The U.S. House Foreign Affairs Western Hemisphere Subcommittee chose the fitting location of Tucson, Arizona, to convene a field hearing on trade facilitation in the border region on December 9. Dotted with cacti, this college town lies at the heart of the desert landscape that belonged to Mexico until the Gadsden Purchase of 1853. Today, Mexico is Arizona’s largest trading partner, yet perceptions of the border often identify it as a security threat rather than as an economic opportunity.
Last week’s hearing marked a refreshing effort to rebalance policymakers’ attention. In his opening statement, Chairman Matt Salmon (AZ-R) defined the objective: “to get at what we need to do in the public and private sectors to improve border infrastructure and better facilitate trade without letting down our guard on security efforts.” Recognizing that the two economies are deeply intertwined, he pointed to “the good news”—that the commercial relationship continues to grow—and “the bad news”—that ports of entry face significant challenges in keeping up with this growth.
Western Hemisphere Subcommittee Ranking Member Albio Sires (NJ-D) alluded to the solutions needed to resolve tensions between border security and trade facilitation, while Representative Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-D) criticized “long and unpredictable wait times” at the border. Representative Ron Barber (AZ-D) unequivocally stated that “we must expedite the legal flow of traffic,” and Representative David Schweikert (AZ-R) cited the “amazing opportunity” represented by the potential for lower energy costs bolstering a manufacturing renaissance on both sides of the border.
On both sides of the aisle, the consensus was that the security-versus-trade debate has been overly skewed towards the former.
Last week, hundreds of Latin American leaders from the public and private sectors descended upon Rio de Janeiro to join former President Bill Clinton for Clinton Global Initiative Latin America.
Former President Clinton has long demonstrated his admiration for this corner of the world. But convening CGI here for the first time turns a new page for the former U.S. president’s philanthropic NGO. And for Latin American advocates of financial innovation, it amplifies an important conversation.
A meeting looking to address global problems is nothing new to Rio, or anywhere else for that matter. But what’s fresh about CGI’s forum is what it’s willing to ask about Latin America’s most pressing challenges—is there an opportunity for the impact economy to solve them?
That question is an important one, especially considering the region’s struggle with social inequity and systemic poverty. While traditional models of charity, corporate social responsibility and government subsidies have had some success lifting people out of poverty, they have repeatedly failed to improve Latin America’s status as the most unequal place on earth.
The impact economy rests on the belief that social problems can be solved through enterprising strategies—but making this happen doesn’t take good intentions, it takes some good risks. We need to enter the hybrid world where companies—impact enterprises—are formed to sell a product or a service that improves the quality of life of a marginalized person and where investors—impact investors—are willing to use capital to support these socially focused businesses, even if the returns are limited.
The Brazilian government announced that it is not considering granting asylum to Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor who is best known for leaking classified NSA documents.
The announcement comes after Snowden sent an “open letter to the people of Brazil” in which he offered to help conduct a Congressional probe into the NSA spying scandal. Brazil was outraged when details emerged that the U.S. was spying on Brazilian citizens, as well as Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and the national oil giant Petrobras.
Snowden’s letter, which was posted online and published by the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo on Tuesday, did not qualify as an official request, a Brazilian government spokesman said.
A previous request for asylum, which was sent by Amnesty International on Snowden’s behalf in July, also went unanswered by the Brazilian government. Brazilian authorities said they would not respond to a “generic letter.” Snowden is currently living in Russia under temporary asylum set to expire in August.
Despite the national outrage that Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo called “an inadmissible and unacceptable violation of Brazilian sovereignty," and Rousseff’s cancellation of a state visit to the U.S. over the spying allegations, Brazilian local media later revealed that the Agência Brasileira de Inteligência (Brazilian Intelligence Agency—ABIN) had also spied on diplomatic allies, including the United States.
On Saturday nights in central Havana, a scene unfolds that defies stereotypes on this communist island famous for its salsa, strong rum and revolutionary heroes.
With the hiss of a fog machine, the country’s iconic rock star, Diony Arce, emerges from the darkness inside a local theater. He grabs a microphone and launches into a gut-wrenching scream that echoes through this quiet, residential neighborhood.
Diony is the lead singer of Zeus—the gods of Cuban metal. As the loud, abrasive music kicks in, this crowd of several hundred young fans unleashes a pent up flood of emotion.
They violently push and pull at each other while shouting up to Diony to play their favorite songs.
“Vamos a la Silla Electrica!”—“Violento Metrobus!”—“Viven en Mí!”
Diony and the band have performed in Havana since the 1980s. They’re the longest-running metal band in the country and they have the scars to prove it.
When the band first started performing, this American-influenced music was officially banned by the Castro government. It was seen as "music of the enemy." Long-haired, tattooed rockers—or “freakies”—were thrown in jail, and concerts were broken up by state police.
Thirty years later this music is accepted, but only within the official Agencia Cubana de Rock (Cuban Agency of Rock), a government institution overseeing the country’s rock scene. Formed in 2007, the Agency has created a space for rock bands to perform their music and gather crowds without worry of police crackdowns. The trade-off, however, is a government system managing the freedom of artists.
This small opening for rock music is a sign of the changing reality in Cuba, but it is also a difficult compromise for the country's artists.
All eyes were on Detroit earlier this month as Federal Judge Steven Rhodes ruled that the city could discharge public pensions, along with other debt, as it restructures under Chapter 9 bankruptcy.
While other cities look at the ruling as a viable—though unfortunate—solution for their financial woes, there is one especially troubled economy that will not be able to take advantage of the ruling, or file for bankruptcy at all: Puerto Rico.
Last Wednesday, Moody’s Investors Service announced that it may downgrade Puerto Rico’s general-obligation debt to “junk” (noninvestment) status. All three credit rating agencies currently have the island at just above junk status, but with "weakening liquidity, increasing reliance on external short-term debt, and constrained market access, within the context of a weakened and now sluggish economy," a downgrade seems increasingly likely.
Puerto Rico’s high debt is exacerbated by its pension obligations—25 percent of all workers were employed by the Puerto Rican government before former Governor Luis Fortuño cut more than 40,000 jobs during his tenure—as well as budget deficits that predate the Great Recession and the prolonged deterioration of the island’s economy.
Now entering its eighth straight year of recession, Puerto Rico has found it difficult to recover as U.S. federal funding has dried up, energy prices have skyrocketed and tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans have fled the island looking for better opportunities on the mainland. Although Detroit’s debt pales in comparison to Puerto Rico’s—as of 2013, the island’s debt is nearly four times larger than Detroit’s –as a commonwealth, Puerto Rico is ineligible for bankruptcy.
Three hundred construction workers went on strike in the Brazilian city of Manaus on Monday after a fellow worker, Marcleudo de Melo Ferreira, fell to his death on Saturday. The workers of the Arena Amazonia stadium have demanded better conditions, saying that the pressure to complete construction is affecting their safety. The Prosecutor’s Office has suspended work on the stadium until the contractor provides a detailed report on the safety conditions at the stadium.
With the stadium already behind schedule, laborers like de Melo Ferreira have been working 20 hours per day to ensure the completion of Arena Amazonia by the revised January 15 deadline. More than half of the 12 World Cup stadiums are facing delays in construction or repairs. In November, a crane collapsed killing two workers at the building site for Arena Corinthians in São Paulo, set to host the opening game on June 12. The accident delayed the stadium’s completion, now planned for mid-April. In total, five workers have died at World Cup stadium construction sites in Brazil thus far.
Workers in the city of Curitiba also went on strike last week in protest of late payment. The delays in building of venues and related worker deaths come at a time when many Brazilians are disapproving of the 3.5 billion being spent on preparing for the World Cup. In June, millions of Brazilians filled the streets in seven major cities in protest of misspending by the state, demanding better health care, education and public transport.
During the course of the first leg of the Mandela funeral celebrations last week, one event made news around the world—U.S. President Barack Obama shaking hands with Cuban President Raul Castro. Speculation immediately surfaced about whether it was a planned event, and whether it meant an eventual new beginning for Cuban‒U.S. relations.
Judging from the reactions of both presidents’ spokespeople, it was a circumstantial meeting. To not shake hands would have been more significant.
Back in the spring of 2012, both Canada and the United States could not agree with their Latin American and Caribbean partners on a communiqué about the outcome of the sixth Summit of the Americas—in part because both the Canadian and American leaders opposed the formal inclusion of Cuba at the next summit. Last week’s event between Obama and Castro should not be interpreted as a change of heart.
Yet, basking in the accolades and homages to Nelson Mandela and his spirit, one cannot escape the thought that Mandela himself would have approved of the gesture as a first step to an eventual normalization of relations between these two antagonists.
Likely top stories this week: Former President Michelle Bachelet wins Chile’s presidential elections; Protesters rally in support of ousted Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro; USAID plans to pull out of Ecuador by September 2014; the FARC’s 30-day ceasefire goes into effect; a study finds that Mexico leads the world in kidnappings.
Michelle Bachelet Wins Chilean Elections: Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet won Sunday's runoff election to become president of Chile again, easily defeating conservative opponent Evelyn Matthei with 62 percent of the vote. Matthei, meanwhile, captured only 37 percent of the vote—the poorest showing by the Chilean Right in two decades. Bachelet served as president from 2006 to 2010 and left office with an 84 percent approval rating, and will be sworn in in March 2014.
Thousands of Colombians March For Mayor Petro: Supporters of Bogotá's recently-dismissed mayor, Gustavo Petro, rallied in the streets last Friday to protest Petro's removal from office. On December 9, Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez accused Petro of mismanagement of Bogotá's trash collection system and barred him from holding political office for 15 years. Protesters say that Ordóñez, who is not an elected official and is an ally of former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, has no authority to remove Petro from office.
USAID Makes Plans to Leave Ecuador: The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is expected to pull its $32 million aid program out of Ecuador by September 2014, according to a letter written Thursday by USAID Mission Director Christopher Cushing. The move comes six months after Bolivian President Evo Morales ordered USAID to leave his country. USAID has not been successful at renegotiating its contract with Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, and Correa has said he suspects the organization of meddling in his country's affairs.
FARC Ceasefire Begins: A 30-day ceasefire by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) began on Sunday as the rebels continue peace negotiations with the Colombian government in Havana. The ceasefire was declared on December 8 after a rebel bomb in the department of Cauca killed nine people. However, the rebels have said that the removal from office of Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro, a former M-19 guerrilla, will have an impact on the peace process. The Colombian government, meanwhile, will continue its operations against the FARC.
Mexcio Leads the World in Kidnappings: The new RiskMap 2014 report from the security company Control Risks found that Mexico had more kidnappings-for-ransom than anywhere else in the world this year, followed by India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Venezuela. Twenty percent of all kidnappings that happened in the world this year occurred in Mexico, according to the report.
On Sunday, December 15, Michelle Bachelet won 62 percent of Chile’s presidential run-off election, easily outpacing Evelyn Matthei’s 38 percent. On March 11, 2014, she will don Chile’s presidential sash for a second time, having served a previous term from 2006–2010. According to her 2013 electoral platform, she will focus on education, tax reform and adjustments (if not an outright overhaul) to the Chilean Constitution.
The three objectives are intertwined and they reflect Chile’s 25-year effort to responsibly reform a severely flawed constitution and legal system.
Forged under General Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship (1973–1990), Chile’s 1980 Constitution carved out a series of authoritarian enclaves, designed to allow General Pinochet to cloak his heavy-handed rule in the guise of democracy.
With an influential, unchecked military presence, weak legislature, concentrated presidential powers, and a binomial electoral system that ensured disproportionate conservative representation, Pinochet’s constitution hardly provided a bedrock for Latin America’s most advanced democracy.
Much to Chile’s credit, however, subsequent governments did not attempt to delegitimize this constitution outright—an approach that would likely have derailed the country’s heady economic growth. Rather, iterations of the center-left Concertación government (1990–2010) methodically reformed the document, always in close consultation with the private sector and the political opposition.
Juan Orlando Hernandez, the candidate for the conservative Partido Nacional (National Party), was confirmed as the new president of Honduras on Thursday. Hernandez won 36.9 percent of the vote, with opposition candidate Xiomara Castro of the Partido Libertad y Refundación (Liberty and Refoundation Party—Libre) coming in second with 28.8 percent of the votes, according to the Honduran electoral tribunal (TSE.) Castro, whose husband Manuel Zelaya was ousted as president during a 2009 coup, has rejected the results claiming there was fraud.
Libre emerged after the ousting of ex-president Zelaya as a left leaning alternative to the National Party. Libre has staged sit-ins and protests outside the offices of the TSE, which has refused to examine 3,604 tallies presented as evidence of fraud, says ex-president Zelaya. According to Libre’s legal representative, the TSE has also refused audits and inspections despite the fact that the voter registry included people who were dead or abroad. The party plans to ask the Supreme Court to demand a review of the election results, while Hernandez denies fraud and says his victory is legitimate.
The new president faces great challenges, as Honduras boasts rising inequality, widespread corruption and the world’s highest homicide rate. The most recent election was also affected by violence, as two Libre party leaders were assassinated on November 24 and a TV Journalist who openly opposed the 2009 coup was shot to death on December 10. Honduras remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist.
In the midst of a heated national debate on political reform, December 4 marked a milestone in Mexico’s electoral politics, as the upper house of Congress voted on legislation modifying 29 articles in the country’s constitution to allow consecutive re-election for mayoral and legislative positions.
Re-election will go into effect in 2018, and will allow mayors to run for two consecutive terms, while legislators can run for the same position for up to 12 years—though they’re required to run under the same political party they originally ran under. (This raises a number of questions regarding officials running under flimsy party alliances, which come and go faster than the seasons.) The president of Mexico and the mayor of Mexico City will be limited to serving one six-year term, however.
One of Mexico’s most ingrained mottos, born during the Revolution, has been “Effective Suffrage; No Re-election.” Back then, it was understandable that the country would unite under such a slogan, as the revolutionary objective was to overthrow Porfírio Diaz’ 31- year presidential tenure (with only one four-year break from 1880 to 1884).
Since then, however, political life in Mexico has evolved in ways in which allowing re-election could be positive.
International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) condemned Uruguay’s vote to legalize the production, sale and consumption of marijuana for those over the age of 18 yesterday. According to INCB President Raymond Yans, Uruguay has "knowingly decided to break the universally-agreed and internationally-endorsed treaty" with a decision that would endanger Uruguayan youth and "contribute to the earlier onset of addiction." Uruguay is a party to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which requires states to use marijuana only for medical and scientific purposes.
The reaction from the United Nations-affiliated INCB comes one day after the Uruguayan Senate passed a historic legalization bill. While The Netherlands, Canada, Israel, and the states of Colorado and Washington allow for legal medical or recreational use of marijuana, Uruguay will be the first country to also allow for the growth and trade of the substance.
President José Mujica, a former guerilla whose liberal-leaning government also approved bills to legalize abortions and same-sex marriage, has asserted that the legalization of marijuana will help to eradicate drug trafficking throughout the country and the violence associated with it. The country will set up a drug control board to regulate the marijuana industry in 120 days.
However, the legalization of marijuana is not without its restrictions. Under the new legislation, Uruguayan citizens who are 18 years or older will be permitted to keep up to six plants and produce no more than 480 grams of marijuana a year. Producers, vendors, and consumers will also be required to officially register with the government, who will monitor their usage. Tourists to Uruguay will not be permitted to produce or consume the substance.
Both domestic as well as external opinion is divided on the bill, but several Latin American leaders, including Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo have supported the legalization and regulation of marijuana.
With the exception of gas-rich Trinidad and Tobago, the 14 other countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) are energy importers. In fact, 93 percent of the region’s energy needs are met by oil imports, which average 13 percent of GDP. Venezuela is the main supplier of oil to the Caribbean through the PetroCaribe agreement, formed in 2005, which provides oil on attractive financing terms. However, declining oil production, deficient investment, and faltering leadership in Venezuela’s state-run oil company PDVSA cast doubt on the future of the arrangement. The termination of PetroCaribe would further wreak havoc on their tenuous fiscal situations. In many countries, Venezuela’s largesse has been a double-edged sword—affordable energy but increased reliance on imported oil.
Energy dependence and vulnerability are serious issues in the Caribbean, where residents suffer from high and fluctuating electricity costs, frequent blackouts and poor service. Electricity prices are some of the highest in the world, averaging US$0.33 per kilowatt hour compared to $0.09 per kilowatt hour in the United States. Oil reliance is stifling the Caribbean’s economy and the region must work towards diversifying its matrix if it wants to be competitive.
Natural gas might just be the solution. The Inter-American Development Bank recently held a Caribbean Energy Conference where panelists called for a transition to natural gas as a cheaper alternative. While natural gas would not be able to compete with subsidized fossil fuels from Venezuela, the termination of the PetroCaribe program would open the door for expanding the natural gas market. Jamaica, for example, pays 60 percent of crude upfront at market prices ($103 per barrel), and finances the rest with 1 percent interest over forty years—essentially receiving a 40 percent discount on their oil imports. The price of natural gas in the region ($10 per million BTUs) is not competitive with this discounted price. But an energy market where buyers had to pay market prices would drastically change the game for natural gas.
The Mexican Senate voted 95 to 28 to pass President Enrique Peña Nieto’s signature energy reform bill Wednesday morning, just one week after the body approved the electoral reform bill that the conservative Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN) set as a precondition to bringing the controversial measure to the Senate floor. If passed by the Chamber of Deputies, the bill would loosen the state’s control over the oil industry.
President Peña Nieto has advocated for various reforms since he took office in 2012, including telecommunications and education laws, but the energy reform bill has been seen as the centerpiece of his efforts to boost the Mexican economy. If passed, the bill would allow for private investment, exploration and profit sharing with the state-owned Pemex. Those actions were banned 75 years ago when President Lazaro Cardenas nationalized the oil industry.
While the alliance between the PAN and the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) has majorities in both chambers, there has been vocal opposition to the passage of the bill. Legislators from the leftist Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Democratic Revolution Party—PRD) interrupted debate on the measure on Tuesday in an effort to keep it from passing before the end of the year. The PRI and PAN have been accused of “treason” by PRD members for championing the bill that would inject private capital into the industry that seen a downward trend in recent years.
Despite the opposition, the Chamber of Deputies is expected to pass the energy reform bill before the winter recess on December 15. It would then need to be approved by more than half of Mexico’s 31 states and the federal district.
Cambios políticos y estructurales venían discutiéndose en Venezuela cuando un estallido social en 1989 evidenció que la situación exigía acciones inmediatas. La Comisión para la Reforma del Estado -creada en 1986- había oficializado el debate apenas un año antes, pero “El Caracazo”, revuelta social que marcó un punto de no retorno para el país, fue lo que impulsó la rápida creación del marco legal del proceso de descentralización. Así, en diciembre de 1989, por primera vez los venezolanos irían a las urnas para elegir, de forma libre y directa, a sus gobernadores y alcaldes.
Tuvo un efecto político inmediato. Liderazgos locales surgieron retando al bipartidismo que había gobernado al país por décadas. Los dos golpes de Estado de 1992 acentuaron la crisis y demarcaron un nuevo escenario nacional: la maquinaria, por sí sola, no garantizaría un puesto en la escala local de poder.
El chavismo es, en muchas formas, producto de ese momento. Fichas de izquierda al margen de los dos grandes partidos nacionales, se alzaron de forma sorpresiva con dos gobernaciones en los primeros comicios. La tendencia sólo seguiría en ascenso en los eventos electorales siguientes, hasta llegar a su punto máximo con la elección de Hugo Chávez para la presidencia en 1998. Chávez fue el primer outsider de la política venezolana en conquistar el máximo escaño en la historia contemporánea.
Hay quien pueda considerar un gesto irónico que la centralización fuese una de las prioridades políticas de la era chavista, pero tomando en cuenta el contexto, minar los liderazgos regionales parecía un camino lógico a seguir.
The mayor of Bogotá, Gustavo Petro, was removed from office Monday and banned from holding public office again for 15 years in a decision handed down by Colombian Attorney General Alejandro Ordóñez. Ordóñez found that Petro “improvised” and mismanaged a garbage collection system implemented last year, replacing private garbage collection companies with city entities that had "no experience, knowledge or capacity" in trash pickup services. An investigation was launched in January after Petro’s system resulted in “a grave emergency” that left tons of garbage unattended for days.
Petro, a leftist politician with former ties to the guerrilla group M-19 that demobilized in 1989, has called for peaceful protest against the decision which he considers a coup and plans to appeal the decision. Thousands of protesters gathered at Bogotá’s Bolivar Square after the decision was announced, claiming that the attorney general should not have the power to remove a democratically-elected official and that the ban is a political tactic against Petro’s progressive government. The mayor’s term is not supposed to end until 2016.
This is not the first time that the attorney general leaves Bogotá without a leader. Petro’s predecessor, Samuel Moreno Rojas, was also sanctioned for lack of public projects oversight in May of 2011, though he wasn’t banned from office. The ruling may threaten Colombia’s ongoing peace talks with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), which promises to integrate demobilized rebels into electoral politics.
The tributes to Nelson Mandela will continue to pour in over the next few days, as dignitaries make their way to pay their final respects to the leader who did more to transform Africa than any other in recent memory. His life story is now becoming more familiar by the day, and the upcoming film about his life will only add to the remarkable achievements of the man called Madiba.
We in Canada have always had a special place in our hearts for Nelson Mandela. The first country Mandela visited after his release from prison was Canada. The prime minister of the day, Brian Mulroney, was the principal world leader pushing for sanctions against the white supremacist government of South Africa, which ultimately brought the downfall of apartheid. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien later made Mandela a citizen of Canada.
When the tributes are done and world leaders have made sense of Mandela’s life and legacy, what will remain? Will there be primarily a focus on his achievements as a transformational and inspirational leader? Or, will there be a larger lesson—one that will transcend the ages and inspire future generations?
Without him, South Africa would not be where it is today—a multiracial democracy after years of apartheid and oppression. Yet a healthy and conscious Nelson Mandela would be the first to acknowledge that his work remains unfinished, and that the South Africa of today has not fulfilled the promise and the hopes of its visionary leader.
Likely top stories this week: The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) announce a ceasefire; Venezuelans vote in municipal elections; the Mexican Congress debates energy reform; Police strikes across Argentina continue; Bill Clinton visits Rio de Janeiro for the Clinton Global Initiative Latin America meeting.
FARC Rebels Announce a Ceasefire: In a statement on Sunday, Colombia's Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) announced a 30-day ceasefire that is scheduled to begin on December 15. The announcement was made a day after nine people died in a FARC firebomb attack at a police station in the town of Inza in the province of Cauca. Peace talks continued on Sunday, but the Colombian government said it would not stop fighting the rebels until a peace accord is signed.
Venezuelans Vote in Municipal Elections: Venezuelans went to the polls on Sunday to elect mayors and city councilmembers in municipal elections that many saw as a critical test for the government of President Nicolás Maduro. On Monday, with nearly all polling stations reporting, the National Electoral Council announced that the ruling Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party—PSUV) captured a majority of the votes nationwide, but the opposition won in Venezuela’s biggest cities, including Caracas, Maracaibo, and Barinas—the birthplace of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
Mexican Congress to Debate Energy Bill: Mexican Senate committees are debating a controversial energy reform bill that would allow private companies to invest in Mexican state oil company PEMEX through new production-sharing contracts. As protesters gathered outside the Senate on Sunday, lawmakers reviewed the bill, which is expected to move to the full Senate and lower house this week. The Senate resumed debate of the bill on Monday, and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto hopes to pass the legislation by Christmas.
Police Strikes in Argentina Lead to Violence: Violence continues in Argentina after police in Córdoba went on strike last week to demand higher wages, leading to a collapse in security and rule of law. Police forces in at least eight other provinces followed suit, leading to looting and violence in which at least three people died. Though violence continues in several provinces, strikes in the Argentine provinces of Neuquén, Santa Fe, San Juan and Catamarca appear to be drawing to a close after government officials agreed to raise wages. Police are demanding higher wages to combat Argentina’s estimated 26 percent inflation.
Bill Clinton Visits Rio: Former U.S. President Bill Clinton arrived in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday for the start of the Clinton Global Initiative Latin America meeting in Rio de Janeiro, which will gather together business leaders, politicians and members of civil society for three days. On Sunday, Clinton met with Rio's mayor, Eduardo Paes, and Rio de Janeiro State Governor Sérgio Cabral. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is expected to attend the meeting on Monday.
A year from now, Lima, Peru will host the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP20) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). For Latin American Indigenous peoples—who make up a large proportion of the populations of Peru and neighboring Bolivia and Ecuador—COP20 is a pivotal chance to coordinate and leverage their influence on the international stage.
2010 was the last time Latin American Indigenous peoples had the opportunity air their concerns about climate and environmental inequities—albeit outside of the official process. In April of that year, the first World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth was held in Cochabamba, Bolivia. The conference brought together over 30,000 activists from over 100 countries, largely as an alternative to the failures of the 2009 UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.
Indigenous peoples fed up with the lack of results from the UN conference articulated their own vision of climate justice at the 2010 Cochabamba Conference. The resulting People’s Agreement aimed to construct a new system based on harmony and balance between humans and Mother Earth. They reconceived a series of rights that were overlooked during the official negotiations, drafting the landmark Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.
What has happened to Indigenous people’s voices since then? Few Latin American Indigenous groups are able to travel to far-flung conference locations like Doha and Warsaw. Indigenous peoples continue to struggle for recognition and fair access to the closed intergovernmental negotiations.
The United Nations is urging the Dominican Republic to restore nationality to individuals affected by a September 23 Constitutional Court ruling that stripped thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent of their citizenship, rendering them stateless. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said Thursday that international legal standards require that the government restore citizenship taken away from approximately 200,000 individuals affected by the ruling and grant them valid identity documents.
According to a press release published on Thursday, the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHCR) has a mandate from the General Assembly to reduce statelessness and protect stateless persons, prompting the urgency of their request. The Constitutional Court ruling reinterpreted the requirements for Dominican nationality as it applied to children of “in transit” migrants. As a result, individuals born in the Dominican Republic to migrant parents after 1929 no longer met Dominican nationality criteria and could have their citizenship revoked retroactively. On November 30, the Dominican Republic announced a plan to put the ruling into motion, giving 18 months to those affected to request Dominican citizenship starting on June 2014, but not giving details as to the requirements for naturalization.
UNHCR’s emphasis of this ruling as a human rights issue comes after more than 100 Dominicans of Haitian descent were deported in November following a fatal attack against an elderly couple near the Haitian border. Migrant advocates said many were deported or left the country voluntarily in fear after a mob retaliated for the attack by killing a Haitian man.
Obama’s sinking approval numbers one year into his second term have led some observers to conclude that the presidency has seen its best days. For the first time, the President’s “trustworthy” factor is deficient, and talk of the second-term curse has already made its way into the daily media jargon.
The Obamacare computer glitch has since been compared to Bush’s Katrina—and because it is the president’s signature achievement, pundit talk has already surfaced about a failed presidency. We in Canada have always liked Barack Obama and hoped he would be a successful president, but now many are asking, “Is it too late for Obama?”
Clearly, this has been a difficult year for the Obama administration–the IRS targeting of the Tea Party, a return on the Benghazi fiasco, the Edward Snowden and National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance controversy, the government shutdown in September, and the failed Obamacare rollout.
As we are about to enter 2014, midterm elections and potential lame-duck status for the sitting president are on the horizon. Some of it is self-inflicted, but despite the Republicans’ failed strategy related to the government shutdown, they still believe that they have cornered Obama and ensured for themselves a pathway to maintaining the House and capturing the Senate next November. Only winning the White House in 2016 would remain to complete the trifecta.
Fast-food workers across the United States began a 24-hour strike in nearly 100 cities on Thursday to protest low wages. The employees are calling for an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.
The current $7.25 per hour federal minimum wage, set in 2009, amounts to only $15,000 a year for a full-time fast food worker—seen by many as less than a living wage.
Nearly 100 protesters gathered in a McDonald’s in New York City this morning chanting “we can’t survive on $7.25,” before being removed by police. According to a Burger King employee, managers warned their employees that those participating in Thursday’s protests would be denied work shifts. The National Restaurant Association has meanwhile dismissed the protests as a “campaign engineered by national labor groups.”
President Barack Obama has indicated that he would support a Senate measure to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, which could come up for a vote later this month. However, such a bill would face substantial opposition from the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
The fast food industry has faced increased scrutiny this year, given rising income inequality in the U.S. and the fact that part-time work has constituted most of the job growth in the restaurant sector since the global recession. Some employers intentionally limit employees’ work hours because they would be required to provide health care for full-time employees under the Affordable Care Act.
While fast food workers are not typically unionized, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has strongly supported the effort to increase the federal minimum wage over the last year.
This month, Mexico’s Congress is debating the long-anticipated reform of Pemex, the country’s state-owned oil company.
This reform comes at a critical moment for Mexico’s energy industry, as oil production has declined steadily since 2004, and Pemex will need to more than double its investment to reverse the trend. The latest energy reform legislation in Congress would ease the financial pressure facing Pemex (which currently supplies one-third of the government’s annual budget), and would allow for some form of foreign investment in Mexico’s energy development.
If the bill passes, however, the results will be neither immediate nor guaranteed.
Even if Mexico’s Congress scrapes together the necessary votes to pass the bill in the coming days, the energy legislation rollout is likely to take several years. Any constitutional reform must be approved by half of Mexico’s 31 state legislatures. This process will likely take several more months, and may not be complete until the middle of 2014. At this rate, a substantial increase in foreign investment cannot be expected before 2015 or even 2016.
Then, the all-important ley secundaria (secondary legislation) will be decided, with significant implications for the types and levels of investment that the reform will produce.
The Mexican Senate approved a bill on electoral reform early this morning with a vote of 106-15 and one abstention. The bill, which would strengthen the legislative branch and includes constitutional amendments to eliminate term limits for legislators and mayors while curbing the power of the executive branch, was championed by the conservative Partido Acción Nacional—National Action Party (PAN) as a precondition to moving forward with President Enrique Peña Nieto’s ambitious energy reform plan.
The electoral reform bill, which also allows the president to opt for a coalition government, passed its first hurdle in the Senate committees on Tuesday before the overwhelming vote on the floor in the early hours this morning. It allows for Senators and Deputies to serve for up to 12 years—Senators terms are six years while Deputies are three—and eliminates the barriers to direct reelection beginning in 2018; it is expected to pass in the lower chamber this week.
The passage of electoral reform was seen as a necessary step to shore up support amongst PAN legislators, allies on of the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional—Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) on energy reform, after the leftist Partido de la Revolución Democrática—Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) pulled out of the cross-party pact that led to the passage of President Peña Nieto’s economic reforms last year.
The proposed energy reform, which aims to reverse declining crude output and boost economic growth, would open up the Mexican oil sector to private investment, and would allow for investors to share profits of oil exploration and production with Pemex, the state-owned oil monopoly. The reform bill would also affect the telecommunications and banking sectors.
The lower chamber is expected to vote on energy reform on December 15 before Congress breaks for recess.
In the latest in power outage to hit Venezuela this year, a blackout on Monday night left a large portion of Caracas in the dark, with other parts of the country affected as well. Outages were also reported in the states of Vargas, Aragua, Miranda, Lara, Zulia, Carabobo, and Falcón.
For many in Caracas, the power outage lasted only 10 minutes, while other parts of the country endured the blackout for over an hour and a half, according to Energy Minister Jesse Chacón. The outage occurred just after 8 p.m. local time, as Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was speaking on television.
In September, a power failure caused 70 percent of the country to lose power. That incident, as well as the one last night, originated from the same power substation west of Caracas. In both incidents, President Maduro suggested that sabotage was involved, but was unable to provide evidence.
Corpoelec, Venezuela’s state-run power company, was working late into Monday night to restore power across the country, and by 9:30 p.m. had successfully gotten about 85 percent of the greater Caracas area back on the grid. Venezuelan authorities said they would begin an investigation to determine the cause of the blackout.
On November 25, Canadians went to the polls in four by-elections—two in Manitoba, one in Québec and one in Ontario. The results were not dramatic, as they maintained the same distribution of seats in Canada’s House of Commons. The Conservative Party of Prime Minister Stephen Harper kept its two Manitoba seats—albeit with highly reduced margins. The Liberals, led by new leader Justin Trudeau, won both the Ontario and the Québec seats.
What made news was the fact that the Liberals captured second place in the Manitoba contests, leaving the New Democratic Party (NDP) to ponder whether they are losing their hold as the alternative to the governing Tories.
Harper’s party is still mired in the Senate scandal from last spring, which involved alleged spending infractions by former Conservative Senators Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin—then part of the Conservative caucus.
To the opposition parties, it’s the scandal that keeps on giving, as daily revelations dominate the newswires. The prime minister is finding out the hard way the Watergate scandal lesson—the “cover-up” is usually more damaging than the “crime.” Evasive answers, contradictions and improvisation have amplified what should have been an isolated case of misbehaving senators (since expelled from the Tory caucus) into a full-blown scandal.
Conservatives have suffered the blowback in recent national polls, and the by-elections results confirmed that the government is in troubled waters. What may be encouraging to the government strategists, however, is that the Tory fall in the polls cannot really be attributed to the government’s major agenda item: the economy. Rather, it is the scandal and how the government conducts its business in the light of the scandal that are the source of the current rejection. With two years to go until the next election, there is plenty of time to adjust and recover—or so the Tories think.
Likely top stories this week: Xiomara Castro leads her supporters in protest against last Sunday’s election results; Juan Manuel Santos visits the United States; petroleum exploitation moves ahead in Ecuador; Mexicans protest as President Peña Nieto completes his first year in office; a fire engulfs the Latin America Memorial in São Paulo.
Honduran Election Result Sparks Demonstrations: Thousands of Hondurans marched in Tegucigalpa on Sunday after the country’s electoral authority declared Juan Orlando Hernández the winner of last Sunday's presidential elections. Challenger Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, who is demanding a vote-by-vote recount at all Honduran polling places and an investigation of the elections by the attorney general, called on her supporters to march peacefully to protest the results. Salvador Nasralla, another candidate, is also challenging the results. On Sunday evening, Honduras’ election tribunal said it would be willing to let LIBRE (Liberty and Refoundation party—Liberdad y Refundación) review the electoral record but declined to say whether it would consider a full recount.
Santos Visits the United States: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos arrived in the United States on Sunday for a three-day visit that will include a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama. Santos will also make an appearance at the University of Miami on Monday before traveling to Washington D.C. for visits with Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner, and a meeting at the OAS, among other activities. The purpose of Santos' trip is to encourage additional U.S. investment in Colombia and to discuss Colombia's peace negotiations with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC).
Correa Announces Petroleum Exploitation in Ecuadorian Amazon: Despite major protests by Indigenous and environmental groups, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa announced Saturday that Ecuador would permit the exploitation of 13 petroleum blocks in the Ecuadorian Amazon near the border with Peru and on the edge of Yasuni National Park. Correa said that Chilean Ambassador Juan Carlos Lira and a businessman were injured in the protests last Tuesday. Ecuadorian Minister for Non-Renewable Natural Resources Pedro Merizalde said that the first three blocks up for action could hold as much as 1.5 billion barrels. So far, Spain's Repsol YPF, Chile's ENAP, Belarus’ Belorusneft, and China's Andes Petroleum have presented offers for four of the petroleum blocks.
Protests as Peña Nieto Completes First Year of Presidency: Thousands of Mexicans protested in the streets of Mexico City on Sunday as Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto celebrated the completion of his first year as president. Protesting teachers, union workers, and self-declared anarchists marched in opposition to Peña Nieto's recent education, tax and energy reforms. According to a poll released Sunday by Reforma newspaper, 48 percent of respondents disapproved of the president's job performance—up from 30 percent in April.
Fire Latest Accident to Hit São Paulo: Less than a week after a construction crane collapsed at São Paulo's Itaquerão stadium and killed two workers, the city's iconic Latin America Memorial—a landmark building which hosts an art gallery, an auditorium and other facilities— was engulfed by a fire on Saturday. The memorial and cultural center was built in 1989 by legendary Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, who died last year at age 104. It is still unclear how the fire started, but it appears no members of the public have been injured in the blaze. Meanwhile, construction workers returned to Itaquerão stadium on Monday to address the damages caused by last week’s accident.
The Cuban Mission to the United States halted nearly all consular services on Tuesday after its primary bank severed its client relationship with the political institution. According to the Cuban Interest Section in Washington, consular services including passport and visa processes will be shut down in the U.S. until the Cuban Mission can find a new bank, though humanitarian cases will continue to be processed.
M&T Bank, which formerly managed the Cuban Mission’s accounts, informed clients in in July that it would stop providing services to all foreign missions. The Interests Section blamed the Mission’s difficulty in finding a new bank on restrictions stemming from the U.S. economic embargo. It also warned that the suspension could have a negative impact on cultural and family visits to the island, as well as on Cubans who are not U.S. citizens but live in the U.S. and need to update their passports regularly through the Mission.
The U.S. broke diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961, and has maintained the embargo on Cuba since the early 1960s. Tuesday’s news comes only one week after U.S. Secretary of State Kerry implored Havana to do more to foster personal freedoms on the island in a speech to the Organization of American States. Sec. Kerry added that the U.S. is “committed to human interchange,” referring to the people-to-people exchanges allowed under 2010 policy reforms.
In a groundbreaking announcement this week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) declared that it will create a Rapporteurship on the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex (LGBTI) Persons. The news garnered little media attention, but its significance to millions of LGBTI people across the Americas and to the broader struggle for universal human rights is profound.
The development follows years of concerted efforts by activists, international human rights organizations and more recently, world leaders. (The idea to create a Rapporteurship came out of a meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff during a 2011 state visit to Brazil.) The abuses faced by LGBTI people in the Americas and across the globe are among the most systematic and pervasive human rights violations in the world, yet they have often been overlooked and subject to vast impunity.
The importance of this announcement should not be underestimated. It is worth remembering that just six months ago, many feared an end to the IACHR’s 50 years of groundbreaking work. Yet now, the Commission leads the international community once again in creating the world’s first-ever international human rights office dedicated exclusively to LGBTI rights. While other international bodies and governments have taken important steps toward addressing these issues, the IACHR is the first to create a permanent office.
Far more than a meaningless symbolic gesture (something, frankly, that the OAS is notorious for), the Rapporteurship will provide tremendous support to activists by installing a permanent expert to monitor and investigate human rights abuses against LGBTI people across the hemisphere.
We still don’t know the final tally of Sunday’s general election in Honduras, but if 68 percent of provisional results are valid, Juan Orlando Hernández will soon be the next president of Central America’s second-most populous country—with repercussions for the region and for the Obama administration’s Latin American policy hanging in the balance.
With a 5.16 point lead over his closest rival, Xiomara Castro de Zelaya— whose husband Manuel Zelaya served as president from 2006 until his ouster in a military coup in June 2009—Hernández seems likely to prevail in the final count. Spain, Colombia and other countries are already congratulating Hernández for his victory, however prematurely. Castro de Zelaya, on the basis of her own exit polling and analysis, declared victory Sunday night hours before Hernández did.
Despite claims that Hernández, wielding the power of a new military police force, is gearing up to lead the most authoritarian Honduran administration in memory, he faces a brutal four years in office—with no mandate, no majority and no money.
Critics worry that Hernández, currently president of the National Congress, is already more powerful than outgoing president Porfirio Lobo Sosa, and looking to consolidate even more power.
Approximately 100 people were deported from the Dominican Republic to Haiti this week following a fatal attack against an elderly Dominican couple near the Haitian border. Activists say the figure brings the total number of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent deported from the Dominican Republic since September to 354.
Josue Michel, spokesman for the Groupe d'Appui Aux Rapatriés et Réfugiés (Support Group for Repatriates and Refugees—GARR), said the deportations came after a burglary in the Southwestern Dominican town of Neiba. Many of the deportees had gone to a Dominican police station to report the crime and seek refuge from indiscriminant mob violence, but were then rounded up in the street by police officers. Others fled the country voluntarily in fear of continued violence. Dominican authorities insist the deported individuals were not expelled and that they requested for the police to escort them safely to the border.
The deportations of Haitians began after the Tribunal Constitucional de República Dominicana (Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic) ruled on September 23 that anyone born in the Dominican Republic to non-Dominican parents after 1929 is not eligible for Dominican citizenship. The Open Society Justice Initiative estimates that the decision has subsequently rendered over 200,000 people “stateless,” or without any claim to legal citizenship.
It has been said that if Iran develops a nuclear bomb, the world will become more dangerous than at any time since the height of the Cold War. The interim accord between Iran, the five members of the UN Security Council and Germany is meant to address this fear. The accord sets specific and significant limitations on Iran’s nuclear capability and development (that is, to freeze Iran’s nuclear program) with UN inspections in return for some temporary sanction relief for the Iranian government. The six-month agreement is temporary and is intended to provide a foundation for a long-term settlement beyond this deadline.
Already, the reactions approving or opposing the deal have come forward swiftly. From U.S. media coverage, one would think that the deal is only between the U.S. and Iran, ignoring the work and commitment of the other partners. Remember Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany are partners to this agreement. Sure, the Obama Administration is at the center of this high stakes game and Secretary of State John Kerry has played an instrumental role. However, it must be emphasized that the deal remains a first step involving the UN’s permanent Security Council members, and the dialogue is meant to continue.
The strongest and most strident voice opposing the accord has come from Israel and its Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. This was not unexpected, and may not be totally negative. Iran must realize that this recent development is not a free pass to sanction relief as it has earned the mistrust through its past actions. Israel, however, cannot lose sight of its ultimate objective—no nuclear weapon has been developed by Iran yet, and the dialogue has begun. Israeli President and Nobel Peace Laureate, Shimon Peres, was more balanced and constructive in his reaction, saying that results will matter more than words.
Likely top stories this week: Honduras’ election results are still pending; the Dominican Republic deports Haitian immigrants after violence in a border town; Henrique Capriles urges the Venezuelan opposition to vote on December 8; a new report says that most Americans favor a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants; Juan Manuel Santos and Rafael Correa meet in Colombia to discuss bilateral ties.
Honduran Elections: With a little over half of precincts reporting in Honduras’ presidential election on Sunday, the ruling National Party candidate Juan Orlando Hernández reportedly has a slight lead over Partido Libertad y Refundación (Liberty and Refoundation Party—LIBRE) candidate Xiomara Castro, who led the polls just a month ago and is the wife of former President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a 2009 coup. The Honduran electoral tribunal said last night that Hernández had secured approximately 34 percent of the votes, versus Castro’s 29 percent. However, both candidates have claimed victory in the election that saw a record turnout. The electoral authority is expected to release an update on the election tally this afternoon.
The Dominican Republic Deports Haitians After Killings: As of Sunday, at least 244 Haitians have been deported from the Dominican Republic, a spokesman for the Group for Repatriates and Refugees said on Monday. The deportations were sparked after mob violence in a town in the southwestern Dominican Republican led many Haitian immigrants to seek refuge. The violence began when a bungled burglary led to the killing of a Dominican couple near the Haitian border and an enraged mob retaliated by killing a Haitian man. Anti-Haitian sentiments in the Dominican Republic have grown after a September ruling that threatened to strip Dominicans of Haitian descent of their citizenship. Advocates say some of the deported have sought refuge, fearing further violence.
Capriles Urges Venezuelan Opposition to Vote: As Venezuela’s December 8 municipal elections approach, opposition leader Henrique Capriles told his supporters on Saturday that they should go to the polls to express their discontent with the government of President Nicolás Maduro. Thousands of members of the Venezuelan opposition marched through the streets on Saturday, several days after the National Assembly gave Maduro powers to rule by decree for the next 12 months. The president says the new powers will allow him to fight corruption, and claims that his enemies are using “economic sabotage” to discredit his administration.
Majority of Americans Favor Pathway to Citizenship, Report Says: A Public Religion Research Institute report published Monday says 63 percent of Americans favor legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants living in the United States to become citizens. Though the U.S. Congress appears to have abandoned legislation that would offer a plan for comprehensive immigration reform, 60 percent of Republicans, 57 percent of independents and 73 percent of Democrats said that they supported some form of legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to become citizens, according to the report. A full 71 percent of respondents said that they would support citizenship for undocumented immigrants who met requirements like paying back taxes and learning English.
Santos and Correa Meet: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa are meeting in the Colombian border town of Ipiales on Monday to discuss bilateral relations and to inaugurate a new bridge between the two countries. Relations between Ecuador and Correa were reestablished in 2010 after the two countries broke off relations when Colombia bombed a FARC encampment in Ecuador without the authorization of the Ecuadorian government in 2008. Ministers from both countries are expected to meet today to discuss security and defense as well as shared commercial interests.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced his intentions to run for reelection this Thursday, just four days before the legal deadline required to submit a candidacy. Santos said his campaign will be founded upon ideals of “peace and prosperity,” directly referencing his continued—although increasingly unpopular—efforts to reach a peace accord with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC).
A poll conducted by Invamer-Gallup predicts a second-round run-off between Santos and opposition candidate Óscar Iván Zuluaga of the Uribe Centro Democrático (Uribe Democratic Center) party. Specifically, the poll estimates that 27 percent of voters would support Santos, followed by 15 percent for Zuluaga, a former finance minister. Despite his considerable lead, Santos faces a difficult task of acquiring the 51 percent or more of votes required to win the Colombian presidency.
Political analysts believe the race will be characterized by strong ideological divisions between Santos and his more conservative leaning opponent. During his announcement, Santos said, “There are still great challenges ahead of us, but I am convinced that the way to confront them is not only through blood and gunfire.” In contrast, Zuluaga has vowed to immediately cease peace talks if elected. Following Santos’ announcement, he replied, “We will not accept that our soldiers and police keep being murdered or unjustly persecuted while terrorists, kidnappers and murderers walk freely on the beaches in Havana."
Elections in small Central American countries rarely garner the kind of international attention that Honduras is receiving ahead of its November 24 presidential vote. Then again, this is no ordinary election. One of the frontrunners, Xiomara Castro, is the wife of former President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in Latin America’s last coup in 2009. Her main opponent is Juan Orlando Hernández, a member of the Partido Nacional de Honduras (National Party), which has ruled the country since Zelaya was forced from power. The political grudge match is playing out in a tinderbox of a country: Honduras is home to the world’s highest murder rate and an embattled economy that has passions running high.
Castro's very candidacy represents a remarkable reversal of fortunes for Zelaya, who is the dominant influence behind his wife's newly founded Partido Libertad y Refundación (Liberty and Refoundation Party—LIBRE). Only four years ago, Zelaya was unceremoniously removed from office by the military after he moved to rewrite the country's constitution. Exiled until 2011, Zelaya saw his public support rebound dramatically on the back of widespread sympathy in the wake of the coup, which many Hondurans felt was unlawful.
In the years since, the ruling Partido Nacional has struggled to govern. President Porfirio Lobo’s focus on reconciliation in the wake of the coup kept him from confronting major economic and security challenges. In the void, transnational drug-trafficking organizations and domestic gangs have expanded their influence in Honduras unabated. Separately, the economy is under siege. Honduras ended 2012 with a budget deficit amounting to approximately 5 percent of GDP, its second highest in 10 years, while the country’s $5 billion foreign debt is equivalent to last year's entire budget. Starved of funds, the state has been unable to pay public workers, prompting thousands to take to the streets.