Last October, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed announced that Atlanta would be the first major city in the South to join a growing network of cities across the country recognizing the vital contribution of immigrants. At an event in October 2013 organized by the Americas Society/Council of the Americas (AS/COA), Mayor Reed publicly acknowledged that it was time to change the way Georgia—whose 2011 HB 87 law makes it one of the most anti-immigrant states in the country—is perceived. While he acknowledged that “being forward-leaning on immigration is a little tougher in the South,” he committed his city to joining Welcoming America’s Welcoming Cities and Counties network.
The mayor did not waste any time. Slightly less than one year later, at the recommendation of the Welcoming Atlanta Working Group he created this May, Mayor Reed announced that his administration will establish a Mayoral Office of Multicultural Affairs for the city of Atlanta. The creation of this office—one of the first of its kind in the South, and one of fewer than 20 nationwide—came as the top recommendation among 20 that he accepted from the Working Group. Other recommendations ranged from creating a one-stop shop to guide immigrant small business owners through city bureaucracy to improving access to adult language learning programs and improving cultural competency within city agencies.
Suddenly Georgia was making news again—not for an immigration policy that is backwards-looking and inhumane, but for taking leadership in changing the narrative around immigration and creating an environment that is welcoming and inclusive of immigrant communities.
Why take this on? The answer is in the numbers. Immigrants are critical to the economic competitiveness of the U.S., especially in rapidly-growing cities like Atlanta. According to the Partnership for a New American Economy (PNAE)—an organization that has helped make the economic case for immigrant integration—immigrants started 28 percent of all new U.S. businesses in 2011, employing one in 10 U.S. workers. In Georgia, Latino-owned businesses contributed $6 billion to the state economy and employed 25,874 people in 2013. Mayor Reed gets this. As he told members of the media at a press conference on September 17, “As Atlanta positions itself to be a global leader, attracting and retaining talent is imperative.”
At a hearing yesterday, U.S. Federal Judge Thomas Griesa decided to hold Argentina in civil contempt of court, asserting that the country’s recent efforts to circumvent his ruling on debt repayment are illegal. Argentina’s Congress passed a law on September 11 that would replace Bank of New York Mellon Corp. as a bond trustee with a branch of Banco de la Nación. This would allow the country to pay the bondholders that agreed to restructuring in 2005 and 2010 in country, while avoiding payment to creditors that rejected restructuring.
Griesa’s ruling came the same day that the Kirchner Administration sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry requesting that the U.S. avoid holding Argentina in contempt and asking for support against the federal judge. After yesterday’s decision, Argentine Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman released a statement claiming that Griesa’s decision was a “violation of international law,” and called for the U.S. to allow the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to preside over the case. The Argentine government filed a suit at the ICJ in August, claiming that the New York court ruling violated their national sovereignty, but no action will be taken by the ICJ until the U.S. agrees to its jurisdiction in the case.
Argentina is scheduled to make a $200 million deposit of an interest payment on restructured debt today in the Banco de la Nación Fideicomiso, and a Central Bank source has indicated that the deposit will be made in spite of the ruling. Timerman affirmed yesterday that the country will continue to fight the blatant violation of Argentina’s autonomy as a nation.
Griesa previously warned Argentina about the potential ramifications of refusing to pay the holdout creditors the approximately $1.5 billion owed to them. However, when NML Capital Ltd. lawyer Robert Cohen called for a daily $50,000 penalty until Argentina pays in full, Griesa declined and stated that potential penalties will be considered at a later, as yet unspecified date.
Resisting the rush to war has been a characteristic of the Obama administration since its election in 2008. Avoiding the Bush-Cheney approach, which led to the Iraq invasion in 2003, Obama has been criticized for indifference, detachment and sometimes weakness in dealing with international crises. Even former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta are engaged in some historical revisionism regarding their positions in the Obama administration on Syria’s civil war, where they purportedly recommended arming rebel groups against Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.
The complex situation in the Middle East makes it highly risky to rush into any conflict. Obama’s reserve regarding events in Syria is understandable when U.S. intelligence has been less-than-reliable in the Middle East for the last forty years. Besides, America has had its fill of carrying the load and “putting boots on the ground.” This is why President Obama’s recent efforts to pluralize the Iraqi government under new leadership, to build a coalition of Arab states against the Islamic State (ISIS), to support ground forces in Iraq (the Iraqi army and the Kurdish Peshmerga), and to train vetted Syrian rebels are welcome.
Granted, a war strategy without an exit plan is far from reassuring at this stage, and this war has, as of yet, no definable exit strategy or time limit. The alternative is believing that isolated and defensive measures will be sufficient to beat a group like ISIS—which recruits foreign nationals from the West—and the al-Qaeda-affiliated Khorasan group, which is bent on hitting Western targets, including airplanes in full flight. The ideology underlying the tactics of these terrorists will not end without a coordinated multinational effort requiring years.
This week’s likely top stories: Canadian businessman Cy Tokmakjian is sentenced to 15 years in Cuba; Mexico searches for 58 missing students; Venezuela’s bolivar hits a new low; Peru arrests two suspects in the murder of Indigenous activists; Colombian peace negotiator Humberto de la Calle says his e-mail was hacked.
Canadian executive jailed in Cuba: A Cuban court sentenced the president of the Ontario-based Tokmakjian Group, Cy Tokmakjian, to 15 years in jail for bribery, and sentenced two other Tokmakjian Group employees to eight and 12 years in prison. Company lawyers were notified of the sentences on Friday. Tokmakjian, who denies the charges against him, was detained in 2011 as part of an anti-corruption investigation carried out by the Cuban government. The court has also seized the assets of The Tokmakjian Group, which sold transportation, mining and construction equipment to Cuba. The company is now suing Cuba for $200 million through the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris and Canada’s Ontario Superior Court.
Mexican students go missing after protest: Mexican authorities are searching for 58 students from the Ayotzinapa teacher training college who went missing in Guerrero state late last Friday. The students were protesting discriminatory hiring practices for teachers when a group of armed assailants accompanying the police shot at the protesters, resulting in the deaths of at least six people, including two students. The students apparently went missing in the aftermath of the shootings, and authorities said they may have fled into the surrounding hills. The Mexican prosecutor’s office has arrested 22 policemen thought to be involved in the violence, and Guerrero’s public security ministry is searching for the students. Guerrero’s state government has said that the students are not believed to be in the custody of the municipal, state, or federal government, nor under the custody of the army.
Venezuelan bolivar hits a new low: The Venezuelan bolivar’s value on the black market has sunk to a new low of 100 bolivares to the U.S. dollar, according to dolartoday.com, a website that tracks the currency on Venezuela’s “parallel” currency market. Venezuela’s currency control system has three tiers, with the best exchange rate of 6.3 bolivares to the dollar available only for critical goods like medical supplies and important food staples. As of Friday, the dollar is 16 times more expensive on the black market than it is on Venezuela’s official currency market. At this time last year, the dollar was worth 41 bolivares on the black market.
Suspects arrested for murder of Indigenous activists in Peru: Peruvian authorities have arrested two suspects in the murder of four Asháninka tribal leaders and environmental activists who fought illegal logging on their land. The leaders—Edwin Chota, Leoncio Quintisima, Francisco Pinedo, and Jorge Ríos—were shot and killed earlier this month in a remote part of the Amazon jungle near the Brazilian border, despite asking both the Peruvian and Brazilian governments for protection. According to Peruvian prosecutor Eder Farfan, the two suspects arrested are loggers; more arrests are expected as the investigation continues.
Colombian peace negotiators hacked again: Colombian government negotiator Humberto de la Calle said on Saturday that his e-mail and cellphone had been hacked by people looking to sabotage Colombian peace negotiations with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC). The negotiators had just released copies of three preliminary agreements made during the peace talks in Havana to make the discussions more transparent. Earlier this year, the Colombian media revealed that a secret military intelligence unit was also spying on Colombian government negotiators in Havana and intercepting their e-mails.
In a report released on Thursday, Amnesty International stated that El Salvador’s total ban on abortion is killing women and infringing upon human rights progress. Enacted in 1998, the law makes any form of abortion illegal, even in cases of rape, incest, when the mother’s life is in danger, or when the fetus has serious defects.
The report was compiled after nearly two years of infield research and interviews with women and children who have been affected by the law, as well as with health care professionals and social workers. It details the effects of the abortion ban, including the number of women that have died as a result, and misappropriated charges of abortion in cases of miscarriages.
According to the report, El Salvador has a lethal combination of high rates of teen pregnancy and clandestine abortions, lack of maternal education, and a paternalistic society that discriminates against women and girls. In fact, with 23 percent of teenage girls getting pregnant at least once between the ages of 15-19, El Salvador has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the region and suicide is the cause of death for over half (57 percent) of pregnant teenage girls.
Despite over 74 percent of Salvadorans in favor of selective abortion, those women and girls found guilty of abortion face two to eight years in prison, and those accused of aggravated homicide as a result of an abortion can face up to 50 years. “The ban on abortion reflects the low position of women in society and discrimination and violence against women in El Salvador,” said Erika Guevara, the Americas director at Amnesty International.
Four other Latin American countries currently have a full ban on abortion, including Chile, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic.
This week, New York City hosted the Climate Summit 2014, an event aimed at shaping the world’s future developmental policies. Just one month earlier in Nicaragua, delegates from the Mesoamerican region met to analyze the social, environmental and economic impacts of severe droughts this year.
Proyecto Mesoamérica (Mesoamerican Project), launched in 2008 by heads of state from Mexico, Central America, the Dominican Republic, and Colombia to promote regional integration and economic development, reported last month that 2.5 million people in Central America suffer from the impact of food insecurity and economic losses due to the severe droughts in the region. Guatemala’s agricultural losses this summer were estimated at around $ 57 million. El Salvador lost 90 percent of its bean harvest. Nicaragua reported 88,000 hectares of corn and beans lost and 600,000 livestock affected with malnutrition. Costa Rica reported losses of $19.5 million in the agricultural and livestock sectors, and Colombia reported agricultural losses of $ 28.2 million.
Regionally, water is a scarce, valuable commodity. Nicaragua possesses the largest source of fresh water in Central America, but Lake Nicaragua’s future is now the center of controversy—due to a contract awarded to the Chinese company HKND to build an interoceanic canal that would pass through this reservoir.
Pollution has been a big problem for Nicaragua’s lakes for many years. With technical and financial assistance from the German government, water treatment plants built in Lake Managua have been purifying its waters since 2009. Local farmers are using the abundant dried sewage sludge as an alternative fertilizer to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs). This ultimately improves the lake ecosystems and proves that infrastructure projects can be used to protect the environment—demonstrating that “green infrastructure” is a lot more than just green roofs or walls on urban buildings.
Dilma, Dilma, Dilma, Neves, Sil-.
The letters in this sentence roughly represent the proportion of free TV airtime that each of Brazil’s three major presidential candidates—President Dilma Rousseff and challengers Aécio Neves and Marina Silva—receives to advertise, based on their party’s representation in government.
Because Silva’s Partido Socialista Brasileiro (Brazilian Socialist Party—PSB) has minimal representation in the lower house of Congress, she only gets a two-minute window in the 25-minute block of free campaign advertising that’s broadcast on TV twice a day every day. President Dilma Rousseff gets nearly six times as much, thanks to the popularity of her Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT). Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (Brazilian Social Democratic Party—PSDB) candidate Aécio Neves, the other top challenger, gets about four and a half minutes.
Yet while Brazilian electoral rules for political TV advertising give Rousseff a clear advantage in her bid for re-election on October 5, the latest polls show Rousseff in a statistical tie against Silva, whose political rise has drawn parallels to the 2008 candidacy of Barack Obama.
By many comparisons, however, Obama had it easy. He was not battling an incumbent, and he had plenty of time to build up the largest campaign war chest in history, with few barriers on how to spend it. Silva, who would also be her country’s first black president, has the least campaign funding of any major candidate and a major disadvantage in advertising on TV, which is how most Brazilians consume their news.
In his first address to the UN General Assembly, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced yesterday that Mexico is prepared to participate in UN Peacekeeping Missions. He noted that Mexico’s collaboration would be limited to “humanitarian work,” nevertheless qualifying the announcement as “a historic step in [Mexico’s] commitment to the UN.” According to the Mexican news site Animal Político, such collaborations could involve deploying military or civilian personnel. In a separate announcement, the Mexican Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores (Ministry of Foreign Affairs—SRE) said the country will step into this new role “gradually.”
The announcement marks the clearest reversal so far of Mexico’s decades old policy of non-intervention in foreign matters. The last time the country participated in a UN Peacekeeping mission was in Kashmir in 1949. Since then, Mexican forces have been deployed abroad to aid in humanitarian crises, such as after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 or the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. However, until now, the idea of Mexicans donning the UN’s blue helmets has been practically taboo.
In an editorial in El Universal that coincided with Peña Nieto’s announcement, the former Mexican ambassador to the U.S., Arturo Sarukhan called explicitly for Mexico's participation in UN peacekeeping missions. Framing the issue in terms of Mexico’s role as an emerging world leader, he wrote, “we cannot chart the future of our foreign policy out of a foreign policy from the past.” Meanwhile, the president of the Comisión de Derechos Humanos del Senado (Senate Human Rights Commission), Senator Angélica de la Peña, warned that, “a decision such as this cannot be taken unilaterally, and should obligate us to promote a public discussion about its ramifications vis-à-vis our pacifist tradition and vocation.” The senator also noted that any future participation in a UN Peacekeeping mission would require the Senate’s approval.
Iván Márquez, the chief negotiator for the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC), accused Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ administration of negligence on Tuesday for refusing to agree to a bilateral ceasefire. The Santos administration maintains that doing so would provide the FARC with an opportunity to take advantage of the ceasefire to build up their forces, as the FARC has done in the past.
While the peace negotiations have faced criticism, most notably from former President Álvaro Uribe, the Colombian government and the rebels have reached several partial agreements on three points of their agenda—the political participation of the FARC after disarmament, eliminating illicit drug production and implementing agrarian reform. However, due to the lack of a ceasefire, Colombian military forces have continued to clash with the FARC in the Colombian countryside.
Throughout the peace process, which began in Oslo in November 2012 and has since moved to Havana, the FARC has declared four unilateral ceasefires. Victims of both sides of the conflict called for a bilateral ceasefire earlier this month.
The results are in and the United Kingdom “no’s” have won a modest but decisive victory in the referendum on Scotland’s independence. The choice was clear, as proven by the sudden resignation of First Minister Alex Salmond of the Scottish National Party (SNP). In his parting remarks, Salmond closed by saying the “dream shall never die;” proving that the tension about whether Scotland will remain a part of the U.K. has not completely disappeared.
No one expects the Scottish nation to abandon its heritage, its pride and its hope for a better future. The SNP believed that this better future would be guaranteed through an independent, sovereign Scotland, rather than as part of the U.K. However, opponents of this option, acting under the umbrella of “Better Together,” made the case for continuing the union. And when opinion polls began to tighten in the latter half of the campaign, U.K. political leadership promised extensive reforms.
It was not long before other constituent parts of the U.K.—Wales and Northern Ireland—jumped at the occasion, asking to be a part of the process for reform. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron responded positively by referring to a wide-ranging constitutional reform effort. Considering that the U.K. has no written constitution and is organized as a unitary state (with one level of government, as opposed to two levels of government with sovereign powers as in a federation), intensive and prolonged discussions regarding the extent of the reforms and some acrimonious debate about jurisdictions are to be expected.
In Canada, we have had our share of constitutional battles, largely provoked by the pro-independence Parti Québécois, including two referenda on Québec independence in 1980 and 1995. While the Canadian model has had little success in stopping the quest for independence by the Parti Québécois, the fact that Canada has had a successful go at making a federal state work for nearly 150 years may be a useful reference for the post-Scotland referendum period.
Brazilian Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira stated yesterday that Brazil will not sign a global anti-deforestation initiative that will be announced at the United Nations Climate Summit today. Teixeira affirmed that the UN failed to confer with Brazil on the matter and instead simply gave the country a copy of the document and requested that they endorse it without the possibility of modifications.
Charles McNeill, a UN Development Program adviser on environmental policy, refuted the claim, stating that the UN attempted to contact Brazilian government officials without success. McNeill highlighted Brazil’s importance for any anti-deforestation plan, given its significant role in defending and maintaining the Amazon rainforest, and noted that they will continue to attempt to garner the support of Brazil and other countries until the December 2015 climate change negotiations in Paris.
In an interview, Teixeira differentiated between legal and illegal deforestation and asserted that “our national policy is we want to stop illegal deforestation.” The country’s main concern with the pending UN initiative is that it will limit legal, controlled deforestation, thus harming the logging industry. The environment minister noted that Brazil is already working unilaterally to reduce deforestation to 3,900 square kilometers (963,711 acres) per year by 2020, compared to 5,843 square kilometers (1,443,837 acres) recorded between August 2012 to June 2013.
Various companies, countries and environmental advocacy groups are expected to pledge support for the anti-deforestation proposal today.
This week’s likely top stories: World leaders gather for the UN General Assembly; Leopoldo López’ trial resumes in Venezuela; U.S. to approve aid to El Salvador; 8 killed in Guatemala conflict over cement plant; Clorox discontinues operations in Venezuela.
World leaders converge in New York; thousands march for action on climate change: Some 140 heads of state have arrived in New York City to participate in the UN General Assembly at United Nations headquarters, where the General Debate opens on Wednesday, September 24. Along with U.S. President Barack Obama, the presidents of Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic and Honduras are expected to speak on Wednesday, followed by more speeches from Latin American leaders throughout the week. Meanwhile, this Sunday, over 300,000 demonstrators marched through Manhattan to call for international leaders to take action regarding climate change. The march came ahead of Tuesday’s 2014 UN Climate Summit, where world leaders will be discussing ways to reduce emissions, promote sustainable agricultural practices, and develop clean energy, among other goals, and large companies will be making pledges to reduce their carbon footprint. This week’s summit comes ahead of two global summits on climate change in Peru and France—the COP20 conference in Lima in December, and the COP21 conference in Paris in 2015.
Leopoldo López goes to trial: The trial of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López will resume today over López’ role in the national protests that rocked Venezuela this spring. López has been imprisoned for seven months on charges that he had incited violent protests in February, including charges of criminal association and arson. López and his family have maintained his innocence, and human rights groups have said that López and other Venezuelan political prisoners should be released. Until now, López’ defense team has not been allowed to produce evidence or witnesses to support his case. López could face more than 13 years in prison if he is found guilty.
U.S. will provide $277 in aid to El Salvador: The U.S. is expected to sign off on a $277 million economic aid package for El Salvador now that the U.S. Treasury Department has confirmed that it will not hold up the funds due to its concerns about money laundering. El Salvador is currently in the process of reforming its standards to police money laundering and corruption more effectively, recently passing a bill to report on the financial transactions of powerful individuals and their families. $101 million of the U.S. aid package has been allocated to provide job training for young Salvadorans who might otherwise leave the country and migrate to the United States.
Clash over cement factory in Guatemala kills 8: At least eight people were killed and dozens injured in a clash late Friday between community members in the town of Los Pajoques, about 25 miles from Guatemala City. The chain of violent events is one in a series of conflicts surrounding a cement plant and highway that have been under construction in the town of San Juan Sacatepéquez since July 2013, and that many community members oppose due to environmental concerns. Cementos Progreso, which owns the plant, said that its employees and the families that have sold their land have been harassed by the plant’s opponents. Meanwhile, protesters who have opposed the project since 2007 say that they have received threats from people they believe are affiliated with the project.
Clorox to leave Venezuela: Clorox Company announced today that it will immediately discontinue its operations in Venezuela due to hyperinflation, supply shortages and price freezes. The company is seeking to sell its assets, but the move will cost Clorox $65 million. The household products company said that the economic situation in Venezuela forced Clorox to sell products at a loss, and the company could not break even, despite price increases approved earlier this year by the Venezuelan government. A number of other U.S. companies, including Exxon Mobil and American Airlines, have either left Venezuela entirely or drastically cut their operations in the country.
New technology and capital has boosted shale gas and tight oil production in the United States and Canada—a phenomenon dubbed the “shale revolution.” This revolution has important geopolitical implications and has shifted North America’s energy outlook from one of scarcity to one of abundance.
The rest of the Western Hemisphere is also sitting on expansive shale reserves, but these areas have not yet been fully exploited. A recently released AS/COA Energy Action Group Report, “Shale Gas Development in Latin America,” explores these issues in depth.
Within the Western Hemisphere, the primary point of comparison for Latin American countries looking to develop shale gas resources is the United States, where, in 2014, over 20,000 horizontal wells are expected to be drilled, according to RBC Capital Markets. This compares to 250 unconventional wells in Argentina and just 10 in Colombia that are expected to be drilled during the same time period. Investors spent $90 billion in the United States on developing shale gas in 2012 alone; in contrast, foreign direct investment in Latin America last year, in every sector, totaled $180 billion.
In addition to the U.S. and Canada, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico are among the 10 countries in the world with the greatest technically recoverable shale gas resources; together, they make up approximately 40 percent of the world’s total supply. Colombia also has significant potential.
As the shale gas revolution sweeps across Latin America, many governments are beginning to see the industry—and the significant influx of foreign investment—as a quick stimulus to their sluggish economies. Argentina is no exception—with an estimated 16.2 billion barrels of shale oil and 308 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of shale gas in the Vaca Muerta shale formation, the government aims to capitalize on their newfound resource wealth.
Although foreign investment may help Argentina’s fiscal woes in the short term, it is by no means a panacea for the country’s economic problems, and could in fact encourage poor financial practices.
Efforts by the Fernández de Kirchner administration to attract foreign investment have begun to bear fruit, with various international oil companies and investment firms increasing their stake in Vaca Muerta projects. Argentina’s national oil company, Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (Treasury Petroleum Fields—YPF), has also made a series of joint ventures with oil companies that will provide the state-owned energy company with much-needed cash and technical expertise to develop unconventional energy projects.
In addition to an infusion of financial capital, both YPF and international oil companies have been lobbying the Argentine government to create a more favorable legal framework for investors interested in shale oil and natural gas projects. The administration has undertaken efforts to rewrite the 1967 hydrocarbons law, which would simplify taxes, royalties, and licenses and effectively reaffirm Buenos Aires’ control over natural resources. Such a law would be a direct rebuke of the 1994 constitutional amendment that recognized subsoil hydrocarbon resources as property of the provinces where they are located.
Chilean police arrested three people early yesterday morning in connection to a bomb attack carried out in a Santiago metro station last week. In a statement made after the arrest, Southern Metropolitan Regional Attorney Raúl Guzmán, who is leading the prosecution, said, “We hope that they will be sentenced for these extremely serious acts.” The attack injured 14 and elicited a strong response from the Chilean government, which declared the bombing a “terrorist act” and vowed to charge suspects under the country’s Anti-Terrorist Law.
Guzmán has claimed that authorities have scientific evidence linking the suspects to the bombing. Nevertheless, the authorities have not ruled out that more people may have been involved in the attacks. “We are carrying out an investigation and will follow all leads in order to determine whether there are others who are responsible for these acts,” Guzmán said.
Authorities have not released the suspects’ identities. However, Interior and Security Minister Rodrigo Peñailillo indicated that two men and a woman had been detained. According to Attorney General Sabas Chahuán, they are members of an “enclosed anarchist cell.” Only one of the suspects is believed to have carried out the attack, while the other two are being held as accomplices. The government alleges that the suspects are also connected to another Santiago subway bombing carried out in July. That attack did not cause any injuries.
The Chilean branch of a Greece-based anarchist organization known as Synomosía Pyrínon Tis Fotiás (Conspiracy of Cells of Fire or Conspiración de células del fuego—CCF) has allegedly claimed responsibility for both the July and September bombings. In a statement published online, the group attempted to deflect responsibility for the attack’s casualties onto the police, claiming that the group alerted authorities about the bomb ten minutes before it detonated. The communiqué goes on to state that the CCF did not intend to injure “consumers and/or workers” but rather sought to target “power’s structures, property, and thugs.”
Colombian lawmakers accused former President Álvaro Uribe of links to right-wing paramilitary groups during a polemic Senate debate on Wednesday. Senator Ivan Cepeda led the questioning of Uribe during a 90-minute presentation in which he introduced documents supporting the former president’s alleged ties to paramilitary groups and drug cartels, including the Medellin Cartel financier Luis Carlos Molina Yepes. Cepeda also played an audio clip allegedly of Uribe congratulating Salvatore Mancuso—then-second in command of the paramilitary group Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia—AUC)—on successfully defeating guerrilla groups in the Córdoba department.
“Colombia is at a crossroads between perpetuating war, hate and violence or opening the difficult path to reconciliation and peace. Knowing the truth is key for the political process our country is undergoing,” said Cepeda. Uribe, who served as president from 2002 to 2010, was reelected to the Senate in 2014, has long been accused of associations with paramilitary groups, but rebuffed Cepeda’s accusations and eventually left the room in protest. The former president in turn accused Cepeda of “inciting violence” and Senator Jimmy Chamorro of dealing with drug traffickers.
Colombian newspapers live streamed the debate, which was also broadcast on live television. Tweets with hashtags like #DebateParamilitarismo #EstoyConUribe, #UribeCobarde and #SeRetiraComoUribe flooded Twitter throughout the presentations. The debate comes in the midst of President Juan Manuel Santos’ administration’s ongoing peace talks with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC), taking place in Havana, Cuba.
Stay tuned for Americas Quarterly’s upcoming Fall 2014 issue, which will take in in-depth look at the current peace talks and ongoing conflict between the Colombian government and paramilitary groups.
Latin America has set a record in the developing world for reducing food insecurity, achieving a 9 percent drop in hunger in the last 24 years. The UN announced on Tuesday that hunger in the region fell from 14 percent of the population in 1990 to 5 percent in 2014. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) specifically commended Bolivia and Brazil for their hunger reduction programs, citing them as examples for other countries.
Brazil, in particular, celebrated being removed from the World Hunger Map as a result of increased spending on food security and social programs. The federal government increased social spending by 128 percent between 2000 and 2012, leading to a more than 80 percent decrease in the number of undernourished Brazilians. The Fome Cero (Zero Hunger) program has also led to poverty reduction, with poverty dropping from 24.3 percent to 8.4 percent between 2001 and 2012, and extreme poverty falling from 14 percent to 3.5 percent in the same period.
In the Andean region, the FAO labeled Bolivia and Ecuador exceptional cases for their investment in social programs that specifically target typically marginalized communities, such as the large Indigenous populations in both countries. By instituting programs across various sectors, Bolivia was able to reduce extreme poverty by 17.2 percent, and reduce overall poverty by 7.4 percent between 1994 and 2008.
While other development challenges such as crime and low economic growth exist, Latin America is on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal of halving the percentage of people living in extreme poverty by 2015.
Three Argentine medical professionals that participated in the clandestine delivery of babies born to female prisoners during the military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983 will be prosecuted for the first time this week. Doctors Norberto Bianco and Raúl Martín, obstetrician Luisa Arroche, as well as former dictator Reynaldo Bignone and retired military general Santiago Riveros will be tried by the Oral Federal Court No. 6 On Wednesday for their role in kidnapping nine babies that were allegedly delivered in the secret maternity ward of the Campo de Mayo Military Hospital between 1976 and 1978.
During the dictatorship, at least 17 pregnant dissident women were abducted and brought to the military hospital where births were often induced by cesarean section. The babies would then be taken from their mothers and adopted by families that supported the dictatorship, including police and military officers. Prior to this week’s trial, the court had concluded that the kidnapping of babies was a systematic terror tactic used by the military government. Thus far, five of the kidnapping victims were able to discover their true identities.
On Sunday, human rights lawyer Víctor Abramovich voiced his concern over delays in prosecuting crimes against humanity that took place during the dictatorship, accusing “certain sectors of the judiciary” and defense lawyers of blocking investigations in order to postpone trials for older defendants.
Over 30,000 citizens are estimated to have been disappeared or killed over the course of the dictatorship. In a 2012 trial, Reynaldo Bignone and Argentine dictator Jorge Videla were sentenced to 15 and 50 years in prison, respectively—though Videla died the following year—and nine others were also convicted for their role in kidnapping an estimated 500 children. Last May, the Attorney General Alejandra Magdalena Gils Carbó noted that there were 74 repressors that had been charged with crimes against humanity and were currently on the run.
For the majority of Central American women and girls crossing Mexico en route to the U.S., rape is another step along the path to the American dream.
Exact statistics don't exist. Previously, nonprofits including Amnesty International estimated that, in 2010, roughly 60 percent of migrant women and girls were sexually assaulted in Mexico, based on interviews with migrant shelter directors and other experts.
Yet in late August, as I reported on migration along the western Mexico-Guatemala border, various sources said the number is likely higher—closer to 80 percent.
Central American women migrants share their stories in the video below.
“I think almost all of the women are abused on the way north,” lawyer Elvira Gordillo said. Gordillo works in private practice, and specializes in helping trafficked migrant women leave prostitution. “[These migrants] know the price to pay for getting to the United States. The price is being sexually violated.”
Sex crime statistics are nearly impossible to obtain due to various impediments in crime reporting. Most migrant women and girls don’t have permission to be in Mexico, meaning that reporting rape or assault to Mexican authorities carries a real risk of apprehension and deportation to their countries of origin.
Worse, authorities themselves can sometimes be the perpetrators.
With only a few days left for Scottish voters to decide about their future in or out of the United Kingdom, the international media hype around Scotland’s September 18 referendum on independence has intensified. The fact that the “yes” side—supporting Scotland’s independence from the U.K.—has narrowed the gap with the “no” side in recent polls only adds to the drama.
The rather complacent British political and economic establishment is now showing serious concern about the potential of a “yes” victory. On the other hand, pro-independence movements outside the U.K. appear enthused at the prospect of a “yes” victory on September 18. Just recently, Catalans in Barcelona took to the streets over their own referendum on independence, scheduled for November 9.
In Québec, pro-independence emissaries from the Parti Québécois (PQ) and Bloc Québécois (BQ) have gone to Scotland in the closing days of the campaign, and are salivating at the possibility that the 307-year union between Britain and Scotland could come to an end. Will a “yes” vote have direct repercussions for the independence movement in Québec? What are the overall implications if the “yes” side wins in Scotland?
This week’s likely top stories: Venezuela is expected to win a seat on the UN Security Council; Brazilian President Rousseff and Marina Silva are tied in a new poll; U.S. deportations are at their lowest level since 2007; Santander’s new chairwoman will maintain the bank's current strategy; Ecuadorian President Correa asks supporters to mobilize against anticipated protests.
Venezuela likely to earn seat on UN Security Council despite critics: As the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly opens in New York this week, Venezuela is poised to gain a long-awaited seat on the UN Security Council. At a meeting in July, Venezuela obtained unanimous regional support for its candidacy to represent Latin America. While the country still has to gain a two-thirds majority in a secret vote among all 193 UN member countries, there is no rival candidate in the region and Venezuela is likely to win. Critics of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro are concerned about his impact on the Security Council, given the current human rights allegations against his administration. When Venezuela tried to gain a seat in 2006, the U.S. successfully blocked the attempt, claiming that Venezuela would be a “disruptive” influence. U.S. President Barack Obama will preside over a UN Security Council summit the week of September 22.
President Rousseff and Marina Silva tied in recent poll: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her chief political challenger, Marina Silva, are now statistically tied in the polls as Brazil’s October 5 presidential elections approach, according to a poll released Friday by the Instituto Brasileiro de Opinião Pública e Estatística (Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics—Ibope). The poll indicates that in a run-off vote, Silva would receive 43 percent of the vote while Rousseff would take 42 percent—a much closer race than the previous nine-point gap that put Silva in the lead. In the likely event that no single candidate wins a majority of votes on October 5, a run-off election will take place on October 26.
U.S. Deportations at lowest level since 2007: U.S. immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials reported that ICE deported 258,608 immigrants between October 1, 2013 and July 28, 2014—the lowest level reported for that 10-month period since 2007, and the greatest decline in deportations since President Barack Obama has been in office. Last year, 320,167 people were deported from the United States during the same period. More than 2 million immigrants have been deported during the Obama administration, but a White House spokesman said that the president’s decision to shift resources to the border to deal with an influx of unaccompanied minors from Central America may be one reason for the recent decline in deportations.
Santander’s new chairwoman says bank will stick to strategy: After the death of former Santander chairman Emilio Botín, newly-appointed chairwoman Ana Botín said on Monday that she would continue her late father’s strategy to increase international diversification and maintain the bank’s generous dividend policy with shareholders. On Monday, shareholders also agreed to buy 25 percent of the bank’s Brazilian unit, Santander Brasil, for $6 billion. The bank has major operations in ten countries, including Brazil, Mexico and Argentina, and reported a 22 percent increase in profits in the first half of 2014.
Correa calls on supporters for impending protests: Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa on Saturday asked supporters to rally against expected workers’ protests against his government this coming week. Ecuadorian workers’ organizations are planning a Jornada Nacional de Movilización (National Mobilization) on Wednesday to mobilize for labor rights and to call for reforms to the country’s penal code, water policies, and education system, among other concerns. “If there are 3,000 of them on Wednesday, there will be 30,000 of us,” Correa said.
Just days after a bomb exploded in a Santiago metro station, Chile commemorated what is perhaps the most divisive event in the country’s modern history—the September 11, 1973 military coup that interrupted Chile’s democracy, and ushered in the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
In a speech at the presidential palace, La Moneda, on Thursday, President Michelle Bachelet linked the two events, saying that “there is no room for violence and fear” in Chile. Calling democracy the country’s “most precious asset,” Bachelet went on to declare that “we will not allow the culture of respect, of rights and of peace that we are celebrating today, which belongs to all of us, to be trampled, abused or scorned by anyone.”
The day, however, was marked by violence and signs of general unease. According to local reports, confrontations between security forces and protesters left 10 police injured and led to the arrest of at least 30 individuals. Police sources also reported receiving 35 false bomb alerts over the course of day. It is unclear who is responsible for the false alerts, or whether they are related to Monday’s bombing. Authorities are still investigating Monday’s attack, though government officials have blamed “terrorists.”
The government also announced yesterday that it intends to repeal the country’s 1978 Amnesty Decree Law. The law covers the period from 1973-1978, and critics say that it shields members of the Pinochet regime accused of human rights abuses from prosecution. The effort to repeal the law was announced by Justice Minister José Antonio Gómez. In an unrelated event, a national legislator, Rosauro Martínez, was arrested in connection to the death of three Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (Movement of the Revolutionary Left—MIR) activists in 1981.
Early this morning, the lower house of the Argentine Congress passed a bill that will allow for the restructuring of its sovereign debt. After entering into session Wednesday afternoon, members passed the law Thursday morning with a vote of 134 to 99, just over the 129 votes needed for its approval.
The vote comes after the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a new resolution on Tuesday in favor of protecting countries' ability to restructure sovereign debt, with 124 countries in favor, 11 against and 41 abstained. The United States was one of the few countries that voted against the measure.
Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman expressed his approval of the UN result. “The time has come to give a legal framework to the financial system for restructuring sovereign debt that respects the majority of creditors and which allows countries to come out of crises in a sustainable manner,” he said.
After entering into selective default on its debt on July 30, the new law will help Argentina pay back its creditors before its new September 30 payment deadline by allowing the payment site to be moved from New York to either Buenos Aires or Paris. However, New York District Judge Thomas Griesa—who froze $539 million in Argentine deposits in the Bank of New York Mellon and ordered the country to repay hedge funds in full before paying back creditors—has declared the law illegal and threatened to take legal actions against it.
Not everyone in Argentina is in favor of the new bill though. Alfonso Prat Gay, former president of the Central Bank of Argentina, stated that “the fight with the holdouts will be tremendously negative for the country’s future.”
U.S. Deputy Representative to the UN Economic and Social Council Terri Robl also expressed his concerns about the consequences of the new bill. “If lenders face higher uncertainty regarding repayment they may be less likely to provide financing and will likely charger higher risk premiums, potentially stifling financing to developing countries,” he said.
Guatemala’s Director of Prisons, Edgar Camargo, was arrested on Wednesday, September 3, helping to bring down an alleged extortion group that raked in millions of dollars, property and luxury cars.
Also charged were the former deputy director of prisons, Edy Fischer, and Byron Lima Oliva, the purported mastermind of the operation, who was serving time at Pavoncito prison for his role in the 1998 assassination of Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi.
More than 800 policemen descended on Pavoncito last Wednesday, in one of 15 coordinated nationwide prison raids. Lima Oliva was transferred to Brigada Militar Mariscal Zavala, a maximum security military prison. Camargo later joined him there, after receiving treatment for hypertension at a private hospital in Guatemala City.
Camargo was named director of prisons in February 2013, after the dismissal of José Luis González Pérez. González Pérez left office after Lima Oliva was found in a convoy of cars last year, celebrating with various jail officials and women after being allowed out for dental treatment.
Appearing in front of Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez, a judge in Guatemala’s Corte de Mayor Riesgo (High Risk Court), Camargo appeared unconcerned about the allegations. "He who owes nothing fears nothing," he said.
A survey published on Tuesday by the polling firm MDA and commissioned by the Confederação Nacional do Transporte (National Transport Confederation—CNT) showed that Brazilian incumbent President Dilma Rousseff would be statistically tied with Partido Socialista Brasileiro (Brazilian Socialist Party—PSB) candidate Marina Silva if the elections went to the second round on October 26. The poll, which surveyed 2,002 respondents from September 5 to September 7, revealed a 4.9 percentage point improvement for President Rousseff and her Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers' Party—PT) from two weeks ago.
The President had seen her numbers slump in the face of a struggling economy including less than 2 percent growth per year under the PT leader, a recession during the first half of the year, 6.5 percent inflation, and a threat from Moody’s Investor Service to downgrade Brazil’s credit rating. President Rousseff’s popularity also suffered from frustration over the lack of public services that led to over one million people protesting across 100 Brazilian cities shortly before the 2014 World Cup.
Despite popular frustration, the president’s approval rating seemed to improve in the polls after frontrunner Marina Silva faced criticism for withdrawing her support of marriage equality and nuclear energy. It’s unclear how the corruption scandal at the state-run oil company Petróleo Brasileiro S.A. (Petrobras) will affect the president’s numbers as details continue to emerge.
The first round of the general elections will be held on October 5, and they will proceed the second round if any one candidate fails to garner more votes than the other two candidates combined. While the MDA poll shows her leading the first round with 38.1 percent, it would not be enough to overcome the combined 48.2 percent support for Silva and Social Democrat Aécio Neves.
On September 3, 2014, Guatemala's director of the penitentiary system, Edgar Camargo, and its former deputy director, Edy Fisher, were arrested—as were several others—for their participation in a crime ring run by a convicted felon from inside a Guatemalan prison.
These arrests were produced following an investigation done by the Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (United Nations International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala—CICIG), which is tasked with the investigation and disbanding of illicit and clandestine security structures in the country. The investigation (which is still ongoing) revealed that a convicted felon, Byron Lima Oliva, was the real authority in the Guatemalan prison system.
CICIG reported that Lima Oliva had unheard-of privileges, such as access to phones and the Internet, frequently received guests, and left prison when he wished—and documented all this on his Facebook page. Lima's power apparently extended to running a textile factory in Pavoncito prison with the labor of other prisoners, and arranging for benefits—such as cell phones, food, conjugal visits, and the transfers of detainees from one prison to another.
Those transfers provide a good example of how the crime ring operated: Lima would receive a detainee's request. A sum of money would then be paid to Lima's romantic partner, Alejandra Reyes (now also detained) in the spa she operated in Guatemala City. A small part of that money would be paid to Camargo, who then authorized the transfer. During his imprisonment, Lima thus acquired a large amount of luxury properties, vehicles and horses.
An explosion at a fast food restaurant in Santiago, Chile on Monday injured 14 people and has led Chilean authorities to investigate a potential terrorist attack. No one has claimed responsibility for the blast, which occurred at a mini mall next to the Escuela Militar metro station in the residential Las Condes neighborhood. The station remained closed while authorities investigated, although the metro continued to run normally.
Government spokesman Álvaro Elizalde condemned the incident as a “terrorist act” and affirmed that the government will invoke harsh anti-terrorism laws, which allow for tougher sentences, to bring those responsible to justice. So far in 2014, there have been 30 bombings or attempted bombings in Santiago. In July, another explosion occurred in the metro, though no bystanders were hurt in the incident.
With Monday’s injuries, citizens will be looking to President Michelle Bachelet for action regarding the increase in bombings in recent years. Bachelet denounced the attacks as “cowardly,” but claimed that Chile is still a safe country.
This week, Chile will mark the 41st anniversary of the 1973 military coup d’état that overthrew socialist President Salvador Allende and installed a 17 year-long military government in which thousands of political dissidents were disappeared and killed. The week of September 11 in Chile is often a time of increased protests and violence in the country.
When an outsider looks at Honduras, it’s hard not to see the worst: poverty, institutional corruption and violence run rampant. When a country grabs international headlines for its president being ousted by the military after attempting to extend his own term, or for having by far the highest murder rate in the world, or for being the country of origin for thousands of unaccompanied minors turning up at the U.S. border, it doesn’t inspire confidence in potential outside investors.
And this is the crux of the Honduran dilemma: investment, industry, and jobs—the very things necessary to put the country back on the right track—remain elusive in an environment of political uncertainty and social unrest.
Enter the Zonas de Empleo y Desarrollo Económico (Zones for Economic Development and Employment—ZEDEs)—autonomous zones run by private entities that will provide their own judges, police and public services. Proponents of the idea say that it’s a bold move that could transform Honduras and, eventually, struggling nations throughout the world.
This week’s likely top stories: Barack Obama delays executive action on immigration; a former Petrobras director names 40 politicians in scandal; former Salvadoran President Flores turns himself in; private equity fundraising in Latin America this year could reach $8 billion; Chileans remember September 11, 1973.
Immigration reform stalled: U.S. President Barack Obama’s promise to use his executive authority to reform immigration has hit a roadblock in the run-up to midterm elections, angering immigrant rights activists who hoped he would take action to ease deportations after Congress’ August recess. Polls conducted this summer revealed that voters in states like Arkansas and Iowa were overwhelmingly opposed to executive action on immigration, and a July survey by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press showed that a majority of respondents believed Obama had mishandled the surge of unaccompanied minors at the border this summer. A White House official said this weekend that the president will take action on immigration at the end of the year.
Petrobras corruption scandal: Paulo Roberto Costa—a former director of Brazilian state-run oil company Petróleo Brasileiro S.A. (Petrobras) who was arrested in 2013 for corruption—alleged that more than 40 Brazilian politicians received commissions for contracts signed with Petrobras between 2004 and 2012. Brazilian media revealed on Saturday that most of the individuals Costa named were members of the ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT), further complicating President Dilma Rousseff’s re-election bid on October 5. Costa struck a plea deal with prosecutors before naming the politicians. Rousseff said Saturday that she would await official information to “take all appropriate measures” to investigate the scandal.
El Salvador’s Francisco Flores under house arrest: Former Salvadoran President Francisco Flores, of the ARENA party, turned himself in to Salvadoran authorities on Friday, four months after a warrant for his arrest was issued in May. Flores was accused of misappropriating $15 million during his 1999-2004 presidential term, funds allegedly provided by Taiwan to help with reconstruction efforts after two earthquakes, as well as to fight drug trafficking and crime. On Friday, Flores—who had been missing for months—said he had turned himself in “voluntarily and out of respect for the law.” He is currently under house arrest and denies the charges against him.
Private equity push in Latin America: Private equity and venture capital fundraising in Latin America has already reached $3.5 billion in the first half of 2014, indicating that year-end totals could reach as high as $8 billion, according to new data from the Latin American Private Equity & Venture Capital Association (LAVCA). In 2011, a record $10.27 billion was raised, and in 2013, investments reached a six-year high—but have decreased by 10 percent for the same period this year. According to LAVCA, information technology attracted 30 percent of total investments, followed by healthcare.
Chileans march in memory of September 11: Thousands of Chileans marched through Santiago on Sunday to commemorate the anniversary of the September 11, 1973 military coup that overthrew President Salvador Allende and led to the death or disappearance of some 3,000 people. The march was largely peaceful, according to Chilean police, although four journalists were injured when some of the protesters threw objects at the police. More marches are planned for Thursday, September 11.
If there are two things that inspire me it’s a ramped up, over-the-top, scurrilous AP story about democracy promotion and a Broadway musical--especially a Rodgers and Hammerstein production. So, here is my adaptation of the classic Sound of Music, “My Favorite Things,” based on the recent series of articles published by AP on USAID’s democracy program in Cuba. The non-bracketed, italicized parts are sung to the music of “My Favorite Things.”
[As in the Zun Zuneo story, where it refers to “agents of the US government, working in deep secrecy..” USAID officers are not agents. They may be poorly dressed, overly earnest bureaucrats. But agents? No one describes them that way--except AP.]
[As in the Zun Zuneo story which says that a key contact “slipped the phone numbers to a Cuban engineer” in London. Slipped? It’s a nice verb, but is there really evidence that the numbers were slipped, spy-like, to contact, say, on a park bench? The story doesn’t say that, but damn it sounds nice, doesn’t it? Shame it didn’t involve polonium and tea. Though who knows? Maybe it did. Let’s just say so, anyway.]
If the U.S. wants to keep the Summit of the Americas process on track and regain some measure of influence in the hemisphere, it will have to change its Cuba policy, pronto. Reframing our policy and saving the Summit process isn’t as tough as it seems; it just takes leadership.
In coming months, the United States is going to face a tough choice: either alter its policy toward Cuba or face the virtual collapse of its diplomacy toward Latin America. The upcoming Summit of the Americas, the seventh meeting of democratically elected heads of state throughout the Americas, due to convene in April 2015 in Panama, will force the Obama administration to choose between its instincts to reset Cuba policy to coincide more closely with hemispheric opinion and its fears of a domestic political backlash.
During her visit to Washington on September 2, Panama’s vice president, Isabel Saint Malo, indicated her intention to invite Cuba to the Summit, but public U.S. statements failed to commit President Obama’s attendance.
The periodic inter-American summits have become more important than ever for U.S. regional diplomacy, but our Latin American neighbors have said—firmly and unanimously—that unless Cuba is invited, their chairs will be empty. At the same time, the alarming specter of photos of Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro conversing around the same table, apparently as equals, will set off a political reaction among the Cuban-American hardliners, Democrats and Republicans alike—the thought of which gives the White House politicos heartburn.
The number of reported cases of torture and ill-treatment perpetrated by Mexican security forces has skyrocketed by 600 percent in the last decade, according to a report published by Amnesty International on Thursday. Last year alone, Mexico’s Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos (National Human Rights Commission—CNDH) received nearly 4,000 complaints regarding human rights violations by federal institutions. Of these, 1,505 specifically reported instances of torture. However, the problem extends far beyond the country’s federal forces. “Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment plays a central role in policing and public security operations by military and police forces across Mexico,” the report states.
Ordinary Mexicans seem to have taken note of the reported increase in state violence. Amnesty International’s Americas Director, Erika Guevara Rosas, notes that, according to a recent survey carried out by the organization, “64 percent of Mexicans report being fearful of being tortured in the event of being detained.” In the report’s view, however, the Mexican government seems far less alarmed. In a challenge to earlier statements by President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government regarding his administration’s efforts on this issue, the report cites, “a lack of clear political leadership and real political will by successive governments” as a key factor in the increase in abuses.
The report is the latest in a string of critical assessments of Mexico’s human rights situation. In another report published earlier this year, Human Rights Watch found evidence of “widespread killings, enforced disappearances, and torture.” And after visiting the country in April, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Méndez, declared, “there is an epidemic of torture that needs to be corrected.”
In recent days, Michel Coulombe, the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), took the unusual step of printing an op-ed in both French and English dailies in Canada warning Canadians of the threat of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). He notes that Canadian “nationals” who have joined “nationals” of other Western countries in fighting for the Islamic State represent a threat, not only to the Canadian homeland, but to their respective countries. Coulombe concludes by asserting that involuntarily exporting terrorist acts is just as serious as having it on our homeland.
In the United States, war hawks, such as Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham, appear on talk shows criticizing the Obama administration for being weak and employing half-measures with respect to ISIS, in a fashion similar to the 2003 pre-Iraq invasion buildup. Talk of escalating U.S. air aids in Syria is now a daily reality. The second beheading of an American journalist will not reduce the pressure.
Even Democrats are beginning to criticize the Obama administration, which has not shown the kind of sure-footedness expected in a time of crisis. Granted, the world is more complicated these days: a war in Gaza—currently in ceasefire, but for how long?—Russian aggression in the Ukraine, a serious outbreak of the Ebola virus in Africa and potentially beyond, and now the barbaric, self-declared caliphate—ISIS. Surely, it is difficult to have a textbook response to multiple and diverse crises. Yet, the civil war in Syria has gone on with extremists building their forces, and the U.S. wielding little influence. The ISIS threat of attack is now real and may be what U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recently called “imminent.”
On Wednesday morning, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet pledged $510 million for the restoration of Valparaiso after large wildfires devastated parts of the city in April. The blazes lasted several days and killed 15 people and destroyed or damaged at least 15,000 homes in the port city, which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003.
The money will be disbursed over eight years and will be divided into three tiers—the city overall, neighborhoods and individual homes. Destroyed homes will receive almost $100 million, with the rest of the money being put towards urban development, cultural spaces, public transportation and city infrastructure to reinforce and protect inhabitants from future fires, including safety devices such as fire alarms and sprinklers. Seventy-one percent of the restoration and construction is expected to be completed by March 2018.
President Bachelet said that the plan’s benefits would go beyond Valparaiso and is meant to reactivate the Chilean economy. “This plan is about more than normalizing life in the city; it is a commitment to change the urban development of the country,” she said.
While the plan will help the 2,600 families affected by the fire, it is facing criticism for being too narrow in scope. Renzo Trisotti, deputy of the Unión Demócrata Independiente (Independent Democratic Union—UDI) party of Chile’s Tarapacá region expressed his concern with the omission of the northern regions of Chile, also affected by natural disasters earlier this year. “Five months after the two earthquakes affected the northern regions, there are still families living and tents and there is no plan for reconstruction,” he said.
The Venezuelan government opened an investigation against U.S.-based television network TNT on Tuesday because of the depiction of President Nicolás Maduro on the fictional spy drama “Legends.” In the third episode of the season, the Venezuelan executive is accused of stockpiling chemical weapons to use against anti-government protestors, referencing the protests that engulfed Venezuela in February.
On Monday night, Venezuela’s Information Minister Delcy Rodriguez requested via Twitter that Conatel—the South American country’s national telecommunications commission—open an investigation because of the “lies and manipulations” against President Maduro on the series. Fox 21, the producer of the series, apologized to President Maduro in an official statement, emphasizing that the representation of the president was purely fictional and that producers “did not intend to imply that the show was reporting any actual events.”
President Maduro’s approval rating dropped 15 points to 35 percent in the past nine months amid the continued economic crisis that sparked the initial mass protests, according to a recent Datanálisis poll. While the Central Bank of Venezuela has not released economic data since May, the research firm Ecoanalítica has indicated that with its shrinking GDP, limited foreign currency, and car manufacturing collapse, the country is headed toward a recession.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.