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.
Turmoil on the Right may open the door for a third party or independent presidential candidate—or pave the way for a Bachelet tsunami.
A turbulent few weeks in Chilean politics have made for a seismic shift in the race for La Moneda. And with the debut of primary elections, voluntary voting and a clamor for change unprecedented in the country’s modern democratic era, Chile’s November 17 presidential vote has the potential to make history.
Last month, weeks after claiming a surprise victory in primary elections, conservative candidate Pablo Longueira abruptly resigned, citing clinical depression. After days of barely concealed infighting, party brass appointed Evelyn Matthei—also of the Unión Demócrata Independiente (Independent Democratic Union—UDI)—as his replacement.
The dramatic nature of Longueira’s resignation and Matthei’s ascension captured worldwide media attention, with the international press focusing on two themes: gender and history.
The decision, it was reported, seemingly ensured that Chile’s next leader would be a woman, with Matthei taking on former president and overwhelming favorite Michelle Bachelet.
The second factor to give the story international traction was the two candidates’ intriguing personal history. Both are daughters of military officers and were childhood playmates, but their family friendship was ruptured by the coup of September 11, 1973, when Matthei’s father sided with the military junta and Bachelet’s father fell victim to it.
The fallout from the change in leadership, however, may extend beyond the two women in the international spotlight.
European governments were unlikely to be pleased to hear the call for reparations issued by Caribbean Community (CARICOM) heads of state last month. The Caribbean countries jointly released a statement calling for forward action on a plan to pursue reparations for “repairing the damage inflicted by slavery and racism.”
Is this really the best path forward to encourage development and future investment?
Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer of Antigua and Barbuda seems to think so. He argued that “nations that have been the major producers of wealth for the European slave-owning economies during the enslavement and colonial periods entered Independence with dependency straddling their economic, cultural, social and even political lives.” Based on that principle, the CARICOM nations have enlisted the counsel of a British law firm as they seek to gain reparations from Great Britain, France and the Netherlands.
The basis of the grievances leveled by the CARICOM states are hard to argue with, but the conclusion that they draw—that reparations are the solution for economic, social and political problems—would appear to be a non-starter. A primary argument against reparations is that CARICOM states already receive over $450 million per year in foreign aid from Europe, a good portion of which comes from the three nations being targeted.
Should CARICOM be successful in its bid for reparations, one unintended and likely consequence is a scaling back of foreign aid from the target countries. Another likely outcome is that European nations and the United States would pull back on their regular contributions to regional economic and social development.
Caribbean officials have yet to name the specific amount of money being pursued, but unless the desired payment was in the tens of billions of dollars, the whole push for reparations is unlikely to make financial sense.
Thousands of nurses and doctors are on strike in Lima, Peru, today as part of a 48-hour protest that began yesterday sparked by concerns over the need to improve health care conditions and increase medical salaries. Those on strike include approximately 9,000 members of the medical staff from the country’s national insurance coverage program, El Seguro Social de Salud del Perú (Social Health Insurance of Peru – EsSalud), which provides health services to about 20 percent of Peruvians through national EsSalud hospitals and facilities.
Zoila Cotrina, a labor union leader who represents health ministry employees, met with ministry authorities yesterday hoping to reach an agreement that would lift the protest. This morning, however, she said the dialogue was, "not what we expected.”
The protest has caused a shutdown of EsSalud facilities leaving emergency rooms the only option for those needing services. Local media estimates that 9 million Peruvians will not be able to rely on medical care as a result of the strike, which comes in the midst of one of Peru’s coldest winters. Already, the low temperatures, combined with the H1N1 flu virus, have claimed the lives of 44 people.
At least ten people—including women and children—were killed in a shootout between rival drug gangs in northeastern Honduras on Tuesday. The total death toll in the rural La Mosquita region on Honduras’ Atlantic coast could be as high as 16 according to local authorities, adding to the over 3,000 homicides reported in the first six months of 2013.
Honduras has the highest per capita homicide rate in the world, with 86 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2011. Part of Central America’s Northern Triangle region, the country has seen an increase in violence tied to drug trafficking—specifically cocaine smuggled from South America to the United States. Along with increased narcotrafficking, a combination of high crime rates—which increased substantially since the 2009 coup that ousted then-President Manuel Zelaya—along with an underfunded and overworked police force have contributed to the country’s violence.
But the violence also correlates with very low levels of social inclusion. The recently released 2013 AQ Social Inclusion Index found Honduras to have the second lowest level of social inclusion among the 16 Western Hemisphere countries ranked in the Index. At the same time, its homicide rate was worse than any other country ranked. Poverty levels are high and access to formal jobs is limited, but the Index concluded that “Hondurans feel more personally empowered than many in the region.”
Sixteen suspects were captured in recent weeks for their role in the June 13 massacre of an entire police station in Salcajá, Guatemala, a case that has shocked a country with a high threshold for violent acts. Still, many unanswered questions remain.
Gunmen killed all eight officers on duty in the assault on the Policía Nacional Civil (National Civil Police—PNC) station in Quetzaltenango department and kidnapped police sub-inspector Julio César García Cortez. Mexican drug cartels were initially suspected of carrying out the raid, but Guatemalan Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez Bonilla revealed that the Villatoro Cano cartel, a homegrown group of Guatemalan criminals led by Eduardo Villatoro Cano and linked to Mexico’s Gulf cartel, is responsible. Several of the 14 suspects are police officers linked to Villatoro Cano.
“They are Guatemalan and have made the stupid decision to attack Guatemalan police,” said Bonilla. “These people felt immune, untouchable and thought they owned the entire area. Now we have linked them to many other crimes."
The Guatemalan government’s “Operation Dignity,” an investigation into the attacks, has put over 1,000 agents on the case and initiated 128 raids in Huehuetenango since July 14, but three suspects remain at large. Authorities have tied over 100 murders to the Villatoro Cano cartel so far, including high-profile cases such as the murder of a prosecutor and four investigators for the División Especializada en Investigación Criminal (Specialized Criminal Investigation Division—DEIC).
Guatemalan authorities believe that sub-inspector García Cortez was the principal target of the attacks, and the other policemen were killed to avoid leaving any witnesses. Since García Cortez had previously worked in Cobán in the north-central department of Alta Verapaz, it was assumed that Mexico’s Zetas cartel had carried out the raid in possible retaliation for his investigative work and successes against them.
Three of the sub-inspector’s fingers and pieces of his uniform were the only remains found—a grisly reminder of the modus operandi of the cartels. Media reports theorize that the inspector had either stolen money, drugs or both from the local gang and that the raid was a response carried out by at least 15 men armed with automatic weapons.
Besides the nine deaths, 19 children lost their fathers during the attack. The widow of Héctor Bocel Tun, one of the murdered officers, asked police officer and suspect Milson Fredy García Chávez, “How can it be possible for someone who shakes your hand to stab you in the back? My husband was our provider, now I have to ensure my child gets what he needs.”
In 2010, authorities estimated that 40 percent of the country was controlled by cartels. Perhaps most concerning for Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina and the security forces is how the brutal tactics employed in Mexico are being exported to Guatemala and used by local criminals.
With the capture of Zetas leader Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales (also known as “Z-40”) last month, it remains to be seen how the Zetas will continue to operate in Guatemala. Treviño Morales was instrumental in moving the cartel to its new base of operations in Guatemala and setting up lucrative transportation routes. This tactic proved so successful that it was copied quickly by other Mexican cartels—and now many border routes, towns and infrastructure are under their control.
Pérez Molina, who has called for talks on the decriminalization of drugs, has seen his popularity slump in the first 18 months of his presidency. In a recent survey, 66 percent of those polled said that the former general, who rode to victory on the back of a “mano dura” (“iron fist”) campaign slogan, has made things worse.
Even if cartel influence weakens in Guatemala, cartel tactics have been eagerly seized on by local organized criminal elements and street gangs. Director of Police Telémaco Pérez García and Defense Minister Manuel López Ambrosio, both installed in July, do not have much time to learn their new roles.
However, Guatemalan authorities recently got a break in the Salcajá police massacre case after Villatoro Cano’s companion, María Isabel Sales López, told judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez that Cano had asked her “to gather all the weapons into a bag and throw them in the Valparaíso river in Huehuetenango.”
However, threats against Pérez Molina, Bonilla, members of Bonilla’s family and the PNC through anonymous calls to the national police number mean this is far from over.
Until cartel leader Villatoro Cano is caught, the threats will remain—and like a hydra, even if the authorities do triumph, another head will rise up in its place.
Only six months away from the February 4, 2014, presidential election in Costa Rica, the former mayor of San José and official candidate of the Partido Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Party—PLN), Johnny Araya, holds a significant lead over his rivals in the most recent poll.
According to a local Borge y Asociados poll released on Monday, if elections were held today, Araya would win with 52.4 percent of the vote, followed by Rodolfo Hernandez of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana (Christian Social Unity Party—USC) with 23.2 percent, Otto Guevara of the Movimiento Libertario (Libertarian Movement—ML) with 9.7 percent and Luis Guillermo Solis of the Partido de Acción Ciudadana (Citizen Action Party—PAC) with 8.2 percent of the vote.
The poll also revealed that the PLN—in power since 2006—is still the most popular political group in Costa Rica. If Araya is elected president, the PLN will become the first political party to rule for three consecutive presidential terms in the history of the Central American country.
Though they are both members of the PLN, Araya has distanced himself from President Laura Chinchilla—whom Mexico-based Mitofsky Consultants ranked as the least popular president in the Americas for a second consecutive year this April. Araya has stressed the need to renew the PLN’s image, which has been eroded by the low levels of approval of the current government.
According to AQ’s 2013 Social Inclusion Index, among the 16 countries measured, Costa Rica is the fourth most socially inclusive country in the Americas, led only by Uruguay, Chile and the United States. However, the country ranks low in perceived government responsiveness and civil society participation.
Next February, Costa Ricans will also elect their two vice presidents and the 57 members of the unicameral Legislative Assembly for four-year terms. This will be the first election in which the more than 50,000 Costa Ricans who live abroad will be able to participate by voting in one of the country’s 50 consulates.
Likely top stories this week: Gay marriage begins in Uruguay; Venezuela is not invited to the Paraguayan president’s inauguration; Amnesty International demands the release of Cuban prisoners; U.S. House of Representatives Republicans reject Senate approach to immigration reform; Brazilian police officers are sentenced for the 1992 Carandiru massacre.
Same Sex Marriage Starts in Uruguay: The first gay couple was registered for marriage on Monday morning in Uruguay, 90 days after Uruguayan President José Mujica signed a law legalizing same-sex marriage that was passed by the Uruguayan Senate in April. Rodrigo Borda and Sergio Miranda, a gay couple that has been together for 14 years, were the first to sign their names on a waiting list of couples to be married officially, and will be able to determine the date of their wedding by August 16. When the law was signed, Uruguay was only the second Latin American country after Argentina to make same-sex marriage legal nationwide, followed one month later by Brazil. Uruguay also allows adoption by gay couples and permits openly gay people to serve in the country’s armed forces.
Venezuela Left Out At Cartes Inauguration: The Paraguayan government has not invited Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to the inauguration of Paraguayan President-elect Horacio Cartes, set for August 15. Venezuela is the only country in the region that has not received an invitation, and both countries have recalled their respective envoys to Caracas and Asunción. Paraguay and Venezuela's relationship has worsened since Paraguay was suspended from Mercosur in June 2012, following the controversial impeachment of Paraguay’s then-president, Fernando Lugo. Following Paraguay’s suspension from Mercosur, Venezuela was incorporated as a full member without the approval of the Paraguayan government.
Amnesty International Calls for Release of Cuban Prisoners: New York-based human rights organization Amnesty International designated five Cuban prisoners being held in eastern Cuba "prisoners of conscience" and demanded their immediate release. Rafael Matos Montes de Oca, Emilio Planas Robert and brothers Alexeis, Diango and Vianco Vargas Martin all belong to the Unión Patriótica de Cuba (Patriotic Union of Cuba—UNPACU), an organization that advocates for greater civil liberties on the island, and are considered dissidents. Planas and Matos were convicted of "dangerousness" last September, while the Vargas Martin brothers, who are accused of violence or intimidation against a state official, were arrested in November and December and have not been formally charged with a crime. The Cuban government says that it is not holding any political prisoners.
Republicans Offer Own Approach to Immigration Reform: Members of the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives indicated on Sunday that they have no intention of taking up a comprehensive immigration reform bill passed by the U.S. Senate in June, indicating that representatives would instead opt to take a piecemeal approach to tackling immigration reform rather than addressing the issues of border security, workplace enforcement, and citizenship all at once. Saying that a separate bill on border security should come before any other bill, Rep. Paul Ryan proposed that the country's 11 million undocumented immigrants undergo "probation" in order to "get right with the law." House Majority Leader Eric Cantor promised that "we will have a vote on a series of bills at some point." This month, lawmakers are returning to their home districts for a five-week summer recess.
Brazilian Police Sentenced for Carandiru Deaths: Twenty-five Brazilian police officers who were involved in the October 1992 massacre of 111 inmates at São Paulo's Carandiru prison were each sentenced to a 624 years in jail, yet each would serve no more than 30 years in prison according to Brazilian law. The sentences were part of an ongoing trial to investigate the deaths of 52 of the murdered prisoners, and the process is not expected to be finished until January 2014. At that point, the defense is expected to appeal the police officers' sentences. The police officers, most of whom were convicted of the prisoners’ deaths in April, are currently free and nine of them remain on active duty. O Globo newspaper reported that the nine officers will now lose their jobs. Carandiru prison was closed in 2002 and has been demolished.
While renewable energy investment globally fell by 11 percent in 2012, renewable energy financing increased by 127 percent in Latin American countries, excluding Brazil. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, this included gains of 595 percent in Mexico, 313 percent in Chile, 285 percent in Uruguay, and 176 percent in Peru. In total, renewable energy investments in Latin America reached $9.7 billion in 2012.
When adding the important renewable energy portfolio of Brazil ($5.2 billion in 2012), the renewable energy sector in Latin America is growing and will continue to attract significant capital in the coming years. A combination of favorable government policies, receptiveness to foreign investment, and attractive regulatory regimes has drawn investors to renewable energy projects in the region. These issues were debated in Washington on July 30 during a roundtable discussion on financing renewable energy in Latin America at the Council of the Americas, held under the auspices of the Council’s Energy Action Group.
The conditions for renewable energy in Latin America are favorable. From the photovoltaic potential of the Atacama Desert in Chile to the many rivers that feed into hydroelectric dams in Brazil to the fields of African palm oil in Colombia, developers have been drawn to the region due to a unique geography that offers great potential for renewable feedstocks.
Countries are also beginning to adopt renewable energy standards. Chile is leading the way with its 20/20 renewable plan—20 percent of the country’s electrical grid powered by renewable energy by 2020. While the target may be a long shot, the initiative demonstrates that countries in the region are serious about developing their renewable energy potential.
The United Nations International Narcotics Board (INCB) issued a statement on Thursday urging Uruguay to not implement legislation that would make it the first country in the world to create and regulate a legal marijuana market.
In the statement, the INCB—an independent body tasked with monitoring production and consumption of narcotics worldwide—said that if the law passed, it “would be in complete contravention to the provisions of the international drug control treaties, in particular the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, to which Uruguay is a party.” The INCB also warned that the law would have serious consequences for the health and welfare of the population of 3.3 million.
The statement came only hours after the Uruguayan House of Representatives passed a bill late Wednesday night that would allow Uruguayans aged 18 or older to own up to six marijuana plants per household. It would also create a federal registry for people to purchase up to 40 grams of marijuana per month from licensed pharmacies. The bill will now go to the Senate, where it is expected to be approved by a wide margin.
If the bill becomes law, it will be a long-sought victory for President José Mujica, a former guerrilla, who has lauded the legislation as an alternative to the costly War on Drugs in the hemisphere. Since Mujica took office in 2010, the Uruguayan Senate has approved one the of the most progressive abortion bills in Latin America and has legalized same-sex marriage, which goes into effect next Monday.
Perceptions of solidly conservative Texas shifted dramatically in late 2012, when President Barack Obama won a landslide re-election largely thanks to the 71 percent of Latino voters who supported him. Democrats immediately seized on the opportunity, making comprehensive immigration reform a pillar of the president’s second-term policy agenda and launching an aggressive campaign to solidify Latino voter support across the country.
But in Texas, Democrats saw an even greater draw. For the first time in decades they saw an opportunity to secure the state’s 38 Electoral College votes. The Obama campaign’s 2012 national field director Jeremy Bird founded a grassroots organization called Battleground Texas and quickly set out a plan to turn the state blue.
Despite the group’s efforts, Texas political analysts have been quick to note that Battleground Texas is unlikely to have any major impact within the foreseeable future. The Texas Republican party has already responded by opening five field offices and hiring two dozen campaigners, and the state’s Latino voters are far less left-leaning than their counterparts across the United States.
In a more controversial appeal to Latino voters, and perhaps a broader gesture to the state’s conservative voters, Texas Governor Rick Perry spent recent months galvanizing support and ensuring the passage of a deeply unpopular anti-abortion bill. Experts have described it as one of the most restrictive pieces of anti-abortion legislation among a series of state legislative and legal battles over reproductive rights across the United States.
The law bans abortions performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy and sets prohibitive costs and operating standards for women’s health clinics. Reproductive health providers in Texas’ poorer southern region—including only two clinics that currently offer abortions—have already said that they will have to close due to inflated operating costs imposed by the new law.
While polls suggest the bill will garner strong support from Latino voters—studies show that as many as 62 percent of Texas Hispanics identify as “pro-life”—it will undoubtedly carry devastating consequences for Latina women and their families.
Experts believe that the law will leave women in southern Texas with two precarious options: to travel four hours to the nearest abortion clinics in San Antonio, or in most cases, to cross the nearby U.S.-Mexico border to illegally obtain misoprostol, a steroid used in early term medical abortions to deteriorate the uterine lining. Without proper medical supervision, the medication can result in internal bleeding and partial abortions, with life-threatening consequences for those who take it.
Often lacking health insurance or documented immigration status, low-income and immigrant women are likely to be most severely affected by the new restrictions. According to a report by the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, Latina women “suffer disproportionately high rates of cervical cancer, unintended pregnancy, and poverty,” and “face systemic barriers in accessing the health care they need, including reproductive health care like contraception and abortion.”
Texas’ new law will only serve to deepen disparities for the state’s Latina women. Rather than improve public health, it places an unfair burden on those who already face extensive discrimination and inadequate access to care.
Furthermore, it strengthens perceptions among the country’s quickly growing Latino electorate that politicians believe they can win their support through single-issue campaigns. Rather than look to controversial wedge issues and swing state elections, leaders from both parties should seek to engage in a more dynamic and sustained conversation with Latino voters on the issues that matter to them most.
SAO PAULO – The natural gas industry in Brazil is relatively new—large-scale development only began in 1999—but it has quickly become a key element of the national energy matrix, increasing its share to 11 percent in 2012. Domestic supply has grown on average 5 percent per year over the last decade, but the potential for further expansion is significant—the country has 14.7 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of proven reserves, of which only 5 percent have been awarded for exploration and production. Three-quarters of domestic production is located offshore, in areas that contain significant prospects—including the giant ‘pre-salt’ gas reserves.
Still, the future of the gas industry is uncertain.
Uruguay, Chile and Brazil are three of the five most socially inclusive countries in the hemisphere according to the 2013 AQ Social Inclusion Index, which was published today in the newly released Summer issue of Americas Quarterly. Although Chile and Brazil score lower than in the 2012 Index, the three Southern Cone countries rank in the top five for the second year in a row. The United States and Costa Rica round out the top-five rankings this year, while Argentina was excluded again from the Index due to a lack of reliable data.
Uruguay’s ascension to the top spot of the 16 Western Hemisphere countries in the Index was primarily due to the addition of three new variables in this year’s Index: women’s rights, LGBT rights, and financial inclusion by gender. While Uruguay ranked in the top three for both women’s rights and LGBT rights, Chile, the most inclusive country in the 2012 Index, ranked ninth and seventh, respectively.
The Index also found correlations between social inclusion and violence in the region. In addition to increased gender equality, the top-three countries in the Index—Uruguay, Chile and the United States—also had the lowest homicide rates in 2010. By contrast, three of the five least inclusive countries—Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, all part of Central America’s Northern Triangle region—had the highest homicide rates during the same period.
AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini, commenting on the rise of the middle class in Latin America and the link with social inclusion, notes that being middle class is more than just one’s income: “It’s about a sense of empowerment and is about having access to rights and things like social insurance, whether it’s health care or education.”
The boos that hailed down on Dilma Rousseff last month at the Confederations Cup are growing louder. Approval for the Brazilian president fell 26 percentage points in the last month, from 71 percent in June to 45 percent in July, according to a July 9–12 poll conducted by Instituto Brasileiro de Opinião Pública e Estatística (Public Opinion Research Institute—IBOPE).
But rather than taking a turn toward higher public spending, analysts and economists expect the Brazilian president to instead recalibrate toward more investor-friendly policies that will encourage private infrastructure spending, reverse a trend of rising unemployment, and spur GDP growth.
For observers of Brazil and other emerging economies, today’s social unrest may be the necessary step backward before the market can take two steps forward.
“If there’s one unifying theme that has held together the emerging market economies over the past 10 years, it is that incumbents have been strong and riding this economic cycle,” said Christopher Garman, the Latin America director of Eurasia Group, on July 17 during the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce’s mid-year political and economic outlook in New York City. That cycle contributed to today’s average length of incumbency being 7.4 years, he said—twice as long as in 2002.
“What we’re witnessing in Brazil is the end of a political supercycle and the return of economic constraints on politicians,” continued Garman. “As these constraints rise, we’re going to have a return of more constructive policies, both in terms of working more aggressively with the private sector in order to find more ways of boosting investment, and also on a macroeconomic framework.”
The leaders of the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas—ALBA) are meeting today in Guayaquil, Ecuador, to discuss ways to further integrate the regional bloc and widen the scope of its work on social and economic issues.
This is the first ALBA summit since the March 5 death of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez—who launched the regional alliance with Fidel Castro in 2004. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, Bolivian President Evo Morales, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa are attending the meeting. The heads of state are joined by official delegations from the bloc’s member countries, including Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Dominica, Ecuador, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Lucia. Representatives from Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Suriname, Guyana and Haiti are participating as special guests.
Today’s agenda includes a discussion on the bloc’s institutional strength, the implementation of a regional currency known as the Sistema Único de Compensación Regional (Unified System for Regional Compensation—SUCRE), the Common Reserve Fund, and strategies to expand social programs. According to the Ecuadorian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the focus will be on achieving regional integration centered on values such as the respect for human dignity and economic development, the right to self-determination, and the defense of each member’s sovereignty.
The ALBA Social Movements Council Summit—a two-day meeting of social organizations—is also taking place this week and will conclude in Guayaquil today. In preparation for the Presidential Summit, more than 200 delegates from member countries participated in the meeting where the focus centered on social issues such as the role of women, natural resource extraction and the agrarian revolution, among other topics.
In the midst of a deepening political crisis, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala gave his second Independence Day speech on Sunday. But for the first time since the dictatorship of Alberto Fujimori, widespread protests and mobilizations against the government are gaining national momentum.
On Saturday, thousands of citizens gathered in the historical center of Lima. Protest organizers planned to march to Congress, but were blocked by the police, who repelled the crowds with tear gas and water cannons. It was the third massive mobilization in Lima in two weeks.
Public indignation broke out after the media outlet Perú21 published audio transcripts of under-the-table arrangements by congressmen from different parties to divvy up political appointments to the Constitutional Court and the Central Bank as well as the position of Human Rights Ombudsman.
Although the officials resigned and Congress annulled the appointments, public anger has not subsided. The scandal provided a spark for dissatisfaction with the Humala administration, who was elected in 2011 with promises of economic growth, social inclusion and “la gran transformación”—a great transformation of politics in Peru.
With two years in office complete, many of Humala’s promises have fallen short.
“The elections scandal was the straw that broke the camel's back,” said Carlos Gastelumendi, from the Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos (National Coordinator of Human Rights—CNDDHH). “Today we are not all protesting for the same reasons, but the elections made us all reflect.”
“There are several topics that are causing the youth to organize and protest,” said Sigrid Bazan, a former president of the student federation at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP). According to Bazan, protesters oppose the new Ley Universitaria (University Law) and the passage of a new code that puts the onus of sex education on parents, rather than schools and the state.
Likely top stories this week: demonstrators protest in Peru; a Chilean lawyer investigates the death of Michelle Bachelet’s father; FARC–Colombian government peace talks resume; a new report faults the UN for Haiti’s cholera outbreak; and assailants kill a Mexican vice-admiral.
Protesters and Police Clash in Peru: Thousands of demonstrators clashed with hundreds of riot police and plainclothes officers in Lima, Peru, on Saturday as protesters marched toward Congress on the eve of Peruvian Independence Day. In the midst of a national doctors' and nurses' strike, the demonstrators are protesting proposed education reforms, the continued poverty of many Peruvians, and the political appointment of 10 public officials (which the government eventually revoked last week following public outcry). Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, who completed his second year in office this weekend, is registering a 33 percent approval rating—his lowest since taking office. He addressed Peruvians on Sunday, defending his government’s economic policies and commitment to social programs.
Bachelet and Matthei Face Questions Over Fathers' Pasts: A Chilean lawyer is seeking to charge General Fernando Matthei, presidential candidate Evelyn Matthei’s father, with the death of General Alberto Bachelet, the father of former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. Matthei and Bachelet are both candidates in the November 17 presidential election. Human rights lawyers Eduardo Contreras says that Gen. Matthei knew that Gen. Bachelet was being held at the Air War Academy, where he was tortured in 1974 during Chile's military dictatorship. Gen. Bachelet eventually died in prison of his wounds. Gen. Matthei, who is 88, has not spoken in public about the case, but his daughter claims that the two generals were friends and that the charges against her father are politically motivated. Former President Bachelet said that she has not asked Contreras to represent her in the investigation of her father's death.
FARC and Colombian Government Resume Peace Talks: The Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) reopened peace talks in Havana on Sunday, just over a week after 19 Colombian soldiers were killed in two separate attacks reportedly carried out by FARC guerrillas. Government peace negotiator Humberto de la Calle said that the government would hold the guerrillas accountable for the latest violence, and added that the Colombian government would continue military operations against the FARC until a peace agreement is reached.
Haitian Cholera Victims' Charges Bolstered by Report: A new report released by an international group of scientists found that UN peacekeepers from Nepal are responsible for causing a 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti that has killed over 8,000 people. Citing new microbiological evidence, the report concludes "that personnel associated with the [...] MINUSTAH facility were the most likely source of introduction of cholera into Haiti.” The scientists first produced a report in 2011 that found no specific cause for the cholera outbreak, leading the UN to reject a 2011 compensation claim by cholera victims' families. With the new evidence, the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti is preparing to file more lawsuits against the UN in U.S. and Haitian courts.
Gunmen Murder Mexican Vice-Admiral: Assailants attacked and murdered Vice Adm. Carlos Miguel Salazar and Ricardo Fernández Hernández, an officer accompanying the admiral as a bodyguard, on Sunday in the Mexican state of Michoacán. Salazar was one of Mexico's highest-ranking naval officials, and the highest-ranking officer killed by gunmen since Mexico's government offensive against cartels began in 2006. He and Fernández were shot as they took a detour on a dirt road near the town of Churintzio. Worsening drug war violence in Michoacán caused Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to send thousands of federal troops and police to the area two months ago to improve security.
Last year when Argentina expropriated most of Repsol’s majority stake in YPF, the country’s flagship oil and gas company, the Spanish government and the European Union howled in anger, leading calls to sanction Argentina and restrict trade in retaliation. The high drama in April 2012 culminated in a few months of frosty relations between Spain and Argentina, but an embargo failed to materialize. It did not take even six months before Argentine energy companies returned to Spain to do business with Madrid’s blessing.
Now, Argentina seems to be poised to develop one of the largest unconventional oil and gas plays in the Western Hemisphere. Countering Europe’s whimper that the rule of law would always prevail over nationalism, a steady stream of suitors have been sidling up to the country’s formidable oil and gas resources. These suitors are not just national oil companies from the Middle East and Asia. Instead, they have included ExxonMobil, Apache, Statoil, and now Chevron, which recently signed an $1.5 billion deal to drill up to 1,500 wells that could raise production to 50,000 barrels of oil and 3 million cubic meters of natural gas a day.
Even in the face of a tough political climate and the geological difficulty of shale extraction, investors are lining up.
And they like what they see. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that Argentina has 774 trillion cubic feet of recoverable shale gas, making the country’s reserves the third largest in the world (after China and the United States). A significant amount of petroleum sits alongside the shale gas.
Investors are focusing on the country’s Vaca Muerta shale oil field, and are banking on the potential to double Argentina’s output within a decade. If the Vaca Muerta formation reaches anything close to its full potential, Argentina could also become a regional gas powerhouse, capturing a greater share of exports to Brazil and Chile or filling liquefied natural gas (LNG) ships bound for Europe and Asia. This would reverse Argentina's need to import. It would also be a major victory for a country that has quickly gone from being a net exporter of LNG to requiring massive LNG imports, imposing a major challenge on fiscal resources and its balance of payments.
Pope Francis I marks the end of his seven-day visit to Brazil this weekend—the first to Latin America as Pontiff—with a Sunday Mass marking the 28th World Youth Day, a worldwide event for young people started by Pope John Paul II in 1985.
His visit has sought to re-energize Catholicism in Brazil, which is home to the world’s largest Catholic population. Still, while 90 percent of Brazilians identified as Catholic in 1970, Datafolha polling shows that has dropped to 57 percent of the population today.
On Thursday the Pope travelled to Manguinhos, a favela in the municipality of Serra in the state of Espírito Santo, where he denounced the widening gap between the rich and the poor. The favela —home to about 35,000 people—is known locally as the “Gaza Strip” for its frequent gunfire. Condemning growing inequality in Brazil and responding to the recent protests, the Pope urged youth to remain alert to injustices and be catalysts in the struggle against corruption.
Despite 30,000 soldiers and police on-hand, the Pope’s visit has been marred by logistical challenges. On Monday, his motorcade got stuck on a crowded street, exposing the Pope to a mob of onlookers. On Tuesday, Rio’s subway system broke down for two hours, leaving thousands of passengers scrambling to reach a seaside Mass in the city of Aparecida—known for its massive shrine to Brazil’s patron saint.
On Wednesday, the Pope visited a drug rehabilitation hospital in Rio, where he called traffickers “merchants of death.” Brazilians consume the largest amount of crack cocaine in Latin America and, according to a recent study by the Universidade Federal de São Paulo (Federal University of São Paulo), Brazil has 1 million addicted users. The Pope emphasized the need to “confront the problems underlying the use of drugs, by promoting greater justice, educating young people in the values that build up life in society, accompanying those in difficulty and giving them hope for the future.”
The Pope is next scheduled to visit Brazil in 2017.
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala swore in three new female Cabinet ministers on Wednesday, giving the Cabinet an equal number of male and female ministers for the first time in Peru’s history. Peru’s Cabinet now comprises nine female ministers out of a total of 18.
The three new ministers include Mónica Rubio, a former social protection specialist at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), who replaced Carolina Trivelli as minister of development and social inclusion; Magali Silva, the former vice minister of production, who replaced José Luis Silva as minister of foreign commerce and trade; and Diana Alvarez Calderón, an advisor in the municipality of Miraflores and a former secretary general at the Ministry of Justice, who replaced Luis Peirano as minster of culture. All three of the ministers who were replaced cited personal reasons for stepping down.
Humala made these new appointments just days before he will mark the completion of his second year in office on July 28. In Peru’s 2011 presidential election, Humala ran on a platform of economic growth coupled with social inclusion and, among other issues, pledged to support greater equality for women.
The Cabinet’s other female ministers are Minister of Justice Eda Adriana Rivas, Minister of Education Patricia Salas, Minister of Health Midori de Habich, Minister of Labor and Employment Teresa Laos, Minister of Production Gladys Triveño, and Minister of Women and Human Development Ana Jara.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos denounced the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) on Tuesday for what he described as a “flagrant violation” of the group’s commitment to end kidnappings prior to its peace negotiations with the Colombian government in Havana.
Santos’ comments, delivered at the opening of Colombiamoda (Colombian Fashion Week) in Medellín, marks the second time in the span of a week that the Colombian leader has spoken out strongly against the guerilla group. Last weekend, FARC soldiers ambushed and killed 19 Colombian soldiers in separate attacks in Arauca and Caqueta departments, putting increased pressure on those around the negotiating table in Havana. In response, Santos vowed to use decisive military force against the rebel group if necessary.
The president’s most recent statement comes just days after the FARC offered to release former U.S. Marine Kevin Scott Sutay, who was abducted on June 20, as a gesture of goodwill in light of the ongoing peace negotiations. Santos responded to the announcement by saying that the FARC “did not abduct him before [the peace talks], they recently kidnapped him, without any justification,” thereby violating a statute of the negotiations.
As part of the release, the FARC requested that a humanitarian commission composed of the International Committee of the Red Cross, former Senator Piedad Córdoba and a delegate from the community of San Egidio be sent to retrieve Sutay. Santos refused to allow anyone but the Red Cross to be involved in the handover, saying that he would not allow Sutay’s release to become a media circus.
Pope Francis—the first Latin American to head the Catholic Church—arrived in Brazil on Monday to celebrate World Youth Day, a week-long international gathering of young Catholics initiated by Pope John Paul II in 1985. While millions of Catholics have traveled to Rio de Janeiro to greet the Pope, he was also met on Monday night by a group of 1,500 demonstrators outside of Rio’s Guanabara Palace, where Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and hundreds of dignitaries greeted the Pope in the official welcome ceremony.
Brazil is still shaken by social unrest that saw hundreds of thousands of protesters demand an end to corruption and better public services last month, and many demonstrators are now criticizing the estimated $53 million that will be spent on security during the Pope’s visit. In anticipation of more protests this week, the Defense Ministry boosted the number of army, air force and navy personnel and rolled out what state officials called “the biggest police operation in (Rio de Janeiro’s) history.” Even so, security might be problematic as the Pope plans to ride through the center of the city in an open-air vehicle, instead of the traditional bulletproof popemobile.
Pope Francis’ visit also comes at a delicate time for the Catholic Church in Brazil. Though Brazil is home to the world’s largest Catholic community—an estimated 123 million—Catholicism has been challenged by the country’s surging Evangelical population in the past three decades. Today, about 65 percent of the total population—compared with 92 percent in 1970—identifies as Catholic. In contrast, the number of evangelicals has risen from 5 percent of the population in 1970 to 22 percent in 2010. Rio de Janeiro is the country’s least Catholic state, with 45 percent of the population identifying as Catholic, according to the newspaper O Globo.
The Pope's weeklong visit has drawn over one million young Catholics to Rio de Janeiro. The pontiff will visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida— Brazil’s top pilgrimage site. He will also tour the Varginha favela in Rio, meet young inmates and hold three public Masses. The theme of the July 23-28 World Youth Day is “Go and make disciples of all nations,” a saying that summarizes the Pope’s mission to reinvigorate Brazil’s Catholic community.
Durante años, ejercer periodismo o entrar en la arena política venezolana implicaba aceptar el hecho de que, al tocar las cuerdas erradas, conversaciones telefónicas o trechos de la rutina diaria podían ser expuestos en televisión nacional—en loop o cámara lenta, estudiados con marcas y detalles como una jugada de fútbol—para delirio de adversarios.
Fue así como los programas más famosos de la estatal Venezolana de Televisión ganaron una audiencia sólida de espectadores que ansiaban ver a oponentes “pillados” en situaciones vulnerables. Mario Silva, un personaje desconocido hasta mediados de la década pasada, hizo de su incipiente programa, La Hojilla, una especie de big brother bolivariano que atemorizaba a periodistas y políticos contrarios a la “revolución bonita”. Con el aval del fallecido presidente, Hugo Chávez, Silva exhibía extractos de grabaciones obtenidas en edificios de Gobierno, así como pedazos de conversaciones telefónicas para exponer o ridiculizar a toda aquella figura pública que no comulgara con la doctrina socialista.
De forma irónica, La Hojilla y Mario Silva salieron del aire gracias a una grabación hecha por él, en la cual cuestionaba corrupción y tramas palaciegas dentro de la esfera más alta del chavismo. La cinta fue divulgada por la dirigencia opositora, y su legitimidad no fue investigada.
Paradójicamente, ésa es la administración que ofrece amparo a Edward Snowden, el ex analista de la Agencia de Seguridad Nacional de Estados Unidos, que puso su vida en vilo al denunciar el espionaje sistemático como política nacional e internacional de la Casa Blanca. “Decidí ofrecer asilo humanitario al joven americano Edward Snowden, para que, así, en la tierra natal de Bolívar y de Chávez, él pueda venir y verse libre de la persecución del imperio norteamericano,” anunció el presidente venezolano, Nicolás Maduro a comienzos de mes.
Unos días después, Snowden, desde el aeropuerto Sheremetyevo en Moscú, incluyó unas palabras de agradecimiento a Maduro en un comunicado oficial, y ensalzó la decisión de países como Venezuela que “fueron los primeros en hacer frente a las violaciones de derechos humanos ejecutadas por los poderosos contra quienes no detentan poder. Por no comprometer sus principios frente a la intimidación, ellos han ganado respeto mundial.”
Lo cierto es que mientras los titulares anunciaban la solidaridad y empatía de Maduro con el ex analista, las informaciones domésticas pasaban por debajo de la mesa. Reportes como el del Banco Central de Venezuela, que calculó en cerca de 40 por ciento el aumento de precios en el último año, o el asesinato de una madre y dos hijas a manos de efectivos de la Guardia Nacional durante un operativo, fueron apenas dos de las noticias—en economía y seguridad, los rubros más críticos del país—que no tuvieron la repercusión del asilo ofrecido por el presidente venezolano.
Como todo en Venezuela, en las últimas semanas se han invertido horas y kilos de papel para analizar y opinar sobre “el caso Snowden”. En cuanto eso, los venezolanos siguen haciendo colas para comprar papel higiénico, y se preguntan cuándo vendrá la devaluación que inevitablemente deberá intentar sincerar, por lo menos de forma leve, la moneda nacional.
Ahora que Snowden decidió solicitar un asilo temporal en Rusia, alegando problemas logísticos para llegar a la nación bolivariana, como era de esperarse, Miraflores ha centrado su mira en otro tema internacional: las relaciones con Washington. Declaraciones de Samantha Power, la embajadora nominada de Estados Unidos a la Organización de las Naciones Unidas, en las que señaló que desde su cargo luchará “contra la represión en Venezuela y Cuba,” fueron suficientes para levantar la indignación revolucionaria y dar fin al proceso de diálogo abierto a comienzos de año entre las cancillerías de ambos países.
El Ejecutivo venezolano respondió con fuerza y altivez a lo que consideran una afronta por parte de la funcionaria. Fuerza y altivez que falta para enfrentar la deteriorada situación económica nacional o combatir la inseguridad que tiene a la población rehén del miedo. No es novedad pues, durante años, Hugo Chávez buscó enemigos externos para llenar con discursos patrióticos los vacíos reales del país.
“Pero tenemos patria,” la nueva consigna del Ejecutivo, es la coletilla predilecta de quienes adversan al Gobierno para ironizar con los problemas básicos de Venezuela. “No hay papel higiénico, pero tenemos patria”, “Cuatro heridos deja tiroteo en cárcel de Vista Hermosa, pero tenemos patria”, “Sólo en Caracas: 392 personas ingresaron a la Morgue de Bello Monte en marzo, 422 en abril y 478 en mayo, pero tenemos patria”.
Mientras algunos venezolanos se inflan de orgullo al ver a su Presidente recordarle a la Casa Blanca que Venezuela es un país soberano, muchos otros se preguntan porque Snowden agradece el apoyo de un país que vulnera los ideales por los cuales él lucha. Ambos grupos podrán discutir a voluntad sus inquietudes: los temas están en la palestra. Para quienes tengan cuestiones más domésticas sobre cuándo serán sincerados problemas como la crisis carcelaria, control de precios, inflación, tasa de homicidios, robo y desabastecimiento, por los momentos no hay respuestas ni condiciones para el debate, pero tenemos patria.