21 seats, followed by the Progressive Conservative Party, with 10 seats.
Some three years ago, I wrote in AQ Online that Alberta had rejected its version of the Tea Party when the ruling Conservatives confounded the polls by defeating the upstart Wildrose Party. I had characterized the victory as one of moderation over a more extremist, ideological political formation. I also defined Alberta as Canada’s closest version of Texas because of its fossil fuel resources, low tax rates and strong libertarian streak.
In three short years, has Alberta become so transformed that the left-leaning NDP could so easily unseat an entrenched political establishment party like the Conservatives? Alberta has changed, but not that much.
May 6, 2015Tags: Colombia, corruption, Alvaro Uribe
Former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe responded yesterday to the Colombian Supreme Court’s April 30 sentencing of two high-ranking members of his administration who organized a spy ring targeting Uribe’s political opponents and critics. María del Pilar Hurtado, former head of the now-defunct Colombian intelligence agency Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS), received a 14-year prison term, while Uribe’s former chief of staff, Bernardo Moreno, received an eight-year sentence.
Hurtado and Moreno are two of many former Uribe top aides who have been either convicted or under investigation for conspiracy and corruption since 2010. The two were convicted in February of illegally spying on journalists, human rights activist, and opposition leaders during Uribe’s 2002 to 2010 term as president.
Hurtado fled to Panama in 2010, seeking asylum, but turned herself in to Colombian authorities in January in the hope that she would receive more leniency.
Uribe, now a senator for the conservative Centro Democrático party, urged Hurtado to negotiate with the Supreme Court for a shorter sentence. “[Hurtado] should negotiate without involving innocent colleagues from the government or third parties,” Uribe said. “She should negotiate her liberty and that of Bernardo Moreno, saying everything that she should about me and if I committed a crime, I should be tried.”
Uribe has denied any knowledge of the spying ring and referred to the investigation and convictions as a “shameful massacre.”
May 5, 2015Read More Tags: Colombia, Teacher Protests, Juan Manuel Santos
Over 330,000 teachers will continue to strike in Colombia after a 20-hour round of talks between the government and the Federación Colombiana de Educadores (Colombian Teachers’ Federation—FECODE) failed to produce an agreement. The results of the meeting were announced yesterday by the Defensoría del Pueblo(National Ombudsman’s Office), which is mediating the negotiations.
The strike, which began on April 22 and centers around teachers’ demand for higher salaries, better health services and the repeal of teacher evaluation, is affecting an estimated 9 million-plus students, who have not attended class since the strike began. After nationwide protests late last month, Colombian Minister of Education Gina Parody seemed to discount the possibility of resuming negotiations until the strike ended. Protesters marching on the Ministry of Education were greeted by a banner strung across the ministry’s façade that read: “Let the children return to class.” “My urgent plea is to not affect the children,” Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said at the time. “The children should not have to pay for the consequences (platos rotos) of these protests.”
The government has been in negotiation with FECODE since February to reach a compromise, but the union rejected an earlier deal that included a 10 percent raise in teacher salaries because it was tied to a reform package that would have had to have been approved by the Colombian Congress. After the latest round of talks, the government’s negotiators, including Minister Parody, Finance Minister Mauricio Cárdenas, and Labor Minister Luis Eduardo Garzón, accepted a package proposed by the Ombudsman that incudes a 12 percent salary increase.
FECODE, however, has indicated that it wants Santos to take a more active role in the negotiations. “The government commission has shown a series of limitations when it comes to negotiating,” a FECODE spokesperson said after the talks concluded, noting the union’s hopes “that it will be President Santos who gives clear instructions about the path to follow.”
Monday Memo: Brazilian Corruption—Bolivian Opposition—Bolivia-Chile Dispute—Marijuana in Puerto Rico—Chemical Leak in Costa Rica
May 4, 2015Read More Tags: Chile-Bolivia dispute, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Movimiento al Socialismo
This week’s likely top stories: Former Brazilian president investigated; Opposition gains influence in Bolivia; ICJ hearing on Bolivia-Chile border dispute begins; Puerto Rico legalizes medical marijuana; Costa Rican coast suffers chemical spill.
Report of an Inquiry into Lula Shocks Brazil: On Friday, Brazilians were shaken by news of a probe regarding possible influence-peddling by former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2010). The anti-corruption division of the Public Ministry is examining da Silva’s relationship with Odebrecht, one of the largest companies in Brazil, and whether he used his position as president to get loans for Odebrecht from the Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social (Brazilian National Development Bank—BNDES). An Odebrecht spokesperson denied any misconduct, and da Silva did not address the investigation on Friday when speaking on International Worker’s Day. The inquiry will determine whether or not there is reason to open a wider investigation. The governing Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT) has suffered recently, with current President Dilma Rousseff, da Silva’s successor, also tainted by a corruption scandal involving the PT and the state-owned oil firm, Petrobras. However, investigations have not uncovered any wrongdoing by Rousseff.
Opposition Wins Runoff in Bolivia: On Sunday, Bolivian citizens from Beni and Tarija voted in runoff municipal elections after the initial elections failed to produce clear winners. The ruling Movimiento al Socialismo party (Movement Towards Socialism—MAS) prevailed in five of nine states in March 2015. The opposition won in both Beni and Tarija yesterday, giving the opposition a stronghold in the four richest states in Bolivia, which includes La Paz. Carlos Dellien from Nacer beat Alex Ferrier of MAS in Beni. In Tarija, Adrián Oliva of the Unidad Demócrata coalition (Democratic Unity) beat Pablo Canedo by a wide margin (61 percent to 38 percent).
ICJ Hearing on Bolivia-Chile Maritime Dispute Begins: On Monday, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague will hear preliminary arguments on the maritime case that Bolivia brought against Chile in April of 2013. Felipe Bulnes, the former Chilean ambassador to the U.S., will speak today, arguing Chile’s position that their border dispute was already settled in 1904 by a previous agreement, and that the ICJ does not have jurisdiction over the matter. On Wednesday, the Bolivian delegation is expected to speak, reiterating the Bolivian right to sovereign access to the sea. The ICJ will have until the end of 2015 to determine whether or not the case is under its jurisdiction. The maritime dispute has been a source of tension between the two countries for decades.
May 1, 2015Read More Tags: Guatemala, CasoSAT, corruption, Roxana Baldetti
Tens of thousands of Guatemalans protested last Saturday, calling for the resignation of Vice President Roxana Baldetti for her alleged role in Caso SAT, a scandal involving the defrauding of hundreds of millions of quetzales from the Guatemalan government.
On April 16, Guatemalan authorities arrested 22 people in the culmination of an eight month investigation by the Fiscalía Especial contra la Impunidad (Special Anti-Impunity Prosecutor’s Bureau—FECI)—part of the Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala—CICIG) and the Ministerio Publico (Public Ministry—MP). A number of officials from the Superintendencia de Administración Tributaria (SAT), Guatemala’s tax collection agency, were detained, including the head of SAT, Omar Franco, his predecessor, Carlos Muñoz, and the private secretary of Baldetti, Juan Carlos Monzón.
CICIG was investigating an alleged corruption network called “La Linea” (The Line) that targeted Guatemala’s customs system. Businesses that had their goods in two ports, Puerto Quetzal or Puerto Santo Tomás, would call a certain cellphone number to negotiate the rate to have their property released after passing through Customs. A review of 500 containers revealed that 40 percent of customs taxes would be paid to the state, 30 percent to the fraudsters and the remaining 30 percent was a discount to the company.
May 1, 2015Read More Tags: Intellectual Property Rights, trade, Piracy
The government of Ecuador released a statement on Thursday dismissing the headline of an earlier article by the Spanish international wire service EFE that Ecuador is on a United States “black list” of countries in violation of intellectual property rights. The EFE story was an interpretation of an annual report, also released on Thursday, issued by the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) titled “Special 301,” which evaluates U.S. trading partners on their protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights. The Ecuadorian government said that the EFE headline misconstrued the intentions of USTR and that the report was not a black list.
The second section of the Special 301 report gives country-specific details and is divided into two parts titled ”watch list” and “priority watch list.” Ecuador appeared on the watch list of last year’s report, but has been elevated to the priority watch list for 2015. The report states, “This decision is based on Ecuador’s 2014 repeal of its criminal [Intellectual Property Rights] provision….the current lack of criminal procedures and penalties invites transnational organized crime groups that engage in copyright piracy and trademark counterfeiting to view Ecuador as a safe haven.”
The statement released by Ecuador’s Ministry of Foreign Trade on Thursday highlighted a section of the report indicating that the U.S. will reconsider downgrading Ecuador from its status on the priority watch list if Ecuador “reinstates the repealed provisions or adopts new acceptable procedures and penalties by December 30, 2015.” The Ministry of Foreign Trade remarked that such a statement in the report “implies a tacit recognition of the process of regulatory change that [Ecuador] conducts.”
The statement by Ecuador’s Ministry of Trade also asserted that it is working on improving its compliance with international standards on intellectual property rights and foreign trade. On April 23, the Ministry of Foreign Trade asked Ecuador’s Justice Commission of the Assembly to accelerate reforms that would criminalize offenses against intellectual property. The reforms outline penalties against offenders that include 31-45 days of imprisonment and fines consistent with the value of stolen intellectual properties. Thursday’s press release by the Ministry of Trade stated that the Justice Commission of the Assembly will consider the reforms in the coming days.
The proposed reforms were reportedly issued to protect trade relations with other regions of the world. Ecuadorian Minister of Foreign Trade Diego Aulestia stated on April 23 that if Ecuador fails to address proper compliance with international intellectual property standards, it would have “serious consequences for national interests”.
The USTR report listed a total of 13 countries on its priority watch list— Argentina, Chile and Venezuela join Ecuador on the list.
April 30, 2015Tags: Freedom of the press, journalists, Media Law
Only two percent of Latin Americans in 2014 lived in a media environment considered free, according to a press freedom report released Wednesday by the research institute Freedom House. The report registered no collective improvement for press in the Americas from the year prior, when press freedom dropped to its lowest level in five years. Globally, press liberties in 2014 fell to their lowest point in more than a decade.
According to Freedom of the Press 2015, 15 countries in the Western Hemisphere were considered free media environments, 15 were considered partly free and five not free—Cuba, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, and Venezuela. Aside from Cuba, those countries and Peru received their worst press freedom score in over a decade, with Ecuador ranking among the five countries globally posting the sharpest five-year declines. The report cites “hostile rhetoric from the government combined with pervasive legal harassment of journalists and media outlets” as contributors to the country’s decline. In 2013, Ecuador’s government passed a controversial media law which heightened state regulation of the media, a move that critics say reduced transparency and press freedom.
In Honduras, pervasive violence and alliances between media owners and the government resulted in a four point drop in the country’s score on the report’s 100-point scale. Journalists in Central America face particularly grave threats to their personal safety. The murder of three Guatemalan journalists in March highlighted the high risk journalists take exposing government corruption.
Cuba was the only country in the Americas to make the report’s list of the ten worst countries or territories for press freedom due to the government’s official censorship of the media and imprisonment of political figures. The country’s release of over 50 political prisoners in early 2015, however, may improve the country’s score in the coming year.
In North America, the United States’ score fell one point due to police harassment of journalists covering protests in Ferguson, Missouri, in August. Mexico received its lowest score in a decade due to high levels of intimidation and violence toward journalists exposing the country’s organized criminal networks. Additionally, the country’s new telecommunications reform law had a detrimental effect on Internet liberties, the report says.
Read Americas Quarterly’s Fall 2013 issue on press freedom in the Americas here.
April 29, 2015Read More Tags: El Salvador, Citizen Security, Northern Triangle, Alliance for Prosperity
Central America’s so-called Northern Triangle has been at the center of attention for the past two weeks, and not particularly for the right reasons. Stories of corruption, impunity, deteriorating security, and the revival of the ghost of presidential re-election covered newspaper headlines throughout the isthmus.
The news coming out of the region comes at a time when the diplomatic offensive from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala intensifies as the countries seek quick approval and funding for the Alliance for Prosperity from the United States.
El Salvador’s spike in homicides has illustrated the urgent need to address the structural causes of violence. After a failed gang truce brokered by the Catholic Church and the Salvadoran government with the country’s main gangs failed, murder rates increased dramatically. In the first four months of 2015, street gangs murdered over 20 police officers and the targeted murder of members of the Armed Forces also increased.
Facing growing pressure from citizens, the government initially flip-flopped in their policy response. President Salvador Sánchez Cerén and Defense Minister General Munguía Payes first blamed the surge in violence on the media; arguing that “media coverage of violence does more harm than the attacks on police precincts.” The push-back from media and ordinary citizens living under the shadows of extortion and other crimes didn’t wait. Citizens were further infuriated by reports of plasma televisions and video game consoles, among other illegal items, being discovered within the country’s prisons.
April 29, 2015Read More Tags: Chile, Peru, President Ollanta Humala
After more than two months of diplomatic tension between Peru and Chile over accusations that Peruvian naval officials had sold secrets to Chilean intelligence, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala announced yesterday that the countries have resolved the dispute.
Humala said that he “recognizes the constructive attitude and dialogue of President Michelle Bachelet’s government in deploring these acts in the spirit of advancing the continued cooperation and integration of our peoples.”
Peru first accused Chile of espionage on February 19, calling on the neighboring country to investigate the accusations and press charges against those responsible. According to the Peruvian government, there was evidence that three Peruvian non-commissioned navy officials (NCOs) had shared confidential information with Chilean intelligence between 2005 and 2012. The naval officers allegedly stole classified military documents and passed them on to their Chilean handlers in secret meetings held in Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil in exchange for money. These officers first came under suspicion in 2014, when their superiors suspected that the officers could not finance those trips on their salaries alone.
April 28, 2015Read More Tags: Mexico, U.S.-Mexico Trade, oil, NAFTA
On April 24, a bipartisan group of five U.S. congressmen, led by Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Michael McCaul (R-TX), submitted a letter to President Barack Obama urging the president to exempt Mexico from U.S. crude oil export restrictions. This House letter follows the February bipartisan letter from 21 U.S. senators to U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker encouraging the Commerce Department to lift restrictions.
Lifting of crude oil export restrictions would open the door towards a proposed “oil swap” between Mexico and the United States. Mexico would supply heavy crude oil in exchange for U.S. light sweet crude oil. The two types of oil are complementary, as Mexico’s refineries are built for light oil, while the opposite is true in the United States.
Petroleos Méxicanos, or Pemex, would like to import some 100,000 barrels per day of light oil. The rationale is that the light oil may be mixed with Mexico’s heavier oil, allowing for refineries to produce more diesel and gasoline per barrel. In fact, Pemex already sends 700,000 barrels per day of crude oil to the United States, but the proposed deal is in fact a swap of light crude for heavier crude, not a net import of U.S. oil.
Pemex submitted the request in August of 2014 and is expecting an answer from the U.S. Commerce Department very soon. The approval of this oil swap would represent a huge step forward in removing all restrictions on crude oil exports, which have been banned for over 40 years, in response to the 1973 Arab oil embargo.
April 28, 2015Tags: Casa da Morte, Brazil's National Truth Commission, Brazilian dictatorship
Inês Etienne Romeu, a former political prisoner and the only person to survive the infamous Casa da Morte (House of Death), a clandestine torture site in Petrópolis used by Brazil’s military dictatorship, died in her sleep yesterday morning. She was 72.
Romeu, who had been a member of the Vanguarda Popular Revolucionária (Popular Revolutionary Vanguard) during Brazil´s period of military rule, was committed to speaking out about her experience at the Casa da Morte. As the sole survivor of the torture site, her accounts were key to identifying several of her torturers. Notably, her accounts led to the identification of Amílcar Lobo, a medical doctor who allegedly was responsible of keeping victims of the Casa da Morte alive during their torture. Lobo’s medical license was subsequently revoked.
Romeu also provided important testimony to Brazil´s National Truth Commission, which published its official report late last year. The report unequivocally established that “under the military dictatorship, repression and the elimination of political opposition became the policy of the state, conceived and implemented based on decisions by the president of the republic and military ministers.”
Following her release from the Casa da Morte in 1971, Romeu’s family and lawyers decided that she should turn herself into the state and be formally imprisoned to escape future torture. After eight years, she was released under the terms of Brazil’s Amnesty Law. According the National Truth Commission, the same law that freed Romeu is one of the final obstacles impeding the prosecution of the country’s 191 alleged perpetrators of human rights violations.
Monday Memo: U.S.-Colombia Talks—Guatemala Protests—Buenos Aires Primaries—Puerto Rico Downgrade—Texas Delegation in Cuba
April 27, 2015Read More Tags: Standard & Poor's, President Otto Pérez Molina, Roxana Baldetti, Maria Ángela Holguín
This week’s likely top stories: U.S.-Colombia Fifth Annual Bilateral Meeting; Protesters denounce corruption in Guatemala; Primaries for local elections held in Buenos Aires; S&P downgrades Puerto Rico; and Texas trade delegation visits Havana.
High-level Colombia-U.S. Talks on Mutual Cooperation: The U.S. and Colombia will hold high-level bilateral talks today in Bogotá, Colombia at the office of the Ministry of Foreign Relations. In the fifth annual bilateral meeting of its kind, discussions will be led by Colombian Minister of Foreign Affairs María Ángela Holguín and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken. Agenda items include security, the environment, energy, education, trade and human rights. Alongside the meeting, over 100 officials from both countries will convene for a session of the steering committee of the U.S-Colombia Action Plan for Racial and Ethnic Equality, in which they will discuss democracy, culture and economic opportunities including innovation, academic exchange and immigration.
Protesters Demand Resignation of Guatemalan President: On Saturday, tens of thousands of protesters met in Guatemala City to denounce the government and demand the resignation of President Otto Pérez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti after a corruption scandal surfaced last week. An investigation into the “La Linea” case has implicated various officials from the Guatemalan Superintendencia de Administración Tributaria (Superintendency of Tax Administration—SAT) for accepting bribes for reduced customs costs. The alleged leader of the corruption scheme is Juan Carlos Monzón Rojas, a former aide to Baldetti. Demonstrators claim that President Molina and Vice President Baldetti were aware of the corruption. More demonstrations are planned for coming days.
Primary Elections Held in Buenos Aires: On Sunday, the primary for the upcoming local government elections was held in Buenos Aires. This election marks the first time that porteños can vote to select the primary candidates following a 2009 electoral reform. According to exit polls, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta was nominated for the Propuesta Republicana (Republican Proposal—PRO) party, Mariano Recalde for the Frente Para la Victoria (Front for Victory—FPV) party, and Martin Lousteau was nominated to lead the Energía Ciudadana Organizada (Organized Citizen’s Energy Coalition—ECO). Citizens will vote for the mayor of Buenos Aires in July 2015.
April 24, 2015Read More Tags: Stephen Harper, Hillary Clinton, Canada
Canada is about to face an intense political season, with the general election slated for October 19, 2015. Polls indicate the possibility of a minority government with the ruling Conservatives showing some momentum in recent surveys.
This week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper presented his 2015-2016 budget, with a lot of goodies for seniors, families, and business. With security very much a concern, the Tories continued their discourse about making Canada safer.
Harper was first elected in 2006. Normally, nine years in office results in a tendency towards incumbent fatigue. Last summer, it seemed that the Harper government was facing the distinct possibility of losing its grip on power.
Enter the debate on the ISIS (or ISIL) resolution to join the international coalition, add two homegrown terrorist incidents, and the game changed. While the official opposition under Tom Mulcair has been effective, and the Liberals have been re-energized under new leader Justin Trudeau, it seems that the complexity of governing has given Harper a decidedly new life. Experience may be his best trump card to overcome the fatigue. Mulcair and Trudeau promise change, but will it be enough?
April 24, 2015Tags: mining, Environment, police brutality
Months-long protests against a copper mining project in Peru’s Arequipa region continued yesterday in the city of Mollendo, as close to 150 mourners— some carrying signs that read “farming yes, mines no”— joined the funeral procession of Victoriano Huayna Mina. The 61-year-old farmer was killed on Wednesday after police shot into a crowd of about 500 farmers protesting the Tía María mining project.
A forensic examination proved that Huayna Mina died of a bullet wound, countering initial claims by local police chief Enrique Blanco that a fall had caused the farmer’s death. Local health director Walter Vera confirmed that 12 other protesters were wounded in the clash after being hit by shotgun pellets.The police reported that 11 officers also were hurt during Wednesday’s confrontation with demonstrators.
After visiting a local hospital on Thursday where victims were being treated, Interior Minister José Luis Pérez Guadalupe announced that officers had orders prohibiting the use of lethal force against the protesters. He added that police involved in the confrontation had been placed on administrative leave while their actions are investigated. The minister also called for renewed dialogue with the protesters, saying “no one wants more deaths.”
Farmers, anti-mining activists and local leaders who oppose the $1.4 billion open-pit mine worry that it will contaminate irrigation water in the fertile lands of Peru’s Tambo Valley. Southern Copper Corporation, the Mexican group that owns the project, said the mine would use desalinated ocean water that would never touch local waterways, and that dust from the mine would also be controlled. Peru’s Minister of Environment, Manual Pulgar-Vidal supported the claims, saying the mine was “safe for the environment.”
The Peruvian government supports the mine, saying it would yield 10,000 tons of copper over 18 years. Minister of Agriculture Juan Manuel Benites, who has been holding dialogues with the protesters, said Thursday that the protests have not only put the mining project at risk, but have alsoendangered “Peru’s reputation as a country that can attract investment in a responsible manner.”
The Tía María mining project has attracted controversy for years. In 2011, the project was temporarily halted after the deaths of 3 protesters. Last month, Southern Copper Corporation threatened to cancelthe project due to protests, but confirmed on April 15 that the project would continue.
April 23, 2015Read More Tags: Leopoldo Lopez, Felipe Gonzalez, Spain
On Wednesday, Spain recalled its ambassador to Venezuela for consultations, citing “insults, calumnies, and threats" from the Venezuela government. The government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has taken an increasingly hostile stance toward Spain after the country passed a resolution last week calling on Venezuela to release jailed opposition figures.
Since the motion, Maduro has accused the Spanish government of “supporting terrorism” and of being party to an “international conspiracy” to overthrow his presidency. Maduro took aim at Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, whom he called a “racist” whose government was a “group of corrupt [leaders], bandits and thieves.”
In a press release, Rajoy called the accusations of supporting terrorism “particularly offensive,” due to Spain’s history of suffering terrorist attacks.
April 22, 2015Read More Tags: Argentina, Russia, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Vladimir Putin
Today, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner will kick off her state visit to Russia with a meeting of members of the Russian and Argentine business communities in Moscow. Fernández de Kirchner and Russian President Vladimir Putin are scheduled to meet on Thursday to review and follow up on a series of trade, energy and military deals that were signed in July 2014, when Putin visited Argentina.
Fernández de Kirchner landed in Russia on Tuesday. Members of her delegation include Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman, Legal and Technical Secretary Carlos Zannini, Defense Minister Agustín Ross, and other government officials. The president recently tweeted, “We are meeting with CEOs of Russian companies that want to invest in our country.”
Indeed, Argentina's National Commission for Atomic Energy (Comisión Nacional De Energía Atómica) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Rusatom on the sidelines of the Argentine-Russian business meeting headed by Fernández de Kirchner today. The MOU states that Rusatom’s subsidiary, TVEL, a nuclear fuel manufacturer, will supply nuclear fuel to scientific and power-generating reactors in Argentina.
April 21, 2015Tags: Mexico, Impunity, criminal justice
Mexico ranks second to last, after the Philippines, in an international study of impunity in 59 countries that was published yesterday.
The study, carried out by researchers at the Universidad de las Américas Puebla (University of the Americas Puebla—UDLAP), looked at data pertaining to countries’ security, justice and human rights systems, as well as these systems’ efficacy and vulnerability to impunity. The research initially looked at the United Nations’ 193 member states and 14 additional territories, but only 59 countries were deemed to have sufficiently robust data in the three areas measured by the study to be included in the index.
Referring to Mexico, the report states that “Mexico does not need to devote ever more resources to increasing the number of police, but rather to the processes that would guarantee the efficacy of their actions.” Researchers found that while the country’s ratio of police per capita is significantly higher than the global average (355 per 100,000 inhabitants), there were only an average of four judges per 100,000—well below the global average of 17 per 100,000. Croatia, which the study found to have the lowest levels of impunity, had a ratio of 45 judges per 100,000 inhabitants.
Increasing the number of judges in Mexico’s judicial system “would have an immediate impact,” the report claims. “Increasing their numbers could reduce the number of prisoners awaiting sentencing and, consequently, reduce the overcrowding of prisons.” Researchers found that nearly half of Mexico’s prison population (46 percent) consists of detainees who have not been sentenced.
Monday Memo: U.S. Delegation in Cuba—Venezuela Loan—Caribbean Fiber Optic Cable—Activist Murders in Honduras—Argentina-Falklands Oil
April 20, 2015Read More Tags: Falklands Oil, environmental activism, Indigenous Land Rights, China-Venezuela relations
This week’s likely top stories: U.S. trade delegation arrives in Cuba; Venezuela receives a $5 billion Chinese loan; Caribbean’s longest fiber optic cable nearly complete; NGO says Honduras leads the world in per capita murders of environmental activists; Argentina sues five companies over Falklands oil exploration.
Governor Cuomo and U.S. Companies Visit Cuba: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo led a trade mission to Cuba on Monday, joined by executives from Pfizer, MasterCard and JetBlue, as well as State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and officials from the Plattsburgh International Airport, the New York Genome Center and the State University of New York. The trip is the first of its kind since U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced renewed diplomatic relations between the two countries in December 2014. According to Cuomo, the members of the delegation from New York will “serve as ambassadors for all that New York state has to offer and will help form the foundation for a strong economic relationship between New York and Cuba as legal restrictions on trade are eased in the future.” The delegation plans to meet with several Cuban officials and businesses during their 26-hour trip.
Venezuela Accepts $5 Billion in Loans from China: On Sunday, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced that his government has received $5 billion in Chinese financing for development. Maduro traveled to China in January 2015 and announced at the time that the country would be providing Venezuela with over $20 billion in investment. However, Maduro did not confirm yesterday whether the $5 billion was part of that amount. The loan will be helpful for Venezuela, which is currently suffering rising inflation and shortages of goods amid falling oil prices.
April 17, 2015Tags: gangs, U.S. Department of the Treasury, Sanctions
On Thursday, the U.S. government imposed sanctions on three leaders of Mara Salvatrucha (“MS-13”), a gang of 30,000 members spread throughout El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and the United States. The gang, whose leadership is concentrated in El Salvador, has been listed as a Transnational Criminal Organization since 2012 by the U.S. Department of Treasury for crimes that include human trafficking, drug operations, kidnapping and murder.
One of the founding members of MS-13, José Luis Mendoza Figueroa, was among the three men—all Salvadoran nationals—hit with sanctions. The other two, Élmer Canales Rivera and Eduardo Erazo Nolasco, are members of regional “cliques” that take direction from the gang’s central leadership. The three men are imprisoned in El Salvador, but, according to the U.S. Department of Treasury, have been able to direct gang operations (such as moves into new territories and recruitment of new members) from behind bars.
MS-13 cliques in the United States generate money that is funneled to gang leadership in El Salvador. The sanctions permit the U.S. government to freeze any assets the three men may have in the United States and bans American companies and citizens from doing business affiliated with the gang.
John Smith, acting director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in a statement that “MS-13 ranks among the most dangerous and rapidly expanding criminal gangs in the world, and poses a direct threat to communities across the United States and Central America […] Today’s designation will disrupt these illicit activities and help to further protect the United States and international financial system from abuse.”
In a related effort to curb Central American gang operations, El Salvador Prisons Director Rodil Hernandez announced from San Salvador on Thursday that 31 gang members, including sanctioned MS-13 member Erazo Nolasco, had been transferred from regular prisons to the isolated maximum security institution Zacatecaluca. Hernandez explained the move was part of the reclassification of the most dangerous prisoners after investigations proved they had ties to recent gang attacks on state institutions.
April 16, 2015Read More Tags: FARC, Colombia Peace Talks, Ceasefire
On Wednesday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos ordered the resumed bombing of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) after an early morning attack by the rebel group killed at least 10 soldiers and left 17 injured. In the deadliest clash since the FARC announced a unilateral cease fire nearly four months ago, guerillas ambushed the soldiers with grenades and firearms in the rural southwestern province of Cauca.
In a televised press conference, Santos described the attack as “deliberate” and said it “implies a clear rupture of the promise of a unilateral ceasefire.” Santos’ order to resume bombing suspends the truce he made in March in response to the FARC’s adherence to its cease fire.
The killing of the soldiers is a significant setback to the ongoing peace talks between the government and the FARC that, after more than two years, seemed to be making conclusive progress. Since the FARC’s December announcement of a unilateral cease fire and Santos’ subsequent ban on air raids on FARC camps, the FARC had agreed to end its recruitment of child soldiers and the two groups recently agreed to work together on a historic landmine removal project. The group had also reached agreements with the government on land reform, political participation of ex-rebels, and joint cooperation against drug trafficking.
April 15, 2015Read More Tags: Guatemala, hydroelectric power, Indigneous rights, consulta previa
The murder of Indigenous activist Pascual Pablo Francisco, whose body showed signs of torture when he was found dead on March 27 in the northern department of Huehuetenango, is the latest episode in a long-standing conflict between the Guatemalan government and the Mayan Q’anjob’al community over the construction of a hydroelectric dam on the K’anbalam River.
The conflict dates back to 2011, when Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina’s government granted the company Hidro Santa Cruz, a subsidiary of Spanish corporation Hidralia Energía, a license to build the dam. Indigenous communities that would be affected by the project say that they were not consulted—a violation of International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 169 on the rights of Indigenous and tribal people, which states, among other things, that governments should establish or maintain procedures to consult affected Indigenous communities “before undertaking or permitting any programmes for the exploration or exploitation of […] resources pertaining to their lands.”
The government has since held a series of meetings with community leaders conducted by the Oficina Nacional de Diálogo (National Office for Dialogue) to resolve the conflict, but participants have been unable to reach an agreement.
Meanwhile, two other licenses were subsequently granted to the company Promoción de Desarrollos Hídricos, S.A. (PDHSA) in the nearby municipality of San Mateo Ixtatán. The Ministry of Energy and Mining is also evaluating three other license applications for hydroelectric dams to be built in the municipalities of San Mateo Ixtatán, Santa Eulalia and San Pedro Soloma. According to a recent report published by Contrapoder magazine, if these applications are successful, Huehuetenango would become the third most important department in Guatemala in terms of hydropower.
April 15, 2015Read More Tags: Cuba, U.S.-Cuba relations, U.S.-Cuba policy
On Tuesday, President Obama’s announcement of his intention to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism (SSOT) was received with both praise and dissent from Cuban and U.S. politicians. Despite the controversy, the announcement marks a significant change in not only U.S.-Cuba relations, but also U.S.-Latin America relations.
The announcement followed President Obama’s meeting with Cuban President Raúl Castro at the Summit of the Americas in Panama last week, where Cuba made an inaugural appearance and where the two countries’ heads of state met officially face-to-face for the first time since 1959. Cuba’s designation as an SSOT was one of the “sticking points” in the negotiations to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba.
President Obama said that Cuba had "provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.” White House press secretary Josh Earnest added that although the U.S. still had differences with Cuban policies and actions, they were not "relevant" to the terror list.
The director of U.S. relations at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, Josefina Vidal, acknowledged the U.S.’s move in a statement: “The government of Cuba recognizes the just decision made by the President of the United States to remove Cuba from a list on which it never deserved to belong [...] As the Cuban government has reiterated on multiple occasions, Cuba rejects and condemns all acts of terrorism.”
April 14, 2015Tags: U.S.-Cuba policy, SSOT, U.S.-Cuba relations
On Tuesday, the White House announced that it plans to remove the designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism (SSOT), representing another step forward in the normalization of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba.
The first announcement of this nature was made on December 17, 2014, when U.S.–Cuba rapprochement was first announced. President Barack Obama instructed the U.S. State Department to review Cuba’s status as an SSOT. This was completed on April 9, prior to the Summit of the Americas held last week in Panama, with Secretary of State John Kerry recommending that Cuba be removed from the list.
Cuba was designated as an SSOT on March 1, 1982. The removal of the SSOT designation will allow a broader range of goods to be exported to Cuba, certain federal financial assistance to be directed towards Cuba, and will ease companies’ disclosure requirements of activities involving Cuba, among other changes.
In order for the SSOT designation to be officially lifted, the U.S. State Department's report must justify that Cuba has not provided support for international terrorism in the past six months, and that the Cuban government will not do so in the future. Congressional leadership has 45 days to review and act on this report.
Although the removal of Cuba from the SSOT list is an important diplomatic step towards normalizing U.S. relations with Cuba, the key provisions of the U.S. embargo against Cuba, including restrictions on investment, trade, and financial transactions with Cuba, will remain in place.
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April 14, 2015Tags: LGBT Rights, Chile, Bachelet
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet signed a law on Monday allowing same-sex civil unions. The law, known as the Acuerdo de Unión Civil (Civil Union Accord—AUC), falls short of recognizing same-sex marriage, but establishes “civil cohabitation” as an officially recognized marital status that affords many of the same rights as marriage, such as visitation, inheritance and pension rights.
Same-sex marriages established abroad will be recognized as civil unions in Chile. “We are taking a fundamental step forward in rights, justice and respect for individual freedom,” Bachelet said at a ceremony at the presidential palace.
Monday’s signing ceremony marks the end of the law’s four-year-long political odyssey, and fulfils a promise Bachelet made as a candidate to support the law, which was originally introduced under a different name by her predecessor, Sebastián Piñera. “We are truly excited, because as of next October, couples will be able to legally enter into a bond that, years ago, was a dream, even a taboo,” said Rolando Jiménez, the director of the Movimiento de Integración y Liberación Homosexual (Homosexual Liberation and Integration Movement—Movilh), an LGBT rights organization.
The government now has six months to draft the regulations that will guide the law’s implementation. The Civil Registry, which will be responsible for registering the new unions, is undertaking a training program for its employees to avoid discrimination. Because the law establishes a new marital status—rather than extending an existing status to LGBT couples—the registry is also developing new software in preparation for the law’s implementation. It is estimated that over 2 million Chileans may be eligible to contract civil unions once the law goes into effect.
April 13, 2015Read More Tags: Brazil, corruption, Dilma Rousseff
Anti-government protesters once again took to the streets across Brazil on Sunday, this time in smaller numbers, but with the same demands for President Dilma Rousseff to leave office.
This is the second march in less than a month in which Brazilians have spoken out against Rousseff and the ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT). At least 500,000 people gathered in 24 cities throughout the country, chanting slogans like “Out with Dilma” and “Impeachment Now.”
On March 15, nearly two million people participated in one of the largest protests in Brazil’s recent history. Discontent over unpopular austerity measures and a kickback scandal involving state-run oil giant Petrobras and the PT were major catalysts.
“The Workers Party failed Brazil,” Cristiano Jacobs, a Rio de Janeiro businessman, said during the march. “They have left Brazil broke.”
Rousseff is facing historically low approval ratings. In a recent Datafolha poll, 60 percent of Brazilians said they believe she is doing a "bad" or “terrible” job. 2,834 people were interviewed April 9 and 10, with a margin of sampling error of 2 percentage points. The same poll showed that 63 percent of those interviewed support opening the impeachment process against Rousseff.
Monday Memo: Brazil Protests—Colombian Generals Investigation—Obama-Castro Meeting—Puerto Rico Debt—Chilean Mining
April 13, 2015Read More Tags: Dilma Rousseff, corruption, Summit of the Americas, Debt, false positives
This week’s likely top stories: Brazilians demonstrate against corruption; Colombian generals investigated; Obama and Castro hold meeting; Puerto Rico seeks debt help; Chilean communities fight mining companies over water.
Hundreds of Thousands Protest Corruption in Brazil: Hundreds of thousands of Brazilians took to the streets on Sunday to protest government corruption. Estimates of participants vary, but police say almost 700,000 citizens protested, while organizers of the demonstrations claim the number was closer to 1.5 million people. The protests, which took place in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and across Brazil, were smaller than the ones that took place in mid-March 2015. Demonstrators then and now claim that President Dilma Rousseff was aware of the bribery taking place at Brazil's state oil company, Petrobras, during her tenure there, and yesterday, many called for the president's impeachment. Rousseff’s approval rating sank to just 13 percent following last month’s protests.
Colombian Generals Are Investigated for “False Positives”: The office of the Attorney General of Colombia announced on Sunday that approximately 22 army generals are being investigated for their suspected involvement in the “falsos positivos” (“false positives”) scandal during the term of former President Álvaro Uribe. The case involves thousands of civilians who were promised jobs and then murdered and dressed up as paramilitaries by the armed forces in order to up the military’s kill count. So far, 800 members of the military have been imprisoned and over 5,000 linked to the scheme. Attorney General Eduardo Montealegre Lynett stated that the investigation should conclude by the end of 2015.
Presidents Obama and Castro Meet at Summit of the Americas: At the seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama on Friday and Saturday, a showing of anti-U.S. sentiment by Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and the Venezuelan and Bolivian delegations was overshadowed by a historic meeting between Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro. The face-to-face meeting—which was the first between presidents of the U.S. and Cuba in over 50 years—was mostly symbolic, but demonstrated the two leaders' willingness to work together despite ideological differences. Latin American leaders praised the U.S. for renewing relations with Cuba, and experts are now analyzing how Obama can best leverage the renewed credibility. The leaders did not issue a joint declaration at the end of the summit, as a result of President Nicolás Maduro’s demand to include a denunciation of U.S. sanctions in Venezuela.
Puerto Rico Calls on Former IMF Officials to Help with Debt: Puerto Rico’s government and investors have asked former International Monetary Fund (IMF) officials for help in resolving the island's debt crisis. Puerto Rico has hired Anne Krueger, the IMF’s former first deputy managing director, as a consultant, and hedge funds that own Puerto Rican bonds have reportedly approached Claudio Loser, the former director of the IMF’s Western Hemisphere department. Puerto Rico has over $7 billion in debt, and last month, Fitch Ratings downgraded its debt to a “B” rating. On Wednesday, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority faces a debt payment deadline, but is currently negotiating with creditors about restructuring.
Chilean Citizens and Mining Company Continue Dispute: Citizens in Caimanes, a small community in the north of Chile, are locked in a dispute with mining company Antofagasta Minerals over water, a precious resource in the arid region. Citizens claim that the Los Pelambres copper mine’s tailings dam is contributing to water scarcity and that the mine’s activity is contaminating water in their community. Juan Olivares, one of the citizens that has criticized Antofagasta Minerals, said this weekend, “They say we are looking for an economic reward. That has never been the goal […] We want the law to be respected in Chile.” A recent court ruling ordered the company to demolish the dam, but the company will appeal the decision, and is also exploring further investment in the area.
April 10, 2015Read More Tags: Summit of the Americas, Panama, Cuban dissidents
As a crowd gathered outside the entrance of the Summit of the America’s Hemispheric Civil Society and Social Actors Forum on Wednesday—one of four sponsored gatherings being held on the margins of the summit—a small parade of youth hoisting large Cuban and Venezuelan flags approached. Chanting revolutionary slogans such as “Viva la revolucion! Viva Cuba libre! Viva Venezuela,” they quickly forced their way to the entrance, where they were blocked by de facto bouncers attempting to sift those with badges through the chaos. “All of us or none of us, damn it!” one protester yelled.
The scene was a clear manifestation of the tension leading up to today’s summit, as Cubans from two opposing political poles—both claiming to represent the real Cuba—have flooded to Panama to be heard. Big name Cuban dissidents such as Berta Soler and Miriam Celaya headed human rights forums this week sponsored by the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba and Florida State University-Panama. Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez represented her new publication, 14 y medio, in the press pit—alongside Granma and other Cuban state publications. While famed Cuban musician Silvio Rodríguez inaugurated the parallel People’s Summit on Thursday, his son Silvito El Libre was slated to perform at a hip hop show sponsored by the Nation Endowment for Democracy in another part of town.
Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela has been under fire from both sides of the Cuba divide since he invited Cuban President Raúl Castro to the summit (Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama soon after issued their historic announcement of U.S.-Cuba rapprochement on December 17). Miami hardliners and Cuban dissidents condemned the temporary detention of dissident Rosa María Payá after she arrived at the Panama City airport, as well as the perceived legitimization of Cuba’s current government by Panama. Meanwhile, the Cuban government and pro-Castro groups protested the reported arrival of Guillermo Fariñas—recently pictured with Luis Posada Carriles, who was involved in the 1976 bombing of the Cuban flight 455—and Félix Rodríguez, implicated in the death of Che Guevara.
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