The natural gas situation in Mexico is frustrating when considering the country’s ample supply. While Mexico has significant unexplored potential that would benefit power generation, investment is deficient. The country must currently import liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the Middle East and Africa, paying four times the going rate in North America, in order to keep up with domestic demand. Despite the surplus of natural gas in the United States, all of the pipelines coming to Mexico are full, and thus Mexico must import from other parts of the world at a high premium. In order to meet its domestic demand—and potentially export—private investment could engage in exploration and production of the country’s ample natural gas reserves.
Petróleos Mexicanos (Mexican Petroleum—PEMEX) , the Mexican state oil company, holds a monopoly over the energy sector and has not yet been able to fully extract deep water oil and natural gas reserves due to a lack of technical expertise and limited spending on new investments for equipment and research. PEMEX is estimated to be sitting on approximately 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves. In addition to conventional natural gas, Mexico has significant shale gas capabilities, estimated to be the sixth largest amount in the world. The famed Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas has been a boon to the United States, yet the formation does not end at the border. Rather, it extends south into Northern Mexico and represents a tremendous economic opportunity.
The shale gas boom in the United States demonstrates how unconventional drilling techniques–such as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”–are leading to a significant reduction in natural gas imports. If Mexico brings in foreign expertise and investments to develop similar techniques, it would no longer need to import LNG from places like Nigeria or Yemen, and instead be able to enjoy a boom in natural gas production at home.
Human rights activists filed a lawsuit in New York yesterday against the United Nations, demanding compensation and public responsibility for the cholera epidemic that has affected thousands of people in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake. Numerous independent reports, including one produced by an expert panel commissioned by the UN, have concluded that the epidemic was most likely introduced by UN peacekeeping forces who were carrying a strain of the disease from Nepal, and that they did not take sufficient precautions to prevent its spread.
Cholera infections had not been reported for nearly a century in Haiti prior to the 2010 epidemic. The Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti—the group representing the families and individuals seeking compensation in the trial—estimates that 685,000 Haitians have been affected by the disease since 2010. So far, 8,400 Haitians have died from cholera and the disease is expected to claim an additional 1,000 lives each year. Expert reports found that the disease was spread from a UN camp with “documented sanitation deficiencies,” and then carried by sewage channels into the island’s Artibonite River, used by many Haitians for bathing and drinking water.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced in February that UN would not provide compensation to victims of the outbreak, citing provisions of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, which grants the UN immunity from domestic laws. International law experts agree, saying it is unlikely the case will be considered by the federal court where it was introduced, provided that the UN has enjoyed legal immunity from domestic laws since World War II. Haitian President Michel Martelly spoke on the issue last week in his address to the UN General Assembly, saying the entity has “a moral responsibility” to compensate victims.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro requested on Tuesday that the National Assembly implement the Ley Habilitante (Enabling Law), granting him special powers in order to fight corruption, economic issues and “capitalist logic” for one year. Maduro will need at least one opposition vote next week to receive the legislative powers. Because his party already has a two-thirds majority in the legislature, it is expected that the Enabling Law—which former President Hugo Chávez was granted four times—will be implemented for the executive.
Maduro insists the legislative powers are necessary to fight graft, given that Venezuela was ranked as the third most corrupt country in the world behind Liberia and Mongolia. But the news sparked speculation that Maduro is seeking to use his powers to undermine opposition candidates and distract Venezuelans from the economic crisis in their country. Opposition leader Henrique Capriles stated that he believed Maduro’s government would “ use the law to persecute and distract the people from their real problems."
Maduro’s request comes at a time when Venezuela claims highest inflation rate in the region, a sluggish economy and a power outage that left more than 65 percent of Venezuelans without electricity last month. Many analysts believe that 14 years of the Cadivi system—currency and price controls that are a holdover from the Chávez era—are seen as the main culprit behind Venezuela’s high inflation and shaky economy. The system, which provides dollars to importers and Venezuelans who travel abroad, has long been exploited and helped drive the black market price of the dollar to seven times the official exchange rate.
As the U.S. government shutdown continues in its second week and there remains a looming possibility of a Congressional gridlock over the debt ceiling on October 17, much attention has been directed to the first-term Republican Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz. The Calgary-born Cruz has been dominating the headlines for the past three weeks with his 21-hour faux-filibuster against the Affordable Care Act (popularly deemed “Obamacare”), and his adamant stand against the president’s health care reform as a “job killer.” In so doing, the “Senator from Canada” (Cruz was born to an American mother and a Cuban father in Alberta, Canada. He currently holds both U.S. and Canadian citizenship.) has become the de facto leader of Tea Party Republicans in the House of Representations and the face of the GOP.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner seems unable to break Cruz’s hold on the Tea Party caucus. As a result, defunding Obamacare has become the leitmotiv for Republican support to end the shutdown. Speaker Boehner keeps asking for a conversation with President Obama to break the stalemate, but it seems his most intransigent opponent is within his own ranks. Cruz, however, may be calling the tune on this Republican shutdown position, but he is not without his detractors.
Republican heavyweights such as anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist and Bush operative Karl Rove have openly questioned the Cruz-led strategy to tie a budget vote to replacing the 2012 election result on Obamacare or making it inoperative. Some have openly speculated that a fratricidal war within Republican ranks could cost the GOP dearly at the polls in the 2014 midterm elections. Polls, while spreading the blame to both parties, indicate greater disapproval with the Republicans’ performance on this issue. It is undoubtedly a risky strategy.
Clearly, Cruz has ambitions beyond the shutdown and the debt ceiling fight—possibly even the next presidential cycle in 2016. While many Republicans are increasingly uncomfortable with his bravado, his leadership on this issue and his media presence are making Speaker Boehner look weak and vulnerable. This is a unique situation where the Speaker of the House is being held hostage by a first-term Senator of the same party from another arm of the legislature. Meanwhile, the Tea Party is keeping Boehner’s feet to the fire, despite his obvious inclination to find a compromise with Obama.
On Monday, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff demanded an explanation from the Canadian government over a media report that claims the North American country spied on Brazil's Mines and Energy Ministry—the institution that manages the country's mineral and oil resources. This comes only a few weeks after a similar report claimed the United States was also spying on the South American country. "That is unacceptable between nations that are supposed to be partners," Rousseff said via Twitter. "We repudiate this cyber warfare.”
The report broadcast on Sunday by TV Globo claims that Canada's intelligence agency, the Communication Security Establishment (CSEC), used software called Olympia to map the ministry's communications, including Internet traffic, emails and telephone calls. Rousseff noted that there are reasons to believe the espionage had economic and strategic motives as many Canadian mining companies are operating in Brazil.
In response to these claims, Brazil's Minister of Foreign Relations Luiz Alberto Figueiredo summoned Canada's ambassador Jamal Khokhar to demand an explanation for what it called a "serious and unacceptable violation" of Brazilian sovereignty and the right to privacy of its citizens and companies. On the Canadian side, the spokeswoman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that "CSEC does not comment on its specific foreign intelligence activities or capabilities." The Canadian Defense Department declined to comment.
This follows a previous disclosure that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) had spied on Rousseff's telephone calls and emails as well as on state-run energy company Petrobras. In response to this report that came to light in mid-September, the Brazilian president canceled a state visit to the United States scheduled for October 23 and denounced this operation as a violation of human rights and international law during her address at the United Nations General Assembly.
Both reports are based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden who, according to the documents, attended the conference of the "Five Eyes" intelligence-sharing network between the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Snowden is wanted by the U.S. after revealing details of the NSA's massive intelligence activities, and is currently living in temporary asylum in Russia.
As the U.S. government’s shutdown stretches into its second week, local economies everywhere are suffering—but perhaps none as acutely as Puerto Rico.
The Island of Enchantment, which is home to nearly four million people, is slogging through its seventh straight year of recession with an economy that has already contracted 5.4 percent since August 2012. And the shutdown is making it difficult for the U.S. territory to overcome the economic difficulties that have plagued it for the better part of the decade.
Though Puerto Rico’s average per capita income is half that of Mississippi’s— the poorest state in the union—consumer prices on the island are sky high. On average, electricity costs on the island are double those on the mainland, and the cost of importing 85 percent of Puerto Rico’s food is often passed onto the consumers.
The result: nearly half the population lives under the poverty line, and Puerto Ricans are abandoning the island at a record pace due to high costs, a wobbly economy and high unemployment. The government shutdown that began on October 1 will only exacerbate Puerto Rico’s already fragile economy.
The island is burdened by $69 billion in public debt and relies on federal funding for 39.6 percent of the money it spends, compared to the average of 26.2 percent for U.S. states. While less than $6.6 billion of the funding the island receives from the federal government is considered discretionary, the unintended side effects of the shutdown will ripple through various industries and could bring the unstable economy to a grinding halt.
With Puerto Rico’s unemployment rate at a staggering 13.9 percent—the highest in the country—the federal shutdown means the continued loss of what little employment is available on the island. Federal employees, already suffering with furloughs due to sequestration, number about 10,000 on the island; about half of those are considered non-essential and affected by the shutdown. The longer Congress fails to pass a resolution, the more likely it is to increase the unemployment rate in Puerto Rico where workforce participation is just 40 percent and there are fewer than 900,000 jobs.
But the shutdown also threatens to affect the other main source of income on the island: tourism.
In 2011 alone, tourism contributed over $6 million to the GDP and supported 59,500 jobs across sectors. The lost revenue from the closure of some of the island’s main tourist attractions, including Fort San Felipe del Morro and Fort San Cristobal in Old San Juan, as well as El Yunque National Park— the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System —will also have a negative impact on local businesses that depend on tourism.
The negative consequences go further still. Besides decreasing the revenue from the island’s most popular industry, the shutdown affects more than just vacationers and tourist destinations. Perhaps the most dangerous consequence of the shutdown will be the reduced resources to combat violent drug crime.
With a per capita murder rate six times that of the U.S. mainland, more than 70 percent of homicides in Puerto Rico were related to the drug trade in 2012. Up until recently, the federal government paid little attention to what was happening on the island. By 2012, Puerto Rico had received just $260 million to combat drug-related crime—compared to the $1.6 billion that the U.S. initially pledged to Mexico as part of the Mérida initiative.
This all changed with Operation Caribbean Resilience, which began in July 2012—one year after murders in Puerto Rico surged to a record 1,117 per year. While the drug trade began to thrive on the island in the 1980s, it saw a dramatic spike in drug violence 2009, when tighter security at the U.S.-Mexico border closed off traditional drug trafficking routes.
While the federal government has sent 30 additional Homeland Security investigation agents to Puerto Rico and the Coast Guard has increased patrols of the Caribbean smuggling routes, the shutdown affects federal agencies on the island that are already chronically understaffed. Even the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico halted new judicial activities as of October 1.
With more than 43,000 pounds of narcotics seized in 2012 alone, it is clear that the U.S. can’t afford to neglect nearly 4 million citizens affected by the drug war due to partisan politics.
On the day of the shutdown, the FBI announced that it had dismantled a powerful drug organization in Puerto Rico that had generated over $100 million in revenue since 2005. I applaud that success and the new U.S. interest in the Caribbean—and recognize that federal agencies such as the FBI and Coast Guard are not currently affected by the shutdown.
Yet with chronically understaffed federal offices—even when the government is functioning at its full capacity—the shutdown seems poised to stifle the progress that has been made to reduce crime on the island.
Likely top stories this week: Military operations expand into a Rio de Janeiro favela; Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner takes a month-long medical leave from office; Colombia-FARC negotiations advance in Cuba; Mexican tax reform faces new opposition; IMF warns against the threat of a U.S. debt default.
Rio de Janeiro Expands Military Control of Favelas: A peaceful military operation was conducted on Sunday in the Lins de Vasconcellos favela of Rio de Janeiro, home to approximately 15,000 residents. Authorities have already established 34 Unidades de Polícia Pacificadoras (Police Pacification Units—UPPs) across the Rio de Janeiro metropolitan area—and now plan to install two in Lins de Vasconcellos—in an effort to promote public security for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. UPPs came under public criticism recently after 10 military police officers were accused by public prosecutors of torturing and killing Amarildo de Souza, a resident of the Rocinha favela.
Argentine President Takes Medical Leave: Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was ordered by doctors to take a month-long leave of absence after they confirmed she had suffered a head trauma. Vice President Amado Bodou will assume presidential responsibility during Kirchner’s absence. The announcement precedes midterm congressional elections scheduled for October 27 during a political low for Kirchner’s governing coalition. The group recently reported its worst performance in ten years, having received just 26 percent of national votes in the electoral primaries.
Colombian Government and FARC Leaders Resume Peace Talks: Following disagreements that resulted in a two-week stall in peace talks between the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) and the Colombian government, FARC Chief Negotiator Iván Márquez announced this week that both parties have agreed to resume negotiations. The talks began 10 months ago in Havana, Cuba, and have now been recorded in a 25-page document that includes agreements on the key issue of land reform. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said he hopes to conclude negotiations by the end of the year, with the ultimate goal of the FARC surrendering all weapons in exchange for legal and political integration.
Mexican Tax Reform Faces New Opposition: Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s proposed tax reforms face new opposition from the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN). The plan seeks to promote annual economic growth beyond 5 percent by reducing government subsidies for national energy production and raising annual revenue by 1.4 percent from increased sales and income taxes. The PAN has cited concerns that the tax reform bill would disproportionately burden middle-income families by imposing new taxes on private education tuition, mortgages and home rentals.
IMF Warns against A Possible U.S. Debt Default: IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde has warned against the looming threat of a U.S. debt default and the damaging effects it could have on the global economy as the U.S. Congress remains stalled in negotiations over a government shutdown. A recent report by the U.S. Department of the Treasury also warned against what would likely be the country’s worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, noting, “a default would be unprecedented and has the potential to be catastrophic.” In a recent speech, Lagarde said the U.S.’s ability to reach an agreement on the debt ceiling was “mission critical” to global economic growth and stability.
World leaders and migration experts met in New York this week to participate in the UN General Assembly High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development. Participants discussed the growing impact of migrants’ contributions to the economic and social realities of member countries and the need to include migration as a key topic in the development agenda.
The recent world economic crisis led to a new socio-economic landscape—particularly in Latin America, where intra-regional migration flows increased significantly as a result of fewer employment opportunities and tighter immigration policies in Europe and the United States. Countries like Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay became popular destinations for international migrants.
All countries in the region are greatly benefiting from an increased commercial and demographic interconnectedness, except for one: Venezuela.
For many years, Venezuela was a very popular migrant destination. Particularly between 1940 and 1970, thousands of immigrants from Europe and other countries in Latin America—particularly Colombia—saw Venezuela as an ideal place to escape from civil wars, dictatorships and economic crises. Back then, the South American country had a vibrant economy and was one of the most politically stable nations in the Western Hemisphere.
The economic boom lasted until the 1980s, when the collapse of oil prices crippled the Venezuelan economy. Venezuelans’ living standards fell dramatically as a result of failed economic policies, increasing corruption in government and a rise in poverty and crime. It was in this period that, for the first time, a significant number of Venezuelans decided to look for better opportunities abroad.
But the Venezuelan exodus did not attain its current dramatic proportions until the Hugo Chávez era. Between 1999 and 2013—the fourteen years of Chávez’ presidency—Venezuela witnessed unprecedented human capital flight. Though there are no official records of the exact number of Venezuelans living abroad, some experts estimate that about 1 million Venezuelans have fled their home country, 3.5 percent of the country’s population. This includes the emigration of half of Venezuela’s Jewish community—a constant target of the regime—by the time Hugo Chávez died in March 2013.
Due to geographic and cultural proximity, Colombia is the quintessential destination for Venezuelan migrants in Latin America. Some believe that Colombia’s current oil boom can be directly attributed to a rare breed of experts: the thousands of high-skilled Venezuelan oil professionals that were barred from working in the industry following the 2002-2003 Paro Nacional, or national strike. Besides Colombia, Venezuelans have congregated in Miami, Panama City and Madrid, and are increasingly sighted in less conventional places, such as Sydney, Calgary and Santo Domingo.
One of the characteristics of this exodus is that Venezuela is now exporting much more than gray-haired oil professionals. For some time, students have been the country’s main exports, as they have greatly benefitted from Venezuela’s twisted currency control regime known as the Comisión de Administración de Divisas (CADIVI). Thousands of Venezuelan students have decided to enroll in universities abroad as a means to escape the Bolivarian drama. With CADIVI dollars at a preferential rate—currently 6 times lower that the parallel black market rate—many students pursue not one, but two and sometimes three academic degrees, an expensive crusade to postpone the hardest decision of all: going back home.
But there is a bright side to the drama and the brain drain. According to Michael Clemens, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington DC, emigration has many overlooked benefits for countries of origin. In a recent report about skilled migration and development, Clemens says that “even if migrants do not return to their countries of origin, they transfer money, skills, technology, and even democratic ideas; their stories can inspire investments in education in sending countries; and they expand their own life opportunities in ways not possible without moving.”
This and other studies reveal that, besides being a fundamental source of remittances, migrants can also promote entrepreneurship and transfer knowledge and skills that are crucial for the growth and well-being of their countries of origin. Venezuela’s diaspora has traditionally been comprised of high-skilled professionals. And if we add the thousands of younger Venezuelans—who, in the past 14 years, have attained a high-level education overseas—we end up with a solid professional base with unbelievable potential. So how can we capitalize on this human capital in ways that benefit Venezuela?
An engaged diaspora is the sine qua non to development in countries where the number of emigrants is very high. We don’t have to go too far to find examples. Mexico—a country that, unlike Venezuela, has a long history of migration—has discovered the secret ingredient: connecting migration to development. Mexico’s Institute for Migrants Abroad (Instituto de los Mexicanos en el Exterior—IME) coordinates a long list of initiatives through its broad consular network aimed at strengthening the ties between Mexican citizens: those living in Mexico and abroad. Through the “3x1 program”, for instance, Mexicans living in the U.S. can directly invest in their communities of origin. For every Mexican peso provided by migrants, the federal, state and municipal governments contribute an additional peso.
Venezuelans abroad are already moving in this direction. VenMundo, a non-partisan network of Venezuelans in Canada, Chile, the U.S., and Spain, has drafted a set of proposals that include a comprehensive census of the Venezuelan migrant population and an incentive program for returning migrants. However, greater resources and political will are still missing to get these ideas off the ground.
In a recent speech in Doral County, Miami—the largest Venezuelan immigrant community in the United States—opposition leader and Governor of Miranda State Henrique Capriles Radonski asked the Venezuelan community to continue pushing for change in the country they left behind. “I’ve come to take you home,” he said. “The best country in the world is called Venezuela.”
With national legislative elections coming up on October 27, Argentina is abuzz with political activity. In addition to the high economic stakes—the country suffers from increasing inflation and faces the threat of a deep recession—many view this year’s elections as a harbinger of who will become Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s successor two years from now. The results of the August 11 primary races suggest a challenge to her influence, though perhaps not to Argentina’s political system.
Kirchner is serving her second and final term in office (though some debate whether she will attempt to run for a currently unconstitutional third term). The Peronist party, Frente para la Victoria (Front for Victory—FPV), has made several legal adjustments to the country’s electoral and judicial systems that could serve to boost its popularity. They have lowered the voting age to 16 in hopes of support from young voters, created bureaucratic obstacles that political parties must overcome to compete in elections, and reformed the Corte Suprema de Justicia de la Nación (Supreme National Court of Justice) so that two-thirds of its judicial magistrates must affiliate with a political party and run for election.
However, signs of popular dissent have hinted that a new leader might rise to power and bring ten years of Kirchnerismo to a close. First, the opposition has staged several massive protests, including those held in November of last year and this past April, each with larger turnouts than any popular protest since the 2001 economic crisis. Second, the primary elections held three weeks ago suggest that the president’s grip on power may be slipping. To the FPV’s surprise, the Frente Renovador (Renewing Front) candidate, Sergio Massa—the mayor of Tigre (a populous suburb just north of Buenos Aires) and a onetime-Peronist party member who has now distanced himself from the FPV—defeated Fernández de Kirchner’s pick, Martín Insaurralde, for representative of the province of Buenos Aires, a vital district for the president and a traditional Peronist stronghold.
Yet Fernández de Kirchner maintains a confident outlook on the October elections, and her supporters, organized into neighborhood groups, pledge their loyalty as strongly as ever. Yet Massa’s victory in the province of Buenos Aires and non-FPV victories in the provinces of Jujuy, San Juan, Chubut, and La Rioja—normally strong Peronist areas—indicate that many voters are ready for a change.
Though Massa has yet to secure a victory as representative of Buenos Aires province in October and the presidential elections remain two years away, it appears that he is gaining momentum on a potential run for the presidency. While some doubt he has the personal charisma to become a national Peronist leader, others—Peronists and anti-Peronists alike—are drawn to Massa. In recent interviews I conducted in Buenos Aires, a range of voters said that Massa focuses on “real issues” that affect Argentines and that he seems removed from the claims of corruption they perceive in the Fernández de Kirchner administration. His victory in the upcoming midterm elections would present a threat to the Fernádez de Kirchner legacy.
Ultimately, however, Massa may represent more continuity than change. In addition to cutting his teeth as a Peronist mayor, well versed in its politics, his intensely personalistic campaign does not diverge greatly from that of Peronist “super-presidents”—from Juan Domingo Perón himself to Carlos Menem and Fernández de Kirchner. Massa may stress “policy over politics,” but he also abruptly announced his candidacy less than two months before the primaries and relied largely on his own attractive image to garner support. His campaign posters, hung throughout Tigre and Buenos Aires province, display only a clever spelling of his name, “+a,” in bold letters, along with that of his newly formed political party, Frente Renovador (Renewing Front), against a black background.
The current political climate suggests that Fernández de Kirchner will likely be forced to step down in 2015, bringing the reign of Kirchnerismo to an end. However, it is not clear whether an opposition candidate would take the country in a new direction, despite some Argentines’ disillusionment with the politics of the Fernández de Kirchner administration. The leading possible contender has, at least as far as his campaign is concerned, continued the personalistic style of his predecessors.
Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón announced yesterday that Colombia will expand its support to the Dominican Republic to help combat narcotrafficking, reduce the violence related to the drug trade and to strengthen security. The pledge came in a meeting with Dominican president Danilo Medina Sánchez and Dominican Defense Minister Sigfrido Pared in Santo Domingo.
Colombian assistance will focus on improving the amount of information shared between intelligence organizations in both countries. Later this month, representatives of the Colombian National Police will come to the Caribbean nation to train their Dominican counterparts in anti-narcotrafficking tactics and share best practices from Colombia’s drug war. Minister Pinzón has engaged other countries in the region dealing with drug trafficking threats, including Panama, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago.
The Dominican Republic continues to be one of the main traffic points for narcotics distributed through the Caribbean. In the past two years alone, there has been an 800 percent increase in the amount of cocaine exported to the United States and Europe. According to the European Union’s COPOLAD Program, the Dominican Republic’s anti-drug trafficking efforts are hamstrung by lack of state control and technological resources at its Multimodal Caucedo and Haina ports.
Ten police officers were charged yesterday in the murder and forced disappearance of Amarildo de Souza, a bricklayer and lifelong resident of Rio de Janeiro’s largest favela, Rocinha. The charges were announced months after Mr. Souza’s disappearance on July 14, which sparked public protests in Rio and São Paulo and led to the launch of a national social media campaign called “Quem Matou Amarildo?” (Who Killed Amarildo?).
Investigators say the murder was a coordinated effort by community police officers from the local Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora (Pacifying Police Unit—UPP), who allegedly tortured Mr. Souza via electric shock treatment and asphyxiation before murdering him and hiding his body in an undisclosed location. The investigation also revealed that Maj. Edson dos Santos, commander of the Rocinha UPP at the time of Mr. Souza’s disappearance, bribed two key witnesses in the case to blame the murder on drug traffickers. The witnesses later disclosed details to investigators before entering Brazil’s witness protection program. Investigators expect an arrest warrant to be issued in the coming days, in what will likely result in a lengthy and highly publicized trial.
UPP’s were created in 2008 in an effort increase police presence in Rio’s crime-ridden neighborhoods prior to the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. They have faced increasing criticisms from favela residents and human rights organizations, which began reporting abuses months prior to Mr. Souza’s disappearance. Brazilian Federal Human Rights Minister Maria do Rosario called yesterday for a public debate on police reform, calling the case a new precedent in holding security agents responsible for human rights abuses.
The Brazilian government intends to hire 4,000 Cuban doctors by the end of 2014 through its newly established Programa Mais Médicos (More Doctors Program). An initial group of 400 doctors arrived in late August from Cuba, through a cooperation agreement brokered by the Pan-American Health Organization between the governments of Cuba and Brazil. The doctors will be sent to rural municipalities in the North and Northeast regions of Brazil, where systemic poverty and low rates of human development persist. These municipalities have been unsuccessful in attracting Brazilian and other foreign medical professionals who enrolled in the Mais Médicos Program but who are unwilling to work in the impoverished communities.
Criticisms of the Programa Mais Médicos are prevalent in Brazil. The Ministério da Saúde (Ministry of Health) has been criticized for indirectly hiring Cuban doctors through a brokered agreement with foreign government agencies, rather than hiring them individually. Contrary to foreign doctors who are in private practice in Brazil, Cuban doctors enrolled in the public health program will only receive 25 to 40 percent of their monthly salary), the rest of which will be sent directly to the Cuban government.
On August 23, the Associação Médica Brasileira (Brazilian Medical Association—AMB) and the Conselho Federal de Medicina (Federal Council of Medicine—CFM) filed a joint lawsuit in the Supremo Tribunal Federal (Federal Supreme Court—STF) to suspend the program, claiming that the Cuban doctors’ medical practice in the country was illegal. The AMB and CFM require foreign doctors to be certified by the Exame Nacional de Revalidação de Diplomas (National Diploma Revalidation Exam) in order to practice medicine in Brazil, a condition that was not u the Cuban doctors participating in Mais Médicos. Critics argue that disregard for the legal framework governing medical practice will have negative implications for the quality of health care in Brazil, and say that the entry of foreign professionals to the domestic market will not compensate for existing deficiencies in the Brazilian health care system.
Padilha responded to criticism of the program by saying that it generates controversy because it is "bold and courageous." In an interview on August 24 at a health center in the Estrutural favela of Brasília, he said the decision to hire foreign doctors is legally sound: "The government has won every legal action. We have a great deal of legal security in what we are doing. [Medical professionals] can criticize and now make suggestions on how to make improvements, but they will not threaten the health of our population, which lacks doctors."
The United States Department of State announced today that it is expelling the three top Venezuelan diplomats in Washington after Caracas ousted three of their American counterparts on Sunday. The Venezuelan officials, including charge d’affaires Calixto Ortega Rios, were given 48 hours to leave the country.
The State Department decision comes in direct response to the expulsion of U.S. charge d'affaires Kelly Keiderling, David Moo and Elizabeth Hoffman, who Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro accused of conspiring to sabotage the economy, alleging that the diplomats had bribed Venezuelan companies to cut down power production. The U.S. embassy immediately denied the allegations.
Maduro gave the U.S. diplomats a 48 hour timeframe to leave Venezuela, saying in a speech in Santa Ana, “Out of Venezuela! Yankees, go home!” A State Department official called the decision out of Caracas “counterproductive to the interests of both our countries and not a serious way for a country to conduct its foreign policy.”
The U.S. and Venezuela have gone without ambassadors in each other’s capitals since 2010, when former President Hugo Chávez denied a visa to would-be American Ambassador Larry Palmer—and the U.S. retaliated by expelling the Venezuelan ambassador to Washington. Borrowing a strategy from his predecessor, Maduro’s decision on Sunday may be an effort to turn Venezuelan’s attention away from the ailing economy, where inflation reached 45 percent, and the availability of basic goods is at a five-year low.
Peruvian writer and Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, released a public statement on Monday in support of a bill that would legalize same-sex unions in Peru. The statement, titled “Yes to equality,” was published in the main Peruvian newspapers such as El Comercio, La República, Perú21 and Diario 26 and calls for “equal rights for all Peruvians, the inclusion of all the sectors of society, and for non-discrimination based on sexual orientation.” Llosa was also joined by writer Santiago Roncagliolo and the president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Diego García Sayán.
The statement comes less than a month after independent Legislator Carlos Bruce introduced the bill to legalize same-sex unions. According to Bruce, “by failing to recognize same-sex couples, the Peruvian government is perpetuating discrimination and violating Article 2 of the Constitution.” The initiative was strongly opposed by the Catholic Church and some political figures who believe that same-sex unions should not be recognized by the law. The bill has not yet been discussed by the Congress.
According to a national poll by the firm GFK released on Sunday, 65 percent of Peruvian citizens oppose the bill, while 26 percent are in favor. The poll revealed that the greatest opposition to the project comes from men between 40 and 70 years old. For Harvard professor Steven Levitsky, the passage of same-sex unions in Peru is only a matter of time because just like women’s rights and minority rights, marriage equality is accepted as a basic right in the Western world. “In 1996, only 27 percent of Americans supported gay marriage; now 54 percent is in favor. Change is coming to Peru,” he said.
On September 18, only 11 companies signed up to participate in the auction of Brazil’s pre-salt Libra oil field, one of the largest offshore oil discoveries since 2007. This outcome fell sharply below the Brazilian government’s expectations. In fact, Magda Chambriard, head of the Agência Nacional do Petróleo (National Petroleum Agency—ANP), said the following day that she expected about 40 companies to sign up for the auction.
Because of its size and recoverable potential, the Libra field is known as one of the “elephants of pre-salt.” The field is estimated to contain between 8 to 12 billion barrels of oil, making it one of the largest in the world. Therefore, the Brazilian authorities placed a hefty price tag on registering for the auction—$2.05 million reais, or just over $900,000.
The companies that registered to participate included several Asian firms, such as Petroliam Nasional and Petronas from Malaysia; Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited (ONGC) from India; and China’s National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) and China National Petroleum Corporation. There were also joint ventures—such as the Chinese company Sinopec’s alliance with Spain’s Repsol—in addition to individual international oil companies that will bid, such as Total S.A., Royal Dutch Shell and Mitsui. The only Latin American company to register was Ecopetrol of Colombia.
Analysts have pointed to the absence of large international companies such as ExxonMobil, Chevron, and BP as representing the “failure” of the registration process. As stated in a recent AS/COA report, “Brazil’s Energy Agenda: The Way Forward,” government intervention in the bidding process may have deterred some companies from participating. One such deterrent, for example, is that Petrobras must be the sole operator in the pre-salt fields, and they must take at least a 30 percent stake in the project.
The relative lack of interest may spur Petrobras to change the terms of its participation, but it is unlikely to do so. Petrobras CEO Maria das Graças Foster recently stated that the company has the technical capacity to explore and produce all the oil from Libra, but needs financial backing to invest. Thus, Petrobras will need the winning bidder to put up a large share of the oil to sell from its own account in order to maximize its financial gain.
Likely top stories this week: U.S. legislators make a last push for immigration reform; Correa visits Bolivia; The Colombian defense minister travels to Panama; Juan Manuel Santos declines help from Jesse Jackson; a Chilean general involved in the “Caravan of Death” commits suicide.
Renewed Push for Immigration Reform in U.S. House of Representatives: Despite a looming government shutdown, House Democratic leaders said last week that they plan to introduce a comprehensive immigration bill similar to the one passed in the Senate in June. Meanwhile, some House Republicans have been working on a series of bills that would address individual aspects of immigration reform, such as border security, the legal status of young undocumented immigrants and the creation of a low-skilled worker visa program. Immigration reform advocates are expected to participate in rallies across over 80 U.S. cities on October 5, and to converge on Washington DC on October 8 to demand a vote on comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship.
Correa to Visit Bolivia, Morales to Visit Argentina: The Bolivian government confirmed Sunday that Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa will visit Bolivia this week, while Bolivian President Evo Morales is scheduled to visit Argentina the following week. Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said that he will receive Correa on Thursday, October 3, and will discuss ways to strengthen bilateral relations. Correa last visited Bolivia on July 4, and Morales returned the visit to Ecuador on July 23.
Colombian Defense Minister Begins Seven-Country Tour: Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón will begin a seven-nation tour this week to discuss security with Central American and Caribbean leaders. On Monday, he will meet with Panamanian Security Minister José Raúl Mulino to discuss security along the countries' shared border and in the jungles of the Darién Gap, where the FARC's "Frente 57" has been active. Pinzón’s trip will conclude on October 4, after visits to Panama, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Santos Refuses Jesse Jackson's Offer to Mediate Hostage Release: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos declined an offer from U.S. civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson on Saturday to help mediate the release of a U.S. marine held hostage by the FARC since June. While in Cuba on Saturday, Jackson said that he was willing to help mediate the release of Afghanistan war veteran Kevin Scott Sutay, who was kidnapped on a trek to the Venezuelan border. The FARC invited Jackson to participate in the negotiations in a statement on Saturday after Jackson called for Sutay's release. However, Santos has said that he will only allow the Red Cross to receive Sutay.
Chilean General Who Served Pinochet Commits Suicide: Eighty-seven year-old former general Odlanier Mena fatally shot himself this Saturday, a day before he was scheduled to return to a military prison where he is serving a six-year jail term. Mena was found guilty of involvement in the "Caravan of Death," a military operation that rounded up and murdered at least 100 Chileans across the country opposed to Pinochet's 1973 coup. Chilean President Sebastián Piñera had announced plans to close the Cordillera military prison, where inmates had access to a tennis court, gardens, and a barbecue area, and Mena's lawyer said that the general was upset by the proposed move.
No son tiempos fáciles para Venezuela. En el tercer trimestre del año, la escasez de productos básicos continúa siendo una piedra en el zapato del Gobierno, el dólar paralelo—que inició 2012 cotizando en 17BsF—pasó la línea de 40BsF, la inflación se ubicó en 42,5 por ciento para agosto pasado, y la inversión extranjera fue de -15 por ciento, uno de los índices más bajos de la región. Con la debacle económica marcando la opinión pública y, peor aún, la calidad de vida de los ciudadanos, el presidente Nicolás Maduro tomó un avión para China la semana pasada.
La primera visita oficial del heredero político de Hugo Chávez se produce antes de completar un semestre en el Palacio de Gobierno. Fue un viaje expreso, pero con los resultados esperados: en tres días, el mandatario cerró un nuevo préstamo de 5 mil millones de dólares, y la promesa de inversiones por 14 mil millones de dólares en el área petrolera.
Con esta inyección de dinero, Venezuela suma 43 mil millons de dólares en préstamos de China en apenas seis años. El esquema, establecido en 2007 a través de la creación del Fondo Mixto Chino Venezolano, se centra en blindar créditos con la entrega de petróleo a precio fijo por un plazo determinado de años. Fue la fórmula que el entonces presidente Hugo Chávez encontró para materializar su interés por China. Desde el comienzo de su gestión el mandatario buscó caminos para sustentar su retórica anti americana, y una China en plena ebullición parecía, sin duda, la más atractiva de las alternativas.
Asia era un destino tan poco considerado por Venezuela, que cuando Chávez fue electo en 1999 la balanza comercial entre ambos países sumaba 1,9 mil millones de dólares. En la primera década de la revolución bolivariana, el intercambio creció 10 veces, alcanzando los 10,3 mil millones de dólares en 2010. Ese año fue significativo para la relación binacional: China autorizó un préstamo de 20,8 mil millones de dólares, el mayor concedido por autoridades bancarias chinas a un único deudor.
El dinero chino motorizó la economía venezolana. En teoría, debía ser destinado a proyectos de infraestructura nacional, agricultura y a la construcción de dos satélites, sin embargo, la ausencia de una contraloría real en el país dificulta discriminar cuánto se invirtió en proyectos a largo plazo, y cuánto sirvió para sostener el sistema populista y paternalista de Chávez, ratificado en trece elecciones consecutivas. La negociación no sólo ofrecía un atractivo en materia de política externa para alguien necesitado de antagonizar con Washington, sino que también representaba ventajas a lo interno. El dinero entraba rápidamente, sin condiciones que exigieran ajustes económicos inmediatos, y si los venezolanos durante años han dilapidado parte de su presupuesto subvencionando gasolina para consumo interno, ¿por qué iban a cuestionar al Gobierno por comprometer, por lo menos, 11 por ciento de la producción petrolera a varios años?
Next up on the world’s stage of Theater of the Absurd: Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro. Like his predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez, Maduro has as his mentors—in things big and small—Fidel and Raul Castro of Cuba. Always the masters of deception, the Castro brothers were caught red-handed this summer trying to ship weapons to North Korea. Now it is Maduro whom might have been caught red-handed, or should we say “red-faced,” trying to sneak Cuban intelligence agents into the United States.
Maduro had planned a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York. He never made it. Traveling on Cubana Airlines with a Venezuelan delegation that included his wife, son and daughter-in-law, a hair dresser and a bevy of Cuban security experts carrying Venezuelan passports, his plane landed in Canada for refueling, on a return flight from China. ABC, Madrid’s daily broke the story reporting that the United States denied visas to the Cubans, part of Maduro’s entourage. But according to U.S. government sources, what happened was that Maduro ordered his aircraft “to turn away when the US wouldn’t give them assurances that they would not be denied entry.” The State Department spokesman said that “No visas have been denied for the Venezuelan delegation to this year’s UN General Assembly.”
Maduro left in a fury vowing retaliation and “drastic actions.” Caracas’ El Universal quoted Maduro saying that “he dropped his trip to New York in order to safeguard his physical integrity.” El Universal also reported that the Venezuelan president “fingered former US officials Roger Noriega and Otto Reich for allegedly planning ‘a provocation’”. The possibility of Noriega and Reich, two Republican political appointees, directing any initiative of any kind by the Obama administration is zilch.
There was also some speculation that the Venezuelans feared the Cuban 767 would be seized, as Cuban vessels have been detained in various foreign countries in the past due to Havana’s failures to fulfill financial obligations.
The Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic ruled on Thursday that anyone born in the country after 1929 to undocumented immigrant parents would lose their citizenship.
Formerly, the Dominican Republic granted citizenship to anyone born on its soil. But starting in 2007, electoral authorities began denying identity documents to Dominicans of Haitian descent. Three years later, the government approved a new constitution stating that citizenship will be granted only to those born in the country to at least one parent of Dominican blood or whose foreign parents are legal residents.
Citing the 2010 constitution, Thursday’s ruling deemed that any Haitian migrants that came to work in the Dominican sugarcane fields since 1929 were seasonal workers “in transit,” and that their children were not entitled to automatic citizenship.
The Court said officials are studying birth certificates of more than 16,000 people, and gave the Electoral Commission one year to produce a list of people to be excluded from citizenship. The ruling overwhelming affects the estimated 1 million individuals of Haitian descent, throwing them into legal limbo.
Reed Brody, a spokesperson for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement that the ruling “cuts against the rights of thousands of people born in the Dominican Republic, and could immediately undermine their access to education and health services.” Some activists have said that they will contest the ruling before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
The decision will likely exacerbate already sour relations between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, who share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola and have a long history of conflict, including a massacre of 20,000 Haitians that was orchestrated by former Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo in 1937. Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe did not issue a statement in response to the ruling.
Brazil’s Supremo Tribunal Federal (Supreme Federal Tribunal—STF) was deeply divided on the afternoon of September 18. The court’s eleven justices had to decide whether they would accept a motion to hear the appeals of twelve politicians charged in last year’s landmark corruption trial, popularly deemed as the mensalão (monthly allowance).
Ten justices voted in last week’s decision: five voted in favor of the motion and five voted against it. The nation waited eagerly until last Wednesday to learn which way Justice Celso de Mello—the Court’s deciding vote—had leaned. If Justice Mello were to decide that the Court should deny the motion, the eight-year-long mensalão trial would have concluded that very day. But the result is now public: Justice Mello voted to accept the motion, thus beginning a new chapter in the historic case.
In a symbolic expression that represented the disappointment of millions of Brazilians who watched the televised judgment live on TV Justiça, Chief Justice Joaquim Barbosa appeared visibly frustrated upon learning of the results. But what does the decision mean, and why is the majority of the Brazilian public seemingly opposed to it?
The mensalão case has been recognized as the biggest corruption scandal in Brazilian history, involving important political figures such as José Dirceu, former chief-of-staff for President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and João Paulo Cunha, former president of the Câmara dos Deputados (Chamber of Deputies).
Collaborators organized an intricate vote-buying scheme to ensure that legislation received quick congressional approval from a diverse governing coalition that otherwise lacked consensus. The scheme started in 2003, during Lula’s first year as president, but was not made public until 2005. The infamous trial leveraged a series of allegations against 39 politicians—25 were ultimately sentenced to various criminal charges in 2012.
Brazil’s Supreme Court has historically been seen as the nation’s moral pillar. Following the court’s 2012 verdicts, the media and the Brazilian public celebrated the emblematic outcome as the beginning of a new era, in which those involved in corruption could finally be held accountable. Sadly, they rejoiced too soon—the appeals process would quickly prove them wrong.
A new CID Gallup poll on the Honduran presidential election in November released on Tuesday shows Xiomara Castro—the wife of former President Manuel Zelaya—has a slight lead. The poll estimates that Castro, representing the leftist Partido Libertad y Refundacion (Liberty and Refoundation Party—LIBRE) would receive 29 percent of votes, followed closely by conservative candidate Juan Orlando Hernández of the Partido Nacional de Honduras (National Party of Honduras) at 27 percent.
The election has focused primarily on citizen security and organized crime, issues of tremendous importance to a country which currently reports the world’s highest homicide rate. Castro’s party—a leftist coalition of unions, Indigenous and agrarian groups founded by Zelaya upon his return from a post-coup exile in 2011—has advocated community policing as a means to combat crime. In contrast, Hernández has proposed the creation of a “militarized police force” that would facilitate collaboration between police and military personnel.
Marco Cáceres, a Honduran political analyst, notes that the number of registered voters has increased considerably during each election cycle in the last decade—with the highest increase taking place between 2009 and 2013—but this has not translated into an equal bump in voter turnout. This election cycle may see a higher rate of voter participation due to the creation of new parties and frustration with the continued political and security crisis. According to Cáceres, the winning candidate is unlikely to receive more than 50 percent of the vote, threatening his or her presidential legitimacy and the country’s hopes for political stability.
¿Cómo se teje la democracia en red? Construyendo un puente entre el clic y el voto. Así de simple y ambiciosa es la propuesta de un grupo de jóvenes argentinos expertos en tecnología, que busca alcanzar una curul en la legislatura de Buenos Aires en las elecciones del próximo 27 de octubre, para representar la voz ciudadana en toda la extensión de la expresión.
Estos jóvenes crearon el Partido de la Red, un partido político que tiene como objetivo rescatar el concepto griego de democracia pero en la era digital: dándole poder al pueblo a través de un software. El partido ha recogido más de 6000 firmas (esas sí de manera personal, pues constitucionalmente solo el puño y letra es legal en Argentina) y la Justicia Electoral Argentina les validó 4244 adhesiones a comienzos de septiembre.
Así se convirtieron legalmente en una opción política alternativa, y es un hecho que a la hora de ejercer su voto los bonaerenses encontrarán una boleta con su logo: una figura de una red tejida por nodos, que simboliza los pares y cuyo diseño fue escogido mediante un proceso de crowdsourcing.
En las urnas, los ciudadanos podrán elegir una lista cerrada, con la promesa de que si el partido llega a alcanzar una curul, el diputado electo votará los proyectos de ley tal y como lo decida la mayoría de quienes usen su plataforma (de código abierto y libre).
¿El fin? Votar por ideas en lugar de personas para implementar un modelo de rendición de cuentas participativo. En vez del “que se vayan todos” de la caótica argentina del 2001, el partido propone un nuevo paradigma: “entremos todos a tomarnos la legislatura.”
“Sentimos que el sistema no nos representa y queremos construir esta nueva sociedad en red. ¿De dónde partimos? de la legislatura,” afirma Pía Mancini, politóloga, quien figura como número dos de la lista de candidatos del Partido para las elecciones legislativas. La antecede el licenciado en sociología Agustín Frizzera, y la componen 28 jóvenes más entre 20 y 40 años, más 30 suplentes. “Con que solo alcancemos una banca, vamos a demostrar que la herramienta es efectiva,” Mancini agregó.
Una red de 200 voluntarios entre los que hay al menos 50 programadores comenzó a tejer esta idea desde mayo de 2012. Ahora hilvana cómo hacer para que el software—el cual simulará una botonera como la de los diputados para marcar “Sí,” “No” o “Abstención”— permita además a los ciudadanos argumentar su voto y debatir con otros.
“No creemos en las estructuras verticales. Al contrario, apelamos a la inteligencia colectiva, incorporar al otro, crear nudos de conocimiento y confianza. Hay un sistema viejo que no quiere oír, mientras la tecnología se ha convertido en la válvula de conexión entre el Estado y la ciudadanía,” explicó Mancini.
El partido está inspirado en el Partido Pirata de Suecia que fue pionero en difundir el modelo de la llamada “democracia líquida,” la cual no es otra cosa que la posibilidad de cualquiera de participar con un voto virtual, directo o delegado en las decisiones de los parlamentos de este país escandinavo. En suma, el objetivo es brindar a los ciudadanos la posibilidad de ocupar escaños. Actualmente existen cerca de 20 partidos piratas en el mundo pero, como explica Mancini, estos usan el sistema de la red para tomar decisiones internas de los partidos, donde solamente votan los afiliados.
En las elecciones de abril pasado en Paraguay, el Movimiento Despertar Ciudadano intentó implementar una propuesta de software similar, pero no alcanzó la curul en los comicios. Los jóvenes de este partido siguen reforzando su propuesta con charlas por todo el país con miras a las próximas elecciones.
“La idea es llegar a una co-creación de proyectos de ley, que los ciudadanos también propongan. Incluso que otros partidos usen el software que es libre. Hace falta mucha transparencia en la política y la agenda del diputado debe ser pública,” agregó por su parte Don Powa, otro de los pares de esta red quien figura como el número 22 en la lista.
Argentina aprobó este año el voto a partir de los 16 años y los partidos más poderosos afinaron su artillería para seducir a esos novatos. El Frente para la Victoria de la presidente Cristina Fernández de Kirchner y Propuesta Republicana (PRO) de Mauricio Macri, que gobierna en capital, tienen las agrupaciones militantes más emblemáticas: La Cámpora (peronista) y Jóvenes Pro. Siendo los jóvenes quienes más consumen contenido en Internet, es un riesgo que inunden la plataforma para tergiversar los votos a favor de una corriente política.
“Como los proyectos son públicos y también el sistema, los usuarios deben registrarse con nombre, DNI y domicilio de la ciudad de Buenos Aires, para poder votar. Estamos trabajando para evitar que la plataforma sea cooptada por usuarios falsos”, explicó Powa.
Como una red que se va tejiendo de a poco, lo que ha logrado el Partido de la Red hasta ahora es una personería transitoria de 12 meses, que les permitirá ser partido nacional solo cuando tengan presencia en cinco distritos. Pero como bien explican los pares, cuando se habla de red, “la aspiración de poder es distinta,” y es allí donde, por ahora, una banca es suficiente para arañar la democracia.
September has been a difficult month for U.S. policy toward Latin America. Between the crisis in Syria and the NSA surveillance disclosures, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry cancelled an address to the annual CAF conference, Vice President Joe Biden cancelled a trip to Panama, and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff cancelled a state visit to Washington DC.
The sole exception to the raft of cancellations was the launch of the U.S.-Mexico High Level Economic Dialogue (HLED), which still took place on September 20 in Mexico City, in the presence of Biden and several U.S. cabinet officials.
That the Mexico trip was planned at all testifies to the importance of the economic relationship with our third-largest trading partner. That it happened according to schedule says a great deal about Biden’s emerging role as an envoy to the Americas, and about the Mexican administration’s pragmatism and diplomatic maturity.
Biden first outlined the Obama administration’s commitment to deepening engagement with the Western Hemisphere at the Council of the Americas’ 43rd Washington Conference on the Americas in May. Soon after, he traveled to Brazil, Colombia, and Trinidad and Tobago. He also hired Juan S. González, a well-respected Latin Americanist as his Special Advisor on the Western Hemisphere (a first for his small foreign policy team). This week, he is scheduled to meet with Uruguayan President José Mujica as well as with members of U.S. Congress for a wide-ranging conversation on the region. Previous presidents have appointed special envoys for the Americas, but in Obama’s second term, the vice president himself has emerged as the de facto—and much more powerful—emissary for U.S. interests to Latin America’s rising economic and diplomatic powers.
Of those powers, Mexico is the clear priority. “The Western Hemisphere has always mattered to the United States, but I think it matters more today because it has more potential than any time in American history,” Biden pronounced at the conference in May. Last week in Mexico, he was explicit about the primacy of economic interests with our NAFTA partner: “There is no relationship that we value more, there is no economic relationship that we think holds the most promise and there is no part of the world that has the opportunity to do as much to generate economic growth over the next 20 or 30 years in the hemisphere.”
Jamaican lawmakers debated a proposal on Tuesday to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana for personal use. Though no bill has been drafted, the preliminary discussion comes as a response to a motion introduced in January by lawmaker Raymond Pryce of the governing People’s National Party (PNP), who believes there is great economic and social potential in decriminalizing the drug.
Jamaicans have become increasingly opposed to the island’s drug policy, which results in the arrest of about 300 youth each week, limiting their future employability. “For personal use, the punishment of a criminal record is too much,” said Minister of State for Tourism and Entertainment Damion Crawford.
Government regulation and taxation could also be a boon for Jamaica’s struggling formal economy, with the promotion of marijuana-related tourism.
A 2001 government-appointed commission found that marijuana was “culturally entrenched” in Jamaican society and recommended legalization of recreational amounts. But given staunch opposition from the United States, such efforts were never realized. Now that several U.S. states—as well as Uruguay—have begun regulating marijuana use, Jamaican lawmakers feel emboldened to finally take on drug policy reform.
With the U.S. administration now engaged in trade talks regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and President Obama’s intention, expressed in his last State of Union address, to embark on a free trade arrangement with the European Union, it is clear that trade policy in the U.S. is in for a major shift. The Canada–U.S. commercial relationship, as we know it, will surely be in for a change. When you trade $1.5 billion of goods daily, neither country can remain indifferent if new commercial arrangements modify the status quo.
If we add to this the emerging energy revolution—related to shale gas and shale oil—that is bound to influence the U.S. economy, we can conclude that the U.S.’ major trading partners will soon face new challenges. It is becoming more apparent that the U.S. is heading toward energy self-sufficiency. By 2017, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the U.S. is expected to be the largest oil producer in the world. By 2020, it could be a net exporter of natural gas, and in 2030, the U.S. could be a net exporter of petroleum. This will have a direct impact on prices of those commodities, the cost of doing business and the potential growth of the U.S. manufacturing sector.
No one doubts the ingenuity and the innovative character of the U.S. economy. With a competitive advantage sparked by this new energy picture, one can conclude that the American economy may be in for important, positive and significant growth. Despite the uncertainty often associated with its domestic politics regarding deficit and debt issues, the U.S. economy is certain to be gradually transformed. The current Canada–U.S. commercial relationship, which is the largest in the world, will also be directly affected. Canada cannot afford to ignore what this new American challenge represents for its own future.
For Canada, this will require an even greater effort to diversify and pursue more aggressively new or alternative markets. It will also have to engage in more research and development, aim for greater productivity, attract more immigrants, and invest in greater manpower training. With our energy, our multiple natural resources , and our competitive high-tech sectors, Canada has already engaged with moderate success in diversifying its markets.
Leaders from throughout the hemisphere will convene in New York City today for the opening of the sixty-eight session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). For the third year in a row, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff will deliver the first address. In her speech, she is expected to propose global measures against cyber-espionage—a practice considered by Rousseff as a violation of human rights—following recent revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) monitored e-mails and phone calls of the presidential team and of Brazilian oil company Petrobras.
In addition to President Rousseff, other heads of state from the Americas that will be addressing the General Assembly today include U.S. President Barack Obama, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes, Uruguayan President José Mujica and Argentinian President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala have also confirmed their attendance.
A number of high-level meetings will take place throughout the week, covering topics that range from updates in the sustainable development agenda to more pressing political issues such as the crisis in Syria, U.S. diplomatic relations with Iran and the future of Israel-Palestine peace talks. The schedules and speakers for the following days of the General Debate will be announced on the night before of each daily session.
Human trafficking in Latin America has become a serious problem that can no longer be ignored. According to a 2012 estimate by the International Labour Organization (ILO), Latin America and the Caribbean account for the third largest number of forced laborers, at 1,800,000 victims. This number does not include trafficking for the removal of organs or for forced marriage/adoption.
Louise Shelley, a leading U.S. expert on transnational crime and terrorism, provides an explanation for this high number in her book Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective. According to Shelley, the region’s sordid history of colonialism and slavery “has created a permanent underclass in many countries that is ripe for exploitation by traffickers.” Furthermore, the region’s unstable cycles of military rule, democracy and populism has increased the vulnerability of its poor citizens.
Latin America has a notorious reputation for its high rates of inequality. While human trafficking is a very complicated international and intersectional phenomenon, one of the biggest factors behind trafficking is a lack of economic opportunities. In a region where around 167 million people live in poverty—66 million in extreme poverty—there is plenty of room for its citizens to be exploited.
Almost as disheartening as Latin America’s human trafficking problem is the lack of empirical research to help prevent it. Why is there such a paucity of regional research on the topic, when seven of the top-10 countries of origin for documented human trafficking cases in the U.S are from Latin America and the Caribbean?
Likely top stories this week: the UN General Assembly kicks off in New York; Peru’s minister of mines is optimistic about controversial projects; Mexico assesses damage from Tropical Storm Manuel and Hurricane Ingrid; Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro travels to China after sparring with the U.S.; a Brazilian rancher is sentenced in the murder of American nun and activist Dorothy Stang.
Latin American Leaders Attend UN General Assembly: On Tuesday, at least eleven Latin American heads of state are expected to attend the 68th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations. As of Sunday, the presidents of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay had officially confirmed attendance. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who will arrive in New York City on Monday, will open Tuesday’s general debate. Rousseff is expected to propose global measures against cyber-espionage after recent revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) monitored the e-mails and phone calls of Rousseff and Brazilian state oil company Petrobras.
Peruvian Mining Projects Expected to Resume: Peruvian Minister of Energy and Mines Jorge Merino said at a conference in Arequipa last week that Newmont Mining's $4.8 billion Conga copper and gold mine and Southern Copper's $1 billion Tia Maria copper project should be able to overcome community opposition and resume operation. Peruvian President Ollanta Humala suspended Tia Maria in 2011 and Conga in 2012 due to deadly mining protests. Protesters were concerned that the mining would impact the local water supply. The next large-scale mining project expected to start production is Minera Chinalco, Peru’s Toromocho copper project, which should begin before the end of the year.
Mexican Storm Death Toll Rises as Cleanup Begins: Mexican authorities said that approximately 115 people had died in from widespread flooding and mudslides in the wake of Tropical Storm Manuel and Hurricane Ingrid, which struck both sides of the country last week. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said on Sunday that the Mexican Congress will be forced to revise its 2014 budget to deal with the catastrophic damage. A mudslide in the town of La Pintada likely killed all 68 of the residents who remain missing.
U.S.-Venezuela Plane Incident Heightens Tensions: After the U.S. hesitated to grant Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro permission to fly through U.S. airspace on his way to China last Thursday, Maduro called the move a "serious offense" and Bolivian President Evo Morales said he would sue the United States for "crimes against humanity." Roberta S. Jacobson, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs said Friday that the U.S. had granted permission for Maduro's plane to fly over Puerto Rico after only one day, when it usually requires advance notice of three days for diplomatic flight requests. On Sunday, Maduro met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and signed 12 agreements to strengthen economic ties.
Mastermind of Amazon Murder Sentenced to 30 Years: A rancher who ordered the murder of American nun and longtime Amazon protection advocate Dorothy Stang was sentenced to 30 years in prison on Thursday night. Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura had already been tried three times and his last sentence was annulled by the Supreme Court. His lawyers plan to appeal the latest conviction. Of five people charged with involvement in the crime, only Bastos and another man are currently in prison.
Casi desde el principio de su período, el presidente Enrique Peña Nieto comenzó a presentar una serie de reformas que—de acuerdo con el discurso oficial—permitirán que México avance. Las dos primeras, las reformas laboral y bancaria, suscitaron grandes controversias y provocaron la oposición de algunos segmentos de la población, aunque muchos otros no se dieron por enterados. En la laboral, se estableció el pago por hora, y en la bancaria, decidieron penar con cárcel a los deudores de los bancos, entre otras cosas más.
Pero fue la presentación de la reforma educativa la que detonó una seria oposición de parte de los maestros agrupados en la llamada CNTE (Coordinadora Nacional de los Trabajadores de la Educación) y de algunos segmentos de los maestros agrupados en el SNTE (Sindicato Nacional de los Trabajadores de la Educación), quienes se han manifestado en diversas ciudades del país, pero especialmente en la ciudad de México, donde permanecieron en el Zócalo por varios días hasta que fueron desalojados el viernes 13 de septiembre por la policía federal, después de haber sufrido un linchamiento mediático sin precedentes por parte de las dos televisoras del país.
Pero, ¿qué es lo que reclaman los maestros? De acuerdo con la reforma, se establece un sistema de evaluación que ellos deberán cumplir para continuar desempeñando sus labores. Hasta aquí, todo bien. El problema viene en la forma en que dichas evaluaciones se llevaran a cabo, pues más bien parece que con ello el gobierno busca recuperar el control del magisterio, pues fuera de la evaluación, no cambian en nada las condiciones en que se imparte la educación en México.
What’s more important to a Brazilian than allegations of U.S. spying on their president? Not the stuttering economy, rising inflation, preparations for next year’s World Cup and 2016 Olympics, or even the looming presidential election—all of which factored into recent nationwide demonstrations still reverberating in outbursts of violent protest.
Futebol. And with it comes one of the most important questions in Brazil, impacting every Brazilian day to day and how they interact with each other and the world.
Who’s your futebol club?
As a recent transplant to Rio de Janeiro, I expected deep conversations about democracy and rule of law. More often, I face existential questions about why one is loyal to a losing team, forcing me into a dilemma that Brazilians rarely confront. Most Brazilians are born into fandom, their allegiance to one of the nation’s futebol clubs received at birth from their parents and grandparents and seemingly all the way back to the founders of the Brazilian futebol league in the early 20th century.
But I would have to choose a club—which, in Brazil, is like choosing a religion itself. It means community, belonging, and—for a newcomer like me—arrival. For a gringo to speak Portuguese is good; to support a Brazilian futebol club is divine.
Panama and Colombia are expected to sign a bilateral free trade agreement in Panama City today, finalizing a commitment that was reached by the two countries last June. Panamanian Minister of Commerce and Industry Ricardo Quijano and Colombian Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism Sergio Díaz-Granados will participate in the official treaty-signing ceremony.
During a television interview yesterday, Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli expressed optimism about the agreement, saying that it is pivotal for Panama’s integration into the Pacific Alliance. Panama currently has free trade agreements with Chile and Peru and seeks to establish bilateral trade agreements with other Pacific Alliance member states—including Mexico, Chile and Colombia.
Martinelli also confirmed that the agreement will end what he has deemed an "unfair and detrimental” aspect of Panama’s trade relationship with Colombia. Currently, Colombia imposes a 10 percent “re-exportation” tariff on Panamanian-produced textiles and footwear before they are shipped internationally from Colombia’s free trade zone, Zona Libre de Colón. Last year, Colombian exports to Panama amounted to $2.857 billion, 80 percent of which was accounted for by crude oil. In contrast, Panama only exported $72 million of goods to Colombia, represented mainly by apparel shipments.
Powerful Tropical Storm Manuel—which together with Tropical Storm Ingrid has already killed at least 81 people across 11 states in Mexico—was upgraded to a category one hurricane today. Hurricane Manuel has sustained winds of 75 mph (120km/hour) near Acapulco, with projections it will continue to travel northwest along the coast of Sinaloa state for the next several days.
Meteorologists called the weather “unusual,” noting that the hurricane is hitting Mexico at the same time that tropical storm Ingrid has made landfall on the opposing Gulf Coast. This is the first time the country has been affected by two tropical storms within less than 24 hours since 1958.
Fifty eight civilians are still missing after a massive landslide left by Hurricane Manuel in the remote village of La Pintada. Governor Angel Aguirre of the state of Guerrero said that it is “very likely that these […] people lost their lives.” Mexican Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong echoed the comments, saying rescue workers have not yet been able to search the area for survivors due to unsafe land conditions.
The civilian airport in Acapulco was flooded and lost electrical power, prompting cargo ships to make emergency food deliveries to the isolated area. Ten thousand tourists have since been removed from the area by emergency military airlifts, with an estimated 30,000 remaining stranded. Mexican Transportation Secretary Rodrigo Ramírez Reyes said authorities would not be able to reopen highways connecting Acapulco to other major roads before Friday.
RIO DE JANEIRO—How quickly it all unraveled.
Less than four months ago, U.S. President Barack Obama sent his vice president to Brazil to personally deliver an invitation for President Dilma Rousseff to visit Washington this October. It was the only such invitation extended to any foreign leader in 2013, and the first for a Brazilian president since 1995.
To be sure, Rousseff had already met with Obama in Washington in 2012—following Obama’s visit to Brasília in 2011—but this official state visit was to include a welcome ceremony, 21-gun salute, dinner at the White House, and meetings on trade. In delivering the invite in May, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden called 2013 “the beginning of a new era of relations between Brazil and the United States.”
This year has indeed turned out to be the beginning of a new era, but now for all the wrong reasons.
On September 17, Rousseff canceled her October 23 visit, a decision forced by two months of drip-drip revelations in local media O Globo that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has been monitoring millions of phone calls and emails sent by citizens across Brazil, including those of Rousseff herself and the state-owned oil giant Petrobras. Not even an 11th-hour phone call from Obama to Rousseff on Monday night could salvage the trip.
Who bears the responsibility?
Roberto Izurieta, head of the Latin America Department at George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management, places the fault at the feet of Rousseff for allowing the spying allegations to drive a wedge.
“In any kind of relations, you can focus on what unifies us all, or on the problems that divide us,” he said. “In my opinion, the president of Brazil chose the second.”
Brazilian media, meanwhile, praised Rousseff’s response to the White House’s reported failure to adequately investigate the allegations of espionage. In an official statement, Rousseff cited “the absence of timely investigation of the incident” as a reason for canceling. The White House said yesterday that an ongoing review of its intelligence posture “will take several months to complete.”
In the wake of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff officially postponing her October state visit to Washington on Tuesday, Brazil is planning to increase its online independence and bolster its cyber security in the coming months. The decision comes in response to leaked evidence that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) had spied on the Brazilian government and the Brazilian national oil company, Petrobras.
To lessen Brazilian’s vulnerability to spying, Dilma intends to store more online data domestically and rout web traffic away from U.S. servers. However, some experts warn that the new measures could lead to a balkanization of the Internet, threatening its current open, interconnected structure. Critics fear that Brazil’s cyber-isolationism could also embolden repressive regimes to control their citizens’ online access.
Ironically, Brazil is in the midst of scaling up its own surveillance system ahead of the 2014 World Cup. Launched in April, the Integrated Command and Control Center (CICC) will not spy on personal communications like the NSA did, but it will monitor all roads and public spaces through 560 camera across Rio de Janeiro. The CICC is also requesting permission from the federal aviation body to use drones for surveillance during the World Cup as they were used during the Confederations Cup in June.
Last week’s address to the nation by U.S. President Barack Obama showed the complexity of the debate regarding Syria and the chemical attack of August 21. Military strikes were still on the table during Obama’s address, but at the end of week Russia and the United States had come to an agreement regarding chemical weapons in Syria and the renewed role of the United Nations in eventually eliminating them. While still open to doubt and debate about its impact and its results, it is easier to deal with diplomacy, even if it fails, than a potential war with no clear objectives or exit strategy.
Less than a month after the atrocious use of such weapons against a civilian population, Bashar al-Assad’s government now acknowledges the possession of such weapons when he spent years denying he had them. This is no small feat, since Russia—the prime supplier of such armaments—began the process with the U.S. after days of attributing the attack to the rebels.
U.S. domestic politics, being what they are, are once again the subject of renewed partisanship (the GOP still has no coherent policy on Syria), division on means and objectives, and a general lack of public support for any military enterprise against Syria. Obama’s decision to ask Congress may have been in line with his campaign rhetoric of 2008, but it had a lot to do with the British government losing a vote for the first time in 150 years on military action. Since then, Obama’s detractors in Congress have given Russian President Vladimir Putin the credit for getting Obama “off the hook.” They go a step further by calling Obama weak.
The fact is that the U.S. population is war-weary and skeptical about its leaders in both parties, as well as claims about the national interest. When we go back to Lyndon Baines Johnson and the Vietnam War, Reagan and the Iran-Contra saga, or Bush’s claims of weapons of mass destruction to bring about regime change in Iraq, it is not surprising that Obama was facing an uphill battle with the general public to get an endorsement for military strikes.