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  • These Are a Few of My Favorite [AP] Words

    September 7, 2014

    by Christopher Sabatini

    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.” 

    Calling USAID agents,
    when they’re just bureacrats.

    [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.]

    Saying a source,
    “slipped” someone numbers.

    [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.]

    Referring to Gross,
    on a top “secret mission.”
     
    These are a few of my favorite words!
    Read More

    Tags: Cuba, Associated Press

  • Cuba and the Summits of the Americas

    September 5, 2014

    by Richard E. Feinberg

    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.

    Read More

    Tags: Summit of the Americas, Cuba-U.S. relations, Panama

  • Mexico Sees Spike in Reports of Torture and Ill-Treatment

    September 5, 2014

    by AQ Online

    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.”

    Tags: Human Rights, Mexico, Amnesty International

  • Resisting the Rush to War

    September 4, 2014

    by John Parisella

    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.”

    Read More

    Tags: ISIS, Barack Obama, foreign relations

  • Chilean Government Commits Millions to Valparaiso Restoration

    September 4, 2014

    by AQ Online

    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.

    Tags: Valparaíso, Michelle Bachelet, Development

  • Venezuela Launches Investigation against American Television Network

    September 3, 2014

    by AQ Online

    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.

    Tags: Venezuela, Maduro, TNT

  • Los Límites del Consejo de Defensa Suramericano

    September 3, 2014

    by Víctor M. Mijares

    Entre el 14 y el 15 de agosto, en Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, el Consejo de Defensa Suramericano (CDS) llevó a cabo su reunión anual. Desde el momento en que Surinam fue seleccionada por rotación para presidir la Unión de Naciones Suramericanas (UNASUR), de acuerdo a entrevistas realizadas a funcionarios diplomáticos relacionados con la UNASUR, estaba claro que el pequeño estado no tenía la capacidad de manejar toda la organización. Teniendo en cuenta eso, se escogió a Colombia como responsable pro tempore del CDS.

    Pero sólo dos días antes de la reunión, el Congreso colombiano aprobó el acuerdo de cooperación entre Colombia y la OTAN. Este acto, que pudiera parecer una deslealtad colombiana, debe ser analizado a la luz de factores estructurales que están modelando la actitud de los estados en la política internacional.

    Las políticas de cooperación de seguridad de Colombia con fuerzas extranjeras son particularmente controversiales en América del Sur. Sus lazos con el Pentágono, incluso antes la puesta en marcha del "Plan Colombia", fueron un catalizador clave en el nacimiento del CDS. El acuerdo de facilitar el uso de siete bases militares a los EE.UU. y la crisis después de la "Operación Fénix" fueron argumentos de peso esgrimidos por Brasilia, Buenos Aires y Caracas con el objetivo de lograr la disminución de la resistencia colombiana a un tratado de seguridad regional. El acuerdo con la OTAN trae de vuelta las ideas acerca de Colombia como un socio no comprometido con la seguridad regional.

    Read More

    Tags: Colombia, NATO, OTAN

  • Finding Gaston—And Peru’s Gastronomic Heritage

    September 2, 2014

    by Johanna Mendelson Forman

    Food is powerful. After breathing, we all have to eat. And food can bring people together for celebrations or in times of sadness.

    In Peru, food has become the glue that has held together a nation that experienced difficult times over the last forty years. And today food has made Peru one of the most important culinary destinations in the world, even more so than France.

    Much of the credit goes to the talents of a brilliant young chef, Gaston Acurio. As he developed his own cooking style he was able to integrate the best of Peru’s local bounty—its seafood, its grains, and potatoes to create a new brand—a true Peruvian cuisine.

    Gaston Acurio launched a culinary awakening that has made a trip to Lima a must for any self-respecting chef.

    Read More

    Tags: Peru, Cuisine, documentary film

  • Rousseff and Silva Battle in Second Presidential Debate

    September 2, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Presidential hopeful Marina Silva of the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (Brazilian Socialist Party—PSB) and incumbent President Dilma Rousseff of the Partido das Trabalhadores (Worker’s Party—PT) harshly criticized each other’s economic plans, leading to tension during yesterday’s second presidential debate. The Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (Party of Brazilian Social Democracy—PSDB) candidate Aécio Neves and five other candidates also attended the debate, ahead of the first round of elections on October 5.

    A Datafolha poll from August 29 showed a tie between Rousseff and Silva in the first round, with each earning 34 percent of the vote, and predicted that Silva would beat Rousseff in the second round with 10 percentage points. Responding to the threat from her challenger, Rousseff criticized Silva’s plan to strengthen the Central Bank’s independence, affirming that it will make regulation more difficult. She also called into question how Silva will raise the money required to increase spending on public services. Silva claimed that Rousseff’s administration created higher inflation and debt and accused her of failing to place importance on renewable energy.

    Silva became a presidential candidate after her running mate, Eduardo Campos, died in a helicopter crash on August 20.  Over the weekend, the former environment minister under Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva made two “corrections” to her official platform, retracting her support for gay marriage and nuclear power.

    Tags: President Dilma Rousseff, Marina Silva, presidential debates

  • Obama Moving Forward with Immigration Reform Plan

    August 29, 2014

    by AQ Online

    President Barack Obama’s plan to move forward with reforming the U.S. immigration system through executive action will not be deterred by threats from some Congressional Republicans to force a government shutdown, press secretary Josh Earnest said yesterday. “The president is determined to act where House Republicans won't, and there is strong support for that all across the country," Earnest said.

    The comments from the White House come in response to remarks by Rep. Steve King (R-IA), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) that signaled the possibility of the GOP using the budget process to halt any executive action on the issue. "If the president wields his pen and commits that unconstitutional act to legalize millions, I think that becomes something that is nearly political nuclear," Rep. King told the Des Moines Register on Wednesday.

    White House lawyers are in the final stages of building a legal case around Obama’s plan to expand administrative relief that will likely expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) launched through executive action in June 2012 to more recipients. While an announcement of the reforms were excepted by Labor Day, the president’s trip to Estonia and Wales and conflicts in the Middle East will likely delay it until mid-September.​

    Tags: President Barack Obama, Immigration Reform

  • Teacher Strike Continues in Paraguay

    August 28, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Teachers continue to strike in Asunción, Paraguay today, demanding salary increases and greater public investment in education. The strike began across the country yesterday after continuing labor negotiations between the Paraguayan Ministry of Labor and representatives from the education sector failed to reach an accord on Tuesday. Several streets were closed due to the protests and classes were canceled for two days.

    Last week, Education and Culture Minister Marta Lafuente rejected demands set by the Unión Nacional de Educadores (National Educational Union—UNE-SN) for a 10 percent salary increase for all teachers, stating that only those making less than minimum wage should receive a raise. UNE-SN’s demands also include a static investment of 7 percent of Paraguay’s GDP to be allocated to the education sector for better resources and infrastructure improvements.

    “To speak of a quality education is to talk about a better salary, training, better infrastructure, school lunches, and additional benefits,” said union leader Blanca Ávalos. However, the Ministry of Education and Culture claims that they do not have the funds for the additional $27 million that would be needed in order to raise salaries for teachers per UNE-SN’s demands.

    “It’s very easy to grant raises, but we ask for time—we have to know when to give. We can’t be populists and give what we don’t have,” said President Horacio Cartes, asking for the teachers for patience with regard to the reforms.

    Students and medical professionals showed their solidarity with the teachers through their own organized protests throughout the week as discontent with the Cartes Administration continues to mount. This afternoon the teachers will evaluate whether to extend their strike.

     

    Tags: Teachers Strike, Horacio Cartes

  • Peru’s Congress Approves New Cabinet

    August 27, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Following a week of debate, Peru’s Congress approved President Ollanta Humala’s new 20-person cabinet yesterday, which will be led by Prime Minister Ana Jara. The cabinet was voted on a third time after the first two votes had too many abstentions to be valid, and approval was ultimately granted by a minimal margin for victory: 55 in favor, 54 against, and 9 abstentions.

    Opposition legislators had made various demands of the administration before the debate, including that Energy and Mines Minister Eleodoro Mayorga resign. President Humala refused to get rid of any of his ministers, but did make concessions to the opposition, including suspending a law that required independent workers to pay into a pension fund.

    Reacting to the news, Mesías Guevara, secretary-general for the Acción Popular (Popular Action) centrist opposition party said that President Humala “practically lives in a bubble” if he believes that the newly-approved cabinet is a strong one. The vote by Congress bolsters the Humala Administration at a time when it has been involved in frequent disputes with the legislative branch and the president’s approval rating is a paltry 25.8 percent.

    Tags: Peru, President Ollanta Humala

  • Turning Point for Obama and the World

    August 26, 2014

    by John Parisella

    Summer has never been an uneventful period for U.S. President Barack Obama, ever since becoming a candidate for the Presidency in 2007. His dip in political support and public approval often occurs during the sunny months of the summer.  This year is no exception.

    Events in Ferguson, Missouri, showed that the racial divide in America persists despite the twice-elected African American to the White House.  It has been reported continuously in newscast that African Americans have the highest rate of unemployment, the greatest levels of incarceration, and are the most likely to be victims of police brutality. This did not end with Obama’s election and will unfortunately continue beyond. Hopefully, the lessons learned from Ferguson will lead to some improvements in the short to medium term.

    Events beyond the borders of America, including the war in Gaza, the conflict in the Ukraine with Russian interference and the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)—a radical Sunni jihadists group intent on creating an Islamic state in the territory of Syria and Iraq—have also affected Obama’s current approval ratings (around 40 percent), as well as his presidency and likely, his legacy.

    The war in Iraq, started under the Bush administration, has not resulted in stability as the ISIS has taken large portions of land and destabilized the Iraqi government. In Syria, the civil war has morphed into the rise of a self-declared caliphate by the ISIS terrorists with greater implications for security concerns in Europe and North America. Efforts by the U.S. government to achieve a two-state solution peace settlement between Israel and Palestine are now mired in war. And the crisis in the Ukraine remains unresolved as U.S.–Russia relations worsen.

    As we approach the commemoration of the unspeakable tragedy of 9/11, is the world safer? Clearly, the answer is no. I was present in New York City at the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and I can attest to the lasting scar on the American psyche. With foreign recruits  possibly involved  with the ISIS, the Western world, and American security officials in particular, cannot believe that the worst has passed. The fact that the U.S. is now conducting multiple air attacks on ISIS targets in Iraq and in support of the Kurds is indicative that America is changing course in this volatile part of the world. The Obama Administration and the American people have every right to be worried about future homeland attacks or greater involvement in ground conflicts in the Middle East.

    In the weeks ahead, it is likely that the Obama administration will ask for wider war powers. It is also possible that U.S. air raids will take place against the ISIS on Syrian soil. In short, we can anticipate an extension of the current conflict.

    The savage death of American journalist James Foley has brought the potential horror of the ISIS closer to home. While the Republicans and even to some extent Democrats, Hilary Clinton included, have been critical of Obama’s approach  to foreign policy in Syria and other parts of the Middle East, we can expect a closing of the ranks as the threat of the ISIS becomes more imminent to the security of the American homeland.

    Events in the Middle East have received their share of coverage in Canada, but never to the same extent as in the United States. This, however, is about to change as Obama addresses the latest turning point—greater U.S. involvement. Certainly, all this could have negative implications for his presidency and his legacy. More important, however, it will also have more serious consequences for U.S. allies as the conflict will surely escalate.

    Tags: United States, Barack Obama, U.S. Foreign Policy

  • Puerto Rican Law Enforcement Implicated in Criminal Ring

    August 26, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Sixteen former Puerto Rican police officers were convicted of using their position to run a criminal organization, the Department of Justice announced Monday. The charges include racketeering, robbery, extortion, and firearms charges for using their police-issued firearms to commit their crimes. The convicted officers will be sentenced in December.

    The officers stole property, cash and narcotics from suspected criminals, planted evidence in order to extort victims in return for their release, and accepted bribes in return for giving false testimony or failing to appear in court at all, court documents revealed.

    Puerto Rico has been subject to scrutiny since 2011 due to high rates of police corruption and drug trafficking-related violence. The federal government intervened by expanding Operation Caribbean Resilience, a joint initiative focused on dismantling criminal organizations in Puerto Rico led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) with support from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Coast Guard, and the Puerto Rican Police Department, in 2012. The previous year, the murder rate reached a record 1,117 per year, six times that of the U.S. mainland and by 2012 more than 70 percent of homicides on the island that year were related to drug trafficking.

    Puerto Rico’s police department recently released its first report detailing changes to the department as mandated by the federal government after a 2011 report highlighted illegal killings, corruption and civil rights violations within its 17,000-person police force.

    Tags: Puerto Rico Police Department, Corruption Charges

  • Monday Memo: Mexican Police - Peru's Slow Economy - Military Meets FARC - Argentine Debt - Brazil Prison Riot

    August 25, 2014

    by AQ Online

    This week’s likely top stories: Mexico launches a new civilian police force; Peru shows slow economic growth in key commodity sectors; the Colombian military held its first meeting with the FARC in Havana; a U.S. federal judge rejects Argentina’s local debt swap plan; Brazilian authorities are negotiating the release of hostages taken in a prison riot in Paraná state.   

    Mexico launches new elite police force: On Friday, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced the inauguration of a new federal police force or gendarmerie—technically a military force tasked with police duties—aimed at quelling outbreaks of violent crime. The 5,000 new officers will function as a division of the 36,000-strong civilian federal police. National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido García said the gendarmerie will protect Mexico’s economic assets—like oil, mines, and farms—from organized crime, especially in rural areas where criminal activity has negatively impacted commerce or tourism. The new police force comes as a result of Peña Nieto’s 2012 campaign promise to reduce violence. Although homicides have been steadily decreasing since 2011, critics say that the relatively small police force will not significantly impact issues of insecurity, especially in Mexico’s urban centers where most of the violent crimes are occurring nationwide.

    Peru shows slow second quarter growth: Peru’s GDP grew just 1.7 percent in the second quarter of this year, as compared to 6.2 percent this time last year. Meanwhile, domestic demand grew 2.2 percent, versus 7.1 percent in 2013. Peru’s commodity-driven economy experienced a boom over the last decade that saw average growth of 6.4 percent, but Colombia has now overtaken it as the fast-growing large economy in the region. The country’s halted growth comes as a result of weak performance from the mining, fishing and agriculture sectors. "Mining investments have decelerated, but that will be replaced by a cycle of investments in infrastructure projects," said Scotiabank economist Pablo Nano, who still expects 4.0 percent growth on the year.

    Military leaders join FARC in Havana for first meeting: The first meeting between Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) leaders and the Colombian military occurred in Havana last Friday. General Javier Florez, head of Colombia's joint chiefs of staff and one of the FARC's strongest adversaries, represented the military, joining the Colombian government and FARC negotiators for the first time. Humberto de la Calle, the leader of the government's negotiating team, stressed that there is no current discussion to negotiate a cease-fire, but that the government has formed a subcommittee to determine the procedure for implementing a cease-fire once the two sides have reached a final agreement. Lead FARC negotiator Iván Márquez affirmed that the meeting showed just how much the peace talks have progressed since they began in 2012. Negotiators have already discussed land reform, political participation of the FARC and drug trafficking, while disarmament and the final peace deal have yet to be addressed.

    U.S. rejects Argentina's proposal for local debt swap: U.S. Federal Judge Thomas Griesa ruled last week that Argentina's latest plan to avoid its default is illegal and “lawless.” The ruling comes in response to President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s proposal to allow defaulted bond holders the opportunity to swap out their debt for locally-issued debt. The plan was aimed at resuming interest payments to investors who accepted restructured bonds while evading payment to the hedge funds that are owed approximately $1.3 billion. Griesa had previously ruled that Argentina cannot make interest payments to bond holders that accepted restructuring until the Argentinean government paid the holdouts. Griesa strongly criticized the plan but did not hold the country in contempt, explaining that it would not inspire a willingness to cooperate, and instead pressed the two sides to negotiate an agreement.

    Riot in Paraná prison leaves four dead: Four prisoners have been killed and several others injured during an inmate riot at a penitentiary in the southern state of Paraná, Brazil that began Sunday morning. The riot started when a group of inmates overpowered prison guards and in the ensuing chaos, as many as 1,000 prisoners took over several parts of the facility. The riot is said to be caused by prisoners' frustration regarding inadequacies in sanitation and diet at the prison, although many gangs are taking advantage of the chance to seek revenge on enemies. Two guards are currently being held hostage, and Brazilian authorities resumed negotiations today in an attempt to secure their release and end the riot.

    Tags: Mexican Police Force, Peruvian Economy, FARC, Argentine debt

  • Major Student Protest in Chile Ends in Violence

    August 21, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Thousands of students marched in the streets of Santiago and other cities throughout Chile yesterday to express their impatience with the lack of progress made on education reform—a key promise made by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet after she was reelected in 2013. The Universidad de Chile’s (University of Chile) student organization Federación de Estudiantes de la Universidad de Chile (University of Chile Student Federation—FECh) estimated that 80,000 students marched in Santiago yesterday, while the government put the number at 25,000.

    FECh President Melissa Sepúlveda addressed the protesters at the march, warning that, “This is a direct call to the Ministry of Education, so that the agreements from the Right [parties] are not included in the Education Reform [bill].” After Sepúlveda and other student leaders had finished speaking, dozens of mostly young encapuchados, hooded delinquents, destroyed traffic lights, burned dumpsters, threw sticks and rocks toward the Carabineros, the Chilean police force. The Carabineros responded by spraying the protestors with water, shooting tear gas at them, and removing those occupying the Faculty of Law at the Universidad de Chile.  According to Observadores Derechos Humanos Chile (Human Rights Observers in Chile), there were 17 arrests.

    Bachelet sent the first part of her education reform to congress in May, eliminating subsidies for for-profit schools and ending selective entrance policies, but the bill is still being debated in the lower house. Meanwhile, a second round of reforms that would make university education free will be sent to congress later this year. FECh leaders expressed their dissatisfaction with the exclusion of students from the deliberations, and voiced concern over “deals behind closed doors,” and “agreements that would benefit education businesses.”

    Tags: Chile, Education reform, Student Protests

  • Guatemalan Armed Forces Chief Dies in Helicopter Crash

    August 21, 2014

    by AQ Online

    General Rudy Israel Ortiz Ruiz was one of five military officials involved in a helicopter crash Wednesday morning.  After the Fuerza Aérea Guatemalteca (Guatemalan Air Force—FAG) helicopter Bell 206 took off from Huehuetenango for a routine fly-over inspection of units along the Mexican border, the pilot rerouted from landing in Ixquisis to Las Palmas due to inclement weather before crashing into a mountainous forest area 1.2 miles from the El Aguacate village.

    In the helicopter with Ortiz were Brigadier General Braulio Rene Mayen Garcia, Colonel Rony Adolfo Anleu Del Aguila, Major Selvin Ricardo Raymundo, and the pilot, Colonel Juan de Dios Lopez Gomez. According to Defense Minister Manuel Lopez, there were no survivors. Due to the terrain of the crash location, it took over four hours for soldiers and civilians to recover the bodies. Several helicopters were sent by the FAG and the Policía Nacional Civil (National Civil Police—PNC), but the bodies had to be transported by foot to an air base in Huehuetenango before they could be air-lifted to the capital.

    Huehuetenango is known for being a drug trafficking route plagued by Mexican and Guatemalan drug cartels. However, the helicopter was reportedly in good condition and there is no reason to suspect foul play, although there is an investigation underway.

    Ortiz, 51, had served in the armed forces for over 32 years and had been chief of the Estado Mayor de la Defensa Nacional (General Staff—EMDN) since July 2013. Many speculated that Ortiz was in line to become the next minister of defense. Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina gave his condolences to the families of Ortiz and the other officers, praising them for their service to the nation, and declared three days of mourning for the death of the five officials.

    Tags: General Rudy Ortiz, Guatemala, Huehuetenango

  • Investigation into Canadian Rail Disaster Reveals Negligence

    August 20, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Yesterday, Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB) concluded their investigation of the Lac-Mégantic, Quebec train derailment that occurred on July 5, 2013. According to the final report, the accident was caused by a runaway train carrying crude oil that was parked at the top of a hill for the evening, but upon its brakes failing, slid down the tracks and crashed near the center of town resulting in an explosion killing 47 people. The TSB determined that eighteen factors led to the catastrophe, but emphasized a “weak safety culture” as one of the major causes.

    TSB found that the rail operator, Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA), which has since filed for bankruptcy, had a weak safety management system and lacked effective training and maintenance procedures. Their report also criticized the transportation ministry, Transport Canada, for a lack of management and regulation. The investigation found that Transport Canada was aware that MMA carried a higher risk of accidents in recent years due to an increase in the transportation of crude oil, yet performed few audits and failed to follow up when it uncovered problems. 

    The report recommends more comprehensive audits and improved technology to prevent runaway trains caused by brake failure. In January, the safety boards of Canada and the U.S. collaborated on suggestions to improve safety, given that crude oil transportation by train has increased considerably in the last ten years due to advanced technology and the subsequent shale boom. New Democrat Member of Parliament Hoang Mai has attributed the accident to the fact that “conservatives have left companies to monitor themselves,” and other opposition politicians have also blamed the federal government for the disaster.

    Read More

    Tags: transportation policy, Canada, Quebec

  • Pope Francis Mourns Family Members Killed in Crash

    August 19, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Three members of Pope Francis’ family were killed on a provincial road between Rosario and Cordoba in Argentina this morning. Emanuel Bergoglio, the pontiff’s nephew, remains in the hospital in critical condition after surviving the traffic collision that claimed the lives of his wife and two small children.

    The family was traveling to Buenos Aires when they were struck by a truck. Pope Francis just finished a five-day tour of South Korea where he appealed for unification of the Korean peninsula and humanitarian assistance for the economically beleaguered North Korea. The pope, who joked about his own mortality and tenure as the leader of the Catholic Church on Monday, was ”deeply pained” by the news of the crash and asked that believers join him in prayer when informed of the deaths, said Vatican spokesman Reverend Federico Lomabrdi.

    Argentina registered 12.6 traffic deaths per 100,000 people in 2010, putting it slightly behind the Chile and United States in traffic safety.

    Tags: Argentina, Pope Francis

  • A Discussion about Lesbian Roles and Depictions in Mexico

    August 18, 2014

    by Arjan Shahani

    LGBT cyber-activists took to the web last week to publically denounce Mexico City’s 3rd International Lesbian Festival. Through a communiqué posted on Facebook, nearly 20 LGBT organizations and collectives and around 50 individual signatories condemned the festival as a vehicle for perpetuating misogyny and machismo. They also criticized a number of authorities for vouching for the festival and participating in its organization, including Mexico City Labor Secretary Patricia Mercado and Jacqueline L. Hoist Tapia, who is the president of the Consejo para Prevenir y Eliminar la Discriminación (Council to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination in Mexico City —COPRED).

    It sounds counterintuitive that LGBT groups would oppose an event that claims to support their cause and promote equal rights—and which could not even be hosted in more conservative cities in the country today. So why are these groups opposing the festival?

    There are a number of reasons: for one, the festival’s promotional materials include highly sexualized images of women clad in lingerie, and the festival’s agenda includes an event called “The Bunny Party,” sparking comparisons to the men’s magazine Playboy. Also drawing criticism is the festival’s “coronation ceremony” and a workshop on applying makeup.

    In their communiqué, groups opposing the festival write that “while it is fundamental to have cultural, artistic, political and leisure space for lesbians, we find it appalling that these spaces are provided under the basis of gender stereotypes that are misogynistic and machista. Instead of contributing to the empowerment and freedom of lesbian women from the roles that have oppressed us for ages […] the festival reproduces them with singular joy.” According to the communiqué, the festival’s publicity “only represents white, thin women […]showing women as objects the way male adult magazines would.”

    Read More

    Tags: Mexico, LGBT Rights

  • Monday Memo: Marina Silva – Colombian Peace Talks – Mexican Energy – Julian Assange – Toxic Spill in Mexico

    August 18, 2014

    by AQ Online

    This week’s likely top stories: Marina Silva agrees to face Dilma Rousseff in Brazil’s presidential election; victims of Colombia's armed conflict speak to peace negotiators; Mexico will announce new energy projects; Julian Assange plans to leave Ecuador’s embassy “soon”; classes in Mexico are suspended due to a copper mine’s toxic spill.

    Marina Silva agrees to run for president: Former Brazilian Environmental Minister Marina Silva has agreed to run for president in the place of the late Eduardo Campos, who died August 13 in a plane crash in the Brazilian city Santos. Silva’s entry into the race will raise new challenges for President Dilma Rousseff. Although Rousseff maintains her lead in the polls, Silva has quickly gained almost three times the support that Campos had–around 21 percent–and would defeat Rousseff in a hypothetical second-round contest, according to polling company Datafolha. Silva was Campos’ vice presidential running mate for the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (Brazilian Socialist Party–PSB) before he was killed last week, and she also ran for president in Brazil’s 2010 election. Over 100,000 people attended Campos’ funeral in Recife on Sunday, including Rousseff, presidential candidate Aécio Neves from the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (Brazilian Social Democracy Party–PSDB), and former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

    Victims of Colombia’s armed conflict address peace negotiators: Twelve victims of Colombia’s 50-year-old internal conflict met with members of the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) on Saturday to urge a peace agreement in Havana. The participants, whose loved ones are among the 220,000 people killed during the armed conflict, said that they were willing to forgive the killings by the FARC, paramilitary groups, and government security forces, as long as the negotiators reach an agreement. A total of 60 victims’ relatives chosen by the UN, Roman Catholic Church and National University are expected to speak to the peace negotiators in the coming weeks. The negotiators have already reached agreements on three points of the six-point peace agenda, but must still decide on victims’ rights, disarmament, and the implementation of a peace deal.

    New Mexican energy projects to be announced: Mexico’s Comisión Federal de Electricidad (Federal Electricity Commission—CFE ) is expected to announce 16 new electricity projects today worth a total of nearly $4.9 billion, according to a report obtained by the daily newspaper El Financiero. The projects—which are expected to include four pipelines, three electricity plants, upgrades to an existing plant, and eight new transmission lines and substations—will be the first auctions under the energy sector reforms signed into law by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto last week.  Those reforms opened Mexico’s oil, gas and electricity sectors to private investment.

    Julian Assange to leave Ecuadorian embassy in London: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been seeking refuge at the Ecuadorean embassy in London for over two years, announced Monday that he will be leaving “soon” because of anticipated legal reforms in Britain that would help him avoid extradition to Sweden. Assange did not mention a specific date of departure from the embassy. In 2010, two women accused Assange of sexual assault and rape, and he faces questioning by prosecutors in Stockholm. Yesterday, Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino, accused the British government of human rights abuses and questioned their commitment to finding a diplomatic solution. Assange denied that he will be leaving the embassy for health reasons, as the UK Press has reported.

    First day of classes suspended because of toxic spill in Mexico: A toxic spill at a copper mine in northern Mexico has closed 88 schools in the Mexican state of Sonora due to concerns that contaminants have entered local drinking water. The spill occurred on August 6 at the Buenavista copper mine near the U.S.-Mexico border, reportedly after a poorly-designed holding area containing toxic materials overflowed due to heavy rains. The Sonora state government has distributed clean drinking water to between 80 and 90 percent of local residents, although those living in more isolated areas have not yet received potable water. Classes were supposed to start today in seven municipalities affected by the spill; they are expected to begin later this week.

    Tags: Marina Silva, Brazilian elections, Mexican Energy Reform

  • Missouri Governor Visits St. Louis Following Protests

    August 15, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Missouri Governor Jay Nixon traveled to St. Louis yesterday to address the tense situation developing in Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb, after Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager, was killed by a white police officer on Saturday. Gov. Nixon faces criticism for his slow response to the crisis following  four nights of protests that have resulted in police firing teargas and rubber bullets at protestors.

    Journalists from Al Jazeera America were also targeted with tear gas on Wednesday night forcing them to abandon their cameras. Two other reporters, Ryann J. Reilly from the Huffington Post andWashington Post reporter Wesley Lowery, were arrested at a McDonald’s. A St. Louis City alderman, Antonio French, and the legislative aid to the president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen were also arrested.

    On Thursday, President Barack Obama responded to the events unfolding in Ferguson by criticizing protestors who have taken advantage of the “tragedy” for vandalism and looting, but also said that “police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their jobs.” Georgia Congressman John Lewis, himself a victim of police brutality in a 1965 march in Selma, Alabama, has called on the president to “declare martial law” and “federalize the Missouri National Guard to protect people as they protest.”

    Ferguson police accused Michael Brown of being combative, but eyewitnesses say that Brown had his hands up and was unarmed before being shot several times. The Ferguson police department has not yet released the name of the officer responsible for the shooting. As the situation has escalated, Gov.Nixon removed the St. Louis County Police from Ferguson, placing Missouri Highway Police in charge of the situation instead.

    The situation in Ferguson became calmer on Thursday night as the Missouri Highway Police took over, but vigils and demonstrations were carried out in several other cities including Chicago, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Baltimore, New York and Miami—where eight people were arrested.

    Read More

    Tags: Ferguson, Police Abuses, United States

  • FARC Addresses Reparations for Conflict Victims

    August 14, 2014

    by AQ Online

    In a press release Wednesday, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) announced that it would create a special fund for reparations for victims of the armed conflict. The group also asked the Colombian government to take tangible actions to protect the rights of said victims.

    The release came on the second day of the twenty-seventh convening of the peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC taking place in Havana. The topic of restitution for the victims of the conflict is the fourth point of a six point peace agenda, and by far the most controversial subject being negotiated. A total of 60 victims’ testimonies will be presented before two teams of negotiators, with the first 12 victims arriving in Havana to testify this Saturday.

    In their statement, the FARC recognized that finding a solution to this issue will not be easy but emphasized the necessity of doing so. “This matter is very important because it is going to hand us the keys to clear the path toward the reconciliation of the Colombian family,” said Iván Márquez, the FARC’s chief negotiator. Land reform, political participation of the FARC and drug trafficking have already been discussed, while disarmament and the way in which the final peace deal will be incorporated are the final two topics that have yet to be addressed.

    Colombia currently has the greatest number of displaced people in the world at over 5 million due to the armed conflict over the past 50 years. While peace talks have been ongoing since November 2012, both the FARC and the Colombian government continue to blame each other for the over 220,000 individuals killed and the millions more displaced.

    Tags: Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), Havana, FARC peace negotiations

  • Brazil's Eduardo Campos Killed in Plane Crash

    August 13, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Brazilian presidential candidate Eduardo Campos and six other people were killed Wednesday morning when the plane they were traveling in crashed in the coastal city of Santos in São Paulo state. Brazilian television reports said that the plane, a Cessna 560XL, struggled in bad weather and hit a three-story building in the neighborhood of Boqueirao, killing all those aboard.

    Campos, 49, the former governor of Pernambuco state, was the presidential candidate for the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (Brazilian Socialist Party). The latest opinion polls showed him in third place behind Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff of the ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers' Party) and challenger Aécio Neves, of the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (Social Democracy Party).

    President Rousseff temporarily suspended her re-election campaign and declared three days of national mourning for Campos and the other victims of the crash. Meanwhile, the Partido Socialista Brasileiro must submit the name of a new presidential candidate within 10 days. Campos' running-mate, vice presidential candidate Marina Silva, previously ran for president in 2010 and may be a possible contender.

    Tags: Brazilian elections, Eduardo Campos, Marina Silva

  • Chilean Gang Pulls off Record Theft

    August 13, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Eight masked gunmen disguised as airport workers robbed an armored money transportation truck at Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport in Santiago on Tuesday, stealing over 6 billion pesos ($10 million)—the largest robbery in Chile’s history. The truck belonged to the U.S. security firm Brinks, and the money was due to be a loaded onto a flight for delivery at various banks and mining sites in Copiapó and Antofagasta in the north of Chile.

    The thieves fled the scene in two vans headed in opposite directors and scattered nails in their wake to thwart potential pursuers, prompting Chilean Vice President Rodrigo Peñailillo to say that the gang was “obviously well organized.” Meanwhile, Chilean Sub-Secretary of the Interior Mahmud Aleuy Peña y Lillo called the security at the airport, which is handled by civil aviation authorities, “an embarrassment.”

    Tuesday’s robbery tops a 2006 heist where thieves stole $1.6 million from a similar Brinks truck at the same airport terminal. In that case, the assailants were apprehended by police and are currently serving time in prison.

    Tags: Chile, Robbery, Santiago Airport

  • Majority of Americans Support Sheltering Unaccompanied Minors

    August 12, 2014

    by AQ Online

    A Reuters/Ipsos poll released Monday revealed that 51 percent of Americans oppose President Barack Obama's plan to fast track deportations for unaccompanied Central American children apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border. The online poll had a sample size of 1,566 people.

    The poll showed a divide in public opinion over how long the children should be allowed to remain in the U.S. Thirty-eight percent of responders said that the children should be allowed to stay "until it was deemed safe for them to return home," while 13 percent supported an indefinite stay and 32 percent favored immediate removal. The results broke down along party lines, with 48 percent of Democrats, 30 percent of Republicans and 37 percent of independents supporting allowing the children to stay until conditions are safer.

    The latest roadblock in addressing the border crisis has been the lack of legal representation available to the minors—many of whom are under the age of 14—during their immigration hearings. Vice President Joe Biden made an appeal to law firms to allow their lawyers to provide pro bono representation to these children after House Republicans stripped federal funding for the legal counsel of the unaccompanied minors on August 1.

    The credibility interval of the Reuters/Ipsos poll was plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.

    Tags: immigrants, unaccompanied minors, Northern Triangle

  • Blood Spilled in Pursuit of Truth in Mexico

    August 12, 2014

    by Arjan Shahani

    This June, Mexico’s Procudaría General de la República (Federal Prosecutor’s Office–PGR) issued a report that paints a gruesome picture of the country’s freedom of the press situation, releasing worrisome numbers on crimes and homicides committed against reporters and journalists for the past 14 and a half years.  

    Between January 2000 and June 2014, an average of one journalist has been reported assassinated in Mexico approximately every 52 days.  In the 36 months between 2010 to 2012, 35 journalists were killed, and there were 71 homicides against journalists reported between 2006 and 2012, during the administration of former Mexican President Felipe Calderón.  

    Of the 102 murders cited in the report, which occurred in 20 out of 32 Mexican states, 61 percent of the crimes took place in Chihuahua (16 murders), Veracruz (15 murders), Tamaulipas (13 murders) Guerrero (11 murders) and Sinaloa (7 murders).These five states are no strangers to drug cartels and organized crime. 

    The report also mentions 27 other types of crimes continuously perpetuated against the press—not just by criminals, but also by the police. These crimes include deaths threats, murder attempts, abuse of power from authorities, illegal detainment, kidnapping, corporal violence, theft, intimidation, illegal wire-tapping, illegal seizure of property, and entering journalists’ homes without search warrants. Additionally, from 2010 through June 2014, 14 journalists have gone missing and today are presumed dead.

    Read More

    Tags: Mexico, Journalism, Freedom of expression

  • Argentina: ¿En Default?

    August 11, 2014

    by Jenny Manrique

    El “default” de Argentina tiene tantas lecturas como tenedores de bonos argentinos hay en EEUU. La apreciación sobre si el país está o no en cesación de pagos ha extendido el debate económico al campo político, en donde el concepto “soberanía” se ha agitado de manera preponderante por el gobierno de Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

    Para las calificadoras de riesgo Standard & Poor’s, Fitch y Moody’s, Argentina entró en un default selectivo el 31 de julio tras no cumplir el pago a los llamados “fondos buitres,”ordenado por un fallo del juez norteamericano Thomas Griesa. Sin embargo, para la Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe (CEPAL), el país todavía se encuentra en un litigio inédito en la Corte Suprema de EEUU, y la Asociación Internacional de Derivados y Swaps (ISDA)  revertió su apreciación inicial de default para decir que no hubo moratoria en el pago de la deuda–al fin y al cabo, el dinero del 93% de los bonistas está en las cuentas del Bank of New York Mellon.

    Read More

    Tags: Argentina, Argentina Debt Default

  • Monday Memo: Santos’ Cabinet – Venezuela-Colombia Border – Codelco – Argentine Ex-Captain Deported – Pemex Fire

    August 11, 2014

    by AQ Online

    This week’s likely top stories: President Juan Manuel Santos announces new ministers; Venezuela and Colombia crack down on smuggling; Codelco’s CEO has new plans for Chuquicamata Mine; Bolivia deports an Argentine accused of crimes against humanity; a fire at a Pemex refinery kills at least four people.

    President Santos to announce new Cabinet: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is expected to announce new Cabinet ministers today as he launches his second term in office. Of the 16 Cabinet positions, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón, Minister of Finance Mauricio Cárdenas, and Minister of Foreign Relations María Ángela Holguín will retain their titles, while former Minister of the Interior Aurelio Iragorri will now be Minister of Agriculture, and Juan Fernando Cristo, former president of the Senate, will take Iragorri’s place at the ministry of the interior. At his inauguration address last week, Santos said that in addition to signing a peace agreement with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC), he will focus on education and equality as pillars of his 2014-2018 presidential term.

    Venezuela to shut its border with Colombia at night: Effective today, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos have agreed to close the Colombia-Venezuela border between the hours of 10 pm and 5 am each night in an effort to reduce smuggling. Heavily subsidized Venezuelan goods—such as food and fuel—can be sold at much higher prices in Colombia, causing tax losses for the state and profits for drug gangs and guerrilla groups. So far this year, the Venezuelan government has seized 21,000 tons of food and 40 million liters of fuel that were destined for Colombia. Maduro and Santos agreed to the measures on August 1 at a summit in Colombia.

    New Codelco CEO says open-pit mine must go underground: Nelson Pizarro, the new CEO of Chile’s state-owned copper mining company Codelco, said on Sunday that Chile’s open-pit Chuquicamata Mine should be transformed into a subterranean mine to make it profitable. Pizarro, who was named Codelco’s CEO at the end of July and will officially take over on September 1, faces opposition from the miners’ unions, who say that the plan to revamp the mine will cause many to lose their jobs because many are not trained to work underground. Pizarro replied that “if the unions don’t do their part, there will be no future for Codelco.” Codelco is currently the largest producer of copper in the world.

    Bolivia deports Argentine accused of Dirty War crimes: Jorge Horacio Páez Senestrari, a former infantry captain during Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship, has been deported back to Argentina after he was captured on Friday in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Páez was accused of committing crimes against humanity in the Argentine province of Santa Cruz during the dictatorship. He had been temporarily released from prison in San Juan in 2011 to await his trial, but after he failed to attend his hearing, local police and Interpol issued an international alert for his arrest. Now that he has returned to Argentina, Páez’s trial is expected to resume.

    Pemex refinery accident in Mexico: A fire that broke out on Friday at a Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) oil refinery in Ciudad Madero, Mexico, had killed at least four people as of Sunday night. Seven refinery workers were still hospitalized, according to Pemex officials. The latest explosion happened as workers performed maintenance on an empty petroleum coke tank, which was used to hold a solid carbon by-product of the oil refining process. On July 24, a different fire had broken out at the refinery, injuring 23 workers. Last week, the Mexican government passed secondary legislation to open its energy sector to private and foreign investment for the first time in over 70 years, in an effort to increase production and attract foreign expertise and technology.

    Tags: Juan Manuel Santos, Codelco, Pemex, Argentine dictatorship

  • Who Are Christian Congressmen Listening To?

    August 8, 2014

    by Leani García

    Last Friday at 8:37 pm, 223 members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted to expedite the deportation process for unaccompanied Central American children by revising the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, even though doing so would deport and endanger children, many of whom would otherwise be eligible for asylum. Shortly thereafter, at 9:55 pm, 216 House members voted to end President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and deport more than 700,000 current beneficiaries, known as DREAMers.[1]

    This ended—for the time being, at least—the saga that had been brewing for weeks over how Congress would address the surge of unaccompanied minors to the border, and the larger immigration reform debate that has been stalled since House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) refused to bring last year’s bipartisan Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill to the floor for a vote.

    Now the House has left for summer recess, having passed legislation that the Senate would never approve, and President Obama is left to deal with the mess through executive action.

    Read More

    Tags: United States, Religion, Comprehensive Immigration Reform, unaccompanied minors

  • Santos to Continue Peace Process in Second Term

    August 8, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos began his second term yesterday after winning reelection in the second round in June, defeating Óscar Iván Zuluaga who was backed by former President Álvaro Uribe. Santos based his campaign on the promise of a peace, with the hope of coming to an agreement the left-wing guerrilla group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC).

    When Santos initiated the process of peace talks with the FARC in 2012, he broke with Uribe, his former mentor, who had a military-based approach toward dealing with the guerrilla groups. In response, the FARC announced a cease-fire—though the group has engaged in some acts of violence since this announcement—and the Colombian government began peace negotiations in Havana, Cuba in November 2012.

    The Corte Constitucional de Colombia (Constitutional Court of Colombia) decided on Wednesday that it will allow guerrillas who give up their arms to participate in politics, unless they have been accused of committing crimes against humanity or genocide. This is seen as another victory for Santos, as Rafael Guarín, a former vice minister of defense and uribista, had previously challenged Santos peace reform in court, attempting to block any future political participation of guerrillas in the Colombian government.

    Santos will face an uphill battle, with 61 percent of Colombians skeptical that FARC is interested in peace, and 50 percent disapproving of Santos’ approach towards peace. He also has faces opposition from Uribe, who now serves as a senator, and his allies in congress, as well as a smaller guerrilla group, the Ejército de Liberación Nacional, (National Liberation Army—ELN), who have recently been stepping up attacks on infrastructure.

    Tags: Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia, FARC

  • Dear AP, Sometimes a Democracy Program Is Just a Democracy Program—Even in Cuba

    August 7, 2014

    by Christopher Sabatini

    For the past several years, with almost predictable regularity, The Associated Press (AP) has been producing a series of articles supposedly revealing the secret, unaccountable cloak-and-dagger misdeeds of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in its Cuba program. For all the implied sinister intentions, bureaucratic overreach and shades of John le Carré-like intrigue, though, all the AP has exposed are really just democracy programs—not that different from those that have been conducted in many other countries, often with the support of human rights organizations, local citizens and the international community. The problem is, this is Cuba, where nothing’s ever straightforward. 

    To be sure, there’s plenty to complain about and cloud U.S. policy toward Cuba even—or especially—when it comes to the work of the U.S.’ official development agency, USAID. First, there’s the odious, ridiculous policy of a 50-plus-year embargo on the island.  Sadly, USAID’s democracy work was added to that failed policy in 1997, when Congress forced USAID to develop a democracy assistance program as a component of the Helms-Burton Law.

    The law politicized USAID’s democracy work from its inception. Helms-Burton (or, as it is officially and unironically named, the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act) codified the U.S. embargo into law, and established an unprecedented set of human rights and democracy standards that would have to be met before the president could even ask Congress to lift the embargo, thereby unconstitutionally tying the president’s hands in conducting foreign affairs.  It also explicitly tied USAID’s development policy to Congress’ political agenda and was (let’s just say) a unique law in U.S. foreign policy. 

    Read More

    Tags: Cuba, USAID

  • Founder of Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo Reunited with Grandson

    August 7, 2014

    by AQ Online

    After 36 years of searching, Estela de Carlotto, president and founder of the Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo (Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo) was reunited with her grandson in a private meeting in La Plata on Wednesday evening. Ignacio Hurbán, named Guido Montoya Carlotto by his biological mother, discovered his true identity after taking a DNA test Tuesday resulting in a 99.9 percent match with the Carlotto family.

    Guido met with his grandmother and his aunt and uncles, Claudia, Kibo and Remo Carlotto, in an undisclosed location from 3 pm to 9:30 pm Wednesday evening, catching up on the decades that had passed since Guido was taken from his 23 year-old mother Laura, who was being held prisoner of the state by the Argentine military dictatorship and had her baby stolen from her only five hours after giving birth.

    While recuperated children's identities are carefully guarded to protect the individuals who may be suffering from shock, the news of Guido quickly spread to local and national news. The 36 year-old musician was brought up in Olavarría, a town just under 200 miles from Buenos Aires, by a family with no direct connection to the dictatorship.

    During the Argentine military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983—during which time more than 30,000 people were taken prisoner, tortured and killed or disappeared—over 500 babies were stolen from prisoners as "botín de guerra" (spoils of war) and adopted by military and other families. Guido is the 114th grandchild to be recovered after the Abuelas started a DNA bank to help reunite stolen children with their biological families.

    The impact of finding Guido has spread across the country. The Abuelas, which usually receive between 10 to 40 calls a day regarding identity, had to bring in additional help on Wednesday to attend to the 100 calls received. While the Abuelas are hopeful of reuniting all of the stolen children with their biological families, they are also cognizant of the difficulty of doing so.

    “If it took us 36 years to find 114 grandchildren, calculate how much time will have to pass for us to find the rest of the 400 we’re missing,” said Rosa Roisinbilt, vice president of the Abuelas.

    Tags: Estela de Carlotto, Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, Guido Montoya Carlotto

  • Texas Relaxes Standards for Immigration Shelters

    August 6, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Due to the high volume of unaccompanied minors coming from Central America, the Texas state government announced yesterday that it would relax the rules governing the required conditions in its shelters. The regulatory changes reduced the number of square feet required for each child, increased the number of children assigned to a single toilet, sink and shower, and allows the minors to sleep on cots when standard beds are unavailable.

    The announcement comes one day after the U.S. Department of Health and Human services said that it would be closing three emergency shelters currently situated on military bases in California, Texas and Oklahoma. The shelter at Fort Sill in Oklahoma could close as early as Friday. More than 7,700 children have been housed at the three shelters since May, many of whom have since been reunited with family.

    And in a last-minute vote on Friday—hours  before the start of August recess—the Republican majority in the House of Representatives approved legislation that would modify a 2008 anti-human-trafficking law in order to make it easier to deport unaccompanied minors and block President Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The chamber also approved $694 million in emergency funding for federal agencies dealing with the crisis, far less than the $3.7 billion requested by President Obama. It is unlikely that these bills will pass the Democrat-controlled Senate.

    Tags: Immigration, unaccompanied minors, Texas

  • Paraguay and Indonesia: New Possibilities for Closer Cooperation

    August 6, 2014

    by Peter Tase

    On November 29, 2014, Paraguay will celebrate the 33rd anniversary of its establishment of diplomatic relations with the Republic of Indonesia, the world’s fourth-largest nation with over 250 million people. Indonesia is one of the Next Eleven (N-11) Economies, and together with Paraguay, is also a member of the Group of Eleven (G11), whose efforts are focused towards reducing poverty. Both nations became members of the World Trade Organization in 1995.

    Because there is great potential to strengthen the commercial, political and economic partnership between the two countries—and due to the deep interest of President Horacio Cartes and his Indonesian counterparts in strengthening the bilateral partnership—the two foreign ministries should take further action to discuss mutually beneficial issues such as bilateral trade, economic growth and cooperation in the industrial and logistical sectors. 

    In 2012, Paraguay exported more than $19.5 million in goods and services to Indonesia, and there was a significant increase of such imports in 2013, reaching over $121.8 million worth of goods and services.  Yet despite the strategic importance of pursuing a Free Trade Agreement between Indonesia and Paraguay, Paraguay  is still not a member of the Pacific Alliance, although it is an observer state.   

    Read More

    Tags: Paraguay, Indonesia, Asia-Latin America

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