March 12, 2015Read More Tags: Salvadoran elections, FMLN, Alliance of Prosperity
El Salvador held legislative and municipal elections on March 1, 2015. Almost two weeks later, the country lacks electoral results. The debacle has signified a concerning setback for Salvadoran electoral institutions and their credibility.
Trouble started on Election Day, when the Supreme Electoral Tribunal announced its electoral results transmission system had failed. Since then, the scarcity of information and reluctance to provide full access to mainstream media—something which had been done in all previous electoral events—is increasing tension between political parties, citizens, and the electoral body.
It should come as no surprise that a lack of transparency and information inevitably leads to allegations of backdoor dealings and alleged attempts to privilege some political parties over others. As time passes, tensions rise. According to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal’s website on March 10, only about 50 percent of votes for the Central American Parliament had been counted, and the official election results for the Legislative Assembly and mayors hadn’t even started.
The current electoral impasse represents a true crisis for Salvadoran democratic institutions and the immediate future. The final results of the election will have a direct effect on the next three years of President Salvador Sánchez Cerén’s five-year term. Unofficial results suggest that the governing FMLN will come up short of a simple majority in the legislative branch, even when factoring in their recent alliance with the Gran Alianza Por La Unidad Nacional (Great Alliance for National Unity—GANA).
March 11, 2015Read More Tags: Guatemala, Judge Claudia Escobar, Judicial Reform
Last Friday, Judge Claudia Escobar announced in a statement that a number of Guatemalan judges are being harassed and persecuted after speaking out against corruption during the election of the new Supreme Court and Appellate Court magistrates in 2014. The retaliatory measures taken against them, she said, include being forcibly transferred to remote locations or unfairly dismissed.
On October 5, 2014, Judge Escobar, who had been re-elected as Appellate Court magistrate days earlier, resigned just before being sworn in for a second period, and handed over to the authorities an audiotape of Congressman Gudy Rivera seeking her support in a case implicating Vice President Roxana Baldetti in exchange for Rivera’s support during the nomination process. Judge Escobar’s resignation in protest against Congressman Rivera’s attempt to bribe her came after a highly contentious nomination process that was mired in corruption and influence peddling allegations against the members of the nomination committee in charge of assessing candidates and submitting a shortlist to Congress, which made the final choice.
More than 50 judges, as well as Human Rights Ombudsman Jorge de León Duque, supported Judge Escobar’s call for an annulment of the appointments and the initiation of a new nomination process.
Judge Escobar became an overnight heroine, and in the face of a huge public opinion backlash against the country’s judicial institutions, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court (CC) temporarily suspended all of the nominations. However, on November 20, the CC controversially endorsed the results after three out of five CC magistrates, including the CC’s president, Roberto Molina Barreto, voted against the annulment of the appointments, arguing that there was insufficient evidence of irregularities during the nomination process.
March 11, 2015Read More Tags: Gender Rights, Violence Against Women, Dilma Rousseff
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff signed a new law on Monday that sets harsher penalties for gender-based killings of women and girls. The new legislation gives a legal definition for femicide under Brazil’s criminal code as any murder that involves domestic violence, contempt or discrimination against women. Convicted offenders will now face jail sentences of 12 to 30 years, with even longer jail terms for crimes committed against pregnant women, girls under 14, women over 60, and people with disabilities.
The new legislation expands on a previous domestic violence law known as the Maria da Penha Law, enacted in 2006 by Rousseff’s predecessor, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Maria da Penha is a women’s rights activist who became paraplegic after her ex-husband beat her for 14 years and attempted to murder her twice. The 2006 legislation had three main components: it prevented aggressors from being punished with alternative sentences, increased the maximum sentence for domestic violence to three years, and mandated that abusers distance themselves from the women they had attacked.
After Rousseff signed the most recent law, she enumerated statistics about the violence women face in her country—15 women are killed daily in Brazil, many through domestic violence, and an estimated 500,000 Brazilian women and girls are raped annually, but only 10 percent of survivors report the crimes.
On the BBC radio show “World Have Your Say” on Tuesday, women’s rights activists lauded the new law as a victory for women’s rights, but also cautioned the audience not to overestimate the law’s potential to eradicate gender-based violence, due to the difficulty of convicting criminals in the first place. Julia Pá, a filmmaker based in Brasília and a guest on the program, remarked that misogyny “is so ingrained in Brazilian society, and even in the judicial system itself, that you’re going to need to instruct judges and[…] people working with this on women’s issues and the importance of protecting women.”
March 10, 2015Read More Tags: U.S. presidential elections, Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush
Back in February, at a conservative conference in Iowa, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush appeared on stage with other prospective Republican presidential candidates. He was the only one who received jeers from the crowd. This was somewhat surprising, as Bush has made steady gains in recent polls and on the campaign money trail. Could it be the fact that the Bush name has been on the Republican presidential ticket for six of the last nine presidential contests and people want someone new? Or he is too moderate for today’s GOP?
Just recently, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been mired in a controversy for using a private email address with a private server to conduct state business. Her adversaries alleged that it was a scheme to avoid divulging e-mails that would otherwise have been public information, in contravention of a 2009 State Department directive. Curiously, Clinton has taken to social media to indicate her willingness to make the emails on the private server available to the general public. Why not be ahead of the news curve and immediately call a press conference? She has since decided to hold a press conference. However, the damage is done.
Last Sunday, on ABC’s “This Week” program, reputed reporter Mark Helpern asserted that Clinton’s management of the controversy will do serious harm to an eventual presidential run. This was possibly an exaggeration, but indicative of a certain Clinton fatigue on the part of the media.
It is clear that both Bush and Clinton, while still officially undeclared, are the current frontrunners for their parties’ nominations in 2016. It’s fair that they would receive greater public scrutiny. In the case of Jeb Bush, it is obvious that the shadow of his brother George W. looms large, with two wars and the Great Recession in the background. As for Hillary Clinton, the notion of secrecy so often associated with the Clinton years in the White House seems to have once again surfaced.
March 10, 2015Tags: UNODC, Drug Policy, Drug Reform
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) opened its 58th session on the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) on Monday in Vienna, Austria, with several Latin American countries—Mexico, Colombia, Uruguay and Bolivia—lobbying for a reform of global counternarcotic strategy. The CND special opening session will meet until March 13 to prepare for the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the World Drug Problem, with the annual session continuing until March 17.
The last UNGASS on drugs was held in 1998 with the goal of creating “A Drug Free World” by eliminating the illicit production of coca, cannabis and opium and reducing large scale demand by 2008. In 2009, the new Political Declaration and Action Plan of Action largely echoed the 1998 document and set the next UNGASS for 2019. But in September 2012, the presidents of Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico called for a conference on drug policy reform. With support from 95 other countries, the global drug policy summit meeting was set for 2016 to discuss drug use from a public health perspective.
Latin America is one of the most drug-stricken regions of the world. According to the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), Central America has seen an increase in the production and consumption of drugs since 2009. A UN study reported less 200 million drug users worldwide in 2005, but more than 250 million in 2012.
“[Current] drug policies are not producing the expected results and, as such, cannot continue without modifications,” said Yesid Reyes, Colombia’s minister of justice. He advocated for a thorough review of international policy to make it “more humane and efficient.” Mexican Under Secretary for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights Juan Manuel Gómez Robledo echoed the sentiment: “[The world cannot] repeat actions from the past and expect different results,” he said.
March 9, 2015Read More Tags: renewable energy, oil prices, Pacific Alliance
In June 2014, West Texas Intermediate, a benchmark crude oil grade, sold at $106 dollars per barrel. In early December, the price closed at $65 dollars per barrel, and is currently trading at just over $50 dollars per barrel. This precipitous decline has had an adverse effect on oil producers in Latin America—in particular, countries such as Mexico and Colombia that heavily rely on oil receipts to fund their national budgets.
On the other hand, consumers in Central America and the Caribbean are benefiting from low oil prices. Investors are looking at the region with a long-term view, and while some companies are cutting back on spending plans, the resources available in the region will continue to be attractive.
While formulating spending and investment plans for the year, energy companies will budget for a certain oil price in order to break even. For example, Venezuela’s break-even price in January 2015 was over $115 per barrel, making it extremely challenging to turn a profit. The drop in oil prices also impacts gas investment, because national and international oil companies often prospect the two at the same time—and thus must make appropriate spending decisions based on their relative prices. As such, the two markets are closely intertwined.
As investment levels are cut back, the oil price environment should be leveraged to encourage integration efforts in the region that would improve conditions for investment, even in a price-constrained environment. For example, the Pacific Alliance, which includes Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru, should seek to create larger internal markets and stronger investment conditions to draw investment. Shale gas development is also priority for the Alliance, and the creation of a development bank to finance infrastructure projects is one recommendation for further development.
Monday Memo: Colombia Peace Talks—Peru-Chile Spying—Citigroup Sale—Puerto Rico VAT—Chilean Corruption
March 9, 2015Tags: FARC, Colombia Peace Talks, spying, corruption, Independent Democratic Union
This week’s likely top stories: Colombia and FARC agree to clear landmines; Peru recalls ambassador to Chile; Citigroup to sell Central American entities; Puerto Rico debates possible VAT; Chilean officials charged with corruption.
Colombia and FARC to Remove Landmines: The Colombian and the FARC guerrilla group reached an agreement on Saturday to work together to clear the country of landmines and explosive devices. Their joint statement was read by Cuba and Norway, the two guarantor countries for the peace process, and the Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) will assist in the de-mining efforts. This weekend’s agreement marked important progress in the negotiations; for the first time, high-level military commanders were present, and the removal of mines and explosives is a major step toward disarmament. Over 11,000 Colombians have been hurt or killed by landmines in the last 15 years.
Peru Recalls Ambassador to Chile: On Saturday, Peru recalled its ambassador to Chile over spying accusations. Last month, the Peruvian government announced that three Peruvian naval employees were being investigated for allegedly disclosing military information to Chile. On February 20, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala sent Chile a diplomatic note requesting an answer regarding the claims, although Peru has not yet received a response. Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz stated that Chile “does not promote or accept acts of espionage in other states or its own territory.” Peruvian Prime Minister Ana Jara claimed that Peru will not send its ambassador back to Chile until the issue is addressed. Chile and Peru have long harbored tensions over their borders.
Citigroup Inc. to Sell Central American Operations: Citigroup Inc. may soon sell its Central American retail units to Banco Popular Español S.A., which is based in Madrid, Spain. According to a source’s comments on Saturday, Citigroup aims to sell its retail operations in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Panama in an effort to leave markets yielding low revenues and to streamline operations. Citigroup hopes to sell for $1.5 billion. The deal is not yet finalized and is subject to change. Spokesmen for both banks declined comment on the matter.
Puerto Rico Proposes Plan to Combat Tax Evasion: Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro García Padilla is supporting a new plan to impose a 16 percent value-added tax (VAT), in an effort to reduce the territory’s $73 billion public debt. The plan, which is currently being considered by lawmakers, would replace Puerto Rico’s current tax rate of 7 percent and would curb tax evasion on the island. Pending approval, producers would pay the VAT on raw materials, and include it in the price given to retailers, and the VAT would eventually be paid by consumers. Charging the VAT at each stage in the sales process would ensure proper collection. Currently, Puerto Rico’s informal economy is estimated to be worth $16 billion, a figure representing approximately 25 percent of the GDP. García Padilla is expected to make an announcement regarding the plan today.
Chilean Corruption Scandal Racks Opposition Party: After court hearings last week, a tax auditor, a former government official and four executives from the Penta Group, one of Chile’s largest financial groups, were jailed on Saturday for tax fraud, bribery and money laundering. Ten defendants were implicated in the scandal, including two tax officials and two politicians from the Unión Demócrata Independiente (Independent Democratic Union—UDI) opposition party. In a public declaration on Monday, La Superintendencia de Bancos e Instituciones Financieras (Superintendency of Banks and Financial Institutions—SBIF) announced that the Penta executives, including owners Carlos Délano y Carlos Eugenio Lavín, would be unable to maintain their positions as shareholders in the company.
March 9, 2015Read More Tags: Women's rights, International Women's Day
This year, International Women’s Day, which celebrated its 100th birthday on Sunday, also marked the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and the landmark Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
In what is still considered the most comprehensive blueprint on advancing women’s rights, 189 governments adopted the 1995 Beijing roadmap.
Looking back at this high point in the advancement of women’s rights, the progress made in ending gender inequality is, at best, uneven. The persistence of violence against women remains a scourge across the globe.
According to the report prepared for the 54th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, “the leaders entrusted with the power to realize the promises made in Beijing have failed women and girls,” based on findings in the 167 countries surveyed.
But did we need a UN report to reach this conclusion?
March 6, 2015Tags:
On Thursday, for the first time since talks began in Havana in November 2012, a delegation of high-ranking military Colombian military officials joined ongoing peace talks between the government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC).
The delegation and FARC negotiators will meet as part of the talks’ End of the Conflict Subcommittee, and are scheduled to continue talks through Saturday. On Thursday, Colombian Foreign Minister Margia Angela Holguin said, “We’re looking at it, analyzing the possibility of a bilateral cease-fire. That’s why these generals are going to that subcommittee.”
The meetings, which an anonymous spokesperson for the Colombian government called “historic,” come at a time when Colombians appear to be warming to the talks. According to a recent Gallup poll, 72 percent of Colombians are in favor of the talks and 26 percent are opposed. As recently as December, only 62 percent were reported to be in favor, while 36 percent of Colombians were opposed. The same poll found that 53 percent of Colombians believe that the talks will lead to a peace accord.
March 6, 2015Read More Tags: IACHR, Human Rights, Brazil, Ecuador, Organization of American States (OAS)
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the independent human rights body of the Organization of American States (OAS), experienced a period of intense political turmoil from 2011 to 2013. Criticism of the Commission by members of the OAS—most notably Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela—was echoed by Colombia, Peru and others in their vocal disapproval of concrete IACHR decisions.
The increasingly antagonistic diplomatic environment came to a head in April 2011, when the IACHR requested that Brazil halt its construction of the $17 billion Belo Monte hydroelectric dam. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff responded by withholding its dues payment, withdrawing Ruy Casaes, the Brazilian ambassador to the OAS, and temporarily withdrawing Paulo Vannuchi, Brazil’s candidate for a position on the Commission (although he was later elected to the Commission).
Two months after Rousseff’s sharp reaction to the Belo Monte matter, the OAS Permanent Council created a Working Group charged with preparing a set of recommendations on how to strengthen the Inter-American Human Rights System (IAHRS). On December 13, 2011, the Working Group approved a report containing 53 recommendations to the IACHR. The recommendations largely referred to operations, rules of procedure and institutional practices, but some attempted to limit the capacity of the Commission and weaken its mechanisms. In short, this process was a collective catharsis for critics of IACHR decisions, combined with a chance to air broader disdain for the OAS and any institution deemed to be spoiled by U.S. influence.
March 5, 2015Tags: Venezuela, Leopoldo Lopez, Mesa de la Unidad Democrática
Luisa Ortega, the Venezuelan Attorney General, declared Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López ineligible to run for parliament as a candidate for the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Democratic Unity Roundtable—MUD) until 2017. Ortega’s announcement followed a Uníon Radio interview with Jesús “Chúo” Torrealaba, executive secretary of MUD, who had received a letter from three imprisoned opposition leaders—López, former Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma and former San Cristóbal Mayor Daniel Ceballos—on Tuesday night requesting consideration of López’ candidacy for the election.
“It’s not that it’s a null candidacy, rather that he cannot run,” said Ortega, alluding to an earlier court ruling against López. As mayor of the Chacao municipality of Caracas in 2005, López was banned from running for any public office, after he was accused of receiving money from the state-run oil company Petróleos de Venezuela (Petroleum of Venezuela—PDVSA). Despite a hearing held by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that overturned the ruling in 2011, the Venezuelan Supreme Court upheld the original decision.
López has been imprisoned since February 18, 2014, accused of acts against the government, including damage to public property, public incitement and unlawful assembly. An investigation is still underway for Antonio Ledezma, the former mayor of Caracas, who has been imprisoned since last month for his connection to two young people accused of conspiracy against the government. In both the case of Ledezma as well as Ceballos, Ortega was unable to say whether the two would be eligible for the MUD elections.
March 4, 2015Read More Tags: police killings, Mexico-U.S. Relations, Mexican Immigrants
Nearly 100 protesters rallied at a city council meeting in Grapevine, Texas on Tuesday night to demand justice for Rubén García Villalpando, a 31-year-old Mexican national who was killed by a police officer in Euless, Texas on February 20. Police officer Robert Clark shot García Villalpando after a brief car chase that started at a business where police were investigating a burglar alarm. Police contend that García Villalpando was unarmed, but did not follow officer Clark’s orders.
Also on Tuesday, the family of 27-year-old Ernesto Javier Canepa Díaz held a press conference in Santa Ana, California to addressDíaz’ death on February 27 after police shot him during a robbery investigation. Police have not released details of the incident, but said that Díaz was identified as a suspect in the robbery.
A third police shooting of a Mexican national occurred February 10 in Pasco, Washington, when three police officers gunned down 35-year-old Antonio Zambrano Montes. Police officers said that Zambrano Montes had thrown rocks at them. A video of the shootingshows Zambrano-Montes running from police officers before they fired seventeen shots at him.
Officers involved in all three shootings have been placed on administrative leave as local officials investigate the incidents.
Mexico’s consuls in California, Texas and Washington State have voiced concerns to local authorities about the excessive use of lethal force by police. On Monday, the Mexican government called for the United States Justice Department to monitor theinvestigations of the shootings.
“Because these incidents cannot be seen as isolated cases, the Mexican government has called the Justice Department of the United States to follow the investigations of these cases through its Civil Rights Division and provide assurances that they are conducted with transparency and if necessary, that civil and criminal responsibilities are established,” said the Mexican Secretariat of Foreign Affairs on Monday.
March 3, 2015Read More Tags: Guatemala, Alfonso Portillo
Former President Alfonso Portillo returned to Guatemala on February 25, 2015 after spending just nine months of a six-year sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Englewood, Colorado.
In May 2014, he was convicted of conspiring to use U.S. banks to launder a $2.5 million bribe he received from the Taiwanese government in exchange for
Guatemala’s diplomatic recognition of the island in its long-standing dispute with China.
A crowd of sympathizers gathered at La Aurora airport hours before his plane was due to land in Guatemala, carrying banners with messages of support. During his administration (2000-2004), Portillo imposed price controls on basic foodstuffs, subsidized electricity tariffs for the poor, increased the minimum wage and challenged monopolies. As a result, despite his tainted past, he still enjoys considerable support among disenfranchised rural and urban Guatemalans.
“Portillo is one of the few politicians who’ve understood that putting food on the table is the standard by which a politician is judged,” explains political analyst Christians Castillo, of the the University of San Carlos’ Instituto de Problemas Nacionales (Institute of National Problems—IPNUSAC). According to Castillo, Portillo is seen as “a Robin Hood figure who steals to defend the rights of the masses.”
A poll carried out by Borge y Asociados for Contrapoder magazine in August 2014 revealed that two out of three Guatemalans would re-elect Portillo out of all of the country’s former presidents since the peace agreements were signed in 1996 (the survey was hypothetical, as the Guatemalan Constitution forbids re-election). Guatemala’s general elections are scheduled for September 13, 2015.
March 3, 2015Read More Tags: Venezuelan Elections, Nicolás Maduro, Antonio Ledezma
On February 20, a day after Venezuelan security agents smashed into the office of Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma and arrested him on conspiracy charges, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff referred to the mayor’s detention as a Venezuelan “internal matter.” Later, the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs released two bland statements in line with Rousseff’s comment, expressing concern and reaffirming Brazil’s commitment to act as a mediator.
This reaction was not dissimilar to the response of other important regional players, like Chile and México. Only Colombia’s tone was a bit harsher, perhaps because the country was mentioned in the accusations against Ledezma. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos denied his country’s involvement in the alleged conspiracy and made a plea that the rights of opposition members be respected.
But Ledezma’s rights had been violated even during his arrest. A group of armed officers stormed the mayor’s office and forcefully dragged him away without an arrest warrant. Ledezma was indicted the next day on charges of conspiracy to help plot an American-backed coup. Five days after the arrest, a police officer shot and killed a teenage boy during an anti-government protest in the city of San Cristóbal, the epicenter of nation-wide demonstrations last year that resulted in more than 40 deaths. The boy’s death spurred sporadic protests in different cities, ratcheting up tension in a country that, alongside political turmoil, is experiencing a severe economic crisis.
March 3, 2015Tags: Supreme Electoral Tribunal, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, OAS
El Salvador’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) announced on Monday that the preliminary count of votes in municipal and legislative elections would be skipped, due to system error.
On Sunday, Salvadoran citizens voted for all 84 seats in Congress, 262 mayors, approximately 3,000 municipal council members, and 20 representatives for the Central American Parliament. It was the first time that voters were allowed to choose individual candidates from different political parties instead of having to vote for one single party with a predetermined list of candidates.
The TSE confirmed yesterday that the initial count would not be disclosed, due to system failure experienced by the firm hired to digitize the results. They will instead continue straight to the final count, which will be conducted manually and could take 12 days. This election also marked the first time since the TSE was founded that the preliminary count is not made public.
Despite the fact that 60 observers from the OAS were present to monitor the elections, citizens are concerned about potential fraud. According to a representative from the Junta de Vigilancia Electoral (Electoral Vigilance Board—JVE), the situation “generates an atmosphere of unease, insecurity, of worry and distrust, not having a base that is showing us how the results of the election are developing.”
The legislative elections are highly divisive, with the Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (National Republican Alliance—ARENA) and the ruling Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberacion Nacional (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front—FMLN) fighting for congressional seats. With the elections, President Salvador Sánchez Cerén hopes to gain wider support in his endeavors to combat gang violence in the country.
Monday Memo: U.S.-Cuba Talks — Colombia Peace Talks — Latin American Currencies — New Uruguayan President — Peruvian Ecotourism
March 2, 2015Tags:
This week’s likely top stories:U.S.-Cuba talks promising; New delegation for FARC peace talks; Dollar strengthens against Latin American currencies; Tabaré Vázquez takes office; Peruvian businesses to learn from Costa Rican ecotourism.
U.S.-Cuba Normalization Talks Promising: After two rounds of talks—one in Havana last month and the second in Washington DC on Friday—the U.S. and Cuba announced that the re-opening of a U.S. embassy in Havana before the April 10-11 Summit of the Americas is not out of the question. While U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson and her counterpart—Joséfina Vidal Ferreiro, the director for United States Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba—agreed that the talks were productive, Cuba remains on the State Departments Sponsors of Terrorism list and the Cuban Interests Section in Washington DC remains unbanked. While not a precondition for further normalization, Vidal emphasized that the removal of Cuba from the terrorism list was a top priority. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry emphasized that the terrorism list was an issue separate from the negotiations, and that the review of Cuba’s position on the list would go through Congress. In simultaneous addresses on December 17, U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced the re-establishment of relations after Cuba released 65-year-old former U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contractor Alan Gross on humanitarian grounds and the U.S. released the three remaining “Cuban Five.”
Colombian President Announces New Delegation for FARC Peace Talks: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced on Monday that a new delegation of negotiators will be sent to Havana, Cuba on Tuesday to join the ongoing peace talks with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC). The emissaries—five active generals and one admiral of the Colombian Armed Forces—are joining the peace talks with the purpose of discussing a bilateral ceasefire. Santos also commented on the possibility of reaching a solution with the United States to not extradite FARC leaders, should an agreement ending the conflict be reached. Last week, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan attended the talks, declaring that any agreement must be just and meet international standards. “Transitional justice is an issue of concern and controversy,” he said. “However, I would like to emphasize that justice must fit the Colombian context—while respecting international minimum standards. No one shoe fits all.”
Dollar Strengthens Against Latin American Currencies: Several currencies in Latin America are at their lowest levels in years, due to the decline in commodity prices and the expansion of the U.S. economy. Higher U.S. interest rates are expected to drive funds out of riskier emerging markets, contributing to currency weakness in the region. This week, however, several currencies may make profits, with operators seeking to exchange them for dollars to avoid the risk of a currency relapse later in the year, in which the dollar may weaken. In Brazil, the real may decline to 3 reais per dollar this week, causing a further devaluation of the Brazilian currency as market players turn to the dollar. The Colombian peso may move from 2,480 to 2,600 pesos per dollar in the next few weeks. In Peru, the dollar is expected to continue strengthening against the Peruvian Nuevo Sol from 2.96 to between 3.090 and 3.105 Nuevos Soles per dollar. The Argentine peso will likely continue its slight decline to an official 8.77 pesos per dollar, but the informal market levels continue to stay at 13 pesos per dollar. Increased purchasing of dollars may continue the Latin American currency devaluation trend seen in the past five years.
Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez Takes Office: Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez was inaugurated on Sunday, taking over from 79-year old President José Mujica. Vázquez, a 75-year old oncologist who served as president from 2005-2010, represents the Frente Amplio (Broad Front—FA), a leftist coalition party. In his inauguration speech, Vázquez called for national unity, particularly regarding public education, health and housing. Vázquez will inherit a growing economy and historically low unemployment rates. This transfer of power marks 30 years of uninterrupted democracy in Uruguay since President Julio María Sanguinetti‘s 1985 election ended the country’s 12-year dictatorship. “I would like to earnestly greet the 30 years of uninterrupted democracy we enjoy in Uruguay,” said Vázquez.
Peruvian Businesses to Learn from Costa Rican Ecotourism Best Practices: Sixteen Peruvian businesses are attending the Seminario Internacional de Desarrollo y Gestión de Productos y Servicios Turístico Sostenible (International Seminar for Development and Management of Sustainable Tourism Products and Services) in Costa Rica from March 1-8 to learn best practices regarding ecotourism. Participants in the week-long seminar, organized by La Asociación Costarricense de Profesionales en Turismo (Costa Rican Association of Tourism Professionals—Acoprot), will visit Costa Rican businesses that have successfully created sustainable products and business models. The Peruvian entrepreneurs will learn from tourist guides, sustainable companies and hotels, and will participate in site visits to parts of Costa Rica that have applied sustainable tourism methodologies—the Monteverde Cloud Forest and La Fortuna volcano. The seminar offers technical round tables, keynote speeches and workshops.
February 27, 2015Read More Tags: Guatemala, Roxana Baldetti, Minimum Wage, Labor rights
Guatemalan Vice President Roxana Baldetti’s insensitive recent comments about planned changes to the country’s minimum wage were answered by nationwide demonstrations on February 22, organized by Guatemala’s Coordinadora Nacional de Organizaciones Campesinas (National Coordination of Peasant Organizations—CNOC). In response to four accords approved at the end of 2014 to establish a lower monthly minimum wage of 1,500 quetzales ($196.6) in the municipalities of Estanzuela, Masagua, San Augustine and Guastatoya, protesters blocked at least 22 roads in various parts of the country, including border areas and major highways.
According to the government, a differentiated minimum wage would lower labor costs to encourage investment in the four municipalities. The new wages were set to go in effect in January, but the decision was suspended late that month after the Procurador de los Derechos Humanos (Human Rights Ombudsman—PDH) raised an injunction in the Constitutional Court, arguing that the measure violated labor rights of workers in those areas. The UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, Philip Alston, also criticized the decision. “Having an exploited labor force is not a viable way to foster economic and social development,” he affirmed.
Responding to the controversy in a press conference last weekend, Baldetti defended the wage differential in a way that many Guatemalans found offensive. Baldetti claimed that if she lived in Estanzuela and had five children, she would be “blessed by God” if she was offered a job in a factory, “whatever the laws say.” “It’s better to have 1,200 quetzales [$157] in your pocket [than to have] nothing and have to eat […] once a day, tortilla with salt,” she said.
February 27, 2015Tags: Normalization, US-Cuba relations, SSOT
Delegates from the U.S. and Cuba met at the State Department in Washington, DC today to continue negotiations to normalize diplomatic relations between the two countries. According to an unnamed U.S. State Department official, the current negotiations will focus on reopening the embassies. Speaking to whether the embassies will be opened before the Summit of Americas in April, a State Department official said, “Both sides have an interest in doing this as quickly as possible. I hope that we can be done in that kind of a time frame but I just can’t be sure.”
Cuba is likely to link the process to its removal from the U.S. government’s State Sponsors of Terrorism (SSOT) list. The country shares the SSOT designation with Iran, Sudan and Syria. Cuban President Raúl Castro has qualified Cuba’s presence on the SSOT list as “unjustifiable.”
U.S. President Barack Obama announced a review of the designation last December, but that process is still underway. Regarding the ongoing negotiations, a State Department official said, “It would be very easy to reestablish diplomatic relations if [the Cubans] didn’t link the two things.”
The Cuban delegation will reportedly also seek a solution to its banking problems in the United States. Cuba’s Special Interests Section in Washington DC has cited the difficulty of finding banks in the U.S. willing to work with it—and consequently, all consular services are being transacted in cash. The U.S. delegation will reportedly seek to hammer out bureaucratic details, such as the number of representatives allowed at the embassies and the elimination of restrictions on diplomatic pouches.
February 26, 2015Tags: Jamaica, Legalizing Marijuana, Rule of Law
A vote to decriminalize marijuana passed through Jamaica’s parliament Tuesday night and is expected to be signed into law by Governor General Sir Patrick Allen later this week. The law, approved by Jamaica's Senate in February, will overturn the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1948, which punishes the possession, cultivation, selling, transporting, and smoking of “ganja,” the local term for the drug.
Under the new regulation, possession of up to two ounces of marijuana will no longer show up on an individual’s criminal record, but will be re-categorized as a low-level offense resulting in a small fine. Individuals will be permitted to cultivate up to five plants on their property. Additionally, the law permits the use of marijuana for medical purposes, as well as for Rastafarian religious ceremonies.
Marijuana regulation has been a hotly contested topic on the island, in large part due to Jamaica's close ties with the United States. However, Jamaica’s national security minister, Peter Bunting, assured the parliament that the new law would not affect international relations.
"The passage of this legislation does not create a free-for-all in the growing, transporting, dealing or exporting of ganja. The security forces will continue to rigorously enforce Jamaican law consistent with our international treaty obligations," said Bunting.
Earlier on Tuesday, Alaska passed legislation to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, joining Colorado and Washington as the only U.S. states to do so. Elsewhere in the hemisphere, Uruguay permits the growth, sale and distribution of marijuana, Mexico, Colombia and Argentina have decriminalized possession of the drug, and Chile, Costa Rica and Guatemala are in the process of discussing new policies around marijuana.
February 26, 2015Read More Tags: South Korea, Free Trade Agreements, emerging markets
The perception Korea once held of Latin America—of lazy workers and inefficient governments—has drastically changed today. From an entire floor dedicated to South Korean music, cuisine and clothes at a mall in Peru, to the first Korean Cultural Center in Argentina, to the United States Ambassador to Costa Rica singing and dancing to Psy’s Gangnam style, South Korea’s presence and influence in Latin America is growing. The small Asian nation has quietly but successfully flooded Latin American markets.
However, this engagement has not been mutual—Latin American governments have yet to realize that they could lose out if they do not reciprocate.
The question then is not how or when this happened, but rather why many Latin American countries have remained unenthusiastic about South Korea, a country that only 30 years ago was torn by civil war and poverty-stricken. A Korea Economic Institute of America report highlights what could attract Latin America to engage more proactively with the country, including South Korea’s capacity to counterbalance China’s hegemony. South Korea does not want to be the third Asian player in Latin America, after Xi and Abe.
February 25, 2015Tags: Indigenous Land Rights, Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Indigenous Rights
The Paraguayan government’s Institution for Indigenous Affairs of Paraguay (INDI) expressed its hope on Tuesday that the Paraguayan Supreme Court will reject an appeal from two German ranching companies that have been required to return 14,404 hectares of land to an Indigenous community.
Roughly 500 members of the Sawhoyamaxa community of the Exnet nation have been living alongside a highway in the Chaco region since they were displaced from their ancestral lands by cattle ranchers 23 years ago. In 2006, The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) ruled that the Sawhoyamaxa’s rights had been violated and ordered the Paraguayan government to return the land to the community within three years of the ruling.
Paraguayan president Horacio Cartes ultimately signed an expropriation law to return the lands to the Sawhoyamaxa on June 11, 2014 after it passed through the House and Senate after months of protests by the Exnet nation that the IACHR order had remained unfulfilled.
Two months after the law was signed, Heribert Roedel, president of both the German ranching companies Roswell S.A. and Kansol & Company S.A., petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the law on grounds of unconstitutionality. The Supreme Court unanimously rejected Roedel’s claims, but recently accepted a second appeal from the company that focuses more specifically on article 3 of the new law. The argument put forward by the company states that the article is unconstitutional because the “constitutional provision does not provide an assessment of the amount of compensation carried out by the Ministry of Public Works and Communications.”
INDI has pointed out that the Paraguayan state would compensate the two companies with roughly $8 million and called the move by Roedel’s lawyers their “latest attempt to retain the property.”
February 25, 2015Read More Tags: Netflix, Cuba, US Policy in Cuba
Cue the House of Cards metaphors. On February 9, Netflix announced via Twitter its release of content in Cuba. It’s been two months since the resumption of U.S.-Cuban diplomacy and Frank Underwood’s journey to the White House can now be viewed within sight of the Plaza of the Revolution.
Of course, few on the island actually received Netflix’s tweet. Approximately five percent of Cubans have regular internet access, Cuban broadband is among the slowest in the world and Netflix’s $7.99 monthly fee is prohibitively expensive for a vast majority of Cubans. For the foreseeable future, Netflix’s Cuban clientele will consist of tourists, visiting businesspeople and journalists, government personnel, and private computer owners with access to foreign subscriptions and/or cash remittances from abroad.
It may be a small and symbolic investment, but Netflix’s expansion into Cuba is an investment nonetheless. The tech giant’s foray is adding to a growing sense of commercial momentum that is attracting the attention of investors, drawing the island closer to North American capital and eroding support for the half century-old embargo. This momentum will begin to disabuse many U.S. firms of their “wait and see” approach to assessing Cuban markets and devising investment strategies. It will also give elected officials cover to rethink their advocacy for an unsuccessful policy toward Cuba and the chance to garner support from the business community. Though the embargo remains in place with congressional backing, it now faces unprecedented opposition.
February 24, 2015Read More Tags: Canada, Anti-Terrorism, Civil rights
Last week’s international summit on terrorism at the White House showed how much the issue has become a central concern around the world. Evidently, the fear of a homegrown attack has understandably pushed many nations to enact more stringent laws and preventive measures. The recent spread of terrorist attacks in Western Europe and Canada has only heightened the urgency.
In Canada, the governing Conservative government has introduced legislation aimed at giving more powers to its intelligence gathering agency (CSIS) in order to diminish a repeat of the lone-wolf attacks of last autumn in Ottawa and St. Jean, Québec. The proposed legislation has received overwhelming support in a recent poll (according to a poll by IPSOS Reid, over 60 percent of respondents support it). The highest level of support actually comes from my own home province of Québec, usually more reluctant to enhance existing security measures.
The debate in the House of Commons in Ottawa is a foregone conclusion. The Conservatives under Prime Minister Stephen Harper have the majority in the House, and the third party Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has indicated his support, along with demands for greater parliamentary accountability and oversight. Official Opposition leader Tom Mulcair of the New Democratic Party (NDP) has led the charge against the bill, arguing that increased powers for the spy agency warrant serious concerns regarding the possibility that increased powers may violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Despite this, the bill will likely pass the House of Commons within in a few days.
February 24, 2015Tags: Andrew S. Hanen, executive action, U.S. immigration reform, DACA
Department of Justice lawyers filed a notice of appeal and a motion for a stay on Monday with Texas Judge Andrew S. Hanen in an attempt to postpone a hold on President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration.
U.S. District Judge Hanen filed a preliminary injunction on February 16 against a plan that Obama announced late last year to protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation. The first piece of the program—the expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program—was scheduled to begin on February 18. The other program, Deferred Action for Parental Accountability, was scheduled to begin in May. Together, around 4.7 million undocumented immigrants would be eligible for deferred deportation. Texas and 25 other states have filed a lawsuit arguing that executive action on immigration was unconstitutional, and claiming that it would obligate states to increase their funding for healthcare and education. Twelve states and Washington, D.C., along with 33 cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities have signed an amicus brief in support of Obama’s executive action on immigration.
Hanen’s ruling has already interrupted the federal government’s immigration action plans: on Friday, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s lease on an office building in Virginia to process applications for the program was canceled. A hold on the stay would allow the program to continue throughout the government’s appeal process.
If Hanen rejects the motion, the U.S. government is likely to request a stay at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. Hanen’s decision is expected by the close of business on Wednesday, February 25.
Monday Memo: Peru-Chile Relations—Panama Hydroelectric Dam—Guatemala-Honduras Customs—São Paulo Drought—Venezuela Conspiracy Charges
February 23, 2015Read More Tags: Peru-Chile espionage, Hydroelectric dam, Guatemala-Honduras customs, Brazil Drought, Venezuela conspiracy, Nicolás Maduro, Antonio Ledezma
Allegations of Espionage Threaten Peru-Chile Relations: Chilean Minister of Foreign Affairs Heraldo Muñoz announced on Sunday that Chilean Ambassador Roberto Ibarra would not return to his post in Peru in light of the country’s espionage complaints against Chile. On Friday, Peruvian Ambassador Francisco Rojas Samanez was recalled to Lima after Peruvian prosecutors claimed that several Peruvian naval officers sold confidential information about their navy’s surveillance of fishing boats to Chilean navy officials. Two of the naval officers implicated in the leaks have been placed in detention. Muñoz has stated that Ibarra is “in consultations” to craft a response to the allegations “with calmness and without harsh remarks.” Peruvian president Ollanta Humala called on Chilean president Michelle Bachelet to issue assurance “that such espionage activities will never be repeated.”
Panama to Mediate Conflict Regarding Hydroelectric Dam: The Panamanian government formally announced negotiations on Saturday to address growing conflict over the construction of the Barro Blanco hydroelectric plant on the Tabasará River, which is now 95 percent complete. A neighboring Indigenous community, the Ngäbe Buglé, is demanding cancellation of the $225 million project due to environmental concerns, and local protests stalled construction work on February 9. Negotiations over the dam are to be facilitated by the UN in the district of Tolé, 400 kilometers west of Panama City, and led by a high-level committee headed by the vice president and foreign minister of Panama, Isabel de Saint Malo de Alvarado. Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela expressed faith in the negotiations, saying, “we will do whatever we have to do in the negotiations to seek a solution. I have a lot of confidence and we will take the time that is required.” However, the president of the Regional Congress of the Traditional Ngäbe Buglé, Toribio García, said the community’s opposition to the dam is “not negotiable” and announced that they would not participate in the negotiations.
Guatemala to Eliminate Customs Duties with Honduras: Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina set a deadline of mid-December 2015 to eliminate customs duties between Guatemala and Honduras in an effort to improve both countries’ trade. Guatemalan Foreign Affairs Minister Carlos Raúl Morales also confirmed that three shared land border crossings between the two countries could also be phased out, and expressed hope that El Salvador and Nicaragua would eventually join the partnership. The plan is part of a coordinated response to the humanitarian crisis of thousands of migrants fleeing to the U.S. border in the summer of 2014. In September 2014, the three Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras formed the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle, a joint development plan that included eliminating customs to promote peace and prosperity in the region. The Northern Triangle’s combined population is 29 million and has the highest poverty levels in Latin America. The plan has received support from the Obama administration.
February 20, 2015Read More Tags: Nicolás Maduro, Leopoldo Lopez, Hugo Chavez, Venezuela
Luego de superar el único intento de golpe de Estado registrado en los últimos 15 años, el entonces presidente de Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, ordenó la detención de Henrique Capriles Radonski—un joven alcalde opositor—quien debía manejar la seguridad de la Embajada de Cuba en medio de la crisis política nacional.
El confuso incidente—Capriles afirma que intentaba mediar entre opositores y los diplomáticos de La Habana, mientras que el gobierno lo acusaba de poner en peligro a la delegación—nunca fue esclarecido. Capriles, siendo alcalde electo del municipio Baruta, permaneció cuatro meses detenido en la sede de la dirección de inteligencia sin un proceso judicial. Los cargos fueron descartados en 2006.
En 2014, Nicolás Maduro, heredero político de Chávez, y Leopoldo López, el exalcalde de Chacao, repitieron el capítulo de 2002. López, un joven economista egresado de Harvard, fue compañero de partido de Capriles durante algunos años y se convirtieron en la nueva cara de la política venezolana. Jóvenes, exitosos y con aparente ambición política, han sido blancos constantes de la “revolución bolivariana.” El año pasado el gobierno ordenó la detención de López, quien el 12 de febrero había liderado una protesta estudiantil demandando la renuncia de Maduro. Después de entregarse voluntariamente, López ha permanecido recluido en una cárcel militar, sin derecho a visitas, por un año. ¿La acusación? Golpismo.
Este jueves 19 de febrero, el jefe de Estado pidió cárcel para el alcalde mayor de Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, quien luego fue detenido por la policía política en un operativo poco claro. Doce horas después del arresto, ninguna información oficial ha sido divulgada, excepto el “Ledezma va a ser procesado” que Maduro esbozó la misma noche del jueves.
February 20, 2015Read More Tags: Beija-Flor, Carnival, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo
Thousands of performers and eight elaborate floats from the Beija-Flor samba school paraded through Rio de Janeiro’s Sambadrome arena last Monday. The 80-minute spectacle, meant to take spectators on a tour of the African country of Equatorial Guinea, was chosen as this year’s winner after receiving a nearly perfect score in every category from the judges.
But underneath the peacock feathers and gyrating dancers, lurked the dark shadow of allegations that a large chunk of the parade was funded by one of Africa’s most oppressive dictators.
Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Equatorial Guinea’s 72 year-old leader, reportedly funneled $10 million Brazilian reals (roughly $3.5 million dollars) into sponsoring Beija-Flor’s carnival parade theme. A big fan of Rio’s carnival, the dictator has attended the pre-lenten festivities for more than 10 years.
Considered to be one of the world’s wealthiest and most corrupt leaders, Obiang is accused of squandering Equatorial Guinea’s oil wealth and keeping the majority of its 700,000 citizens living in poverty. He has been in power for more than 35 years after leading a bloody coup against his uncle and former dictator Francisco Macias, whom he had executed by firing squad.
Although it is common for samba schools to accept money from companies or countries sponsoring parade themes—past parades have been accused of laundering drug money and being funded by an illegal gambling scheme called the jogo do bixo—no school has ever received such a large sum. While many are shocked by the decision to crown Beija-Flor, others believe politics should not taint their performance.
February 20, 2015Tags: Gay Rights, Same-sex adoption, Constitutional Court
Colombia’s Constitutional Court upheld the right of adoption by same-sex couples on Wednesday via Twitter, but only if the child in question has biological ties to one of the partners. The narrow 5-4 ruling excludes gay adoption in other circumstances. “Adoption will only be allowed when it deals with the biological child of the same sex partner," read the decision.
Wednesday’s decision comes after a historic 6-3 ruling in August 2014 that allowed an adoption request from a same-sex couple for the first time. The Court found that sexual orientation cannot be a discriminating factor in second-adoption cases, and overruled Colombia’s Family Welfare bureau, which had denied a woman’s petition to adopt her partner’s biological daughter—who was conceived through in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) groups expressed disappointment, saying the Court did not go far enough and promoting the hashtag #SiALaAdopcionIgualitaria (yes to equal adoption). Wednesday’s ruling is the latest in a string of favorable precedents set by the Court. Colombia’s highest court has been slowly expanding gay rights—recognizing de facto unions for gay couples and granting them joint health insurance coverage in 2007; shared pension rights in 2008; and inheritance rights in 2009.
Same-sex marriage and adoption rights have so far been recognized in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and some states in Mexico.
February 19, 2015Tags: Pemex, oil prices, Mexico
Emilio Lozoya, the CEO of Petróleos Mexicanos (Mexican Petroleums—Pemex), announced Wednesday that some of the company’s deep water exploration projects would be put on hold due to the declining prices of crude oil. In addition to scaling back on research projects, Lozoya said that job cuts would also be part of a spending cut of over $4.16 billion dollars approved by Pemex’s board of directors last week.
The price of oil has dropped drastically in the last year. Although crude prices averaged at $86 dollars a barrel in 2014, prices fell from a high of $100 dollars a barrel in June of last year to a mere $40 dollars in January of this year. This week prices were slightly up at $50.57 dollars a barrel, a price considered $25 dollars below the amount needed to make such deep water exploration projects profitable. “The exploration of some deep water deposits, especially the riskier ones and those that have not yet begun will be suspended,” said Lozoya.
Pemex, which is the seventh largest oil producer in the world, has been rocked by a number of changes over the past year. In August of 2014 the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto succeeded in passing an energy reform bill to break-up the Pemex oil monopoly, awarding foreign companies oil contracts for the first time in Mexico since 1938. The oil giant has also had to deal with illegal tapping of its petrol and diesel pipelines, costing the company over $1 billion dollars.
February 18, 2015Read More Tags: Cuba Embargo, U.S. diplomacy in Latin America, U.S. Cuba policy
The initial round of talks occurred in Havana on January 21-22, with Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson leading the U.S. delegation, and Josefina Vidal, General Director for the U.S. within the Cuban Foreign Ministry heading the Cuban envoy. The U.S. has called for Cuba to lift travel restrictions for U.S. diplomatic staff, and has indicated that it will not remove Cuba’s name from its list of state sponsored terrorists until the U.S. embassy is allowed to reopen. Cuba has countered that its name must be removed from the list before it allows the U.S. embassy to reopen. It has also insisted that the U.S. halt its support for Cuban political dissidents, and that the U.S. trade embargo to be lifted.
Since the December 17th announcement that the two countries would aim to normalize relations, the Obama administration has taken steps toward easing travel and trade restrictions against Cuba, including a decision by the State Department last Friday to allow imports of privately produced products from Cuban entrepreneurs. However, it will take an act of legislation from Congress to fully lift the trade embargo.
A group of bipartisan lawmakers introduced a bill on February 12th that would end the trade embargo. Democratic senator Amy Klobuchar, the lead sponsor of the bill, completed a 4-day visit to Cuba yesterday with two other Democratic Senators, Claire McCaskill and Mark Warner. The bill is co-sponsored by Republican Senators Jeff Flake and Mike Enzi, as well as Democrats Patrick Leahy, Richard Durbin and Debbie Stabenow.
February 17, 2015Read More Tags: North America, foreign policy, multilateral organizations
When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry hosted his counterparts from Mexico and Canada for a North American Ministerial at Boston’s Faneuil Hall last month, the discussions focused on many of the trilateral issues that affect this deeply integrated economic space—citizen security, trade and investment, and energy and climate change. Of interest to foreign-policy wonks, however, were the references to global challenges during the congenial press conference, ranging from Syria and Middle East peace to the promotion of democracy in the Americas.
Behind the scenes, the three ministers had just agreed to the formation of a North American Caucus to consult on policy positions at multilateral fora. According to sources at the State Department the initial step will consist of monthly meetings at the ambassadorial level in the headquarters cities of the United Nations. The hope is that consultations will lead to policy coordination. While this already happens to a great extent with Canada, the challenge will be encouraging Mexico to take a more active global role.
Mexican foreign policy has evolved since the watershed signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement more than 20 years ago. Traditional rhetoric had emphasized Latin American solidarity and non-interventionism—themes that still resonate in Mexico today, despite the steady growth of economic and social integration with the U.S. Between 2000 and 2012, the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN) administrations of Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderón distanced themselves from their predecessors’ preference for non-alignment and prioritized human rights and democracy in their relations with Latin America. Nevertheless, Mexico continued to punch below its weight on the world stage, and it sometimes found itself at odds with U.S. policy on global issues. Bilateral relations reached a nadir in 2003 when Mexico, a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council at the time, voted against a resolution authorizing military action in Iraq.
February 17, 2015Tags: Immigration, DAPA, DACA
U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen issued an injunction yesterday against programs announced by President Obama last November that would shield millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation. Led by Texas, twenty-six states are suing the federal government over the programs, arguing that President Obama had acted beyond the boundaries of his legal authority and that the programs would create significant new costs for states. In a statement, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said, “This injunction makes it clear that the president is not a law unto himself, and must work with our elected leaders in Congress and satisfy the courts in a fashion our Founding Fathers envisioned.” Thirteen states, the District of Columbia, 33 mayors, and the Conference of Mayors have filed an amicus brief in support of the federal government.
In a 123-page opinion that accompanied the injunction, Judge Hanen did not rule on the legality of the programs, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) and the expansion of Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). However, he wrote that, by failing to provide the notice-and-comment period customary in federal rulemaking, the administration did not meet the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act. He also noted that the injunction was needed to make time for a full trial on the case. “There will be no effective way of putting the toothpaste back in the tube” if the program were to start before a final ruling, he wrote. The government was due to begin receiving applications for the expanded DACA program on Wednesday.
The White House has indicated that it will appeal the decision at the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A statement released by the White House early today said, “The district court’s decision wrongly prevents these lawful, common-sense policies from taking effect and the Department of Justice has indicated that it will appeal that decision.” The administration is also widely expected to seek an emergency stay of the injunction, though it is unlikely that a stay will be granted before the application phase of the DACA expansion was due to begin.
Meanwhile, Congress is currently dead-locked over attempts by Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives to make the rollback of Obama’s executive actions on immigration a condition for funding the Department of Homeland Security. The department’s current funding expires on February 27.
February 13, 2015Tags: Lilian Tintori, Leopoldo Lopez, Human Rights
At approximately 4 a.m. this morning, several armed, masked men reportedly broke into Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López’ jail cell, destroying his belongings. López was then forcibly moved to a small isolation cell without access to running water or a toilet.
According to human rights activist Lilian Tintori, López’ wife—who reported the events on Twitter—the move is retaliatory in response to her February 12 meeting with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in the White House. During the meeting, which also included the family members of pro-government and anti-government protestors killed during last year’s demonstrations, Vice President Biden affirmed his support for human rights in Venezuela and advocated an end to impunity. He also called for the release of political prisoners in the country.
Earlier this week, Tintori met with OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, as well as Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty.
Various world leaders and NGOs have called for the release of Leopoldo López—who is accused of attempting to destabilize the government of President Nicolás Maduro—and other Venezuelan political prisoners without success. In October 2014, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad al-Hussein advocated for Lopez’ release. The Venezuelan government rejected al-Hussein’s statement, claiming his assertions were “meddlesome, false and unfounded.”
Listen to AQ’s interview with Lilian Tintori, on her fight for human rights in Venezuela.
February 13, 2015Tags: FARC, Iván Márquez, child soldiers, Colombia Peace Talks
The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) announced yesterday an immediate ban on the recruitment of minors younger than age 17.
In a statement on Thursday, the UN's International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers, the FARC reiterated, “We want to take steps that will ensure that fewer generations and fewer young people will be involved in military confrontations which put their lives at risk.” The new ban will increase the previous minimum recruitment age of 15 by two years.
Additionally, the chief negotiator for the FARC, Iván Márquez, accused the Colombian government of using minors to fight the guerrillas through the forced recruitment of young men and the use of children for gathering intelligence. He called on the armed forces to join the FARC in discontinuing the recruitment of minors.
The Colombian government and the FARC have been involved in peace talks in Havana, Cuba since 2012. Many opponents of the peace talks point to the FARC’s own use of child soldiers in their criticism of the negotiations. The Colombian government has stated that it has rescued almost 6,000 former child soldiers in the last 15 years, many of them former guerrillas. Yet the FARC has disputed these figures, and says that its recruitment practices are in line with international humanitarian law.
February 12, 2015Tags: Pluspetrol, Natural resource extraction, Frente de Defensa Ambiental
One person died and dozens more were injured after a protest against the Argentine energy company Pluspetrol turned violent late Tuesday night. A 25-year-old man, who was identified as Ever Pérez Huamán, passed away Wednesday morning after receiving a bullet wound to the abdomen. Police representative Edwin Rojas has said an investigation is underway to find out who fired the shot.
The protest began on Monday, led by the Frente de Defensa Ambiental (Environmental Defense League) in the Pichanaki district in central Peru, and escalated late on Tuesday when, according to Peru’s interior ministry, over 500 people blockaded the roads leading to a Pluspetrol office in Pichanaki, destroyed two tents, and stole a water pump. Police forces reportedly responded by using tear gas to quell the crowd, and protesters then reportedly attacked with stones, spears and guns. Protesters say that the energy company contaminates their land and rivers.
However, representatives of Pluspetrol have dismissed the accusations of environmental contamination. “It is a very basic exploration; we haven’t drilled, we haven’t contaminated anything, there is no possibility of a spill because we’re not producing anything,” said Pluspetrol spokesperson Daniel Guerra.
Pluspetrol has been working in Peru since 2001 and has been conducting exploratory work on lot 108 in Pinchanaki since 2012. The nearly 3 million acres of land comprising the lot is a key excavating site, and experts have compared the quantity of gas reserves available to those of Camisea, which supplies half of Peru’s electric energy.
Despite the promise of large quantities of natural resources, energy companies and local farmers and Indigenous groups continue to clash in Peru. Pluspetrol has been the focus of tension in two separate areas of the Peruvian Amazon since January of this year. Protestors claim they are demonstrating against President Ollanta Humala, who as part of his 2011 presidential campaign promised to defend the Amazon region against exploitation by the extractive industries.
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