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  • Monday Memo: Summit of the Americas—Venezuela–U.S. relations—Citibank Inspection—Bolivian Missile Trial—Canada-Venezuela Oil

    April 6, 2015

    by AQ Online

    This week’s likely top stories: The Summit of the Americas commences in Panama; petition criticizes U.S. action against Venezuela; Argentine Central Bank inspects Citibank; TSJ initiates missiles trial in Bolivia; Canada and Venezuela discuss investment in Venezuelan oil.

    Americas Summit Begins This Week in Panama: The seventh Summit of the Americas will take place this week from April 10 to 11 in Panama City, the first summit in which the leaders of all 35 countries in the hemisphere—including Cuba—will participate. Topics such as climate change, immigration, violence, and energy needs will be on the agenda, although U.S.–Cuba relations may dominate the summit.  Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro will meet in person for the first time since they announced renewed diplomatic relations in December 2014, and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson confirmed on Friday that there would be an “interaction” between the two leaders. Meanwhile, Cuban dissidents have been invited to a separate meeting for civil society at the summit. Cuban dissident Rosa María Payá A. stated on Twitter yesterday that Panamanian authorities stopped and searched her at the airport upon arrival in Panama, and she was released after several hours.

    Petition against Obama’s Action on Venezuela Gains Ground: Critics of President Barack Obama’s March 9 executive action that declared Venezuela a national security threat have circulated a petition that had gained over 8 million signatures by Saturday. The petition began in Venezuela, although many countries throughout the region have expressed their support for Venezuela. In March, all member nations of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) rejected Obama’s action against the country, which also included sanctions against select Venezuelan officials accused of human rights abuses and corruption. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro thanked supporters via Twitter on Sunday. Growing tension between the U.S. and Venezuela, which have not had full diplomatic relations since 2008, threatens to overshadow other issues to be discussed at the Summit of Americas this week.

    Argentina’s Central Bank Sends Inspectors to Citibank for Supervision: On Monday, the Argentine Central Bank sent regulators to Citibank headquarters in Buenos Aires for an inspection. Central Bank president Alejandro Vanoli said that the inspection aimed to ensure that Citibank would be able to run normally without CEO Gabriel Ribisich, who was dismissed by the Central Bank on Wednesday for not following local regulations regarding Argentine interest payments on restructured debt. The Central Bank gave Citibank 24 hours to find a replacement for Ribisich, but the deadline was extended to Monday, due to the closure of banks for local holidays. Local entities, such as the Argentine Banks Association, the Argentine Business Association and the United States Chamber of Commerce in Argentina expressed their support for Citibank and criticized the decision. Citibank could still appeal the decision today.

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    Tags: Nicolás Maduro, U.S.-Cuba relations, Orinoco oil belt, Argentina debt

  • Family Members of Guatemalans Infected in Disease Study File Lawsuit

    April 2, 2015

    by AQ Online

    On Wednesday, nearly 800 people filed a $1 billion lawsuit against Johns Hopkins University for its role in a research study that infected more than 1,600 Guatemalans with sexually transmitted diseases in the 1940s and 1950s. The plaintiffs include family members of individuals who died from complications from diseases they contracted during the study, which sought to study penicillin’s effect on the spread of gonorrhea, chancres and syphilis among sex workers, mental patients, prisoners, and soldiers.

    The research, known as the U.S. Public Health Service Sexually Transmitted Disease Inoculation Study of 1946-1948, came to light in 2010, prompting apologies from President Barack Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to then-Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom. The next year, a presidential commission on bioethical research called the study a “gross violations of ethics,” and said the experiments constituted “especially egregious moral wrongs because many of the individuals involved held positions of public institutional responsibility.”

    Such individuals included the U.S. surgeon general, the U.S. attorney general, Army and Navy medical officials, the presidents of the American Medical Association and the National Academy of Sciences, and experts from Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and the Universities of Pennsylvania and Rochester, who participated on a government committee that reviewed the research proposal and approved it for funding.

    Johns Hopkins spokesperson Kim Hoppe called the lawsuit an “attempt by the plaintiffs’ counsel to exploit a historic tragedy for monetary gain.” Robert Mathias, the lead counsel for Johns Hopkins, called the lawsuit "baseless,” saying the university “did not initiate, pay for or direct” the study. A Rockefeller spokesperson called the experiments "morally repugnant," but said the foundation would fight the lawsuit, stating that it had no role in the study’s planning, funding or execution.

    The lawsuit, filed in Baltimore Circuit Court, also named the Rockefeller Foundation and pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb as defendants. The victims’ lawyer, Paul Bekman, said the case was about “accountability and responsibility.”

    Wednesday’s lawsuit isn’t the first related to the nearly 70-year-old study. Victims and their families filed a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. government in 2012, but the government rejected the suit on the grounds that the U.S. government can’t be sued for damages it caused abroad.

    Tags: Guatemala, Public Health, Johns Hopkins, Lawsuit

  • Mil maneras de ¨hackear” el Congreso

    April 2, 2015

    by Jenny Manrique

    La pregunta que el cofundador y director de Personal Democracy Media, Micah L. Sifry, se hizo en su libro, “The Big Disconnect: Why the Internet Hasn’t Transformed Politics (Yet)” (“La gran desconexión: Por qué Internet no ha transformado la política (aún)”), ocupa desde hace años la mente de activistas, politólogos, hackers, periodistas y todos aquellos quienes creemos que la democracia y la transparencia son valores intrínsecos de las sociedades.

    Y por eso, cada vez son más comunes los espacios en que, de manera voluntaria, esta nueva tribu de transformadores que quieren cambiar la política a través de la red se da cita para crear herramientas tecnológicas que ayuden a los funcionarios públicos a mejorar su desempeño dentro de los órganos del poder público, y a crear canales de comunicación directa con los ciudadanos para escuchar sus opiniones y asimismo rendirles cuentas.

    En encuentros cívicos semanales o por un día entero, los “hacktivistas” se ofrecen para realizar talleres sobre los datos públicos, realizando visualizaciones de estadísticas o creando aplicaciones para entender órganos tan complejos como el Congreso. Estas sesiones son conocidas como “hackatones” (hackathons).

    Precisamente el Ash Center para la Gobernanza Democrática y la Innovación del Harvard Kennedy School, junto con fundaciones como Opengov y PopVox, patrocina actualmente una competencia entre equipos multidisciplinarios (no sólo para programadores) para diseñar propuestas para ayudar al Congreso de Estados Unidos ser más eficiente, eficaz y responsable ante los ciudadanos. La competencia, conocida como #Hack4Congress, ya tuvo lugar en Cambridge y San Francisco, y se realizará la última “hackaton” en Washington DC el próximo 29 de abril. Los equipos ganadores de las tres ediciones presentarán sus propuestas a los legisladores y el personal del Congreso de EEUU a finales de la primavera.

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    Tags: Hackathons, Internet, Hack4Congress, citizen participation

  • Cuba, U.S. Conclude First Dialogue on Human Rights

    April 1, 2015

    by AQ Online

    With the conclusion on Tuesday of the first formal talks between Cuba and the United States on human rights, both countries agreed that they were capable of holding a “respectful, professional [and] civilized conversation” on the issue of human rights. 

    Representatives from both countries met yesterday in Washington DC in the first of many dialogues to be held between the U.S. and Cuba as part of the process to normalize bilateral relations, first announced by U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro on December 17, 2014.

    The U.S. delegation was led by Tom Malinowski, the U.S. undersecretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor. Meanwhile, Pedro Luis Pedroso, deputy director of multilateral affairs and international law at the Cuban Foreign Ministry, headed the Cuban delegation.

    Cuban Ambassador Anaysansi Rodríguez Camejo acknowledged “differences” between the two sides in terms of how human rights “are protected and promoted in their respective countries as in the international arena.”

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    Tags: Cuba, Human Rights, U.S.-Cuba relations

  • Broken DREAMs in Albany’s Budget

    April 1, 2015

    by Perla López

    When my mother decided to bring my brothers and me to this country from Mexico six years ago, she did it because she wanted us to have a better future.  My mom is a single mother with five children, and she always explained to us that the educational system here was much better than in my country. That was the simple reason why she brought us to the United States. Right now, I’m in 11th grade, and my dream is to go to college and have a good career.

    Being in college would mean a lot to me: not only because of how proud it would make my mom, but because I would be the first woman in my family to go to college. But without financial aid, college is something that my family would not be able to afford—it’s just too expensive. The problem is, without the New York State DREAM Act, I can’t apply for New York’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) because I’m undocumented. Simply put, I can’t pursue my dreams because of my immigration status.

    The New York State DREAM Act had brought me high hopes of going to college. I am willing to work as much as it takes to qualify for tuition assistance if the DREAM Act passes and opens up the door to college to me. It would also make my mother—who gave up everything to bring us to this country for a better education—less worried about whether or not I’ll be able to go to college.

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    Tags: DREAM Act, Andrew Cuomo, immigrants, Education

  • Dozens of Companies Investigated in Brazil's Latest Corruption Scandal

    March 31, 2015

    by AQ Online

    In an article published on Saturday, the Brazilian daily O Estado de S. Paulo released the names of 29 of the 70 companies under investigation for bribery in Brazil’s latest corruption scandal.

    The companies being investigated by Brazil's Federal Public Ministry include large banks such as Santander, as well some of Brazil’s largest public and private enterprises, among them Embraer and the country’s embattled state-run oil giant, Petrobras. The companies are suspected of paying bribes to members of Brazil’s Conselho Administrativo de Recursos Fiscais (Administrative Council of Tax Appeals—CARF), a body within the Finance Ministry that deals with tax disputes, in order to reduce or avoid fines for tax evasion.

    The federal investigation, called Operação Zelotes (Operation Zealots), began in 2013 but exploded into the public consciousness last Thursday, when federal police raided CARF headquarters and the offices of several of the companies and individuals believed to be involved in the scheme. While no arrests were made, authorities seized 1.3 million reais in cash (about $400,000), as well as reams of documents. Investigators have shown that the scheme has cost government coffers $1.8 billion, but believe that the real number could be as high as $5.9 billion.

    Several companies, including Brasil Foods (BRF) and Marcopolo, have released statements denying any wrongdoing.  In a press release, BRF stated that it will “take all measures necessary to protect its interests.” Others have taken a different tack. Federico Paiva, one of the prosecutors leading the investigation, indicated yesterday that several of the companies under investigation have signaled their willingness to enter into a plea bargain. The Federal Public Ministry has reportedly begun to analyze those proposals today.

    Tags: Brazil, corruption, Operação Zelotes

  • Monday Memo: Bolivian Elections—U.S.-Cuba talks—Caribbean Bitcoin—UNASUR on U.S. Relations—Chile Floods

    March 30, 2015

    by AQ Online

    This week’s likely top stories: Bolivia holds local elections; Cuba and the U.S. to discuss human rights; Caribbean Bitcoin exchange launches; UNASUR head urges closing of U.S. military bases in the region; Chile rejects Bolivian aid for flood victims.

    Bolivia’s MAS Party Loses La Paz in Local Elections: Bolivian citizens elected local government leaders on Sunday, with President Evo Morales’ party, Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement Towards Socialism—MAS) winning most governments, according to unofficial results. MAS won four out of nine provinces (Pando, Potosí, Oruro and Cochabamba) outright, and led in two other provinces that will now advance to a second round of votes on May 3, due to a close race. However, MAS lost La Paz, as well as Santa Cruz and Tarija provinces. Félix Patzi, from the Solidaridad y Libertad party (Solidarity and Liberty) secured approximately 52 percent of the votes for the governorship of La Paz. Official results are expected later on Monday.

    U.S. Confirms Human Rights Meeting with Cuba: On Friday, a U.S. government spokesperson confirmed that U.S. and Cuban officials will meet on Tuesday, March 31 in Washington, DC for a preliminary discussion on human rights. The undersecretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, Tom Malinowski, will lead the U.S. delegation. Pedro Luis Pedroso, deputy director of multilateral affairs and international law at the Cuban Foreign Ministry, said that the Cuban delegation will detail the country’s current and past successes in the area of human rights. This will be the fourth round of talks since the re-establishment of ties between the two countries. U.S. President Barack Obama hopes to re-open embassies before the Summit of the Americas in Panama on April 10-11.

    Caribbean Bitcoin Exchange Launched: The Caribbean Bitcoin exchange “Bitt,” which is based in Barbados, was launched on Monday. Bitt, powered by digital currency exchange software company AlphaPoint, will be operating after confirming $1.5 million in seed funding from venture capital group Avatar Capital. The exchange will allow customers to trade in 11 fiat currencies, including the U.S. dollar and the euro.  CEO Gabriel Abed praised the positive impact that Bitt will have. “By facilitating trade between traditional and digital currency markets, Bitt is creating the platform for very low-cost international commerce and remittance between the people who need it most—the millions of unbanked and underbanked citizens in the Caribbean,” he said.

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    Tags: Movimiento al Socialismo, Human Rights, UNASUR, Bitcoin

  • Six Months after Ayotzinapa, Search for Justice Continues

    March 27, 2015

    by Alexandra Délano

    March 26 marked the sixth straight month that Mexicans around the world have mobilized to express their dissatisfaction and frustration with the wave of violence, impunity and corruption that has swept the country in the past decade.

    According to the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances, more than 23,000 Mexicans are currently registered as missing, journalists and scholars are threatened and silenced, and everyday spaces are invaded by the various manifestations of this violence. The disappearance of 43 students from the teachers’ college of Ayotzinapa—with the clear involvement of local authorities, police and members of drug cartels in Guerrero—and the deaths of six others in the same protest last September, has stoked the fire of an already actively engaged civil society.

    From the Movimiento por la Paz con Justicia y Dignidad (Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity), which marks its fourth anniversary this month, to the #YoSoy132 movement that began in 2012, the clamor for peace, justice, truth, and accountability has only grown stronger.

    The Mexican government has attempted to put an end to the protests and criticism by bringing the Ayotzinapa case to a quick conclusion and by recently replacing Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam, infamous for muttering “ya me cansé” (“I’m tired”) at a press conference after the students’ disappearance—a phrase that was quickly repurposed as the slogan of a massive protest movement on social media under the hashtag #YaMeCansé.

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    Tags: Ayotzinapa, Ya Me Cansé, Mexico

  • Russian Foreign Minister Concludes Tour of Latin America

    March 27, 2015

    by AQ Online

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov culminated a four-country tour of Latin America on Thursday in what was widely seen as Moscow’s latest bid to counteract Western sanctions over Russia’s policies in Ukraine and Crimea. Earlier this week, Lavrov met with heads of state Raúl Castro in Cuba, Juan Manual Santos in Colombia and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. Lavrov ended his trip Thursday after visiting Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina and meeting top officials at the Central American Integration System (SICA) in Guatemala City to discuss Russia's relationship with Central America.

    This is the second visit the foreign minister has paid to the region within the last year—in April 2014, barely a month after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, he traveled to Nicaragua, Cuba, Chile, and Peru. Several months later, in July 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin also made stops in Argentina, Cuba and Nicaragua prior to attending the BRICS international conference in Brazil.

    Lavrov said that one of his main objectives in Havana on Tuesday was to discuss U.S. trade policies with the island. While he remarked that the normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations is viewed positively by Russia , he also called for an immediate end to the U.S. trade embargo. Lavrov also declared Washington’s policies “totally inconsistent,” comparing the U.S. détente with Cuba to its tense relationship with Venezuela.

    “Even as the U.S. was taking this step with Cuba, it was simultaneously pressuring Venezuela, declaring it a threat to U.S. national security. We would like the United States to stop looking for enemies in its geographical surroundings and listen to a unanimous voice of Latin America and the Caribbean Basin,” he stated.

    Despite recent speculation that Nicaragua and Russia intend to re-establish military ties through Nicaragua’s purchase of Russian fighter jets, reports from the meeting in Managua on Wednesday did not include specifics about such negotiations. Instead, Ortega voiced a desire to collaborate on projects related to agriculture, transportation infrastructure, civil aviation, satellite navigation, and the pharmaceutical industry.

    Tags: Russia-Latin America Relations, Diplomacy, U.S. Cuba policy

  • Politics and the ISIS Resolution Extension

    March 26, 2015

    by John Parisella

    When the Canadian House of Commons adopted a resolution back in early October 2014 to join the coalition to combat ISIS beyond its foothold in Syria and Iraq, there was a provision for a renewal of the commitment in six months.  This Tuesday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper introduced a new motion to extend Canada’s role in the coalition for another year.  A major modification, however, expanded operations to include airstrikes in Syria—a sovereign country torn by civil war with a leader who has committed his own atrocities.

    This being an election year, debate in the House has predictably strong partisan overtones.

    The Harper government, fully conscious of the majority support Canadian have expressed in recent polls for Canada’s participation in the coalition, has argued to extend the ISIS mission to avoid a greater security threat at home.  The so-called lone-wolf terrorist acts in the autumn in both St.-Jean, Québec (where a Canadian soldier was killed), and on Parliament Hill in Ottawa (where a reserve soldier standing guard was also killed) only reinforced Canadian support.

    Bill C-51, the proposed legislation  to give increased powers to Canada’s intelligence-gathering agency (CSIS), also benefits from majority support, even as the debate rages on between those wanting stronger security measures and those fearful of the lack of civilian oversight for the protection of civil liberties.  It is fair to say that the Harper government sees further gain for its electoral prospects.

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    Tags: Canada, Stephen Harper, ISIS

  • Chile Declares State of Emergency for Regions Affected by Floods, Fires

    March 26, 2015

    by AQ Online

    On March 25, Chile’s Interior Ministry declared a state of emergency for cities in the country’s northern Atacama and Antofogasta regions after flash flooding from the worst rains in two decades left at least four people dead and 22 missing. Meanwhile, high temperatures and strong winds in southern Chile are making it harder for authorities to fight forest fires that have raged for weeks and have affected over 11,000 acres in three protected areas.

    Overflowing rivers in northern Chile forced residents out of their homes and onto roofs, while mudslides cut off road access to several small towns. Approximately 1,500 people had to take refuge into shelters. On Wednesday evening, 48,000 people were without drinking water and 38,500 were without electricity.

    In response to the flooding, President Michelle Bachelet traveled to Copiapó in Atacama on Wednesday evening after authorizing the armed forces to assist in rescue operations.

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    Tags: Natural Disasters, Chile, Climate change

  • Uruguay Will No Longer Accept Guantanamo Refugees

    March 25, 2015

    by AQ Online

    On Monday night, Uruguayan Minister of Foreign Affairs Rodolfo Nin Novoa announced that Uruguay will no longer offer asylum to additional Guantanamo prisoners, amid reports that one of the ex-prisoners currently living in Montevideo is threating to go on a hunger strike.

    Novoa said in a press conference that the decision by Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez’ administration to not receive any more ex-prisoners from Guantánamo Prison was “definitive.” The minister also added that Uruguay would postpone the arrival of refugees from Syria until the end of the year due to “cultural and infrastructural shortcomings” and a need to better plan “these kinds of operations.” Forty-two Syrian refugees arrived in Uruguay last October after the government admitted them on humanitarian grounds.

    Minister Novoa’s announcement marks a departure from the foreign policy agenda of former Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, who received a total of six released prisoners from Guantánamo on December 7, 2014, making Uruguay the second country, after El Salvador in 2012, to receive detainees from the U.S. prison in Cuba. This February, prior to his departure from office, Mujica visited five of the six former prisoners in their home and encouraged them to learn Spanish as quickly as possible so they can go back to work and restart their lives. Four of the former prisoners are from Syria, one is Palestinian, and another is Tunisian.

    Former prisoner Jihad Ahmed Mustafa Dhiab, 43, reportedly said that he would begin a hunger strike and chain himself outside the walls of the U.S. embassy in Montevideo in order to demand that the U.S. offer compensation for the years of torture and imprisonment he has suffered. However, Dhiab’s lawyer told the press in Uruguay that Dhiab has no such plans.

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    Tags: Uruguay, Guantanamo Bay, Refugees

  • Brazilian Economy Projected to Suffer Worst Contraction in 25 Years

    March 24, 2015

    by AQ Online

    Brazil’s economy is expected to contract by 0.83 percent this year and inflation to climb to 8.12 percent, according to the Brazilian Central Bank’s weekly survey of financial experts, which was released yesterday. The growth forecast for 2016 was also lowered from 1.3 percent last week to 1.2 percent this week. According to Bruno Rovai, an analyst at Barclays, “[…] incoming data supported our view that Brazil will face a recession this year, and that any strong recovery will be hard to achieve next year.”

    Yesterday’s survey marks the 12th consecutive week of worsening forecasts on the Brazilian economy, and come at a tense time for Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who is dealing with an escalating corruption scandal involving the state-run oil company, Petrobras. Rousseff has also received criticism, including from traditional allies, for austerity measures that her government has introduced to manage Brazil’s deficit and inflation woes.

    “We do not discard the possibility that political risks could increase in the next few weeks, given Petrobras’ audit result deadline or corruption investigations escalating further,” said Rovai. Petrobras is due to publish its audited fourth quarter results at the end of the month.

    Tags: Brazilian Economy, Dilma Rousseff

  • Monday Memo: Peru Spying Allegations—Argentine Debt—Costa Rican Energy—Venezuelan Opposition—Mexican Missing Students Case

    March 23, 2015

    by AQ Online

    This week's likely top stories: Intelligence chiefs to be replaced in Peru; Citigroup is permitted to process Argentine debt payment; Costa Rica sets global clean energy record; former Spanish PM to defend Venezuelan opposition leaders; Ayotzinapa victims’ families visit Amnesty International.


    Peruvian Intelligence Chiefs Fired amid Spying Allegations: The Peruvian Presidency of the Council of Ministers issued two resolutions that were published on Sunday, announcing the dismissal of Ivan Kamisaki, the executive director of the National Directorate of Intelligence (DINI), and accepting the resignation of Javier Briceño, the national intelligence director. Kamisaki and Briceño were accused of spying and misconduct after media outlets published information allegedly gathered by DINI on citizens, including former President Alejandro Toledo and current Defense Minister Pedro Cateriano. In February, Prime Minister Ana Jara announced that DINI would be temporarily closed for restructuring in response to complaints that it had spied on opposition politicians.

    U.S. Judge Authorizes Citigroup to Process Argentine Debt Payments: Citigroup announced in a statement on Saturday that U.S. judge Thomas Griesa has authorized the bank to resume processing interest payments for Argentine bonds, with payments now scheduled for March 31 and possibly June 30, 2015. The bank had been caught in the middle of the dispute between the Argentine government and U.S. “holdout” creditors who refused to restructure their debt, leading Argentina to go into default for the second time in 13 years in August 2014. Previously, Griesa had permitted Argentina to pay restructured bond holders, but later decided that Argentina could not pay those creditors until it had paid holdouts. NML Capital, one of the holdouts, said it had reached an agreement with Citibank on Sunday to allow the interest payments to resume. The bank recently said it could lose its banking license in Argentina if it is not allowed to make interest payments.

    Costa Rica Sets Renewable Energy Record: On Sunday, Costa Rica set a global record for renewable energy use, cementing its status as a world leader in clean energy. The Central American nation has experienced heavy rainfall in recent months, and on Sunday, the country set a record by going 75 days in a row using 100 percent renewable energy. Costa Rica relies on four hydroelectric dams to supply its energy needs, has not used fossil fuels since December 2014. Renewable energy expert Jake Richardson warned that the country should make sure to diversify its renewable sources, as the availability of hydro power can vary widely with the seasons, and hydroelectric dams can harm river ecosystems.

    Former Spanish Prime Minister to Defend Venezuelan Opposition Leaders: Felipe González Márquez, Spain’s Socialist Prime Minister from 1982 to 1996, will join the defense team of imprisoned Venezuelan politicians Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma, announced his spokesperson Joaquín Tagar on Monday. González, a lawyer by profession, has expressed concern about the current political and economic crisis in Venezuela. López has been incarcerated since February 2014 and Ledezma, the mayor of Caracas, was arrested in February 2015 for an alleged plot against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

    Families of Missing Mexican Students Appeal to Amnesty International: Felipe de la Cruz, the father of one of the survivors of the tragic attack on students in Ayotzinapa, Mexico in September 2014, spoke to the U.S. branch of Amnesty International on Saturday in New York City. The families of the students went to Amnesty International to present their case in hopes of receiving recommendations from the human rights organization on how to advance their cause. The families also aim to visit the United Nations, but a meeting has not yet been confirmed. Saturday’s presentation was part of “Caravana 43,” a tour of 43 cities across the U.S. to boost support for an independent investigation into the victims’ fates.

    Tags: Argentina debt, renewable energy, Ayotzinapa, Leopoldo Lopez, Antonio Ledezma

  • Negotiations Continue over Panama’s Barro Blanco Dam

    March 23, 2015

    by Louisa Reynolds

    A new round of negotiations will begin on March 27 over Panama’s $225 million Barro Blanco hydroelectric project—now 95 percent complete, but the source of a long-standing feud between the Generadora del Istmo  S.A. (GENISA) company, the contractor for the dam, and the Ngäbe Buglé Indigenous group, which is vehemently opposed to the project due to environmental concerns.

    After a wave of local protests stalled construction work on February 9, the Panamanian government launched negotiations with GENISA and Indigenous communities on February 21. The government has since agreed to investigate alleged environmental violations committed by GENISA, including the mismanagement of solid and hazardous waste and failure to coordinate the use of explosives and flammable substances with the fire department.

    GENISA is a Panamanian company created specifically for the construction of the Barro Blanco dam. The project has been financed through equity capital, as well as loans provided by the German Investment Corporation (DEG), the Netherlands Development Finance Company (FMO) and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI).

    The talks are being led by a high-level committee headed by Panamanian Vice President and Foreign Minister Isabel de Saint Malo de Alvarado, and facilitated by the UN in the district of Tolé, 400 kilometers west of Panama City. Other committee members include Security Minister Rodolfo Aguilera, Interior Minister Milton Henriquez, Labor Minister Luis Ernesto Carles, and Minister for the Environment Mirei Endara.

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    Tags: Ngäbe Buglé, Barro Blanco Dam, Panama, consulta previa

  • Brazil's March Madness

    March 20, 2015

    by Flora Charner

    March has been a tough month for the Brazilian government. In the past few weeks, millions of people have taken to the streets to protest against President Dilma Rousseff and demand her impeachment, the country’s local currency devalued to its lowest exchange rate in 12 years and state oil giant Petrobras continued to be engulfed in one of the biggest corruption scandals in the country’s history.

    To top it off, national unemployment went up and Rousseff’s popularity hit an all-time low. Pollster Datafolha released figures this week showing the president’s approval rating reached 13 percent, the lowest presidential approval level since 1992.

    In an effort to rebound from these negative numbers, Rousseff is schedule to announce some changes to her government roster. This comes after Minister of Education Cid Gomes resigned earlier this week.

    She also presented an anti-corruption government package before Congress on Wednesday that introduced reforms such as  requiring government officials to have no criminal records (known as “Ficha Limpa” or clean slate), making it illegal for unregulated slush funds to be used in the financing of electoral campaigns, and granting the judicial ministry the power to seize goods and properties of those convicted of corruption.

    “Prevent and battle,” Rousseff said as she introduced her latest defensive strategy. “This is what we see as the essential strategy in order to deepen Brazil’s commitment with democracy.”

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    Tags: Brazil, Petrobras Scandal, Dilma Rousseff

  • Bachelet Announces Anti-Corruption Plan for Chile

    March 20, 2015

    by AQ Online

    On Thursday, Chilean president Michelle Bachelet announced new measures to curb corruption in Chile’s public sector. Speaking from the government palace La Moneda in Santiago, Bachelet declared that all public sector officials will be required to annually submit a declaration of financial assets, with the first submission deadline set for April 30, 2015. Bachelet also plans to amend the constitution to mandate that former presidents continue to file the declaration of assets even after they have left office. Bachelet asserted that she will make the first move by declaring her own assets.

    While outlining the plan, Bachelet remarked that “solutions must be at the institutional level to keep our democracy strong. The Chilean state is based on public trust, respect for institutions and that pact of trust must be renewed.”

    The declaration comes amid a series of political scandals that have troubled the country in recent months, including a case involving Bachelet’s son, Sebastián Dávalos. Dávalos resigned from his position as socio-cultural director of the presidency in February following allegations that his family received preferential treatment for a private-sector bank loan they sought to purchase land. In a separate high-profile case, several political figures that founded the financial company Penta Group were detained earlier this month on charges of tax fraud and bribery. A third recent case of corruption involves the Chilean fertilizer group SQM, which is accused of illicit campaign financing.

    Bachelet’s plan received mixed responses. Opposition leaders said the plan did not go far enough to fight corruption. Eduardo Engel, president of Chile’s anti-corruption board, argued that while the plan sends a strong signal, it would not be the end of the corruption battle. “This is a very powerful first step […] but it must only be seen as the first step and not as something that completely solves the problem.”

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    Tags: anti-corruption law, Michelle Bachelet, Scandals

  • The OAS Elects Uruguay’s Luis Almagro as Secretary General

    March 19, 2015

    by AQ Online

    On March 18, the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) named Uruguayan Foreign Minister Luis Almagro its newest secretary general in a near-unanimous vote. In a clear display of hemispheric unity as regional ties appear increasingly strained elsewhere, the unopposed Almagro received votes from representatives of 33 of the organization's 34 member states gathered in Washington DC. Guyana abstained.

    The 51-year-old lawyer and diplomat will replace outgoing Secretary General José Miguel Insulza of Chile, who has served two terms since May 2005. After Guatemalan Foreign Minister Eduardo Stein withdrew his candidacy for health reasons in January, Almagro received widespread regional support as the only remaining candidate. When he begins his term on May 25, Almagro will become the second Uruguayan to lead the OAS and the first since José Antonio Mora left the office in 1968.

    During his campaign, Almagro expressed his desire to strengthen and bolster the independence of the OAS's chief human rights protection bodies, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. In recent years, proposed reforms to the IACHR have drawn ire from critics who say the changes compromise the entity’s autonomy.

    The issue of human rights protection has featured prominently in discussions over the OAS and its new secretary general. Almagro’s election follows increasing tension between the United States and Venezuela in the wake of expanded U.S. sanctions on Venezuelan officials accused of human rights abuses.

    Almagro's appointment also comes at a time when questions over the OAS’ relevancy and efficacy accompany concerns over a budget deficit and high levels of polarization within the organization. Almagro will get a preview of existing divisions when the hemisphere’s high-level leaders convene in Panama next month for the seventh Summit of the Americas, organized by the OAS. In September, Panama officially invited Cuba—suspended from the OAS in 1962—to attend the summit, prompting opposition from some U.S. policymakers and solidarity from Cuba’s regional allies. Meanwhile, Almagro, who approves of Cuba’s presence at the summit, has also expressed support for the country to return to the OAS as a full member.

     

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    Tags: OAS, Luis Almagro, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

  • Brooklyn Brewery Taps Into Brazil’s Craft Beer Market

    March 19, 2015

    by Stephen Kurczy

    Brazil’s annual Carnaval had a new entrant this year: Brooklyn Brewery.

    Days before the February festivities, Brooklyn Lager was the best-selling beer amid a selection of Brazilian and international craft beers at B33R CLUB in the southern capital of Curitiba. In one day, the specialty shop sold three boxes (72 bottles) of Brooklyn Lager to Brazilians stocking up for Carnaval—three times the store’s average monthly sales of the brew.

    “It’s more and more popular; you can find Brooklyn Beer everywhere now,” said Marcio Mathias, the 31-year-old owner of B33R CLUB. “And Brazilians think everything imported is better than local products.”

    Brooklyn Brewery has taken notice, and is increasing its presence in Latin America’s most populous nation. Since first entering Brazil in 2011, selling about 25,000 liters a month, sales have multiplied 12 times to an average of 300,000 liters a month last year, according to export manager Claire Moyle. She expects to see another 30 percent jump in sales this year, making Brooklyn Brewery one of the larger craft brewers in all Brazil.

    “Brazil kind of surprised us with our success down there,” Moyle said in a telephone interview from the company’s Brooklyn headquarters. “This is real volume with a lot of potential.”

    The success of Brooklyn Brewery highlights the growth of Brazil’s craft beer market and the opportunity for niche multinational companies,  even at a time of economic hardship.

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    Tags: Beer, Brazilian Economy, Brooklyn Brewery

  • Tone Down the “Winners and Losers” Talk on Cuba

    March 18, 2015

    by Johanna Mendelson Forman

    Cuba is the Groundhog Day of the twentieth century. That the United States’ policy of isolation and permanent embargo went on into the 21st century is testimony to the endurance of both Americans and Cubans in making a failed policy become a third rail in U.S. domestic policy.

    Not that there weren’t attempts at reconciliation over the last five decades. Nevertheless, changes are taking place now that will finally help move the United States beyond the outdated Cold War posturing to the realpolitik that its policy toward Cuba deserves.

    Roughly three months have passed since President Barack Obama announced his policy shift on Cuba. The December 17 announcement, which took many by surprise, was long in the making. It reflected a cautious diplomacy that ended fifty years of a failed policy.

    Almost everyone connected with Obama’s simple logic that if something has not worked after fifty years, it was time to try something new! But creating something new after such a long period of propaganda and disinformation will take hard work on the part of both the U.S. and the Cuban government.

    After 50 years of Cuba’s isolation, it will take time to build trust between the two governments.

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    Tags: Cuba, Enrique Klauze, U.S.-Cuba relations

  • Nicaragua Canal Could Threaten Indigenous Group

    March 18, 2015

    by AQ Online

    On Monday, a lawyer for the Indigenous Rama people in Nicaragua told the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) that there could be serious repercussions for the Rama if Nicaragua’s $50 billion canal project is allowed to continue.

    Rama leader Becky McCray, the lawyer for the tribe, said that the Rama were likely to lose their language along with their land if the group is displaced by the canal. Currently, the Rama language is only spoken by several dozen people in the world. Fifty-two percent of the route of the Grand Canal passes through lands belonging to the Indigenous Rama and the nearby Afro-descendant Kriol community.

    In December 2014, in Brito, Nicaragua, government officials and the Hong-Kong based HKND Group inaugurated the construction of a 186-mile-long (300-kilometer-long) canal that would connect the Pacific to the Caribbean, rivalling the Panama Canal. Despite the Nicaraguan government’s enthusiasm for the project and promises that it will lift more than 400,000 people out of poverty by 2018, the canal is the center of heated controversy.

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    Tags: Nicaragua, China, consulta previa, Indigenous Rights

  • Popular Mexican Journalist Ousted, Sparking Protests

    March 17, 2015

    by AQ Online

    Carmen Aristegui, perhaps Mexico’s most well-known journalist, was fired Sunday night after a brief but public spat with her broadcaster, MVS Noticias. The clash began last week, and is allegedly related to Aristegui and her team’s involvement in the launch of MéxicoLeaks, an online platform meant to facilitate anonymous leaks relating to government wrongdoing.

    MVS has claimed that Aristegui and her team improperly used the MVS brand in connection to the site without “express authorization,” making it seem that the broadcaster was a sponsor of the platform. After running ads disavowing any connection to the site, MVS fired two members of Aristegui’s investigative unit, Daniel Lizárraga and Irving Huerta, on Thursday.

    In her Friday broadcast, Aristegui condemned the move, saying, “Instead of firing them, they should be given prizes.” The journalists had unearthed some of the biggest stories in Mexico last year, such as the “casa blanca” scandal, which exposed an alleged conflict of interest involving a multimillion dollar mansion reportedly designed for Mexico’s presidential family, and owned by a contractor doing business with the government. Aristegui made Lizárraga’s and Huerta’s reinstatement a condition for her continued collaboration with MVS. By Sunday, the broadcaster had announced her removal. “MVS Radio does not accept Carmen Aristegui’s ultimatum,” the broadcaster said in a statement.

    The move was met with dismay, both on social media and outside MVS headquarters in Mexico City, where over 500 people gathered to protest last night. There is widespread speculation that the firing was politically motivated. “This is as if the Washington Post fired [Bob] Woodward and [Carl] Bernstein in the 1970s,” Mexican political scientist Sergio Aguayo told the Los Angeles Times.

    Appearing outside MVS headquarters on Monday, Aristegui vowed to fight the decision. “Our lawyers tell us that they don’t have the right to do what they are doing, our lawyers tell us that we are going to fight, that this is a blow to freedom of expression,” she said.

     

    Tags: Aristegui, Freedom of expression, MexicoLeaks

  • Journalists’ Murder Highlights Lack of Press Freedom in Guatemala

    March 17, 2015

    by Nic Wirtz

    Three Guatemalan journalists were killed and another seriously injured last week, exposing the high price to pay for reporting in the nation’s provinces.  All three were murdered in the department of Suchitepéquez about 96 miles from the capital, Guatemala City.    

    Danilo López, a 38-year-old correspondent for national newspaper Prensa Libre, and Federico Salazar, a reporter for Radio Nuevo Mundo, were killed just yards from police and government officials in the central park of Mazatenango.  The two were covering an event commemorating International Women’s Day.  The suspected gunmen escaped on a motorbike, but one of them, Sergio Waldemar Cardona Reyes, was captured hours later.  Another suspected gunman, Artemio de Jesús Ramírez Torres, was apprehended last Friday in Champerico, an hour from Mazatenango.

    According to local cable television presenter Marvin Israel Túnchez, who was taken to the hospital with gunshot wounds to his arm and leg, López was the target of the assassination.  López’s investigations in 2013 into public works in the department of Suchitepéquez had revealed 2.8 million quetzales ($368,000) worth of non-existent work. 

    “Journalism is one of the most dangerous jobs in Guatemala,” said Túnchez, who  works for Canal 30, the same channel as Carlos Orellana, a journalist who was murdered in 2013.

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    Tags: Guatemala, Press Freedom, Suchitepéquez

  • President Pérez Molina Refuses to Renew CICIG’s Mandate

    March 16, 2015

    by Louisa Reynolds

    During a recent visit to Guatemala on March 2, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden praised the achievements made by the UN-sponsored Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala—CICIG). He also urged Honduran and Salvadoran leaders to follow the Guatemalan example by replicating the CICIG model in their own countries or to consider the creation of a regional CICIG.

    However, Central American leaders do not share Biden’s enthusiastic support for CICIG, particularly Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molina, who refuses to renew its mandate for the third time. Civil society groups that regard CICIG as the last remaining bulwark of judicial independence in Guatemala say this does not bode well for the country’s fight against organized crime and corruption.

    During their recent meeting, Biden urged President Pérez Molina to renew CICIG’s mandate—which expires on September 3, absent another extension—and stressed that Central American leaders must cooperate with efforts to reduce levels of impunity in the region as a condition for receiving a $1 billion aid package from the U.S.

    “The work of organizations like the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala are so important,” Biden wrote on his official Twitter account.

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    Tags: Guatemala, corruption, Central America

  • Monday Memo: Venezuela Enabling Law—U.S.-Cuba Talks—Mass Protests in Brazil—Hydroelectric Projects in Bolivia—Public Wi-Fi in Cuba

    March 16, 2015

    by AQ Online

    This week’s likely top stories: Opposition alarmed by President Maduro’s power of decree; U.S. and Cuba continue talks; Brazilian citizens protest corruption; Bolivia and Brazil to sign energy agreement; Cuba allows first public wi-fi center.

    President Maduro Given Power to Rule by Decree: Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was given the power to rule by decree on issues of defense and public security after new legislation was passed by the National Assembly on Sunday. Maduro asserted that the Enabling Law gives him the power “to defend peace and sovereignty” in the country. The legislation was passed in response to new U.S. sanctions last week on Venezuelan officials. Maduro claimed that the decree, which lasts through December 31, 2015, will help him fight the threat posed by U.S. imperialism. The measure spurred new fears among the opposition about government abuses. On Saturday, UNASUR nations called on the U.S. to retract its recent measures against Venezuela.

    U.S. and Cuba to Continue Negotiations: United States Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson traveled to Havana on Sunday to begin the third round of talks between Cuba and the U.S. to discuss the re-opening of embassies in the context of renewed diplomatic relations. Jacobson will meet with Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s lead negotiator on U.S. issues. Talks began on Monday and may continue through Wednesday. The U.S. hopes to come to an agreement before the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Panama on April 10-11. Despite progress, there are still difficult issues to work through, such as Cuba’s desire to be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism and the U.S. request for unrestricted travel for diplomats on the island.

    Mass Protests against President Rousseff in Brazil: Protests against President Dilma Rousseff erupted across Brazil on Sunday. In Rio de Janeiro, thousands of citizens participated in the demonstrations against Rousseff and the governing Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT). Many protesters called for the president’s impeachment, claiming that she must have been aware of the corruption in the state oil company, Petrobras. Rousseff’s popularity has plunged recently, though she denies any involvement in the scandal. The largest demonstration took place in São Paulo, with over 200,000 participants, according to polling agency Datafolha. On Monday, the government sent a package of anti-corruption laws to Congress for consideration.

    Bolivia and Brazil to Sign Memorandum on Hydroelectric Project: Bolivian Hydrocarbons and Energy Minister Luis Alberto Sánchez announced on Sunday that Brazil and Bolivia will soon sign a memorandum of understanding on two hydroelectric power projects, with the goal of increasing electricity generation as well as promoting energy exchanges between the two countries. Sánchez visited Brazil last week and held discussions with Eletrobras officials and Brazilian Mines and Energy Minister Eduardo Braga. The executives are expected to finish up negotiations in Bolivia this week. The planned agreement aims to strengthen the capabilities of the Rio Madera and Cachuela Esperanza hydroelectric projects.

    Cuba Allows First Public Wi-fi Center in Havana: Etecsa, Cuba’s state telecommunications agency, has authorized Cuban sculptor Kcho to provide the island’s first public wireless Internet access at his cultural center in Havana. Kcho has strong connections to the Cuban government. Kcho is paying out of his own pocket to run the public Internet service, which is expected to cost him roughly $900 a month. Approximately 5 percent of Cubans currently have Internet access due to prohibitively high costs.

    Tags: Hydroelectric, President Maduro, U.S.-Cuba talks, UNASUR, Brazil protests

  • Colombia: Lo irreversible del proceso de paz

    March 13, 2015

    by Jenny Manrique

    Cada vez que nuevos anuncios emergen de la mesa de conversaciones que el gobierno mantiene con las FARC en Cuba, el presidente Juan Manuel Santos califica el proceso de ‘irreversible’, ‘cerca del fin’ o de ingresar a ‘una etapa definitiva’. Cierto es que tras 33 rondas de conversaciones y pese al hermetismo de las primeras, mucho se ha avanzado en temas duros como el reconocimiento de las víctimas y las responsabilidades en el negocio del narcotráfico que alimenta el conflicto.

    Ahora el cese de bombardeos por un mes contra los campamentos de las FARC, decidido unilateralmente por el presidente Juan Manuel Santos, ha levantado una polvareda de opiniones por cuanto para unos, como el procurador general, es un cese bilateral disfrazado y viola la constitución, y para el gobierno, es una respuesta al cese al fuego decretado por las FARC desde diciembre pasado.

    No menos revelador resulta el hecho, como lo publicó la Revista Semana, de que el Ejército haya reducido sustancialmente sus actividades militares, pero no solo desde el comienzo de las negociaciones sino incluso desde los años en que el ex presidente Álvaro Uribe, enconado contradictor del proceso, dirigía el país con sus políticas de mano dura y seguridad democrática . En suma, es una realidad que el conflicto ha ido desescalando en el terreno militar, y que aunque mantener arriba la moral de las tropas, es una muletilla bastante popular en el cuerpo castrense, por lo cual sin su participación pacífica, no hay negociación que avance.

    Es imposible hablar de un cese al fuego bilateral si no se hubieran sentado cinco generales activos y un almirante en la Subcomisión Técnica del Fin del Conflicto, a discutir el tema. Si soldados y guerrilleros no fueran parte del equipo que se conformó para la tarea titánica de desactivar las minas antipersonales regadas por la geografía de 688 municipios del país, no habría forma de aliviar a estas comunidades.

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    Tags: Colombia, FARC, Colombia Peace Talks

  • Cuba and U.S. Re-establish Direct Phone Link

    March 13, 2015

    by AQ Online

    U.S.-based IDT Domestic Telecom, Inc. and the state-run telecommunications compnay Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba, S.A. (Cuban Telecommunications Enterprise, S.A.—ETECSA) have re-established a direct telephone link between the two countries. ETESCA announced the connection via a press release on Wednesday, but did not specify when the service went into effect. “The re-establishment of direct communications between the United States and Cuba will help offer greater ease and quality of communications between the people of both nations,” the statement said.

    This marks the first commercial agreement between the two countries since the Obama administration announced in December 2014 that it would allow telecoms to operate in Cuba as part of its broader rapprochement with the island.  However, IDT’s efforts to re-establish direct calls to Cuba precede these changes. “We had conversation for a period of years hoping there would be interest and nothing happened,” said Bill Ulrey, IDT’s Vice-President of Investor Relations, according to the Miami Herald. “But then we submitted it to them again last year and we began to negotiate it but it’s not clear whether their willingness was a part of the ongoing negotiations.”

    Previously, calls between the U.S. and Cuba needed to be routed through a third country, elevating costs. IDT has not yet announced new rates for international calls.

    Tags: U.S.-Cuba relations, Telecommunications

  • Peruvian Congressional Committee Votes Against Same-Sex Civil Unions

    March 12, 2015

    by AQ Online

    After a nearly four hour debate, the Peruvian Comisión de Justicia y Derechos Humanos del Congreso (Congressional Committee on Justice and Human Rights) voted against a proposal for legalizing same-sex civil unions Tuesday night. The final vote count was four in favor, seven against, and two abstentions.

    “Today, you have seen which lawmakers are backwards, those that want to deny the rights of others, who feel superior and consider that there are second-class Peruvians. We are on the right side of history, and we are sure this is going to be approved,” said Congressman Carlos Bruce, the leader of the same-sex civil union proposal.

    The bill has been controversial across Peru. A march in Lima this weekend brought together 500 people advocating for approval of same-sex civil unions. However, many in the Catholic-dominated country have aggressively spoken out against the proposed bill, including Congressman Julio Rosas, who lauded the vote for “defending the natural family,” and Luis Bambarén, the Bishop emeritus of Chimbote, who publically used a derogatory, homophobic term to speak about Bruce, who is gay. Bambarén later issued a written apology.

    Despite the outcome of the Peruvian vote, same-sex civil unions and same-sex marriage are becoming more of a norm in South America, and those in favor of the bill think it will eventually be passed in Congress’ next session. Mauricio Mulder, one of the four legislators who voted in favor of the civil union bill, has already submitted a request for reconsideration of the bill.

    After a January 28 vote, Chile now allows same-sex civil unions, along with Colombia and Ecuador. Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay allow same-sex marriage.

    Tags: Peru, Carlos Bruce, Civil Unions

  • El Salvador's Electoral Crisis

    March 12, 2015

    by Julio Rank Wright

    El Salvador held legislative and municipal elections on March 1, 2015. Almost two weeks later, the country lacks electoral results. The debacle has signified a concerning setback for Salvadoran electoral institutions and their credibility.

    Trouble started on Election Day, when the Supreme Electoral Tribunal announced its electoral results transmission system had failed. Since then, the scarcity of information and reluctance to provide full access to mainstream media—something which had been done in all previous electoral events—is increasing tension between political parties,  citizens, and the electoral body.

    It should come as no surprise that a lack of transparency and information inevitably leads to allegations of backdoor dealings and alleged attempts to privilege some political parties over others. As time passes, tensions rise. According to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal’s website on March 10, only about 50 percent of votes for the Central American Parliament had been counted, and the official election results for the Legislative Assembly and mayors hadn’t even started.

    The current electoral impasse represents a true crisis for Salvadoran democratic institutions and the immediate future. The final results of the election will have a direct effect on the next three years of President Salvador Sánchez Cerén’s five-year term. Unofficial results suggest that the governing FMLN will come up short of a simple majority in the legislative branch, even  when factoring in their recent alliance with the Gran Alianza Por La Unidad Nacional (Great Alliance for National Unity—GANA).

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    Tags: Salvadoran elections, FMLN, Alliance of Prosperity

  • Guatemalan Judges Face Reprisals for Speaking Out Against Corruption

    March 11, 2015

    by Louisa Reynolds

    Last Friday, Judge Claudia Escobar announced in a statement that a number of Guatemalan judges are being harassed and persecuted after speaking out against corruption during the election of the new Supreme Court and Appellate Court magistrates in 2014. The retaliatory measures taken against them, she said, include being forcibly transferred to remote locations or unfairly dismissed.

    On October 5, 2014, Judge Escobar, who had been re-elected as Appellate Court magistrate days earlier, resigned just before being sworn in for a second period, and handed over to the authorities an audiotape of Congressman Gudy Rivera seeking her support in a case implicating Vice President Roxana Baldetti in exchange for Rivera’s support during the nomination process. Judge Escobar’s resignation in protest against Congressman Rivera’s attempt to bribe her came after a highly contentious nomination process that was mired in corruption and influence peddling allegations against the members of the nomination committee in charge of assessing candidates and submitting a shortlist to Congress, which made the final choice.

    More than 50 judges, as well as Human Rights Ombudsman Jorge de León Duque, supported Judge Escobar’s call for an annulment of the appointments and the initiation of a new nomination process.

    Judge Escobar became an overnight heroine, and in the face of a huge public opinion backlash against the country’s judicial institutions, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court (CC) temporarily suspended all of the nominations. However, on November 20, the CC controversially endorsed the results after three out of five CC magistrates, including the CC’s president, Roberto Molina Barreto, voted against the annulment of the appointments, arguing that there was insufficient evidence of irregularities during the nomination process.

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    Tags: Guatemala, Judge Claudia Escobar, Judicial Reform

  • Femicide Law in Brazil Aims to Curb Gender-Based Violence

    March 11, 2015

    by AQ Online

    Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff signed a new law on Monday that sets harsher penalties for gender-based killings of women and girls. The new legislation gives a legal definition for femicide under Brazil’s criminal code as any murder that involves domestic violence, contempt or discrimination against women. Convicted offenders will now face jail sentences of 12 to 30 years, with even longer jail terms for crimes committed against pregnant women, girls under 14, women over 60, and people with disabilities.   

    The new legislation expands on a previous domestic violence law known as the Maria da Penha Law, enacted in 2006 by Rousseff’s predecessor, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Maria da Penha is a women’s rights activist who became paraplegic after her ex-husband beat her for 14 years and attempted to murder her twice. The 2006 legislation had three main components: it prevented aggressors from being punished with alternative sentences, increased the maximum sentence for domestic violence to three years, and mandated that abusers distance themselves from the women they had attacked.

    After Rousseff signed the most recent law, she enumerated statistics about the violence women face in her country—15 women are killed daily in Brazil, many through domestic violence, and an estimated 500,000 Brazilian women and girls are raped annually, but only 10 percent of survivors report the crimes. 

    On the BBC radio show “World Have Your Say” on Tuesday, women’s rights activists lauded the new law as a victory for women’s rights, but also cautioned the audience not to overestimate the law’s potential to eradicate gender-based violence, due to the difficulty of convicting criminals in the first place. Julia Pá, a filmmaker based in Brasília and a guest on the program, remarked that misogyny “is so ingrained in Brazilian society, and even in the judicial system itself, that you’re going to need to instruct judges and[…] people working with this on women’s issues and the importance of protecting women.”

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    Tags: Gender Rights, Violence Against Women, Dilma Rousseff

  • Has Clinton-Bush Fatigue Arrived?

    March 10, 2015

    by John Parisella

    Back in February, at a conservative conference in Iowa, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush appeared on stage with other prospective Republican presidential candidates. He was the only one who received jeers from the crowd. This was somewhat surprising, as Bush has made steady gains in recent polls and on the campaign money trail.  Could it be the fact that the Bush name has been on the Republican presidential ticket for six of the last nine presidential contests and people want someone new?  Or he is too moderate for today’s GOP?

    Just recently, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been mired in a controversy for using a private email address with a private server to conduct state business.  Her adversaries alleged that it was a scheme to avoid divulging e-mails that would otherwise have been public information, in contravention of a 2009 State Department directive.  Curiously, Clinton has taken to social media to indicate her willingness to make the emails on the private server available to the general public.  Why not be ahead of the news curve and immediately call a press conference? She has since decided to hold a press conference.  However, the damage is done.

    Last Sunday, on ABC’s “This Week” program, reputed reporter Mark Helpern asserted that Clinton’s management of the controversy will do serious harm to an eventual presidential run.  This was possibly an exaggeration, but indicative of a certain Clinton fatigue on the part of the media.

    It is clear that both Bush and Clinton, while still officially undeclared, are the current frontrunners for their parties’ nominations in 2016.  It’s fair that they would receive greater public scrutiny.  In the case of Jeb Bush, it is obvious that the shadow of his brother George W. looms large, with two wars and the Great Recession in the background.  As for Hillary Clinton, the notion of secrecy so often associated with the Clinton years in the White House seems to have once again surfaced.

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    Tags: U.S. presidential elections, Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush

  • Latin American Countries Lobby for Reform of Global Drug Policy

    March 10, 2015

    by AQ Online

    The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) opened its 58th session on the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) on Monday in Vienna, Austria, with several Latin American countries—Mexico, Colombia, Uruguay and Bolivia—lobbying for a reform of global counternarcotic strategy. The CND special opening session will meet until March 13 to prepare for the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the World Drug Problem, with the annual session continuing until March 17.

    The last UNGASS on drugs was held in 1998 with the goal of creating “A Drug Free World” by eliminating the illicit production of coca, cannabis and opium and reducing large scale demand by 2008. In 2009, the new Political Declaration and Action Plan of Action largely echoed the 1998 document and set the next UNGASS for 2019. But in September 2012, the presidents of Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico called for a conference on drug policy reform. With support from 95 other countries, the global drug policy summit meeting was set for 2016 to discuss drug use from a public health perspective.

    Latin America is one of the most drug-stricken regions of the world. According to the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), Central America has seen an increase in the production and consumption of drugs since 2009. A UN study reported less 200 million drug users worldwide in 2005, but more than 250 million in 2012.

    “[Current] drug policies are not producing the expected results and, as such, cannot continue without modifications,” said Yesid Reyes, Colombia’s minister of justice. He advocated for a thorough review of international policy to make it “more humane and efficient.” Mexican Under Secretary for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights Juan Manuel Gómez Robledo echoed the sentiment: “[The world cannot] repeat actions from the past and expect different results,” he said.

    Latin American countries have been the leading reformers of drug policy, with Uruguay’s unprecedented marijuana legalization law and steps towards decriminalization in Argentina, Chile and Colombia.

    Tags: UNODC, Drug Policy, Drug Reform

  • The Price of Oil’s Impact in Latin America and the Caribbean

    March 9, 2015

    by Christian Gómez, Jr.

    In June 2014, West Texas Intermediate, a benchmark crude oil grade, sold at $106 dollars per barrel. In early December, the price closed at $65 dollars per barrel, and is currently trading at just over $50 dollars per barrel. This precipitous decline has had an adverse effect on oil producers in Latin America—in particular, countries such as Mexico and Colombia that heavily rely on oil receipts to fund their national budgets.

    On the other hand, consumers in Central America and the Caribbean are benefiting from low oil prices.  Investors are looking at the region with a long-term view, and while some companies are cutting back on spending plans, the resources available in the region will continue to be attractive.

    While formulating spending and investment plans for the year, energy companies will budget for a certain oil price in order to break even. For example, Venezuela’s break-even price in January 2015 was over $115 per barrel, making it extremely challenging to turn a profit. The drop in oil prices also impacts gas investment, because national and international oil companies often prospect the two at the same time—and thus must make appropriate spending decisions based on their relative prices. As such, the two markets are closely intertwined.

    As investment levels are cut back, the oil price environment should be leveraged to encourage integration efforts in the region that would improve conditions for investment, even in a price-constrained environment. For example, the Pacific Alliance, which includes Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru, should seek to create larger internal markets and stronger investment conditions to draw investment. Shale gas development is also priority for the Alliance, and the creation of a development bank to finance infrastructure projects is one recommendation for further development.

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    Tags: renewable energy, oil prices, Pacific Alliance

  • Monday Memo: Colombia Peace Talks—Peru-Chile Spying—Citigroup Sale—Puerto Rico VAT—Chilean Corruption

    March 9, 2015

    by AQ Online

    This week’s likely top stories: Colombia and FARC agree to clear landmines; Peru recalls ambassador to Chile; Citigroup to sell Central American entities; Puerto Rico debates possible VAT; Chilean officials charged with corruption.

    Colombia and FARC to Remove Landmines: The Colombian and the FARC guerrilla group reached an agreement on Saturday to work together to clear the country of landmines and explosive devices. Their joint statement was read by Cuba and Norway, the two guarantor countries for the peace process, and the Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) will assist in the de-mining efforts. This weekend’s agreement marked important progress in the negotiations; for the first time, high-level military commanders were present, and the removal of mines and explosives is a major step toward disarmament. Over 11,000 Colombians have been hurt or killed by landmines in the last 15 years.

    Peru Recalls Ambassador to Chile: On Saturday, Peru recalled its ambassador to Chile over spying accusations. Last month, the Peruvian government announced that three Peruvian naval employees were being investigated for allegedly disclosing military information to Chile. On February 20, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala sent Chile a diplomatic note requesting an answer regarding the claims, although Peru has not yet received a response. Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz stated that Chile “does not promote or accept acts of espionage in other states or its own territory.” Peruvian Prime Minister Ana Jara claimed that Peru will not send its ambassador back to Chile until the issue is addressed. Chile and Peru have long harbored tensions over their borders.

    Citigroup Inc. to Sell Central American Operations: Citigroup Inc. may soon sell its Central American retail units to Banco Popular Español S.A., which is based in Madrid, Spain. According to a source’s comments on Saturday, Citigroup aims to sell its retail operations in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Panama in an effort to leave markets yielding low revenues and to streamline operations. Citigroup hopes to sell for $1.5 billion. The deal is not yet finalized and is subject to change. Spokesmen for both banks declined comment on the matter.

    Puerto Rico Proposes Plan to Combat Tax Evasion: Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro García Padilla is supporting a new plan to impose a 16 percent value-added tax (VAT), in an effort to reduce the territory’s $73 billion public debt. The plan, which is currently being considered by lawmakers, would replace Puerto Rico’s current tax rate of 7 percent and would curb tax evasion on the island. Pending approval, producers would pay the VAT on raw materials, and include it in the price given to retailers, and the VAT would eventually be paid by consumers. Charging the VAT at each stage in the sales process would ensure proper collection. Currently, Puerto Rico’s informal economy is estimated to be worth $16 billion, a figure representing approximately 25 percent of the GDP. García Padilla is expected to make an announcement regarding the plan today.

    Chilean Corruption Scandal Racks Opposition Party: After court hearings last week, a tax auditor, a former government official and four executives from the Penta Group, one of Chile’s largest financial groups, were jailed on Saturday for tax fraud, bribery and money laundering. Ten defendants were implicated in the scandal, including two tax officials and two politicians from the Unión Demócrata Independiente (Independent Democratic Union—UDI) opposition party. In a public declaration on Monday, La Superintendencia de Bancos e Instituciones Financieras (Superintendency of Banks and Financial Institutions—SBIF) announced that the Penta executives, including owners Carlos Délano y Carlos Eugenio Lavín, would be unable to maintain their positions as shareholders in the company.

    Tags: FARC, Colombia Peace Talks, spying, corruption, Independent Democratic Union

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