Forty years since right-wing military generals swept socialist President Salvador Allende from office, Chile remains as divided as the day the bombs fell on La Moneda, the Chilean presidential palace.
In 2013, amid renewed social movements, the first presidential election since the coming in of the first right-leaning administration following the country’s return to democracy, the events of September 11, 1973 are as relevant as ever before.
Few Chileans were left untouched by the coup. Hundreds of thousands were killed, tortured, exiled or simply “disappeared” during the coup and the 17-year military rule that followed it. But even those born after the 1990 transition to democracy live under the shadow of General Augusto Pinochet.
The legacy of dictatorship is present in almost every facet of the country’s political and economic institutions, down to the very constitution that underpins it: its economy is rooted in the regime’s drastic free-market reforms; politics confined by the electoral system it pioneered; and schools, hospitals and pensions administered according to the model the constitution imposed.
To this day in Chile, that legacy remains disputed—even as thousands of protesters link stark economic inequalities to the years of military rule, others affiliate them with the country’s overall financial success.
But though the horrors of the military regime continue to haunt Chile, despite the fact that its political, economic and cultural reverberations continue to this day, change may be in the air.
For the first time, those involved in the military regime—many of whom, far from being punished, have gone on to positions of further authority—have begun to publicly address the issues of their past. The Chilean mainstream media is candidly addressing the dictatorship’s human rights abuses in a way it rarely had previously done. The issue of constitutional reform is forefront in the presidential race.
Much more needs to be addressed—and acted upon—before the wounds of the dictatorship can be healed and the stark divisions in Chile reconciled. But with dialogue finally beginning to open on the subject of human rights and a presidential campaign gearing toward full swing this year, 40 years after the coup that so drastically altered the course of a nation, Chile finally has the chance to put the horrors of September 11, 1973 behind it.
The United States, Argentina and Costa Rica secured their place in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil last night, becoming the first three teams in the Americas to do so. The U.S. and Costa Rica represent the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) and Argentina plays in the Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol (South American Football Confederation—CONMEBOL).
The U.S. beat archrival Mexico in Columbus, Ohio, to secure their place in the tournament, becoming the fourteenth team to qualify for seven consecutive World Cups. While the U.S. benefited from Mexico playing its first game under a new coach, Tuesday’s match came only days after the same U.S. team suffered a crushing 3-0 defeat to Costa Rica at the Estadio Nacional in San José—a game that was plagued by controversy and ended the U.S.’ 12-game winning streak. Costa Rica tied Jamaica to book their ticket to Brazil.
Argentina managed a convincing 5-2 away game win against Paraguay, with Lionel Messi scoring two penalties kicks to tie Uruguay’s Luis Suarez as the conference’s top goal scorer. Argentina is in first place in the CONMEBOL table with 29 points and two qualifiers left to play. Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela—all within 7 points of each other—are vying for the last three qualification spots from CONMEBOL.
The group stage of the World Cup begins on June 12 in the Morumbi Stadium in São Paulo.
Venezuela’s withdrawal from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights goes into effect today—a year after the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez officially notified the Organization of American States (OAS) that his country would withdraw from the human rights body. Chávez accused the Court, an autonomous branch of the OAS, of serving U.S. interests.
Venezuela is the second country to denounce the American Convention on Human Rights and withdraw from the Inter-American Court, following Trinidad and Tobago’s pullout in 1998. Two other countries in the hemisphere—the U.S. and Canada—have not ratified the American Convention. Once the withdrawal becomes official, the Court will no longer be able to recognize and denounce human right violations in Venezuela, but the Commission will continue to evaluate and issue reports about the state of human rights in the country. This means that Venezuela will still form part of the inter-American human rights system since the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights can still monitor the country.
According to Venezuelan constitutional lawyer Arturo Peraza, denouncing the American Convention and withdrawing from the Court breaches the Venezuelan Constitution and the spirit of the 1999 Constituent Assembly. The American Convention, or Pact of San José, is mentioned in Article 339 on the Venezuelan Constitution, establishing that state of emergency decrees must meet the requirements set forth in the Convention. Article 23 also awards the Convention a constitutional status; Article 31 recognizes that citizens can file human rights claims and requests with international human rights bodies.
José Miguel Vivanco , Americas director for Human Rights Watch, called on members of the Common Market of the South (Mercosur) to persuade Venezuela to reconsider its decision, which Vivanco said could have severe implications on the Inter-American human rights system. Venezuela is a Mercosur member along with Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay. However, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elías Jaua replied last weekend that “the inter-American system is the one that has to reconsider.”
Venezuela, along with Ecuador and other members of the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas—ALBA) bloc, supports an ongoing process to reform the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. This includes restricting its discretionary funding and the role of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, which reports on freedom of expression violations throughout the Americas.
Rural Colombians are winding down the national strike that has engulfed the country since August 19. Roadblocks are coming down and laborers are beginning negotiations with the government. But it appears unlikely that an overhaul of the country’s free trade policies—the bitter medicine that many rural Colombians are demanding—will be part of a compromise from Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.
The strike has mobilized Colombians from numerous sectors. Roadblocks in rural areas included groups like coffee growers—who staged protests earlier this year against the importation of coffee—and truckers, who have been struck by a recent price hike on petroleum. In Bogotá and other cities, health care workers and university students have called for a rollback of privatization in the health care and education industries.
Unifying the strike is dissatisfaction with Colombia’s free trade policies. A lack of investment in infrastructure and the importation of cheap foreign goods, such as coffee and powdered milk, have wreaked havoc upon the earnings of the rural poor. Protesters are also upset with other aspects of Colombian policy, including one law forcing farmers to buy certified seeds, offered exclusively by private corporations such as Monsanto.
Santos has struggled to manage the emerging political crisis as he focuses on beginning peace negotiations with the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Army—ELN), Colombia’s largest guerrilla group after the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC). Peace talks with the FARC began in November 2012.
The president ignored the strike during its first week, declaring that the “so-called national strike does not exist,” and blaming roadblocks and demonstrations on “10 or 15” agitators.
The story on the ground is different. On August 29, Neil Martin, director of the civic organization Paso Internacional, observed a large non-violent march in the capital that was met with violence from Colombia’s riot police, the Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios (Mobile Anti-Disturbances Squadron—ESMAD).
“What we saw was a relatively peaceful protest which was repressed by the riot police and then turned into a melee,” said Martin. “We witnessed several different instances of the riot police firing tear gas into crowds of peaceful protesters. We saw the riot police throwing projectiles like bricks into crowds of mostly non-violent protesters.”
On August 30, Santos ordered the military into Bogotá and other regions affected by the strike. Clashes so far have left at least five dead and hundreds injured, including protesters, police and civilian bystanders. ESMAD officers in padded uniforms and riot shields are now joined on the streets by military personnel armed with assault rifles.
As security forces clear roadblocks and disperse marches, the Santos administration is scrambling to negotiate an end to the strike. Agreements with various industries have coaxed individual sectors to take down roadblocks. A Gran Pacto Nacional (Grand National Pact) is set to be signed on September 12, but numerous groups have stated they have not yet agreed to join the statement.
The Colombian government has been uncompromising on its stance toward free trade policy. Despite Santos’ declarations that poverty alleviation would be a priority, 46.8 percent of rural Colombians are still poor and 22.8 percent remain in extreme poverty, according to a report by the Colombian national development agency, Dirección de Desarrollo Social (Social Development Office—DDS).
Without compromises from the government to protect the livelihood of farmers and other rural workers, the causes at the root of the national strike will not disappear for long.
With the G20 summit completed, the world is now focused on the United States Congress, and whether it will vote in favor of a resolution authorizing President Barack Obama to launch military strikes on Syria. Since the British Parliament voted down a similar motion by Prime Minister David Cameron to involve Britain with the U.S. in a military enterprise against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons, Obama decided to ask for Congressional support. The outcome for support in the war-weary United States is far from certain.
Normally, the United Nations would be the ideal forum to debate any contraventions to the 1925 Geneva Convention, which made the use of chemical weapons a war crime. However, both Russia and China have indicated they will use their veto power over any American resolution. With UN inspectors soon to divulge their findings following the chemical attack on innocent victims, it may be a wise course for the U.S. to share its intelligence with the UN on who perpetrated this heinous act. From all indications, the U.S. case is solid.
Clearly, President Obama understands the stakes. He, who made the whole Iraq war imbroglio a defining element of his candidacy back in 2008, knows that his countrymen would remind him of his views regarding the Bush years. To go to Congress was a wise and necessary choice. And it gives him needed time to explore backchannel diplomacy.
With polls showing little support for military action in Syria, the Obama administration will have to present a much more compelling case for engagement. International support, while significant in some quarters, remains elusive. Eleven of the G20 countries, including Canada, support the U.S. president’s intention to use military force, but a closer reading indicates the support is varied in tone and conditional in practice. History can also be a guide in making the case, but it cannot be a doctrine, a strategy nor a policy. It can only serve as a reference.
Likely top stories this week: Colombian government and striking farmers reach a deal; Henrique Capriles takes Venezuela’s election results to the IACHR; Enrique Peña Nieto outlines his plans for reform; Brazilians protest again; and the Colombian government and FARC resume peace talks.
Colombian Government Strikes Deal with Farmers: The Colombian government announced on Sunday that it had reached an agreement with protesting farmers that have been striking since August 19. The strike aimed to draw attention to the economic difficulties they face in competing with cheap imports from abroad. The farmers agreed to lift all road blockades by Tuesday and will join the government in negotiations to address their demands and reach a final agreement. The government has already agreed to cut fertilizer prices and provide cheap credit to farmers.
Venezuela's Capriles to Challenge Maduro's Win Before IACHR: Former Venezuelan presidential candidate and opposition leader Henrique Capriles will bring a case challenging Venezuela's April 14 election results before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on Monday. Venezuela's Consejo Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Council—CNE) confirmed in early June that President Nicolás Maduro had won the election by a slim 1.49 percent margin over Capriles, and the Venezuelan Supreme Court upheld the decision. The IACHR must first decide whether the case is admissible. This comes as Venezuela's withdrawal from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights is to become effective on Tuesday, September 10, a year after the government announced its withdrawal from the human rights body.1
Peña Nieto Champions Tax Reform: Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto outlined his plans for tax reform on Sunday in a speech from the presidential residence. The tax plan is intended to generate billions of dollars for social programs by closing tax loopholes for the wealthy and create a new universal pension for Mexicans over age 65. Meanwhile, Mexican opposition politician Andrés Manuel López Obrador led a demonstration of about 30,000 Mexicans on Sunday to protest Peña Nieto's tax, energy and education reforms.
Brazilians Protest on Independence Day: Brazilians in 150 cities took part in protests on September 7 (Brazil's Independence Day), interrupting a military parade in Rio de Janeiro, chanting outside Congress in Brasília as President Dilma Rousseff gave a speech, and clashing outside a soccer match in Mane Garrincha stadium in Brasília. Police fired tear gas at demonstrators in both cities, and at least 50 people in Brasília and 50 people in Rio were arrested. The protesters are continuing to demonstrate against poor public services, political corruption and public spending on the 2014 World Cup.
Colombian Peace Talks Resume in Havana: The fourteenth round of peace talks between the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) begin in Havana on Monday. The last cycle concluded on August 28, after nearly coming to a halt when the government proposed holding a public referendum on any peace accord. The rebels have said that they would like to incorporate the agreements into Colombia’s constitution, a demand that the government has rejected. However, the FARC confirmed that they are willing to restart the talks this week.
1Editor'sNote: Venezuela withdrew from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, not the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. See AQ's Daily Focus on Tuesdsay, September 10 for a complete explanation.
Brazilian authorities canceled a delegation trip to Washington that had been scheduled to lay the groundwork for President Dilma Rousseff‘s meeting with President Barack Obama in October. The decision was made on Thursday in response to allegations that the Brazilian president was a target of U.S. electronic espionage.
The allegations were made on September 1 by American journalist Glenn Greenwald, who obtained secret government documents on U.S. electronic surveillance programs from former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden. The documents revealed that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) monitored the communications network of the Brazilian president and her staff, including telephone, Internet and social network exchanges. According to Greenwald, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto was similarly targeted. Both presidents have demanded an explanation from Washington by the end of this week.
For Brazilian Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figuereido, “this represents an inadmissible and unacceptable violation of Brazilian sovereignty.” Brazil’s Senate is creating a special committee to examine the spying allegations and to seek federal police protection for Greenwald, who lives in Rio de Janeiro. Figuereido said that Brazilian authorities also will file a complaint with the United Nations and reach out to other developing nations to protest against this breach of national sovereignty.
According to former Brazilian ambassador to the U.S., Rubens Barbosa, though Brazil-U.S. relations have waned in recent years, the scandal won’t affect commercial ties between the two countries. “Rousseff will probably end up going through with the trip and speak out against the espionage in Obama’s face,” Barbosa said.
The October 23 trip would be Rousseff’s first state visit to Washington DC.
BOGOTA – It is somewhat ironic that Douglas MacArthur’s famous observation that “old soldiers never die, they just fade away” is also an apt description of the life cycle of terrorist organizations. At least, it certainly applies to the Shining Path organization.
Casual observers of South America might be surprised to discover that the Shining Path is still around. Yet the Maoist insurgent group, which in the 1980s and 1990s waged a bloody guerrilla war against the Peruvian government, is still kicking. In its heyday, Shining Path controlled large swathes of Peru´s central highlands and perpetrated terrorist attacks in the capital city of Lima. Today, the group is a shadow of its former self; effectively confined to the Ene, Apurímac and Mantaro river valleys in the southeast of the country, where it wages a guerrilla war against Peruvian security forces, traffics drugs and extorts companies operating in the area.
Last month, Peruvian security forces struck a heavy blow. A military operation north of the city of Ayacucho killed three Shining Path members, including two high-profile leaders: Martin Quispe Palomino (alias “Gabriel”) and Alejandro Borda Casafranca (alias “Alipio”).
The deaths will have a direct impact on the group´s operational capacity and its ability to maintain its current sources of revenue. Both Gabriel and Alipio are believed to have led extortion attempts targeting local and foreign businesses operating in southern Peru, including the April 2012 abduction of 36 workers on the Camisea gas pipeline. Furthermore, Gabriel reportedly spearheaded the group´s expanded involvement in the drug trade, opening new trafficking routes to the northern jungle region of Loreto and the southern border with Bolivia.
The media across the world has a knack for framing narratives in a way that perpetuates the status quo. This is true whether the subject is the rich, the poor, gays, lesbians, Africans, Americans, or Muslims.
I was yet again reminded of the power of the media to influence public opinion as I flipped through the Evening Standard and Metro (two dailies published in the United Kingdom) and read headlines about bombings and other acts of terrorism. From these, it was clear that the Western media treats Muslims in a particular way—the very same way the Jamaican media treats people who are poor, from marginalized communities or are homosexual.
As a result of their portrayal in the media, Muslims, lesbians and gays are often defined by their wrongdoing. Headlines often read “Muslim Terrorist” or “Muslim Extremist” just as Jamaicans are used to reading headlines such as “Gay Miscreant” or “Gays Wreak Havoc.”
During a recent visit to Washington DC, I spoke with a Muslim friend who is distressed by the fear and hysteria on people’s faces when they see people thought to be Muslim. The Boston Marathon bombing in April heightened this fear. Although she does not wear a hijab, my friend is still frightened by these incidents and the treatment that follows them. What is ironic is that the same media that generates anti-Muslim sentiment then goes ahead and criticizes the media in places like Jamaica for similarly biased treatment toward gays and lesbians.
The result is a contradiction in what is permissible in the media. Christians, whatever their wrongdoing, are rarely identified by their faith. Heterosexuals, whatever their wrongdoing, are rarely identified by their sexuality. The rich, whatever their crimes, are rarely identified by their socioeconomic status.
It is also a fact that people from the lowest income quintile struggle academically and that people of color are more likely to be unemployed. But that does not mean poor people and minorities lack interest in educating themselves.
We must begin to question our privileges and freedoms if we want to make our communities more hospitable. Be reminded that prejudice is interconnected and serves only one purpose: to maintain a status quo.
Mexican senators approved an education bill on Wednesday that will overhaul the country’s public education system, in a boost to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s goal of fixing a system many viewed as corrupt.
The vote—with 102 senators in favor and 22 opposed—follows Mexico’s lower house’s approval of the law on Sunday in a 390 to 69 vote.
The reform package establishes competency exams for teachers, promotions based on merit, and an evaluation system for hiring faculty. The Senate vote was the final step needed to move forward with Peña Nieto’s wider education bill, which was approved in December, although the secondary laws approved Wednesday remained pending for months.
On Monday, Peña Nieto gave his first State of the Union address, touting education reform as a means to attain greater academic achievement and allow Mexico to become more competitive. According to the OECD, only 47 percent of Mexican children graduate from the equivalent of high school.
Meanwhile, thousands of members of Mexico’s powerful teachers union have taken to the streets for weeks to protest Peña Nieto’s education reform package. The protesting teachers said that the reforms could cause them to lose their jobs and argued that the government should spend more money on underperforming schools. Teachers held strikes across Mexico in at least a dozen states and blocked traffic in Mexico City on Wednesday.
Peña Nieto is attempting a number of reforms that he says will help boost the Mexican economy, including a reform of the state oil company, Pemex, and a tax overhaul.
Power outages covered more than half of Venezuela’s territory on Tuesday, including nine of the country’s 23 states. According to Deputy Energy Minister Francisco Silva, the blackouts were due to the failure of several grid transmission lines. The blackouts also paralyzed Caracas’ subway system and shut down traffic lights, causing heavy traffic across the capital.
President Nicolás Maduro said that Venezuela’s oil industry was not affected by the outages and deployed the armed services to help maintain control until power could be restored. Maduro accused the opposition of orchestrating the blackout on his Twitter account: “At this moment, everything seems to indicate that the far-right has resumed its plan for an electrical strike against the country.”
The power outages come one day after Finance Minister Nelson Merentes said that while the chavista government has made great strides in eliminating poverty and inequality, it has yet to solve the “structural problems” with the Venezuelan economy. Despite its oil riches, Venezuela high inflation and a looming energy crisis pose a long-term dilemma for Maduro, who succeeded Hugo Chávez in April.
Sixteen members of Colombia’s Cabinet resigned on Monday ahead of a likely Cabinet reshuffle by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in the wake of a growing crisis in Colombia’s farming sector.
As a nationwide farmers’ strike stretches into its third week, Santos is reportedly working on an accord with farmers to deal with the protests, which turned violent last week in the capital city of Bogotá. Last Thursday, protests in Bogotá left at least two people dead and hundreds injured. Santos responded by sending 50,000 soldiers into the streets to patrol the city.
Colombian farmers say that the country’s free trade agreements (FTAs) with the U.S. and Europe are making it impossible for domestic agriculture to compete with cheaper imports. The farmers, who installed roadblocks across the country two weeks ago in protest, agreed to lift some of the blockades last Friday after Santos said he was dissatisfied with his officials’ handling of negotiations with the protesters. The roadblocks had cut off some towns from shipments of fuel and food.
Santos emphasized his committment to improving rural development in Colombia and in working with all sectors of the Colombian economy. "We will work to construct a grand national pact for agriculture and rural development and we will include all interested parties in that process," he said on Friday.
The resigning Cabinet members offered full support to Santos in a statement on Monday. This will be the second time that Santos has shuffled his Cabinet since taking office in 2010. Since then, his approval rating has fallen from a high of 74 percent to below 50 percent in July. He has until November to decide whether he will run for a second term as president in the May 2014 elections.
Often referred to as “games for good” or “games for change,” a new generation of socially- and environmentally-oriented online simulation games aims to go beyond entertainment by raising awareness of global issues and securing funds for projects—making a real-word difference.
Over 10 million people worldwide have played World Food Programme’s (WFP) “Food Force,” for example, spending money that goes to fund WFP-sponsored school meals projects. However, few simulations have been useful at the policy-making level—until now. Today marks the release of “SimPachamama,” a new game from Bolivia that could influence international, national and local-level policy decisions that affect forest communities.
SimPachamama—“Pachamama” means “Mother Earth” in the local Aymara language—was developed by a multidisciplinary team of researchers from British and Bolivian institutions.* The simulation is modeled on data collected in a real-life Bolivian forest town, and in the game, the player becomes the mayor of an Amazonian rainforest community. The goal of the mayor’s 20-year term is to increase citizens’ wellbeing and reduce deforestation through a variety of policies: levying a tax on deforestation, making conservation payments, creating green jobs in the ecotourism sector, and adjusting public spending.
One proposed way to curb global deforestation is to transfer money from rich countries to poor ones via the UN Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (UN REDD). SimPachamama takes this kind of mechanism into account by including one additional important policy lever: the decision of whether or not to accept international payments to reduce local deforestation.
It is notable, however, that the simulation’s developers are not supporting UN REDD per se—or its REDD+ and REDD++ versions that include initiatives for forest conservation and, sustainable forest management and enhancement of forest sinks. This is because the UN REDD mechanism has been vigorously opposed by the Bolivian government, in part because it links emissions reductions payments to volatile carbon markets. It is also not likely to help the poor—one of Bolivia’s major policy concerns. The researchers found that under the kind of payments system proposed by UN REDD, less than 5 percent of the population—mainly the richer large-scale farmers—would reap more than 90 percent of the financial benefits. Bolivia’s proposed Joint Mitigation and Adaptation Mechanism for the Integral and Sustainable Management of Forests (Joint Mechanism) addresses some of REDD’s worst issues and is presented as a practical alternative. The researchers involved in developing SimPachamama are working with the Bolivian government in an advisory capacity to help get funding to start the mechanism.
The first nine months of Peña’s administration have kept the press busy and all of the country’s eyes and ears focused on what will happen next. He’s been characterized as bold, action-oriented and dynamic but clearly, not a team player.
He was celebrated by many (yours truly included) in February when he presented an ambitious and much needed education reform but disappointed just as many after having this effort easily thwarted by militant and disgruntled unionized teachers from the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (CNTE), which has taken Mexico City hostage in the last week to avoid needed secondary laws to enact the reform passing through Congress.
The inability to prevent and the lack of resolve to disperse a non-justified blockage of Congress as well as a blockade of the city’s main arteries—including those giving access to the airport and the Zócalo—has proven once again that political leaders are making decisions not based on the greater good, the rule of law or the citizenry’s interests, but on a political agenda serviced by interest groups holding more power than they should and unable to cooperate with each other.
Mismanagement of this situation could soon spark violence and create a larger-than-ideological divide. The affected citizenry in Mexico City will only stand so much. In a recent poll by BCG-Excelsior, 52 percent of Mexicans stated that they are so fed up with the CNTE’s irrational resistance to the education reform and their militant actions that they would justify use of public force to disperse the picketers.
And while the teachers take to the streets, both Peña Nieto and the city’s government cower from taking necessary action because of the political cost it would imply. Mexico City is not the only thing that’s paralyzed because of this—a broken education system puts the nation’s future talent pool at risk.
The other current hot topic in the president’s agenda is energy reform. As recently described by Christian Gomez on AS/COA, “the proposal includes constitutional changes that would open up Pemex, the 75-year-old state oil monopoly, to profit-sharing contracts and foreign investment.”
This new notion of natural resources no longer belonging exclusively to the nation poses a huge shift in paradigm. Reactions from the nation’s Left include accusations related to autonomy, national patrimony and the role of government vs. private investors in extraction and having access to revenues from one of the nation’s most important sources of income. The opposition understands that PEMEX’s inefficiencies and the plague of corruption need to be addressed, but they propose that a problem should not be fixed by creating another one.
One of the most respected voices from the Left, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, has recently stated that both PEMEX and CFE (federal electricity company) can become highly productive without having to edit the Constitution and without allow foreign and/or private hands in the nation’s riches. If national patrimony is challenged due to reforms to articles 27 and 28 of the Mexican Constitution, Cárdenas has warned he would call for nationwide protests and he would even take to the streets along with López Obrador’s Morena (National Regeneration) movement.
Given its current party composition, Peña can easily get approval for the energy reform in Congress but he would be naïve to think that this is the only hurdle he needs to jump and he is doing a terrible job at trying to get public buy-in to this proposal through vague infographics on TV.
If there is a possibility for effective energy reform, an open and inclusive debate needs to take place. This topic is not one that his team should be discussing behind closed doors and the hard questions will require real answers, not 20-second TV spots.
Peña’s government has been characterized by a “my way or the highway” attitude, which is an easier temptation to fall into than trying to build consensus in a country as complex and fragmented as Mexico. This dictatorial style is only possible because of the fact that PRI has a stellar position both in Congress and in the State governments to push its agenda forward, something neither former Presidents Fox nor Calderón had. However, Peña would do well in understanding that his constituency is not limited to the political parties or even the power elites.
Organized teachers have already proven what they can do in Mexico City given enough motivation. Sparked by national patrimony rhetoric, larger, non-organized social mobilizations could easily flare up in different key cities in Mexico and cause larger havoc. As former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza recently wrote, “these red flags, so to speak, are especially relevant given the influence and disruptive potential of many of today's social movements. The eruption of mass street protests in Brazil is just one recent example of a government being forced to change direction on a policy initiative and find a way to rapidly and constructively respond to the desires, often inchoate, of a newly emboldened and empowered population. It's a cautionary tale that begins with frustration and finds expression in mass action.”
Even when theoretically, Peña could powerball his reforms forward, both him and the PRI need to wake up and understand that they cannot be the only voice to determine the nation’s destiny. Vargas Llosa sarcastically called the previous PRI era “the perfect dictatorship” but today’s Mexico will not stand for a return of that so-called “perfect” model. Peña needs to learn to play well with others.
The Constitutional Court of Colombia, the country’s highest court, ruled yesterday that peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—FARC) are constitutional, rejecting a legal challenge that would have stalled negotiations in ending over 50 years of conflict.
The decision comes after several weeks of the court listening to intense debates over the Legal Framework for Peace, an amendment approved in Congress last year that modified the constitution to lay the groundwork for a negotiated peace with the FARC. Human rights groups have challenged this framework, with concerns that the reform will lead to institutionalized impunity for many guerilla fighters responsible for kidnappings, massacres and attacks. Gustavo Gallon, a lawyer with the Colombian Commission of Jurists, had presented the formal legal challenge that was up for debate.
The law formed the basis of the peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian government. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos says that the court’s decision allows the country to move forward with these important peace negotiations. He emphasizes that the country will need to find the “middle point between justice and peace that enables us to put a definitive end to this conflict.”
Colombia’s second-largest rebel group, the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Army—ELN), released a Canadian engineer on Tuesday after holding him hostage for seven months. Gernot Wober, vice president of exploration for the Toronto-based Braeval Mining Corporation, was turned over to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The ELN captured Wober in January along with five other Braeval employees in the Bolivar Department, demanding that mining company abandon its gold and silver mining project in the north of Colombia. In July, Braeval announced it was terminating all mining activity in Colombia due to “unfavorable market conditions,” opening the door for Wober’s release. In a video message posted Tuesday, ELN leader Nicolas Rodriguez hailed Wober’s release as a humanitarian act, saying that “this outcome proves that conflicts can be solved through negotiation."
After waging a 48-year armed conflict with the Colombian government, the ELN has expressed its willingness to negotiate peace accords, similar to the negotiations taking place with the Fuerzas Amradas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) in Havana. However, government authorities insisted that the ELN release all of its hostages before the two parties can begin dialogue.
Deep in the northeastern part of the Ecuadorian Amazon is the Yasuní National Park, a 2.4-million acre reserve believed by scientists to be the most biodiverse place on Earth. Its location, where the equatorial divide meets the Andes and the Amazon rainforest, has made Yasuní one of the world’s most unique habitats for life. The park is also home to two of the planet’s last uncontacted tribes.
Yet beneath all that diversity lays an estimated 846 million barrels of oil, which the Ecuadorian government plans to extract. Earlier this month, President Rafael Correa abandoned the novel Yasuní-ITT initiative, which was launched in 2007 to keep the oil underground. The initiative sought to raise $3.6 billion in contributions from international donors—half of the estimated $7.2 billion Ecuador would face in lost revenue over time.[i] Hailed as a breakthrough in the global fight against climate change, the plan would have prevented 400 million tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere. But the initiative raised only $13 million in actual donations and $116 million in pledges.
Addressing the country, Correa said the world had “failed” Ecuador. But despite the country’s real need for financial resources, Correa shares a significant portion of the blame. The government’s inflexibility and lack of transparency over how to administer Yasuní-ITT’s funds discouraged potential donors. Similarly, his efforts to attract investment and expand the country’s oil sector invited their mistrust.
The Brazilian government confirmed Monday night that Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota has resigned after the Brazilian embassy in La Paz facilitated the passage of a Bolivian opposition senator to Brazil. The diplomatic scandal has heightened tensions between Brazil and Bolivia, which accuses Brazil of violating international agreements.
Brazil granted Bolivian Senator Roger Pinto asylum last year, when he alleged that he was a victim of political persecution by the government of Bolivian President Evo Morales, which had accused Pinto of crimes including corruption. Pinto had been living in the Brazilian embassy in La Paz for 450 days when he was transported across the Bolivan-Brazilian border in a Brazilian diplomatic vehicle with Brazilian Chargé d’affairs Eduardo Saboia, who provided diplomatic immunity. He crossed the border on Saturday after a 22-hour car ride and arrived by plane in Brasília on Sunday.
Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca has demanded an official explanation from Brazilian authorities. “This is a most negative incident: under protection of diplomatic immunity you can traffic drugs, arms and people. What happened is extremely serious,” Choquehuanca said, adding that Pinto faces four pending arrest warrants. Pinto, meanwhile, accuses the Bolivian government of involvement in drug trafficking.
The Brazilian government in Brasília reportedly did not know about the plan to facilitate Pinto’s entry into Brazil. Bolivian Communications Minister Amanda Davila said that the case “has not affected bilateral relations with Brazil.”
Patriota will be replaced as foreign minister by Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, the permanent representative of Brazil to the United Nations, while Patriota will take Figueiredo’s place at the UN.
Likely top stories this week: Six people die in “La Bestia” train accident in Mexico; Colombia-FARC peace talks resume in Havana; Venezuela and Palestine sign energy deal; Roberto Azevêdo will become the new WTO director; and public consultations on energy reform begin in Mexico.
Six Dead and 22 Injured in “La Bestia” Train Accident: On Sunday, at least six people were killed and 22 were injured in the derailment of the cargo train known as “La Bestia” (The Beast) in southern Mexico, a train that is notorious for transporting Central American migrants through Mexico and to the U.S. border. According to official sources, at least 16 of the passengers injured in the accident were nationals of Honduras between 20 and 30 years old. Public Security Minister for Tabasco State Audomaro Martinez Zapata said that thieves had stolen the nails and metal plaques from the tracks, which led to the accident. Migrants’ rights activists demanded immediate measures to put an end to the risks that undocumented migrants face when traveling across the country, and criticized the Mexican government for not taking this issue seriously. On Sunday, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto lamented the accident via Twitter and expressed his solidarity with the victims’ families.
Colombia-FARC Talks Resume after Crisis: On Saturday, lead Colombian government negotiator Humberto de la Calle announced that the talks between the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) would resume in Havana on Monday. This statement put an end to one of the biggest crises to afflict the peace process since it began in November 2012, which was prompted when Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ proposal last week that any peace agreement must be put to a national referendum. On Friday, the FARC announced that it was putting the peace talks on hold to study the referendum proposal. In response, Santos stated that the FARC is not entitled to “dictate pauses and impose conditions” on the negotiations, and ordered his team of negotiators to return to Bogotá to evaluate the implications of a hiatus in the peace process. So far, the talks are advancing at a slow pace and negotiators have only been able to reach a partial deal on one of five points in the agenda. Still, both sides have remained at the negotiation table, raising hopes for an end to the five-decade-long armed conflict.
Venezuela and the Palestinian Authority Sign Energy Deal: On Saturday, Venezuela and the Palestinian Authority signed an energy agreement that will allow Venezuela to sell oil at a “fair price” with “flexible repayment terms” to Palestinians, as well as provide expert advice and training for the fuel management and handling. The deal was signed during a meeting between Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua and his Palestinian counterpart, Riyad al-Maliki, while al-Maliki is on a tour of Latin America. During his trip to the region, al-Maliki also met Ecuadorian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility Ricardo Patiño and Guyana’s president, Donald Ramotar. Venezuela, Ecuador and Guyana are among several countries from Latin America and the Caribbean that recognize Palestine as an independent state.
Roberto Azevêdo to Become New WTO Director: Next Sunday, Brazilian diplomat Roberto Azevêdo will become the new director general of the World Trade Organization. Azevêdo has served as Brazil’s ambassador to the WTO since 2008 and was selected in May to become the first Latin American to lead the WTO. In August, Azevêdo announced the appointment of four deputies, who will assume their posts in October: Yi Xiaozhun of China, Karl-Ernst Brauner of Germany, Yonov Frederick Agah of Nigeria and David Shark of the United States. One of Azevêdo’s main objectives in his new position is to revive the stalled Doha Round trade talks. In a recent statement, Azevêdo said that regional and bilateral trade accords obstructed efforts to revive global trade talks and “steal the attention a little from the multilateral system.”
Public Consultations on Energy Reform began in Mexico: On Sunday, Mexico’s Party of the Democratic Revolution (Partido de la Revolución Democrática—PRD) began the first phase of a citizen consultation on the country’s fiscal and energy reforms. The set of energy reforms presented by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on August 13 would open Mexico's energy sector to foreign investors. The fiscal reform seeks to increase Mexico’s tax take by about 4 percentage points of GDP as a means to channel more resources towards education, health and infrastructure projects at the federal, state and municipal levels. Jesús Zambrano, the president of the PRD, called citizens from all parties to participate in the consultation. Members of the PRD have different positions from President Peña Nieto on both the fiscal and energy reforms and hope the result of the consultations will be taken into account by the central government. The first phase of the consultation took place in almost 3,000 centers installed in parks, plazas and metro stations in Mexico City and in the states of Coahuila, Campeche, Guanajuato, Querétaro, Colima, Nuevo León, Sonora, Nayarit, and Tabasco. A second phase of consultations will begin next Sunday.
For four months in 2012, like a national soap opera, Brazilians watched the biggest political corruption trial in the country’s history unfold inside Brasilia’s Supreme Federal Court. The complex plot, whose script was based on seven years of investigation, revealed a bribery scheme known as the mensalão—in which members of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT) bribed members of Congress in exchange for political support between 2003 and 2005.
According to the investigation initiated in 2005 and carried out by the Public Ministry, the Federal Police and the Brazilian Court of Audit, the scheme involved about 100 million reais (about $50 million) in irregular payments to congressmen.
In December 2012, 37 people, including politicians, businessmen, lawyers, and bankers were put on trial, with 25 found guilty.
“The results of this trial shake the feeling of impunity that exists in Brazil,” explained Federal Court Minister Marco Aurélio de Mello.
Last week, the Supremo Tribunal Federal (Supreme Federal Court—STF) began the final stage of the trial, considering the last possible appeals by the defendants. The judges may adjust the sentences or even render new verdicts.
Impunity is so entrenched in Brazil that not even the federal police officer in charge of the investigations believed that those charged would be convicted. “The result was better than I expected,” said Luís Flávio Zampronha. “In Brazil you don’t see effective punishment—for example, imprisonment of people who have greater economic power.”
José Dirceu, the all-powerful former chief of staff to former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was sentenced to 10 years and 10 months in prison for masterminding the scheme. He was also fined $338,000. The former president of the PT, José Genoíno, and the former PT treasurer, Delúbio Soares, were found guilty of corruption alongside Dirceu.
The key player in the mensalão case, entrepreneur Marcos Valério, was sentenced to 40 years in jail and fined $1,319,800. The whistleblower, representative Roberto Jefferson, along with former federal representatives from four different political parties were charged with crimes and convicted.
The mensalão case has strong political implications. Those condemned have yet to be jailed because of appeals; during the recent protests, Brazilians demanded that the mensalão's defendants be sent to prison.
But this is not the first corruption scandal involving important Brazilian politicians in recent history. Until now, unethical or illegal behavior has yet to be an impediment to a long career in Brazilian politics.
In September 1992, Fernando Collor de Mello became the first president of Brazil to be removed from office for criminal liability after Congress voted to impeach him, with 441 votes in favor, 38 against and one abstention. Though found guilty by his peers, Collor was nonetheless acquitted by the Supreme Federal Court, which also judged the mensalão scandal. Today Collor is back in power as a senator for the Partido Trabalhista Brasileiro (Brazilian Labor Party—PTB)
Fifty years ago (August 28), Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his legacy “I have a dream” speech. Events are planned in Washington at the Lincoln Memorial, and elsewhere, commemorating this landmark address. Speakers are expected to highlight Dr. King’s philosophy for promoting change, how the civil rights movement and its accomplishments defined modern America, and the work that remains to be done. President Barack Obama will speak, honoring the work of Dr. King.
Five years ago, the Democratic Party chose as its nominee, Barack Obama, who went on to become the first African-American president. Hope and change were in the air. While much of the optimism associated with Obama’s victory has been tempered through the rigors of governing, it was no small achievement on the part of the American electorate. Re-electing him in November 2012 consolidated this historic accomplishment.
Surely, Dr. King would consider the Obama election very much a part of the dream articulated 50 years ago but it is more important to recall how the famed civil rights leader led his quest for equality and justice. Above all, he was an inspiration to his followers by his example, and he did it through the power of his words and his actions. In “Letters from a Birmingham Jail,” he stated that ‘’injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’’ In “I have a dream,” Dr. King expressed the hope that all should be judged “by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.” Powerful words indeed, and they remain as relevant today.
In addition to words, Dr. King was a man of action—a man of peaceful action. Inspired by the example of Mahatma Gandhi, King’s chosen tactics included pacific resistance such as boycotts, marches and sit-ins. To those in authority who used water hoses and police dogs to break up peaceful demonstrations, King and his followers responded with acts of nonviolence—just as Rosa Parks refused in 1955 to sit in the back of a bus. Dr. King resisted segregation and prejudice with a firm confidence in the righteousness of his beliefs.
On Wednesday, and continuing into Thursday, protestors across Colombia blocked traffic in 16 departments as part of a national protest that began earlier in the week. Tensions were triggered by the new Colombia–EU free-trade agreement (FTA), which went into force on August 1. On Tuesday, truck drivers, union leaders, health employees, and students joined the growing national protest. Protesters are demanding increased land rights, fixed prices and subsidies for agricultural products, and improved access to potable water in agricultural fields, among other things.
The road blockades are in areas of the country with important transit links with Ecuador and Venezuela, as well as Colombia’s Caribbean coast.
In the department of Nariño, in the southeast of Colombia, five strategic points of entry to the Pan-American Highway have been closed off, limiting access into Ecuadorian territory. The centrally located department of Boyacá also has been subject to extensive blockades.
According to Eberto Díaz, spokesperson for the Mesa Nacional de Interlocución Agraria (National Bureau of Agricultural Cooperation), about 200,000 trucks across the country halted operations on Wednesday. Similar demonstrations spread to the cities of Medellín and Cali. The protests damaged government property and 56 police officers have been wounded. Forty-six protesters from the Movimiento por la Defensa y la Dignidad de los Cafeteros Colombianos (Movement for the Defense and Dignity of Colombian Coffee Growers) have been arrested.
La violencia producto del narcotráfico—con todas sus vertientes como son la corrupción en el gobierno y en las fuerzas del orden, el enfrentamiento entre bandas y la apertura a otros negocios igual de ilícitos y rentables como extorsión, trata de blancas, lavado de dinero y un largo etcétera—ha propiciado un fenómeno que apenas en las últimas semanas ha comenzado a llamar la atención en México. Se trata del problema de los desplazados.
Con la reciente liberación del famoso “capo” de los 1980’s, Rafael Caro Quintero, recordé una noticia que en aquella época llamó la atención. El entonces jefe supremo del narco mexicano había invertido varios millones en su pueblo natal para dotarlo de la infraestructura pública que el gobierno le había negado, es decir, de luz, calles pavimentadas, drenaje, escuela pública y hasta una iglesia nueva. Sin justificar en lo más mínimo sus actividades ilegales, dicha conducta contrasta con lo que sucede en la actualidad.
La violencia ya no sólo se percibe como el producto de la lucha entre las bandas. Como si de una guerra real se tratara, los grupos delictivos asolan los pequeños pueblos. Muchas comunidades viven bajo la amenaza constante de ser agredidas por unos o por otros: por los narcos, por el ejército, e incluso por la policía.
En muchos lugares de Sinaloa, Michoacán, Guerrero, Tamaulipas y Coahuila los pobladores han optado por abandonar sus pequeñas comunidades y buscar refugio en las medianas o grandes ciudades, provocando un éxodo del medio rural al urbano que no se veía desde la época de la Revolución Mexicana. En ese entonces, los constantes enfrentamientos armados provocaban la zozobra en los pueblos pequeños, mientras que las ciudades—por su tamaño y por la presencia de autoridades de mayor nivel—proporcionaban un refugio más seguro. La diferencia es que ahora las grandes ciudades también viven amenazadas por la misma violencia que empujó a los campesinos a abandonar sus hogares.
El problema se agrava cuando las autoridades se niegan a reconocerlo como tal, a pesar de los múltiples testimonios, de la presencia de grupos de campesinos solicitando ayuda del gobierno para instalarse en otro lugar y del cada vez mayor número de poblados que lucen desiertos o semidesiertos; habitados tan sólo por algunos valientes que se niegan a abandonar el lugar donde nacieron ellos, sus padres y sus abuelos, así como sus pocas pertenencias, aun sabiendo que pueden morir en cualquier momento.
Al no encontrar apoyo oficial y ante la imposibilidad de regresar a sus lugares de origen, estos desplazados se ven en muchos casos obligados a mendigar por las calles o a encontrar la forma de cruzar la frontera en busca de otras oportunidades. Este es un problema que en cualquier momento se puede convertir en una severa crisis humanitaria, aunque el gobierno—para demostrar que su estrategia de lucha funciona correctamente—se empeñe en ocultar.
The 2014 FIFA World Cup website went live at 10:00 am GMT (6:00 am EDT) on Tuesday, with over 1 million applications for tickets submitted in just seven hours. Around 3 million tickets will be available for the 64 matches in Brazil scheduled to begin on June 12, 2014, with Brazil playing the opener in São Paulo. In the first day, the majority of applications came from Brazil, Argentina, the U.S., Chile, and England.
According to Thierry Weil, FIFA’s marketing director, ticket demand is expected to be similar to that seen for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Approximately 7 fans applied for each ticket that year and 3.3 million people attended the tournament. The 2010 tournament in South Africa had a significantly smaller turnout of almost 2 million people.
Each applicant can request up to four tickets for a maximum of seven matches. Tickets range in price from $90 for first-round matches to $990 for the final match at Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. Brazilians over the age of 60, local students and recipients of the Bolsa Familia family grant will be allowed to purchase tickets for $23. About 500,000 tickets were set aside for Brazilian recipients.
If not enough tickets are available to fulfill all requests, all applications submitted by October 10, 2013, will be entered into a lottery with winners automatically receiving tickets. Additional tickets will become available on November 5 on a first-come, first-served basis. After the World Cup draw has determined where and when each nation will play, a second application phase will begin on December 8. That lottery will be held on January 30, 2014, with a second first-come, first-served phase to follow.
World Cup ticket sales are taking place only weeks after massive demonstrations shook the biggest cities in Brazil, with citizens protesting against corruption, income inequality and the rising costs of hosting the World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. Another concern is Brazil’s timeline for completions of the necessary infrastructure to host the games. According to FIFA secretary general Jérôme Valcke, Brazil is almost ready. Still, the organization is expecting more protests during the 2014 World Cup similar to what took place in June during the Confederation Cup.
Normally, a gay pride parade would go unnoticed in Montreal. Actually, in many cities across North America, we have become accustomed to the annual ritual of the multicolored, multi-uniformed and occasionally shocking outfits in favor of gay pride and gay rights. While much progress has been made in the last decade to advance the cause through court rulings and legislation, there remains more to do about attitudes and policies.
On August 18 in Montreal, however, something important happened. The representatives and the involvement of all political parties in both the Canadian House of Commons and the Quebec legislature (National Assembly) were present in some form at the event.
Granted, there was an electoral consideration as gay voters need to be courted. Being absent in this context would have been news. Only Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was not present because of his annual tour in the Canadian North. Yet, his government contributed significant funds to make the event happen. His primary opponents in the Canadian Parliament, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, were highly visible throughout the parade route. Quebec Premier Pauline Marois became the first premier in her province’s history to attend such an event. The remaining parties in the Quebec parliament were also there.
We can only applaud such an occurrence. It is a sign that gay rights and gay pride are becoming more a part of the political mainstream in Canada. The Premier of Ontario (Canada’s largest province), Kathleen Wynne, is openly gay. Same sex marriage has been a fact of life in Canada since 2005 when Canada became the fourth country and the first outside Europe to recognize marriage for gay and lesbian couples. To see active politicians of all stripes openly marching in this annual event is a testament to the road travelled.
Thousands of Colombian farmers took to the streets on Monday to demand a meeting with President Juan Manuel Santos to discuss economic aid and better access to land. Miners and truck drivers are expected to join the nationwide protests today.
While the National Bureau of Agricultural Advocacy (Mesa Nacional de Interlocución Agraria), which organized the strike, estimated between 150,000 and 200,000 protestors, police reported about 15,000 people at four separate protests on Monday. The protestors’ demands range from access to potable water to lower taxes on agricultural products. The indefinite strike, backed by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC), is affecting the production of potatoes, rice, cotton, milk, and coffee.
Fernando Carrillo, minister of the Department of the Interior, called for peaceful protests and for the agricultural workers to “avoid the infiltration of violent people.” FARC involvement, even in a supporting role, has raised the fear of continued guerilla violence.
The National Bureau of Agricultural Advocacy intends to continue to strike until a list of demands it presented to the government earlier this month is addressed. Although President Santos emphasized that his government has already given $326 million in aid to agricultural workers, Carrillo announced that beginning today he will also meet with Indigenous groups and some farmers to “demonstrate that while some are protesting, [the government] has completely opened the lines of communication.”
Durante las protestas de junio en Brasil, millones de personas salieron a la calle para hacer una catarsis colectiva de lo que, en su opinión, no funcionaba en el país. Muchas fueron las banderas, pero el rechazo a la corrupción fue uno de los puntos más significativos en común. Según el informe de Transparencia Internacional—organización que año tras año mide este flagelo—29 por ciento de los brasileños cree que la corrupción aumentó considerablemente en los últimos dos años, y el 70 por ciento del país lo ve como un problema serio.
En Venezuela, los números arrojan un panorama aún más desalentador. El mismo balance señala que 57 por ciento de los venezolanos perciben un aumento significativo de la corrupción en los últimos dos años, en tanto que 83 por ciento de la población opina que estamos al frente de un problema serio. Por más increíble que parezca, la policía (83 por ciento), los funcionarios públicos (79 por ciento), el sistema educativo (49 por ciento), el sistema de salud y hasta las ONGs (53 por ciento) no pasan la prueba de la transparencia, de acuerdo con los venezolanos. La prensa (55 por ciento) tampoco escapa a la mirada desconfiada de la ciudadanía.
De ser ciertos los números de Transparencia Internacional—que colocan al país en el puesto 165 de 176 naciones listadas—los venezolanos no sólo perdieron la fe en el sistema y en quienes se supone deberían ser los garantes del funcionamiento del país, sino que buena parte de ellos también estarían siendo protagonistas de algún tipo de esquema de corrupción.
Nicolás Maduro, el heredero político del fallecido presidente Hugo Chávez, ha hecho del tema un frente de batalla. El mandatario—electo en abril por un estrecho margen de votos—asegura que en esta cruzada no habrán intocables, e incluso llegó a pedir la semana pasada poderes especiales para legislar sobre el tema. Endurecer las penas por corrupción estaría como una de las prioridades.
Algunos casos comenzaron a tener resonancia, como es el de la estatal Ferrominera, cuyo presidente, Radwan Sabbagh, fue detenido en junio pasado por malversación de fondos públicos. La acción, anunciada por el propio Jefe de Estado, llega luego de años de protestas de los trabajadores de la productora de hierro que opera en lo que años atrás fuera un polo industrial en el país.
Otros casos fueron archivados en el baúl del olvido de la revolución, como el esquema denunciado por Mario Silva, un adepto al oficialismo quien hasta este mayo de este año condujo el programa de televisión predilecto de la revolución bolivariana. Silva cayó en desgracia cuando se hizo pública una grabación en la cual afirmaba que la corrupción empantanaba la esfera más alta del gobierno. Las revelaciones salpicaban, particularmente, al presidente de la Asamblea Nacional, Diosdado Cabello, otrora mano derecha de Chávez, y cuyo hermano preside la instancia recaudadora de impuestos en el país.
Cabello desestimó la cinta, pero emprendió una guerra contra la corrupción cuyos objetivos están en la fracción opositora del parlamento nacional. La primera batalla fue contra Richard Mardo, un diputado de un partido de centro-derecha, quien fue despojado de su inmunidad parlamentaria y deberá enfrentar un juicio por defraudación tributaria y legitimación de capitales.
Henrique Capriles Radonski, gobernador del estado Miranda, y líder opositor que se midió con Maduro en las presidenciales de abril, también está en la mira de las investigaciones, o de la “cacería de brujas” como él ha decidido bautizar la lucha contra la corrupción que el Ejecutivo promueve. Para Capriles, el afán de Maduro sólo corresponde una “cortina de humo” proyectada para atacar a quienes se oponen al Jefe de Estado.
En la práctica, el criterio del Gobierno es selectivo y las solidaridades automáticas están a la orden del día. Así, la corrupción y cualquier forma de lucha contra ella parecen convertirse en otro tema que no saldrá del debate político binario adoptado en Venezuela hace más de una década.
En cuanto eso, herramientas como el site www.solopromesas.com ofrecen un balance más nítido y menos ideológico del tipo de problemas que afectan al país. El portal almacena decenas de promesas de Gobierno, en todas sus escalas, que fueron incumplidas o están próximas a expirar. Muchas de estas promesas fueron financiadas, o tuvieron partidas de dinero anunciadas a viva voz. Sin embargo, no pasaron de piedras fundacionales, o en el mejor de los casos, fueron reprogramadas.
Teleféricos, vagones de metro, autopistas, hospitales, hidroeléctricas, líneas de autobús, mercados, parques, generadores de electricidad, escuelas y hasta índices de inflación controlados forman parte del inventario de las promesas que expiraron sin resultados concretos. La lucha contra la corrupción de Maduro aún no entra en la lista de las promesas, para eso todavía precisa de una fecha de vencimiento.
Likely top stories this week: Venezuelan opposition agrees to participate in corruption debate; Chilean presidential candidate Evelyn Matthei registers her candidacy; Humala’s popularity reaches a new low; peace talks resume in Colombia; and environmental groups seek a referendum to prevent drilling in Ecuador’s Yasuní National Forest.
Public Debate on Corruption in Venezuela
On Saturday, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced that he would ask the National Assembly for an enabling law to combat corruption, and challenged the opposition to participate in a public debate to discuss the government’s nationwide anti-corruption campaign. The Venezuelan government has made over 100 corruption-related arrests in the last month, including several political and media figures associated with the opposition.
On Sunday, Julio Borges, the national coordinator of Primero Justicia, said the opposition would participate in a public debate on corruption, and called on the president to “tell us the time and location” for a discussion on national TV and radio. According to Henrique Capriles, opposition leader and governor of Miranda State, recent anti-corruption efforts are a strategy to divert public attention from other pressing problems such as insecurity and inflation. Capriles’ offices are currently under investigation for corruption.
Evelyn Matthei Officially Registers her Candidacy
On Sunday, the candidate for the Unión Demócrata Independiente (Independent Democratic Union—UDI), Evelyn Matthei, officially registered her candidacy for the Chilean presidential election on November 17. Matthei was accompanied by leaders of UDI and Renovación Nacional (RN)—the two parties that constitute the ruling Alianza coalition. After registering her candidacy, Matthei gave a speech that recognized the current lead of former president and current presidential candidate of the Nueva Mayoría coalition, Michelle Bachelet. Still, Matthei expressed hope of taking the election to a second round of voting. If no candidate secures half of the votes in the first round, a second round of voting would be held in mid-December.
Humala’s Popularity Reaches a New Low
On Sunday, the latest Ipsos-Perú survey published by El Comercio revealed that Ollanta Humala’s popularity dropped to 29 percent, the lowest during the two years of his presidency. Despite the government’s recent military win again the Shining Path terrorist group, the president registered 4 percentage points less popular support than in July 2012. The survey also revealed that first lady Nadine Heredia’s popularity dropped to 38 percent, and Lima Mayor Susana Villarán continues to have one of the highest disapproval rates in the country, which reached 69 percent in August.
New Round of Colombian Peace Negotiations
On Monday, the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—FARC) begin a new round of negotiations in Havana to discuss topics such as political participation. This is one of the most controversial items in the peace agenda as it involves negotiations around the incorporation of the rebel group into the country’s democratic system. According to Humberto de la Calle, the lead government negotiator, the FARC must surrender their arms and reach agreements around the five topics of the agenda to participate in Colombian politics. President Juan Manuel Santos sent a message to the FARC stating his commitment to the negotiations, but warned that the military fight will continue in the interim.
Environmental Groups in Ecuador Vow to Save Yasuní Program
On Sunday, environmental groups, human rights groups and Indigenous lawmakers threatened to take Ecuador’s government to international court over a plan to drill for oil in Yasuní, a protected part of the Amazon rainforest that is believed to hold some 900 barrels of oil—about a fifth of Ecuador’s total reserves. The actions follow President Rafael Correa’s statement last week that the government was abandoning the Yasuní-ITT Initiative, a long-term commitment to refrain from drilling in the rainforest area if the international community came up with $3.6 billion to offset some of the foregone benefits of the oil money. The president said that “the world has let Ecuador down,” as just $13.3 million has been delivered to the country. In the coming days, Correa plans to ask the National Assembly to declare crude-oil exploitation in the Yasuní as a "national interest." In response, some of Ecuador’s Indigenous lawmakers have called for a national referendum to decide on the issue.
Defense Minister Celso Amorim of Brazil met with his counterparts, Juan Carlos Pinzón of Colombia and María Fernanda Espinosa of Ecuador, in the Brazilian city of Manaus Thursday morning. The meeting was focused on strengthening security cooperation between the three nations that border the Amazon.
Protecting the Amazon from illegal activities was the main topic of the meeting organized as part of a seminar organized by the Centro Gestor do Sistema de Proteção da Amazônia (Amazon Protection System Management and Operations Center—CENISPAM). “Illegal mining and narcotrafficking are the most serious threats to the Amazon’s biodiversity and natural resources. Such activities finance terrorist and criminal organizations, are violating [our] sovereignty and threaten the security of citizens,” Pinzón said.
The meeting comes just days after an Ecuadorean army lieutenant was killed in a firefight with FARC rebels on the Ecuador-Colombian border, highlighting the need for greater security among the porous borders of South America. “By acting together, we will be more protected from security threats in South America,” Amorim said.
In recent weeks, Russian President Vladimir Putin has made headlines in harboring and eventually granting asylum to National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden, resisting U.S. overtures for a peace initiative in halting the Syrian civil war and passing anti-gay rights legislation in the buildup for next year's Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
A few days ago, President Barack Obama cancelled an upcoming summit with Putin in Moscow. Meanwhile, after condemning the Russia government for its pre-Olympic anti-gay stand, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has just indicated its willingness to look favorably on gay Russian asylum seekers who claim to be the victims of persecution.
The deterioration of the Russia-U.S. relationship has led some observers to question whether we are entering a new era of Cold War politics. Some politicians, such has U.S. Senator Lindsay Graham, have also hinted about a boycott of the Winter Games in Sochi.
Clearly, the relationship has not been as frosty since the fall of the Berlin Wall, but a new Cold War is not and should not be on the horizon. In the last decade, the U.S. and Russia have agreed on a number of key issues, including backing the war in Afghanistan in 2001, ratifying the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) on nuclear weapons, and imposing important sanctions on Iran.
Paraguayan businessman Horacio Cartes of the Colorado Party (Partido Colorado–PC) was inaugurated this morning as the president of Paraguay for a five-year term. Cartes won the presidential election in April with 46 percent of the vote, outpacing his opponent, Efraín Alegre of the Liberal Party (Partido Liberal Radical Auténtico —PLRA), who won 37 percent of votes cast. Heads of state present during the ceremony include Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Chilean President Sebastían Piñera, Uruguayan President José Mujica, and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou.
Cartes inherits a difficult political and economic situation for Paraguay. In his inauguration speech, the president vowed to strengthen international ties and continue the fight against poverty. Paraguay is one of the more unequal societies in Latin America, with 39 percent of its population of 7 million living in poverty. Cartes and his cabinet will also work to improve bilateral relations throughout the region—beginning with Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay—and will later focus on Paraguay returning to the Mercosur trade bloc. In July, Mercosur lifted its suspension of Paraguay but negotiations continue around the circumstances in which it would re-enter the trade bloc.
An outsider himself in the political sphere, Cartes comprised a cabinet of experts with various backgrounds and experiences, snubbing the more entrenched political leaders of the past. New cabinet ministers represent varied backgrounds: Francisco de Vargas, former head of the National Anti-Drug Secretariat (Secretaria Nacional Antidrogas—SENAD) was appointed as minister of interior, Ana María Baiardi Quesnel formerly the ambassador of Paraguay to Israel is now the minister of women, and Bernardino Soto Estigarribia who is a retired general will be minister of national defense.
The wave of protests that first spread across Brazil in June may have subsided for the time being, but President Dilma Rousseff is still dealing with the political fallout.
To recap, after at first not responding to the protests, President Rousseff finally released a statement on June 21 during a ceremony to launch the new mineral sector regulatory framework. Three days later, revealing a sense of urgency, she met with Brazil’s 27 state governors and 26 state capital mayors. Then, on national television, she laid out new reforms to respond to protestor demands: fiscal responsibility; inflation control; stricter penalties for corruption; and reforms in public health, education, transportation, and politics—culminating in a partial constituent assembly that would consider modifications to Brazil’s constitution.
Rousseff’s Proposed Reforms
The president’s proposals seemed to prioritize political reform and addressing corruption. According to Rousseff, the constituent assembly would establish specific rules for selecting leaders and lawmakers as well as new regulations for campaign finance, coalitions between parties, and advertising on TV and radio.
The idea of a partial constituent assembly is not new in Brazil’s recent political history. In 1999, then-President Fernando Henrique Cardoso supported the implementation of a partial constituent assembly to more efficiently address tax, political and judicial reforms.
Rousseff’s proposal received immediate backlash, however. The president of the Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil (Brazilian Lawyer’s Bar Association), Marcus Vinicius Furtado Coelho, reaffirmed the association’s opposition, stating that political reform did not warrant changes to the Brazilian Constitution. Recently-elected Supreme Court Minister Luis Roberto Barroso and Brazilian Vice President Michel Temer, both ardent constitutionalists, also disapproved. As of June 25, President Dilma Rousseff had opted to forego the constituent assembly.
The Miami-based Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) publically denounced a new fine yesterday that was retroactively imposed on local newspapers El Nacional and Tal Cual last Wednesday. The regional press group joined other human rights organizations in calling the ruling censorship on Tuesday. The fines, which stem from a 2010 photograph that showed corpses in a Caracas morgue on the front page of both publications to highlight the high crime rate, will amount to one percent of both newspapers’ gross revenues from 2009.
The fine was ordered by Judge Betilde Araque in the court for the protection of children for violating a Venezuelan law banning violent images in newspapers. Claudio Paolillo, chairman of the IAPA Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, denounced the ruling “an act of censorship…which aims to economically strangle critics and independent media to silence the voices that do not conform to the official discourse." Both newspapers have announced plans to appeal the decision.
The ruling comes after a string of controversial sales—such as TV station Globovision and media conglomerate Cadena Capriles—and the closure of Sexto Poder media group due to a lack of funding. Human rights and freedom of expression groups such as the Committee to Protect Journalists and Human Rights Watch have continually called on Venezuela to end its censorship of media critical of the government.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto revealed a set of reforms to the country’s energy sector on Monday which would open Mexico's energy sector to foreign investors and allow private firms to access profit-sharing contracts with state-run oil monopoly Pemex. The reform package will be presented to the Congress this week and—if enacted—it will mark the largest private sector opening of Mexico’s energy sector since the industry was nationalized in 1938.
Mexico is the world's 10th-biggest producer of crude oil, and has the third largest oil reserves in Latin America after Venezuela and Brazil. For the past 75 years, the industry has been dominated by state oil firm Pemex, which supports about one third of the government’s income. As a result, the industry’s capacity to invest in new exploration projects has been limited and domestic production has dropped from nearly 3.4 million barrels per day in 2004 to 2.5 million barrels per day in 2012. If new projects cannot be developed, Mexico might become an energy importer by 2020.
The reform plan proposed this week calls to amend two key articles in the constitution that make oil, gas, petrochemicals and electricity the sole preserve of the state. Though private companies can currently be awarded service contracts within the oil industry, the reform goes further by allowing them to take part on the risks and profits of developing new fields, and offering permits in association with Pemex to refine, transport and store hydrocarbons and petrochemicals.
According to experts, the liberalization of the Mexican oil industry could double foreign investment in the country and improve growth. However, the plan has faced severe political opposition, and a survey revealed that 65 percent of Mexicans oppose private investment in the sector. Peña Nieto has stressed that “Pemex is neither being sold nor privatized,” and the industry will remain under government control. Though able to appease some of the critics, this has raised concerns among investors as the bill does not allow for production-sharing concessions—a scheme that is possible in Colombia and Brazil.
Watch an interview with COA Vice President Eric Farnsworth on the significance of the reforms for the Mexican economy.
Likely top stories this week: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visits Colombia and Brazil; Argentines vote in congressional primary elections; FARC and Colombian government hail progress in peace talks; Panama concludes its inspection of the North Korean ship Chong Chon Gang; and documents reveal details of Brazilian dictatorship-era spying.
John Kerry Travels to Brazil and Colombia: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will make brief visits to both Colombia and Brazil early this week to meet with high-level government officials in both countries to discuss trade and energy, as well as address the recent revelations that the U.S. conducted electronic spying in foreign countries by monitoring phone calls and e-mails. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden spoke to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos by phone to offer an explanation for the National Security Agency program, but Santos said Thursday that he wants further explanation from the U.S., and Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota expressed indignation about the program at the UN. Kerry will arrive in Bogotá on Monday and Brasília on Tuesday.
Argentines Vote in Congressional Primaries: Argentine voters went to the polls on Sunday for mandatory congressional primary elections that could serve as a bellwether for Argentina's October 27 midterm elections. By early Monday, candidates from the government’s Frente para la Victoria (Front for Victory—FPV) led in Senate races in six of seven provinces, but FPV candidates for the Chamber of Deputies trailed in the country’s most populous provinces, including the province of Buenos Aires and the city of Buenos Aires. A third of the country's Senate seats and nearly half of the Chamber of Deputies seats will be up for grabs in October, with the results likely to affect Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's chances of reforming the Constitution and winning a third term in office.
FARC and Colombian Government Hail Progress in Peace Talks: The Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) released a joint statement on Saturday praising the results of the 12th round of peace talks. Government negotiator Humberto de la Calle said that "nobody has come this far," acknowledging progress in discussions over the FARC's future participation in Colombian politics—the second item on a five-point peace agenda. The Colombian government has refused to call a ceasefire while peace talks are underway. On Friday, the Colombian military killed FARC commander Jesus Antonio Plata Rios, known as "Zeplin," who led the rebels in western Colombia.
Panama Concludes Search of North Korean Ship: The Panamanian government said Sunday that it has concluded its search of the North Korean vessel Chong Chon Gang, stopped in Panama on its way from Cuba on July 15 under suspicions that the ship was transporting drugs. Authorities said that they had spent nearly a month unloading hundreds of thousands of bags of sugar from the ship, revealing 25 containers filled with undeclared weapons and six military vehicles. The Cuban government has acknowledged the military equipment onboard, but says that it is obsolete and was being sent to North Korea for repairs. On Monday, a team of six UN inspectors arrives in Panama to investigate whether the shipment violated international sanctions against North Korea.
Brazil's Dictatorship-Era Spying: As Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota prepares to meet with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry this week to discuss U.S. electronic spying in Brazil, Brazil's O Estado de São Paulo revealed Sunday that the Brazilian military government spied on its neighbors—particularly Argentina—during the country's military dictatorship. Meanwhile, the digital archive Armazém Memoria (Memory Warehouse), Brazil's federal prosecutor's office, and other local and national entities jointly launched the "Brasil: Nunca Mais" (Brazil Never Again) digital initiative on Friday, which includes hundreds of thousands of pages of searchable documents and multimedia from 710 trials of dissidents during the 1964-1985 regime.