Fast-food workers across the United States began a 24-hour strike in nearly 100 cities on Thursday to protest low wages. The employees are calling for an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.
The current $7.25 per hour federal minimum wage, set in 2009, amounts to only $15,000 a year for a full-time fast food worker—seen by many as less than a living wage.
Nearly 100 protesters gathered in a McDonald’s in New York City this morning chanting “we can’t survive on $7.25,” before being removed by police. According to a Burger King employee, managers warned their employees that those participating in Thursday’s protests would be denied work shifts. The National Restaurant Association has meanwhile dismissed the protests as a “campaign engineered by national labor groups.”
President Barack Obama has indicated that he would support a Senate measure to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, which could come up for a vote later this month. However, such a bill would face substantial opposition from the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
The fast food industry has faced increased scrutiny this year, given rising income inequality in the U.S. and the fact that part-time work has constituted most of the job growth in the restaurant sector since the global recession. Some employers intentionally limit employees’ work hours because they would be required to provide health care for full-time employees under the Affordable Care Act.
While fast food workers are not typically unionized, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has strongly supported the effort to increase the federal minimum wage over the last year.
This month, Mexico’s Congress is debating the long-anticipated reform of Pemex, the country’s state-owned oil company.
This reform comes at a critical moment for Mexico’s energy industry, as oil production has declined steadily since 2004, and Pemex will need to more than double its investment to reverse the trend. The latest energy reform legislation in Congress would ease the financial pressure facing Pemex (which currently supplies one-third of the government’s annual budget), and would allow for some form of foreign investment in Mexico’s energy development.
If the bill passes, however, the results will be neither immediate nor guaranteed.
Even if Mexico’s Congress scrapes together the necessary votes to pass the bill in the coming days, the energy legislation rollout is likely to take several years. Any constitutional reform must be approved by half of Mexico’s 31 state legislatures. This process will likely take several more months, and may not be complete until the middle of 2014. At this rate, a substantial increase in foreign investment cannot be expected before 2015 or even 2016.
Then, the all-important ley secundaria (secondary legislation) will be decided, with significant implications for the types and levels of investment that the reform will produce.
The Mexican Senate approved a bill on electoral reform early this morning with a vote of 106-15 and one abstention. The bill, which would strengthen the legislative branch and includes constitutional amendments to eliminate term limits for legislators and mayors while curbing the power of the executive branch, was championed by the conservative Partido Acción Nacional—National Action Party (PAN) as a precondition to moving forward with President Enrique Peña Nieto’s ambitious energy reform plan.
The electoral reform bill, which also allows the president to opt for a coalition government, passed its first hurdle in the Senate committees on Tuesday before the overwhelming vote on the floor in the early hours this morning. It allows for Senators and Deputies to serve for up to 12 years—Senators terms are six years while Deputies are three—and eliminates the barriers to direct reelection beginning in 2018; it is expected to pass in the lower chamber this week.
The passage of electoral reform was seen as a necessary step to shore up support amongst PAN legislators, allies on of the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional—Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) on energy reform, after the leftist Partido de la Revolución Democrática—Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) pulled out of the cross-party pact that led to the passage of President Peña Nieto’s economic reforms last year.
The proposed energy reform, which aims to reverse declining crude output and boost economic growth, would open up the Mexican oil sector to private investment, and would allow for investors to share profits of oil exploration and production with Pemex, the state-owned oil monopoly. The reform bill would also affect the telecommunications and banking sectors.
The lower chamber is expected to vote on energy reform on December 15 before Congress breaks for recess.
In the latest in power outage to hit Venezuela this year, a blackout on Monday night left a large portion of Caracas in the dark, with other parts of the country affected as well. Outages were also reported in the states of Vargas, Aragua, Miranda, Lara, Zulia, Carabobo, and Falcón.
For many in Caracas, the power outage lasted only 10 minutes, while other parts of the country endured the blackout for over an hour and a half, according to Energy Minister Jesse Chacón. The outage occurred just after 8 p.m. local time, as Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was speaking on television.
In September, a power failure caused 70 percent of the country to lose power. That incident, as well as the one last night, originated from the same power substation west of Caracas. In both incidents, President Maduro suggested that sabotage was involved, but was unable to provide evidence.
Corpoelec, Venezuela’s state-run power company, was working late into Monday night to restore power across the country, and by 9:30 p.m. had successfully gotten about 85 percent of the greater Caracas area back on the grid. Venezuelan authorities said they would begin an investigation to determine the cause of the blackout.
On November 25, Canadians went to the polls in four by-elections—two in Manitoba, one in Québec and one in Ontario. The results were not dramatic, as they maintained the same distribution of seats in Canada’s House of Commons. The Conservative Party of Prime Minister Stephen Harper kept its two Manitoba seats—albeit with highly reduced margins. The Liberals, led by new leader Justin Trudeau, won both the Ontario and the Québec seats.
What made news was the fact that the Liberals captured second place in the Manitoba contests, leaving the New Democratic Party (NDP) to ponder whether they are losing their hold as the alternative to the governing Tories.
Harper’s party is still mired in the Senate scandal from last spring, which involved alleged spending infractions by former Conservative Senators Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin—then part of the Conservative caucus.
To the opposition parties, it’s the scandal that keeps on giving, as daily revelations dominate the newswires. The prime minister is finding out the hard way the Watergate scandal lesson—the “cover-up” is usually more damaging than the “crime.” Evasive answers, contradictions and improvisation have amplified what should have been an isolated case of misbehaving senators (since expelled from the Tory caucus) into a full-blown scandal.
Conservatives have suffered the blowback in recent national polls, and the by-elections results confirmed that the government is in troubled waters. What may be encouraging to the government strategists, however, is that the Tory fall in the polls cannot really be attributed to the government’s major agenda item: the economy. Rather, it is the scandal and how the government conducts its business in the light of the scandal that are the source of the current rejection. With two years to go until the next election, there is plenty of time to adjust and recover—or so the Tories think.
Likely top stories this week: Xiomara Castro leads her supporters in protest against last Sunday’s election results; Juan Manuel Santos visits the United States; petroleum exploitation moves ahead in Ecuador; Mexicans protest as President Peña Nieto completes his first year in office; a fire engulfs the Latin America Memorial in São Paulo.
Honduran Election Result Sparks Demonstrations: Thousands of Hondurans marched in Tegucigalpa on Sunday after the country’s electoral authority declared Juan Orlando Hernández the winner of last Sunday's presidential elections. Challenger Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, who is demanding a vote-by-vote recount at all Honduran polling places and an investigation of the elections by the attorney general, called on her supporters to march peacefully to protest the results. Salvador Nasralla, another candidate, is also challenging the results. On Sunday evening, Honduras’ election tribunal said it would be willing to let LIBRE (Liberty and Refoundation party—Liberdad y Refundación) review the electoral record but declined to say whether it would consider a full recount.
Santos Visits the United States: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos arrived in the United States on Sunday for a three-day visit that will include a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama. Santos will also make an appearance at the University of Miami on Monday before traveling to Washington D.C. for visits with Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner, and a meeting at the OAS, among other activities. The purpose of Santos' trip is to encourage additional U.S. investment in Colombia and to discuss Colombia's peace negotiations with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC).
Correa Announces Petroleum Exploitation in Ecuadorian Amazon: Despite major protests by Indigenous and environmental groups, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa announced Saturday that Ecuador would permit the exploitation of 13 petroleum blocks in the Ecuadorian Amazon near the border with Peru and on the edge of Yasuni National Park. Correa said that Chilean Ambassador Juan Carlos Lira and a businessman were injured in the protests last Tuesday. Ecuadorian Minister for Non-Renewable Natural Resources Pedro Merizalde said that the first three blocks up for action could hold as much as 1.5 billion barrels. So far, Spain's Repsol YPF, Chile's ENAP, Belarus’ Belorusneft, and China's Andes Petroleum have presented offers for four of the petroleum blocks.
Protests as Peña Nieto Completes First Year of Presidency: Thousands of Mexicans protested in the streets of Mexico City on Sunday as Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto celebrated the completion of his first year as president. Protesting teachers, union workers, and self-declared anarchists marched in opposition to Peña Nieto's recent education, tax and energy reforms. According to a poll released Sunday by Reforma newspaper, 48 percent of respondents disapproved of the president's job performance—up from 30 percent in April.
Fire Latest Accident to Hit São Paulo: Less than a week after a construction crane collapsed at São Paulo's Itaquerão stadium and killed two workers, the city's iconic Latin America Memorial—a landmark building which hosts an art gallery, an auditorium and other facilities— was engulfed by a fire on Saturday. The memorial and cultural center was built in 1989 by legendary Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, who died last year at age 104. It is still unclear how the fire started, but it appears no members of the public have been injured in the blaze. Meanwhile, construction workers returned to Itaquerão stadium on Monday to address the damages caused by last week’s accident.
The Cuban Mission to the United States halted nearly all consular services on Tuesday after its primary bank severed its client relationship with the political institution. According to the Cuban Interest Section in Washington, consular services including passport and visa processes will be shut down in the U.S. until the Cuban Mission can find a new bank, though humanitarian cases will continue to be processed.
M&T Bank, which formerly managed the Cuban Mission’s accounts, informed clients in in July that it would stop providing services to all foreign missions. The Interests Section blamed the Mission’s difficulty in finding a new bank on restrictions stemming from the U.S. economic embargo. It also warned that the suspension could have a negative impact on cultural and family visits to the island, as well as on Cubans who are not U.S. citizens but live in the U.S. and need to update their passports regularly through the Mission.
The U.S. broke diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961, and has maintained the embargo on Cuba since the early 1960s. Tuesday’s news comes only one week after U.S. Secretary of State Kerry implored Havana to do more to foster personal freedoms on the island in a speech to the Organization of American States. Sec. Kerry added that the U.S. is “committed to human interchange,” referring to the people-to-people exchanges allowed under 2010 policy reforms.
In a groundbreaking announcement this week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) declared that it will create a Rapporteurship on the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex (LGBTI) Persons. The news garnered little media attention, but its significance to millions of LGBTI people across the Americas and to the broader struggle for universal human rights is profound.
The development follows years of concerted efforts by activists, international human rights organizations and more recently, world leaders. (The idea to create a Rapporteurship came out of a meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff during a 2011 state visit to Brazil.) The abuses faced by LGBTI people in the Americas and across the globe are among the most systematic and pervasive human rights violations in the world, yet they have often been overlooked and subject to vast impunity.
The importance of this announcement should not be underestimated. It is worth remembering that just six months ago, many feared an end to the IACHR’s 50 years of groundbreaking work. Yet now, the Commission leads the international community once again in creating the world’s first-ever international human rights office dedicated exclusively to LGBTI rights. While other international bodies and governments have taken important steps toward addressing these issues, the IACHR is the first to create a permanent office.
Far more than a meaningless symbolic gesture (something, frankly, that the OAS is notorious for), the Rapporteurship will provide tremendous support to activists by installing a permanent expert to monitor and investigate human rights abuses against LGBTI people across the hemisphere.
We still don’t know the final tally of Sunday’s general election in Honduras, but if 68 percent of provisional results are valid, Juan Orlando Hernández will soon be the next president of Central America’s second-most populous country—with repercussions for the region and for the Obama administration’s Latin American policy hanging in the balance.
With a 5.16 point lead over his closest rival, Xiomara Castro de Zelaya— whose husband Manuel Zelaya served as president from 2006 until his ouster in a military coup in June 2009—Hernández seems likely to prevail in the final count. Spain, Colombia and other countries are already congratulating Hernández for his victory, however prematurely. Castro de Zelaya, on the basis of her own exit polling and analysis, declared victory Sunday night hours before Hernández did.
Despite claims that Hernández, wielding the power of a new military police force, is gearing up to lead the most authoritarian Honduran administration in memory, he faces a brutal four years in office—with no mandate, no majority and no money.
Critics worry that Hernández, currently president of the National Congress, is already more powerful than outgoing president Porfirio Lobo Sosa, and looking to consolidate even more power.
Approximately 100 people were deported from the Dominican Republic to Haiti this week following a fatal attack against an elderly Dominican couple near the Haitian border. Activists say the figure brings the total number of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent deported from the Dominican Republic since September to 354.
Josue Michel, spokesman for the Groupe d'Appui Aux Rapatriés et Réfugiés (Support Group for Repatriates and Refugees—GARR), said the deportations came after a burglary in the Southwestern Dominican town of Neiba. Many of the deportees had gone to a Dominican police station to report the crime and seek refuge from indiscriminant mob violence, but were then rounded up in the street by police officers. Others fled the country voluntarily in fear of continued violence. Dominican authorities insist the deported individuals were not expelled and that they requested for the police to escort them safely to the border.
The deportations of Haitians began after the Tribunal Constitucional de República Dominicana (Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic) ruled on September 23 that anyone born in the Dominican Republic to non-Dominican parents after 1929 is not eligible for Dominican citizenship. The Open Society Justice Initiative estimates that the decision has subsequently rendered over 200,000 people “stateless,” or without any claim to legal citizenship.
It has been said that if Iran develops a nuclear bomb, the world will become more dangerous than at any time since the height of the Cold War. The interim accord between Iran, the five members of the UN Security Council and Germany is meant to address this fear. The accord sets specific and significant limitations on Iran’s nuclear capability and development (that is, to freeze Iran’s nuclear program) with UN inspections in return for some temporary sanction relief for the Iranian government. The six-month agreement is temporary and is intended to provide a foundation for a long-term settlement beyond this deadline.
Already, the reactions approving or opposing the deal have come forward swiftly. From U.S. media coverage, one would think that the deal is only between the U.S. and Iran, ignoring the work and commitment of the other partners. Remember Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany are partners to this agreement. Sure, the Obama Administration is at the center of this high stakes game and Secretary of State John Kerry has played an instrumental role. However, it must be emphasized that the deal remains a first step involving the UN’s permanent Security Council members, and the dialogue is meant to continue.
The strongest and most strident voice opposing the accord has come from Israel and its Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. This was not unexpected, and may not be totally negative. Iran must realize that this recent development is not a free pass to sanction relief as it has earned the mistrust through its past actions. Israel, however, cannot lose sight of its ultimate objective—no nuclear weapon has been developed by Iran yet, and the dialogue has begun. Israeli President and Nobel Peace Laureate, Shimon Peres, was more balanced and constructive in his reaction, saying that results will matter more than words.
Likely top stories this week: Honduras’ election results are still pending; the Dominican Republic deports Haitian immigrants after violence in a border town; Henrique Capriles urges the Venezuelan opposition to vote on December 8; a new report says that most Americans favor a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants; Juan Manuel Santos and Rafael Correa meet in Colombia to discuss bilateral ties.
Honduran Elections: With a little over half of precincts reporting in Honduras’ presidential election on Sunday, the ruling National Party candidate Juan Orlando Hernández reportedly has a slight lead over Partido Libertad y Refundación (Liberty and Refoundation Party—LIBRE) candidate Xiomara Castro, who led the polls just a month ago and is the wife of former President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a 2009 coup. The Honduran electoral tribunal said last night that Hernández had secured approximately 34 percent of the votes, versus Castro’s 29 percent. However, both candidates have claimed victory in the election that saw a record turnout. The electoral authority is expected to release an update on the election tally this afternoon.
The Dominican Republic Deports Haitians After Killings: As of Sunday, at least 244 Haitians have been deported from the Dominican Republic, a spokesman for the Group for Repatriates and Refugees said on Monday. The deportations were sparked after mob violence in a town in the southwestern Dominican Republican led many Haitian immigrants to seek refuge. The violence began when a bungled burglary led to the killing of a Dominican couple near the Haitian border and an enraged mob retaliated by killing a Haitian man. Anti-Haitian sentiments in the Dominican Republic have grown after a September ruling that threatened to strip Dominicans of Haitian descent of their citizenship. Advocates say some of the deported have sought refuge, fearing further violence.
Capriles Urges Venezuelan Opposition to Vote: As Venezuela’s December 8 municipal elections approach, opposition leader Henrique Capriles told his supporters on Saturday that they should go to the polls to express their discontent with the government of President Nicolás Maduro. Thousands of members of the Venezuelan opposition marched through the streets on Saturday, several days after the National Assembly gave Maduro powers to rule by decree for the next 12 months. The president says the new powers will allow him to fight corruption, and claims that his enemies are using “economic sabotage” to discredit his administration.
Majority of Americans Favor Pathway to Citizenship, Report Says: A Public Religion Research Institute report published Monday says 63 percent of Americans favor legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants living in the United States to become citizens. Though the U.S. Congress appears to have abandoned legislation that would offer a plan for comprehensive immigration reform, 60 percent of Republicans, 57 percent of independents and 73 percent of Democrats said that they supported some form of legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to become citizens, according to the report. A full 71 percent of respondents said that they would support citizenship for undocumented immigrants who met requirements like paying back taxes and learning English.
Santos and Correa Meet: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa are meeting in the Colombian border town of Ipiales on Monday to discuss bilateral relations and to inaugurate a new bridge between the two countries. Relations between Ecuador and Correa were reestablished in 2010 after the two countries broke off relations when Colombia bombed a FARC encampment in Ecuador without the authorization of the Ecuadorian government in 2008. Ministers from both countries are expected to meet today to discuss security and defense as well as shared commercial interests.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced his intentions to run for reelection this Thursday, just four days before the legal deadline required to submit a candidacy. Santos said his campaign will be founded upon ideals of “peace and prosperity,” directly referencing his continued—although increasingly unpopular—efforts to reach a peace accord with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC).
A poll conducted by Invamer-Gallup predicts a second-round run-off between Santos and opposition candidate Óscar Iván Zuluaga of the Uribe Centro Democrático (Uribe Democratic Center) party. Specifically, the poll estimates that 27 percent of voters would support Santos, followed by 15 percent for Zuluaga, a former finance minister. Despite his considerable lead, Santos faces a difficult task of acquiring the 51 percent or more of votes required to win the Colombian presidency.
Political analysts believe the race will be characterized by strong ideological divisions between Santos and his more conservative leaning opponent. During his announcement, Santos said, “There are still great challenges ahead of us, but I am convinced that the way to confront them is not only through blood and gunfire.” In contrast, Zuluaga has vowed to immediately cease peace talks if elected. Following Santos’ announcement, he replied, “We will not accept that our soldiers and police keep being murdered or unjustly persecuted while terrorists, kidnappers and murderers walk freely on the beaches in Havana."
Elections in small Central American countries rarely garner the kind of international attention that Honduras is receiving ahead of its November 24 presidential vote. Then again, this is no ordinary election. One of the frontrunners, Xiomara Castro, is the wife of former President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in Latin America’s last coup in 2009. Her main opponent is Juan Orlando Hernández, a member of the Partido Nacional de Honduras (National Party), which has ruled the country since Zelaya was forced from power. The political grudge match is playing out in a tinderbox of a country: Honduras is home to the world’s highest murder rate and an embattled economy that has passions running high.
Castro's very candidacy represents a remarkable reversal of fortunes for Zelaya, who is the dominant influence behind his wife's newly founded Partido Libertad y Refundación (Liberty and Refoundation Party—LIBRE). Only four years ago, Zelaya was unceremoniously removed from office by the military after he moved to rewrite the country's constitution. Exiled until 2011, Zelaya saw his public support rebound dramatically on the back of widespread sympathy in the wake of the coup, which many Hondurans felt was unlawful.
In the years since, the ruling Partido Nacional has struggled to govern. President Porfirio Lobo’s focus on reconciliation in the wake of the coup kept him from confronting major economic and security challenges. In the void, transnational drug-trafficking organizations and domestic gangs have expanded their influence in Honduras unabated. Separately, the economy is under siege. Honduras ended 2012 with a budget deficit amounting to approximately 5 percent of GDP, its second highest in 10 years, while the country’s $5 billion foreign debt is equivalent to last year's entire budget. Starved of funds, the state has been unable to pay public workers, prompting thousands to take to the streets.
An overhaul of Mexico’s private-sector lending system was approved by four key Senate committees on Wednesday, moving President Enrique Peña Nieto’s financial reform one step closer to passage. The housing, public credit, justice, and legislative studies committees all voted to pass the bill, following its passage in the Chamber of Deputies. The full Senate will discuss the 70 provisions of the bill today, with an expected vote on Tuesday. If any major changes are introduced, the bill would go back to a lower chamber for approval. Otherwise, it will go to President Peña Nieto to sign into law.
The bill, part of the Pacto por México (Pact for Mexico) reforms agreed upon by President Pena Nieto's Partido Institucional Revolucionaria (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) and the country's main opposition parties, would increase lending among Mexico’s banks, lower interest rates on loans and make credit more accessible to small and medium enterprises. The governor of Mexico’s Central Bank, Augustín Carstens, said in May that the proposed reform could help grow the economy by 0.5 percent over the next two to three years.
President Peña Nieto, who will reach his one year anniversary in office next month, has staked significant political capital in the Pacto por México reforms, ranging from education and energy to security and telecommunications. The most controversial reform thus far has been the proposed privatization of Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), the state-owned petroleum company to help attract investment and technology to Mexico’s ailing energy sector.
A finales de 2002, empresarios, trabajadores y algunos medios de comunicación venezolanos unieron fuerzas e iniciaron una paralización nacional en protesta al gobierno del entonces presidente Hugo Chávez, que acababa de sobrevivir a un golpe de estado ocho meses antes. Durante 62 días, negocios, bancos y hasta puestos de gasolina permanecieron cerrados incentivando a la creatividad para garantizar el abastecimiento. La punta de lanza del paro fue la estatal petrolera Petróleos de Venuezuela (PDVSA) que aporta cerca de 80% del PIB nacional. Contra todo pronóstico, Chávez consiguió capotear el embate y, así como del golpe, salió fortalecido y esclarecido: en pocos meses reestructuró la Fuerza Armada Nacional y la directiva petrolera, creó una red estatal de distribución de alimentos, decretó un control de divisas y fijó precios por decreto para algunos productos de la cesta básica. La experiencia nunca se repetiría.
Desde entonces, conseguir es un verbo clave en la vida de los venezolanos. Conseguir dólares, medicinas, alimentos, carros, autopartes, equipos electrónicos, productos de higiene y cuidado personal. El control cambiario dificultó el acceso a las divisas, crucial en un país donde 80% de los bienes son importados, en tanto que no flexibilizar los precios de los alimentos desestructuró al aparato productivo e impulsó la escasez. Ambos procesos sirvieron para que surgiese un mercado negro que determina los absurdos de la economía venezolana.
Según los reportes del Banco Central de Venezuela, la escasez alcanzó su punto más alto en enero de 2008, cuando el índice cerró en 24,7%, sin embargo, 2013 ha estado marcado por las dificultades para completar un mercado mensual. En años previos, uno o dos rubros faltaban simultáneamente, pero en estos momentos ítems como carne, pollo, harina, leche, mantequilla, jabón de baño, crema dental y papel higiénico están ausentes o con poca distribución. Imágenes de venezolanos peleando por empaques de pollo o paquetes de harina han sido éxitos de audiencia en internet, ahora la historia alcanza se extiende a otro nivel.
Nicolás Maduro, presidente y heredero político del fallecido Hugo Chávez, ha intentado demostrar que sus críticos se equivocan al cuestionar la golpeada situación económica nacional. Medidas como adelantar la Navidad por decreto y crear un Viceministerio para la Suprema Felicidad del Pueblo van en esa dirección. En medio de una aguda crisis signada por una inflación de más de 54%, 22,4% de escasez de productos y un dólar paralelo diez veces más caro, Maduro decidió la semana pasada llevar los controles a nuevos planos y anunció una “guerra” contra los comercios que según sus informaciones, especulan y remarcan los precios. Sus anuncios de inspección a grandes cadenas comerciales, desataron una ola de saqueos que se suma a ese álbum de imágenes decadentes que retrata la Venezuela contemporánea.
Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe plans to do a tour of Silicon Valley companies and universities today in an attempt to attract investment to the Caribbean nation. Lamothe has meetings scheduled with Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, as well as executives from Google, Apple and other top executives about opportunities for technological innovation in Haiti.
A mere .02 percent of Haitians have regular access to the Internet, and limited infrastructure and frequent blackouts have hampered efforts to increase connectivity. The 2010 earthquake exacerbated these conditions, though part of the millions of dollars in recovery aid has been spent trying to get the long impoverished country wired, including a $3.9 million program launched this fall to deploy 65 miles of optical fiber in the country's southern region.
At a tech conference in San Francisco yesterday, Lamothe said the Haitian government’s top priority is lifting people out of extreme poverty, and “the best way to do it is through technology.” He went on to say that the country could overcome its infrastructural challenges by storing data in digital clouds, and that the government could partner with business on the effort. Lamothe’s trip to California comes only two days after violent anti-government demonstrations erupted Haiti, where protesters opposed corruption and the high cost of living and demanded that President Michele Martelly step down.
Guatemala has captured the attention of media and policymakers across the globe with historic proceedings against former leaders, discussions on drug decriminalization, its U.N. Security Council and OAS involvement, organized crime, and other hot topics. Despite progress on important fronts like security and an improved image abroad, the pressing issue of deportation from the U.S. remains unsolved and continues to worsen, increasing pressure on an already fragile economic and social fabric.
Guatemala’s bilateral relationship with the U.S. is its most important, reflected by the country’s 12 diplomatic posts there and plans to open others soon. In 2012, cash flows from the U.S. reached record levels, totaling over 10 percent of Guatemala's GDP at $4.78 billion. President Otto Pérez-Molina's government is encouraging migrant families and their recipients to invest these funds, aware that creating opportunities for Guatemalan citizens and influencing the U.S. Congress to provide legal status to the over 700,000 undocumented Guatemalans living in the U.S. are crucial to the economic and social sustainability of Guatemala.
Deportations from the U.S. in 2013 have already surpassed 2012 levels, with two months remaining in the year. This further exacerbates pressures on the Guatemalan government to provide those with a “stunted American dream” access to key services, sound infrastructure and, most importantly, jobs.
With activities like the Guatemala Investment Summit, the manufacturing, tourism and construction industries are providing Guatemalans with job opportunities and the chance to integrate into the country’s economy. Although many higher-skilled and English-speaking workers are able to find jobs upon returning to Guatemala, the biggest remaining challenge is to create opportunities outside of Guatemala City.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced this Monday that the Monroe Doctrine—a policy that has defined U.S.-Latin American relations for nearly two centuries—has come to an end. During his speech at the Organization of American States (OAS), Kerry emphasized that the era of U.S. interventionism in the region was a matter of the past, and that the present administration values its partnerships and cooperation with its southern neighbors.
“The relationship that we seek and that we have worked hard to foster is not about a United States declaration about how and when it will intervene in the affairs of other American states. It's about all of our countries viewing one another as equals, sharing responsibilities, cooperating on security issues and adhering not to doctrine but to the decisions that we make as partners to advance the values and the interests that we share," Kerry said.
A stronger push toward multilateral diplomacy in the region began under the Bush administration and has continued with the Obama administration. Nevertheless, the announcement was well received in Latin America, where a growing middle class and dynamic economic growth have made countries in the region into increasingly attractive economic partners for the U.S. The statement was also seen as a welcome change from moments of tension earlier this year when Bolivian President Evo Morales expelled the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) from Bolivia after Secretary Kerry referred to Latin America as U.S.’ backyard, and when Brazilian President Rousseff criticized U.S. surveillance programs during her address to the UN General Assembly.
The National Assembly of Nicaragua met last Wednesday to discuss a proposal from the ruling Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional party (Sandinista National Liberation Front—FSLN), which seeks to remove a constitutional article banning consecutive presidential terms.
The proposed amendment was submitted to the National Assembly on November 1 and will be voted on by the end of December. The reform would also eliminate the minimum simple majority needed to win a presidential election, according to The New York Times, though it remains unclear what percentage would be needed to secure a presidential victory in the future.
National Assembly Secretary Alba Palacios said that she and six other multi-partisan lawmakers would form a commission to examine the proposal and consult with union representatives, community leaders, law professors, members of the armed forces, businesses and several other groups from an array of social and economic backgrounds.
“It is the people of Nicaragua who should decide who the president will be and whether or not there should be re-election,” Palacios said in a statement last week. Once the commission collects data from the public regarding their thoughts on the proposal, the National Assembly will vote and decide. Palacios’ statement follows a perception that the measure is likely to pass the National Assembly—where FSLN representatives hold a large majority—regardless of public opinion.
Although the proposition’s impact, if approved by the National Assembly, would not come into play until Nicaragua’s presidential election in 2016, many foreign media outlets and conservative Nicaraguan newspapers have distorted coverage of the FSLN’s bid and have approached the story from a perspective of perceived political superiority.
Likely top stories this week: Venezuela’s National Assembly is increasing presidential powers for President Nicolás Maduro; Demand for U.S. oil grows in Latin America; Michelle Bachelet enters second round of presidential elections in Chile; Arrest warrants are issued for bankers and politicians involved in Brazil’s biggest corruption trial; Cristina Fernández de Kirchner returns to office.
Presidential Powers in Venezuela: Venezuela’s National Assembly gave initial approval to a bill last week that would grant President Nicolás Maduro decree powers for 12 months. Maduro says he plans to use the new authorities to combat corruption and the country’s ongoing economic crisis, yet critics fear it will be used to suppress the opposition. The bill still requires final approval from a special commission, but is unlikely to undergo substantial changes.
Demand for U.S. oil grows in Latin America: Demand for U.S. fuels has doubled in Latin America during the past five years and continues to grow. The increased demand is due to economic growth and outdated Latin American refineries that have been unable to sustain production at levels comparable with market demands.
Bachelet Enters Second Round Presidential Elections in Chile: Michelle Bachelet won nearly twice as many votes as her second-place opponent, Evelyn Matthei, in the first round presidential elections in Chile. Bachelet won 47 percent of votes and Matthei won 25 percent, leading the two into a final and second round which will be Chile’s first in which both candidates were women. Bachelet’s center-left Nueva Mayoría (New Majority) coalition failed to win a super-majority in Congress, posing a challenge to the candidate’s proposed social and economic reforms.
Supreme Court Issues Arrest Warrants in Brazil Corruption Trial: Brazil’s Supremo Tribunal Federal (Supreme Federal Tribunal—STF) issued arrest warrants on Friday for 12 of the 25 convicted politicians, businessmen and bankers involved in the country’s Mensalão (monthly allowance) corruption scandal. Several prominent politicians—including José Genoino, the former president of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT), and José Dirceu, former chief-of-staff to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva—immediately turned themselves into federal authorities.
Cristina Fernández de Kirchner Returns to Office: Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner returned to office Monday after taking a six-week medical leave and undergoing surgery to stop internal bleeding caused by head trauma. Following her doctors’ recommendation, Kirchner remained on leave for a week longer than she had originally planned.
Es cierto que Colombia está viviendo lo impensable hace solo una década atrás: un grupo de guerrilleros negociadores sentados con sus pares del gobierno en La Habana, con un grupo de países amigos como garantes, alcanzando acuerdos para la resolución de un conflicto armado que ha durado casi 60 años.
El encuentro de negociaciones más reciente, que se trató de la participación política de las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), logró al mismo tiempo que unos estallaran en júbilo, y otros, de la corriente política encabezada por el expresidente Álvaro Uribe, mostraran, como siempre, su férrea indignación. A pocos días del anuncio, el ejército colombiano reveló un supuesto atentado que las FARC planeaban contra el exmandatario en una alianza con narcotraficantes en Cali.
La espectacularidad del hallazgo tapó el debate de días anteriores, en los que la pregunta de millón era el rol electoral que las FARC podrían jugar como posible actor político en las elecciones del 2014. ¿Cómo evitar que corran con la desgraciada suerte de la Unión Patriótica (UP), el partido de guerrilleros desmovilizados que quiso llegar al Congreso por allá en 1985 y cuyos 3.000 militantes fueron asesinados? A pesar de lograr unos sorprendentes resultados electorales—5 senadores, 9 representantes entre los que estuvo el hoy negociador de las FARC, Iván Marquez, 23 alcaldes, 14 diputados y 351 concejales—no pudieron ejercer la política.
¿El Estatuto de Oposición, piedra angular del acuerdo alcanzado, garantizaría sus vidas? ¿Es suficiente la creación de circunscripciones fuera de conflicto para promover esta inclusión democrática? ¿Qué hacer para que la posible carrera de los miembros de las FARC hacia el Congreso se parezca más a la que caminaron los exguerrilleros del M-19 como Gustavo Petro (hoy alcalde de Bogotá) o Antonio Navarro Wolf (ex-alcalde de Pasto y precandidato presidencial), que a la de la UP?
Una gran tarea de comunicación tiene el gobierno para explicarle los alcances de este acuerdo a una sociedad herida por la violencia de las FARC, y a la que le han hecho creer por muchos años que es la única piedra que impide que no seamos un país en paz. A una sociedad conservadora que cada vez que una encuesta le pregunta si quiere la paz, dice que sí, pero no, y mesura con cuidado su tolerancia a los costos para llegar a ella. Una reciente encuesta de la Universidad de los Andes dice que los encuestados reconocen que una desmovilización beneficiaría la economía, la seguridad y la democracia, pero más de un 70 por ciento rechaza que las FARC participen en política, mientras que alrededor del 50 por ciento dice que no aceptaría el resultado de las elecciones locales si las gana un desmovilizado.
Bipartisan opposition grew to the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty on Thursday as members of U.S. Congress who oppose the talks sent numerous letters to President Barack Obama and a secret 95-page draft chapter on intellectual property rights was published by WikiLeaks. TPP negotiations have included representatives from the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Mexico, Malaysia, Chile, Singapore, Peru, Vietnam, and Brunei, but have been closed to the public. According to The Guardian, the document dated on August 30 includes provisions on patentability, online privacy and copyright protections that would be included in a final TPP treaty.
Opponents of the treaty have been critical of the potential damages it may cause to online privacy and intellectual property standards. The Electronic Frontier Foundation—a lead proponent of digital freedoms and government transparency—said that the provisions leaked this week would have “extensive negative ramifications for users' freedom of speech, right to privacy and due process, and hinder peoples' abilities to innovate.” Critics also warn of the effects the treaty would hold on medicine, noting that its wide-reaching protections for pharmaceutical companies and surgical patents could lead to a rise in drug prices and related medical expenses.
TPP supporters remain optimistic and note that, upon approval, the treaty would create the world’s largest free-trade area. In a 2011 speech, Obama said, “The TPP will boost our economies, lowering barriers to trade and investment, increasing exports and creating more jobs for our people, which is my number-one priority.” Enactment of the treaty would dramatically reduce transaction costs between key trade partners in Asia and the Americas, while also serving to create a formidable trading bloc to compete with the growing economic influence of China.
Read more about the TPP in “The Next Big Thing” by Barbara Kotschwar and Jeffrey Schott from the Spring 2013 issue of Americas Quarterly.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner announced Wednesday that the Republican-led House of Representatives would not vote on comprehensive immigration reform before next year. Specifically, Speaker Boehner said that the House would not vote on the bipartisan Senate bill passed earlier this year, saying: “I'll make clear we have no intention ever of going to conference on the Senate bill.” The announcement follows a statement last week from House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to immigration reform proponents that there would not be enough time for a House vote to take place this year.
Political analysts believe Boehner’s decision to call off the vote was meant to signal that he would not be willing to consider the issue of citizenship. The Senate bill proposed offering a pathway to citizenship to the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., to be acquired through a multi-year legal application process and payment of fees and back taxes. The pathway would only be made available following implementation of new security measures along the U.S.-Mexico border. Boehner has said repeatedly that he will attempt to pass reforms “in a common sense way,” referring to committee deliberations that have focused on specific aspects of legislation, but that have not been scheduled for a full House vote. Only three Republican representatives have come out in support of H.R. 15, the House version of the comprehensive Senate bill.
The decision poses a considerable challenge to Republicans’ efforts to reach out to Latino voters since their loss in the 2012 U.S. presidential elections. Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney trailed behind President Obama by 44 percent among Latino voters. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus noted his concerns regarding the effects of immigration reform on the Republican Party, stating, “Hispanic voters tell us our Party’s position on immigration has become a litmus test, measuring whether we are meeting them with a welcome mat or a closed door.”
Last week, Guatemala’s Court of High Risk “B” (Tribunal de Mayor Riesgo “B”) announced that the genocide trial of Guatemala’s former president, General Efraín Ríos Montt, will not resume until January 2015. The trial was pushed back from an earlier date of April 2014, and by the time proceedings continue, Ríos Montt will be 88 years old.
Ríos Montt had been tried and convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity committed against the Mayan Ixil people during one of the most violent periods of Guatemala’s civil war. On May 10, he was sentenced to 80 years in prison, but served just two days before being transferred to a military hospital.
A day later, one of the defense team’s 100-plus amparos—measures designed to provide constitutional protection of individuals—was upheld by Guatemala’s Corte de Constitucionalidad (Constitutional Court—CC). The result of the successful amparo was to move the trial back to its middle, where there was a judicial battle over who was to hear the case—Judge Yasmin Barrios or Judge Carol Patricia Flores.
The ruling backtracked on previous declarations that the trial would not return to a previous date. It also contradicted Guatemalan law, which states once a verdict is delivered, the defendant must continue their legal fight in the Appeals Court.
Since then, the original trial judges have recused themselves on the grounds that they have already issued a judgment. Dozens of judges have avoided hearing the case for fear of repercussions, and in October, the CC reopened the possibility that Ríos Montt may be granted amnesty, based on a 1986 presidential decree by former President Óscar Humberto Mejía Víctores that barred prosecutions for political crimes committed during Mejía and Ríos Montt’s administrations.
The Colombian Government on Tuesday accused the leftist Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) of plotting to kill former President Álvaro Uribe. Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón said he had met with Uribe to inform him of “the detection of a plan by the FARC's Teofilo Forero Mobile Column to make an attempt on his life."
The plot was revealed amid tense peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC that have been taking place in Havana since last November. Uribe, who waged a fierce war against the FARC during his presidency from 2002 to 2010 and reduced the rebel group’s ranks by half, has been an outspoken critic of the talks. Minister Pinzón said that Uribe and his family would receive whatever security they needed in addition to their standard 300-person detail.
The news comes less than a week after the government and the FARC reached a key point in peace negotiations by agreeing on a framework for the creation of new political parties to represent disarmed rebel groups. The other four items to be on the agenda include disarmament, illicit drugs, rights of the victims and peace deal implementation. The president of the Colombian Congress, Juan Fernando Cristo, said that if the plot is confirmed, “we have to demand that the [FARC] negotiators in Havana explain it to the country.”
Not every election sparks debate on issues which define individual lives nor offers voters the chance to fundamentally shape the direction of a nation.
This Sunday Chileans will vote for 120 deputies, 20 senators and one president, bringing an end—to the first chapter at least—of a campaign race which has witnessed both the best and worst of the democratic process and vacillated from enthralling to infuriatingly dull to down-right bizarre.
A historic nine presidential candidates and campaign issues ranging from a new constitution to the right of rape victims to abort have made for an engaging spectacle and led to public discussions on topics which, for more than 20 years, have either been considered too divisive or too inconvenient to consider.
Symptomatic of a country at last free of the fear of dictatorship, whose emerging middle class has found its voice or whose historic struggle against exploitation has once again resurfaced—depending on which analysis one ascribes to, and which according to opinion polls, no longer trusts the political establishment——the 2013 school of presidential hopefuls are a motley crew. Among the nine is vegan, spiritual leader and former World Bank economist Alfredo Sfeir; seamstress-turned-activist Roxana Miranda; porsche-driving professor and celebrity economist Franco Parisi, and the combative intellectual who seeks to unite student, labor and environmental movements, Marcel Claude.
On Monday, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro redoubled his efforts to lobby the National Assembly for special powers to govern by decree under the Ley Habilitante (Enabling Law). Just days before the legislature is expected to vote on the measure, President Maduro vowed to extend Venezuela’s ineffective price controls to all consumer goods.
In an act reminiscent of his predecessor, the late President Hugo Chávez, President Maduro ordered the National Guard to seize several popular electronic shops on Saturday for allegedly selling goods at inflated prices. Despite an inflation rate of 54.3 percent and an artificially low exchange rate, the Maduro blamed increased prices for goods on corporate greed and now five managers from Daka, JVG and Krash stores face prosecution for price hikes.
President Maduro first petitioned the National Assembly for expanded powers at the beginning of October in order to fight corruption and “capitalist logic.” Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who narrowly lost the general election in April, has accused the government of scaring “away investments that would create employment,” and of worsening the economic crisis in the OPEC country.
While hundreds of customers lined up outside the retailers for the reduced priced goods, many Venezuelans saw the tactic as a way of ensuring votes in the upcoming December 8 municipal elections in light of the president’s decreased popularity.
Fifty years ago, I was entering university when a tragic event with worldwide repercussions occurred: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. Many who lived through that day and the following three days can recall where they were, what they were doing and how they felt.
Besides the United States, Canadians probably felt the pain most vividly. JFK had visited us earlier in his presidency and described us as neighbors, allies, partners, and friends. No relationship was closer and more interdependent. He had effectively seduced us on that visit.
Since his death, numerous historical accounts have focused on the theories about his assassination, the myths about the Kennedy years in the White House—the so-called “Camelot” era—and the successes and failures of his presidency. Even after all these years, the JFK mystique still captivates our imagination.
JFK was, above all, a modern man. Elected president in 1960 at age 43, he was the first U.S. president to be born in the 20th century. Young, handsome and charismatic, he was the first president to do regular televised press conferences. With his natural charm, he was able to display vision, firmness and humor. By all accounts, he was a natural for the television age.
Above all, JFK knew how to use the power of words to inspire and to give direction. His words still resonate after all these years: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country”; “Never fear to negotiate, but never negotiate out of fear”; “Wherever we may be, all free men are citizens of Berlin—Ich bin ein Berliner”; We choose to go to the moon in this decade not because it is easy, but because it is hard.”
Likely top stories this week: Chilean voters go to the polls; El Salvador and Honduras face off over Isla Conejo; the Venezuelan government seizes the electronic chain Daka; Chilean forensic experts conclude that Pablo Neruda was not poisoned; the Argentine president is cleared to start working.
Chilean Presidential Elections: Chilean voters will go to the polls on Sunday to elect their next president, with former President Michelle Bachelet heavily favored to win. Bachelet may forgo a presidential runoff with the second-place candidate if she is able to win more than 50 percent of the vote; polls thus far predict she will do so by winning a first-round majority. However, this is the first presidential election in Chile in which voting is no longer compulsory but in which all eligible voters are automatically registered; the new system may have some impact on the vote.
El Salvador Appeals to UN Over Isla Conejo: Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes announced on Sunday that his government would send a letter to the UN and OAS regarding its diplomatic dispute with Honduras over Isla Conejo, which is claimed by both countries. The Honduran military has occupied Isla Conejo since the 1980s, but El Salvador's recent purchase of ten A-37 fighter planes from Chile has made the Honduran government uneasy, with the Honduran government calling the purchase "an open threat." Funes denied the claims on Sunday and said that El Salvador was a peaceful nation and was not planning to go to war.
Government Seizes Venezuelan Electronics Chain: As the Christmas season and Venezuela's December 8 municipal elections approach, the Venezuelan government on Friday ordered the seizure of the electronics chain Daka, saying that prices of goods like plasma TVs were overpriced by as much as 1000 percent. After the government instituted a rapid price reduction of Daka's goods, Venezuelan customers lined up for hours to take advantage of the new prices. Shortages of basic goods have plagued the Venezuelan economy and inflation is estimated at 54 percent. Maduro says he is cracking down on unscrupulous businesspeople and has instituted a number of strategies—including kicking off Christmas celebrations in the first week of November—to shore up support ahead of the elections.
Neruda Not Poisoned, Experts Say: Experts from the Chilean Forensic Service said on Friday that no evidence of poison was found in the remains of Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda, who was exhumed earlier this year and whose body underwent six months of test by a team comprised of 15 Chilean and foreign forensic scientists. Neruda apparently died of prostate cancer just days before the coup of General Augusto Pinochet in September 1973. Neruda's driver, Manuel Araya, maintained for decades that the poet was poisoned after entering the hospital. Chile's Communist Party, of which Neruda was a member, has called for further studies.
Fernández de Kirchner to Resume Duties: A month after undergoing emergency surgery due to a blood clot in her brain, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has been given medical clearance to resume presidential duties starting on Monday. She will undergo more tests next month and is not allowed to fly for another 30 days. Argentine Vice President Amado Boudou was formally in charge of the government during Fernández de Kirchner’s recovery.
President Barack Obama and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) met at the White House on Thursday afternoon to discuss “a broad range of issues,” including strategies for moving immigration reform forward in Congress. While a bipartisan reform bill passed the Senate in June, the House of Representatives has yet to schedule a vote on its comprehensive reform bill, H.R 15.
Senator McCain, a long-time advocate for an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws, was a member of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” that crafted, and ultimately ensured the passage of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act in the senate. Once political opponents, the President and Sen. McCain have become unlikely allies on issues ranging from immigration to gun control. The two were expected to discuss how to garner more support from conservatives in the House, after three Republican representatives pledged their support for H.R. 15 last week.
With increasing pressure from conservative groups including businesses, evangelical Christians, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, there is renewed optimism that the House may take up immigration reform before the end of the year. While five piecemeal bills on issues such as boarder security and mandatory use of the E-Verify system have passed their committees, none have been brought to the floor for a vote. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has not set a timetable for a full House vote. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have both endorsed the House’s piecemeal approach as the most likely to yield passable reform legislation this year.
Speaking before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) last week, petitioning organizations from Peru formally highlighted problems within Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)—an agency established in 2001 to address human rights abuses committed during the internal conflict of the 1980s and 1990s.
The TRC was created after the fall of President Alberto Fujimori in order to investigate crimes committed by both the guerrilla groups Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) and the Movimiento Revolucionario Túpac Amaru (Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement—MRTA), as well as by government forces. The TRC focuses on massacres, terrorism, forced disappearances, violence, and human rights abuses committed during the armed conflict.
While petitioners and members of the Commission recognized last week that concrete advances have been made since the TRC’s inception, they agreed that significant challenges remain and hope to generate a set of specific actions to be taken in four main areas: the judicial process, missing and disappeared persons, the current state of reparations for victims, and historic memory.
Representatives from the Instituto de Defensa Legal (Institute of Legal Defense—IDL) and the Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos (National Human Rights Coordinator—CNDDHH) described problems within the TRC budget, inadequate reparations for victims and the sluggish speed of human rights court cases in Peru.
The Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) reached a key point in peace negotiations this Wednesday, as the two parties agreed upon a framework for the creation of new political parties to represent disarmed rebel groups. The issue of political integration was previously highlighted by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos as a primary goal for the negotiations, which he hopes to conclude by the end of this year.
The talks began in Havana last November, and have stalled numerous times as the parties have sought to reach an agreement to end the country’s fifty-year-old armed conflict. According to the Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica (National Center for Historical Memory), the conflict has killed 220,000 people and has displaced hundreds of thousands more. Political experts believe the integration agreement will boost public support for the negotiations, which has declined in recent months due to increasing criticisms from opposition parties ahead of the 2014 presidential elections.
Humberto de la Calle, chief negotiator for the Colombian government, said the talks will lead to a “new democratic opening,” adding, “Never again politics and weapons together.” Chief FARC negotiator Iván Márquez also voiced his support for Wednesday’s development, saying it was “an important step in the right direction to end the conflict and to achieve a real democracy in Colombia.” In addition to agreements on land reform and political integration, the parties hope to conclude negotiations by the end of 2013 on the remaining issues of disarmament, drug reform, reparations for victims, and peace plan implementation.
“Nations be spyin’, yo!”
That’s how Jon Stewart of The Daily Show recently summed up the ongoing-and-ever-expanding allegations that the U.S. National Security Agency spied on Brazil and other nations, a story to which Wikipedia now devotes more than 33,000 words and nearly 600 source references.
“All nations act in their own self-interest,” Stewart said on October 24, addressing those such as Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff who have responded with outrage to the allegations. “Don’t act like your s*** don’t stink, it does, and we know, because we have a super-secret program that goes through your s***.”
Stewart was more right than he knew.
This week in Brazil, local media revealed that the Agência Brasileira de Inteligência (Brazilian Intelligence Agency—ABIN) has spied on diplomatic allies including the United States—an embarrassing revelation for Rousseff, who in recent months has positioned herself as a champion of privacy rights and even canceled an official state visit this fall to the White House because she said the U.S. refused to swiftly end its spying program.
Awkward. But now, the revelations about Brazil’s spy program have sparked a reaction similar to Stewart’s.
“Brazil has an intelligence agency, so it is not big news that Brazil spies,” Rafael Alcadipani da Silveira, of the Rio de Janeiro think tank Fundação Getúlio Vargas, told me.
“Everybody spies,” agreed Christian Lohbauer, a political scientist at the Universidade de São Paulo (University of São Paulo—USP). If anything, he is now more annoyed at Brazil’s government for having used the issue to gain political points at home.
The Rio de Janeiro state government announced on Tuesday night that it would cancel this year’s Soccerex Global Convention, the premier business event for the international soccer community, citing a financial dispute over the use of public funds. But Soccerex CEO Duncan Revie rebuffed the government’s claim, saying instead that “ongoing civil unrest” in Rio is to blame for the convention’s cancellation.
The decision to cancel Soccerex is a blow to World Cup organizers, who are trying to demonstrate that Brazil is ready to host the global tournament and the 2016 Olympics following widespread protests in the Spring against World Cup-related investment.
Soccerex was scheduled to take place in Rio’s newly refurbished Maracanã stadium from November 30 to December 5. It would have been attended by 4,500 of "football's leading decision-makers," including many of the executives, coaches and functionaries—FIFA President Sepp Blatter among them—who then planned to travel on to the World Cup draw on December 6.
The news was announced as the Brazil 2014 organizing committee was in London to visit a tourism trade fair. Speaking to reporters in London, FIFA's marketing director, Thierry Weil, said, "We are as surprised as anybody at this change of plans but we do not believe it will have any influence on the hosting of the World Cup.”
Next year, Soccerex moves its convention to Manchester in the United Kingdom, which has been the host of Soccerex Europe since 2010.