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  • Yoani Sánchez Launches Online Newspaper

    May 21, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Cuban dissident Yoani Sánchez launched 14ymedio, an online-only newspaper, on Wednesday morning. The outlet is meant to be an alternative to the state-controlled media, but Sánchez said that it will not serve as a platform to criticize the government. Rather, it will “contribute information so that Cubans can decide, with more maturity, their own destinies,” Sánchez said.

    Activist Reinaldo Escobar, the paper’s editor-in-chief and Sanchez’ husband, said 14ymedio would avoid tension with the government by remaining a digital-only title and steering clear of loaded words like “dictatorship” and “regime.” While the first edition ran an interview with jailed opposition writer Ángel Santiesteban, the paper also covers issues beyond politics, like sports and style.

    14ymedio will likely have limited readership, given that Internet access is sparse in Cuba and information is tightly controlled by the government. Three years ago, the Venezuelan government built a high-speed fiber optic cable, bringing more online access to the island. And though there are now some 300 public Internet cafes across the country, Internet use is prohibitively expensive—sometimes costing a week’s worth of public employee wages.

    Tags: Cuba, Yoani Sanchez, 14ymedio

  • Comprendiendo la Doctrina Maduro

    May 21, 2014

    by Víctor M. Mijares

    En nombre de la Revolución Bolivariana, Hugo Chávez le dio una prioridad nunca antes vista a la política exterior venezolana. Ni en el periodo de la Doctrina Betancourt—diseñada para aislar a los regímenes autoritarios de las Américas—ni en el del Tercermundismo de primer gobierno de Carlos Andrés Pérez, tuvo Caracas un protagonismo internacional como el que experimentó bajo la revolucionaria y sobredimensionada Doctrina Chávez.

    Es por ello que la tímida y defensiva posición diplomática de Venezuela en el primer año de Maduro llama la atención y genera cambios en la dinámica política hemisférica. ¿Qué pasó con la política exterior venezolana? El precio de un barril de petróleo sigue alrededor de los US $100, y Chávez parece haber dejado instrucciones precisas. Las principales piezas gabinete de gobierno son hombres de confianza de “El Comandante,” pero la política exterior venezolana es irreconocible.

    Como política pública, la exterior es compleja, porque conecta a los sistemas políticos doméstico e internacional, es decir, que está sujeta a variables internas y externas. Las variables del sistema internacional—salvo graves crisis—suelen moverse de manera lenta. Aun los cambios más espectaculares requieren de meses o años de maduración antes de ocurrir. La política doméstica puede ser más volátil, sobre todo en países en los que la institucionalidad ha sido degradada sistemáticamente. Esto genera una interacción de sistemas que van a distinta velocidad. Por esta razón, el caso de la contracción de la política exterior venezolana debe ser coyunturalmente analizado a partir de factores de política doméstica.

    De los factores a analizar podemos destacar dos íntimamente vinculados: la desprofesionalización diplomática y la ausencia del líder fuerte. Ambos corresponden al proceso de desinstitucionalización propio del personalismo político. El primero es responsabilidad directa del mismo Chávez. Contrario al resto de las potencias regionales y potencias medias—y buena parte de las menores—latinoamericanas, Venezuela partidizó su academia diplomática y en la práctica abolió la carrera del servicio exterior. Este proceso fortaleció al presidente, a su partido, pero debilitó al Estado en su conjunto. La muerte de Chávez pone en evidencia a una política exterior altamente dependiente de la discrecionalidad, sin que existan instituciones que permitan darle continuidad, ni siquiera a la propia promoción revolucionaria en el exterior.

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    Tags: Venezuela, foreign policy, Nicolás Maduro

  • Poll Shows Immigration Reform a Major Issue for Midterms

    May 20, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Seventy-one percent of likely voters—including 64 percent of Republicans—in the most competitive congressional districts in the United States consider support for comprehensive immigration reform an important factor in how they cast their vote in November, a recent Politico poll found. The survey released on Monday polled 867 likely voters in both English and Spanish and had a margin of error of plus/minus 4.1 percentage points.

    According to the results, support for an immigration overhaul crossed party lines, with 78 percent of Democrats and 71 percent of independents calling it an important factor in deciding who to vote for. The same is true for 85 percent of Hispanic voters, 74 percent of white voters and 58 percent of African-American voters. Only 26 percent of those polled said that immigration would not influence their vote, and just 12 percent opposed comprehensive reform.

    The poll comes less than a week after President Barack Obama set a timeline for action on reform during a meeting with law enforcement officials last Tuesday. While the Senate passed a comprehensive bill last June, similar legislation has been stalled in the House of Representatives. Meanwhile, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson is in the midst of conducting a review of the administration’s immigration enforcement policies, specifically the controversial Secure Communities program.

    Tags: Immigration, Comprehensive Immigration Reform, Midterm Elections

  • Monday Memo: Colombian Hackers – PAN in Mexico – Colombia and FARC – UN Visits Guatemala – Bodou in Argentina

    May 19, 2014

    by AQ Online

    This week’s likely top stories: Candidate Óscar Iván Zuluaga is implicated in a Colombian hacking scandal; Gustavo Madero wins the PAN’s internal elections in Mexico; the Colombian government and FARC reach an agreement on drugs; the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights will visit Guatemala; Argentine Vice President Amado Bodou may be called to testify in a criminal investigation.

    Colombian Hacking Scandal Deepens with Release of New Video: A video released this week has implicated Colombian presidential candidate  Óscar Iván Zuluaga in a hacking scandal just a week ahead of the country’s presidential election on May 25. The video was published by Colombian news magazine Semana and shows Zuluaga discussing illegal interceptions of military intelligence with his advisor, Andrés Sepulveda, who was arrested and charged with hacking and espionage early this month. Last week, Zuluaga took a narrow lead in the polls over current President Juan Manuel Santos, who is running for re-election. Former Bogotá Mayor Enrique Peñalosa, also a candidate in Sunday’s elections, has called on Zuluaga to quit the race.

    PAN Leader Re-elected in Mexico, Improving Chances of Reforms: The leader of the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN), Gustavo Madero, easily won re-election on Sunday in the party’s internal election process, increasing chances that oil and telecom reforms in Mexico will pass. Madero has been working with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to pass the reforms, although his party has been divided by its cooperation with Peña Nieto’s Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI). Madero won 57 percent of the votes cast by 155,984 PAN party members, easily defeating his rival, Ernesto Cordero, who won 43 percent of the vote and said that the PAN should be “responsible and firm” in its opposition to the PRI.

    Colombia and FARC Reach Agreement on Drugs: The Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) reached an agreement on Friday to stem the country’s illegal drug trade, the third point of their six-point peace agenda. The government and rebels had already reached agreements on land reform and political participation last year. Humberto de la Calle, the government’s chief negotiator in Havana, said that the FARC has agreed to sever any ties to drug trafficking and that both sides have agreed to clear rural areas of land mines.  FARC negotiator Iván Márquez said the government will address the health consequences of spraying toxic chemicals on coca fields by paying reparations to those affected.

    UN Deputy High Commissioner on Human Rights to Visit Guatemala: United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Flavia Pansieri will pay an official visit to Guatemala on May 25 in order to conclude the office’s technical assistance to the country, according to a press release from the high commissioner’s office. Pansieri is expected to meet with Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, as well as with several government ministers, members of congress, and the president of the Comisión Presidencial de Derechos Humanos (Presidential Commission of Human Rights—COPREDEH). She will also travel to Izabel to meet with Indigenous women who were victims of sexual violence during Guatemala’s armed conflict and will speak with human rights activists. Pansieri will conclude her visit on May 29.

    Argentine Vice President Bodou May Testify in Criminal Investigation:  An Argentine appeals court on Friday rejected a request by Argentine Vice President Amado Bodou to be removed from an ongoing tax evasion and influence-peddling investigation. The case focuses on a family-run printing firm, formerly known as Ciccone Calcográfica S.A., which was saved from bankruptcy in 2010 after receiving an injection of capital from a firm run by an acquaintance of Boudou’s close friend, and eventually passed into state hands. Bodou didn’t become involved in the investigation until 2012, after a police raid on an apartment he owned turned up evidence that he may have been involved. Boudou has maintained that he was not involved in any criminal wrongdoing, and has declined to take a leave of absence from office. The court may call on him to testify in the case.

    Tags: Óscar Iván Zuluaga, Colombian Election, Gustavo Madero, Amado Bodou

  • Teachers, States Protest Mexico’s Education Reform

    May 16, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Mexico’s Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (National Coordinator of Education Workers–CNTE), the powerful teacher’s union, took to the streets of Mexico City yesterday to protest President Enrique Peña Nieto’s educational reform, including a 3.5 percent increase in teachers’ wages. The leaders of the union sent a message to the president calling the increase “a joke.”

    The education reform seeks to professionalize Mexico’s teachers, some of who have been accused of being "maestros aviadores" (aviator teachers) because they regularly fail to attend class. The protests in the capital come a month after local governments in Oaxaca, Chiapas, Michoacán, Sonora, Zacatecas and Baja California were taken to court by the Peña Nieto’s administration for not adhering to the rules of the reforms, and the laws of the “Servicio Profesional Docente” (Professional Teaching Service).

    The educational reform project began with an agreement among Mexico’s three main political parties, known as the Pacto por México (Pact for Mexico). The reforms have faced stiff opposition, especially in southern Mexico where protests in Guerrero have turned violent and over a million students in Oaxaca missed nearly two months of class in September and October of last year. After taking to the streets on May 15, teachers threatened to call for more powerful protests and mobilizations against the Peña Nieto government.

     

    Tags: Mexico, Pacto por México, Enrique Peña Nieto, Education, protests

  • Screening of “Disruption” Documentary in New York City

    May 15, 2014

    by Mari Hayman

    On May 13, director Pamela Yates, producer Paco De Onís, and editor Peter Kinoy launched a special screening and discussion of their documentary film “Disruption” at ThoughtWorks’ Technology Salon in New York City.

    “Disruption” takes the filmmakers’ body of work, which has long focused on human rights and transitional justice, in a new direction. The film opens by showcasing the Bogotá-based NGO Fundación Capital’s efforts to work directly with women in Colombia and Peru, and later Brazil, to fight poverty and inequality through the Women Savers program, which empowers women to open bank accounts and save money. Thanks to hands-on training—which later evolves into Colombia LISTA, an innovative financial tutorial program delivered by tablet—the women in the film not only develop a new knowledge of their rights and abilities, but are inspired to open their own businesses and become social and political leaders in their communities.

    Eventually, recognizing both the achievements and the shortcomings of conditional cash transfer programs such as Bolsa Familia in Brazil, where beneficiaries age out of the system when children graduate from school, Fundación Capital takes its model abroad to other parts of the Americas. The film crew shadows members of the NGO as they visit government ministers in Rio de Janeiro and Citi executives in New York City to find out if their financial inclusion programs can be scaled to a national and regional level and used to create permanent change.

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    Tags: Disruption, Pamela Yates, financial inclusion, Conditional cash transfer

  • Two-Day Rio Bus Strike Ends

    May 15, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Buses in Rio de Janeiro returned to normal operations today after a strike immobilized the city for two days. The strike began Tuesday and left hundreds of thousands of commuters without transportation. According to Alexandre Almeida, the Rio Onibus press officer, at the start of the strike over 7,500 buses—comprising 84 percent of the city’s bus fleet—were halted. Bus drivers initially began striking for 24 hours last Thursday and decided to reinitiate the strike after their demands for better working conditions and a 40 percent salary increase were not met.

    Between last week and this week’s strike, over 700 buses have been damaged as part of the protest and strike. The Transônibus union, which represents 36 bus companies across Rio de Janeiro state, reached an agreement with transportation companies for a 10 percent increase in salaries, but drivers rejected the proposal. The Central Sindical e Popular Conlutas (Trade Union and People Center—CSP), representing the drivers, complained that the agreement between the union and the companies “still eliminates 28,000 fair-collector jobs.” Hélio Teodoro, a leader of the striking bus drivers, stressed the importance of including the bus drivers themselves in the discussions. “The solution is the union and the companies sitting down with us to negotiate,” he said.

    With less than a month until the 2014 World Cup begins, an increase in strikes and protests has left many wondering if the city is prepared  to take on the over 600,000 tourists that will be traveling to Rio de Janeiro for the games.

    Tags: Rio de Janeiro, Bus Strike

  • Obama Sets Timeline for Action on Immigration Reform

    May 14, 2014

    by AQ Online

    In a meeting with law enforcement officials at the White House on Tuesday, President Barack Obama said that House Republicans have a “narrow window” of two or three months to push comprehensive immigration reform legislation through before midterm politics become a priority. Congressional elections will be held on November 4.

    At the meeting, Obama cast immigration reform as a security issue, saying that maintaining the status quo “makes it harder for our law enforcement agencies to do their job.” The president signaled that the administration could “reboot” the controversial Secure Communities program, which shares information on immigrants gathered by local and state law enforcement with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

    Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson—who assumed office last December—is in the midst of conducting a review of the administration’s immigration enforcement policies. Over the past few months, Johnson has met with stakeholders on both sides of the immigration reform debate, including the national immigrant youth organization United We Dream and the nonprofit Center for Immigration Studies.

    The president expressed hope that comprehensive reform legislation—like the bill that passed the Senate with bipartisan support in June 2013—would make it to his desk, provided that there’s movement before the August recess. Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner told local chambers of commerce in San Antonio on Monday that both parties are “getting closer on the policy side in terms of how to deal” with immigration reform.

    Tags: President Barack Obama, Immigration Reform, Jeh Johnson, Secure Communities

  • Additional Reforms Needed in Colombian Mining Sector

    May 13, 2014

    by Kai Whiting

    Exportation in Colombia has been, and remains, a significant driving factor for large-scale mineral exploration, extraction and production by multinational corporations. According to the Banco de la República, the Colombian mining sector contributed to a record high proportion of the country’s total exports in 2011 and 2012, at 71 percent.

    Fossil fuels especially constituted an integral component of mining sector production, with oil and coal representing 70 percent and 20 percent of production, respectively. A 2011 report produced by Carolynna Arce, deputy director of the Agencia Nacional de Hidrocarburos (National Hydrocarbon Agency), reported that Colombia received an estimated $4 billion in foreign direct investment in the oil and gas sector in 2010. This could explain why, earlier this year, Colombia Reports ran the headline that “66% of Colombians think mining is positive for the country.”

    Such optimism arguably overlooks various Colombian mining scandals, such as the illegal assignment of mining titles in National Parks by Ingeominas that surfaced in 2011. That aside, ABColombia, The Guardian, Peace Brigade International and Guillermo Rudas of Colombia’s Universidad Javeriana all vocally highlighted the tax breaks enjoyed by multinational mining companies in Colombia.    

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    Tags: Colombia, mining royalties, Transparency

  • Peruvian Hydroelectric Projects to Top $7 million in Investment

    May 13, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Five hydroelectric projects in the Peruvian Amazon that would generate electricity for consumption within the country and abroad would require more than $7 million in investment, AméricaEconomía reported Monday.   

    All five projects, located in Amazonas region in northern Peru, would bring over 8,000 jobs to the rural region according to José Arista Arbildo, president of the Gobierno Regional de Amazonas (Regional Government of Amazonas—GRA). This would help Amazonas ease its dependence on agricultural products and transition into a sustainable-energy producing region, Arista said. Two of the projects have already been approved by Peru’s Ministry of Energy and Mines and are projected to be completed in approximately five years. The other three projects are still in the evaluation phase and will not begin construction until 2018.

    Similar hydroelectric energy projects have been halted or blocked in Brazil and Chile for failing to properly consult Indigenous communities that would be adversely affected in a legal mechanism known as consulta previa or prior consultation. Inambari, a hydroelectric plant on the border with Brazil has been stalled since 2011 due to environmentalist and Indigenous protests.

    Tags: Peru, Peruvian Hydroelectric Damn

  • Carlos Slim and Mexico's Telecom Reforms

    May 12, 2014

    by Arjan Shahani

    Every year around February, Carlos Slim Helú’s name is tossed around in the offices of Forbes magazine. Numbers are crunched, and Forbes’ editors determine if they will publish the Mexican businessman’s name with a 1 or a 2 beside it in their famous “World’s Richest People” list. 

    In a country ranked 88th in the world in GDP per capita in 2013, with 52.3 percent of its population living below the poverty line in 2012, one has to wonder how it is that Slim is able to accrue so much wealth.

    Forbes calculates Slim and his family’s net worth at $72 billion dollars. Other publications calculate his worth at around $75 billion, so let’s settle for $73, give or take a few billion. Putting things into perspective, based on last year’s GDP per capita estimates, Slim’s $73 billion net worth is equivalent to more than the wealth of 4.6 million average Mexicans put together.

    There are a number of explanations for how Slim got this rich. Some appeal to the romantic story of an entrepreneurial boy who learned to invest from his father at the age of 12. Others, more critical of Slim, point towards the moment that Slim bought Teléfonos de México (Telmex)  in 1990 during the privatizations of former President Carlos Salinas Gortari.  In reality, Slim was a wealthy man well before 1990, but I’m sure that gaining control of the only phone company in the country at the time helped grow his assets, which include ownership and/or shareholder participation in over 200 companies in Mexico.

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    Tags: Mexico, Carlos Slim, Mexican telecommunications

  • Monday Memo: Venezuela Sanctions – Mujica in Washington – Zetas – World Cup in Brazil – Bachelet in Argentina

    May 12, 2014

    by AQ Online

    This week’s likely top stories: U.S. Congress considers sanctions against Venezuela; Uruguay’s José Mujica visits with Barack Obama; the leader of the Zetas may be dead; Brazil faces new obstacles in World Cup preparations; Michelle Bachelet visits Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Argentina.

    U.S. Congress Pushes for Sanctions Against Venezuela: The United States House Foreign Affairs Committee on Friday recommended the passage of a bill that would sanction the Venezuelan government for human rights violations committed since nationwide protests started in February. The sanctions would include banning visas and freezing the assets of Venezuelan officials involved in the abuses. On Friday, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro called the proposed sanctions a “stupid idea,” and on Sunday, the Venezuelan government announced the release of 155 protesters who had been arrested in raids on street encampments last week, although some 160 protesters remain in jail.

    Mujica Meets With Obama in Washington DC: Uruguayan President José Mujica is meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday in Washington DC. Along with a discussion of hemispheric politics and trade, Mujica and Obama are expected to discuss Uruguay’s offer to receive five prisoners from the Guantánamo Bay detention facility in Cuba. Mujica is also expected to seek Obama’s help in fighting a $2 billion lawsuit by tobacco giant Philip Morris, which is suing the South American country for a 2009 anti-tobacco law that the company says violates its intellectual property rights. Mujica is in Washington DC until Thursday, when he is expected to make a presentation before the OAS on the legalization and commercialization of marijuana.

    Zetas Leader Believed Dead: Galindo Mellado Cruz, accused of being one of the founders of the Zetas Cartel in Mexico, is believed to be one of five people killed in a shootout in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, on the Mexico-U.S. border. Although Mellado, also known as “El Mellado” or “Z-9”, no longer held a position of power in the Zetas, he was one of the 30 founding members of the cartel, who were originally part of Mexican special forces. The Zetas collaborated with the Gulf Cartel until the two cartels split, provoking a territorial battle that was particularly deadly in Tamaulipas. The Zetas reportedly control more territory than any other criminal gang in Mexico and are notorious for extremely violent and gruesome crimes.

    Brazil World Cup Preparations: As rumors circulate that the International Olympic Committee has considered moving the 2016 Olympic Games to London, Brazil is stepping up security preparations for the World Cup, deploying more than 30,000 troops to the country’s borders to target illegal immigration and the trafficking of drugs and weapons. Meanwhile, about 7,000 members of the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra  (Homeless Workers’ Movement—MST) have set up camp outside the new Arena Corinthians in São Paulo to demand affordable housing for working-class Brazilians and to protest rising prices and expenditures on World Cup stadiums. Arena Corinthians will host the opening match of the World Cup on June 12.

    Bachelet Meets with Fernández de Kirchner: Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has arrived in Buenos Aires to meet with Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, marking Bachelet’s first international visit since the beginning of her second presidency. The leaders will meet on Monday and primarily discuss reviving the Treaty of Maipú, which was signed by the two presidents in 2009 and sets out to create a bi-oceanic railway network between the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans. In addition, the presidents will discuss Argentina’s plans to join the Pacific Alliance and relations within the more protectionist Mercosur trade bloc.

    Tags: Venezuela, José Mujica, Zetas Drug Cartel, 2014 World Cup, Michelle Bachelet

  • Solís Inaugurated as Costa Rican President

    May 9, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera became the forty-seventh president of Costa Rica yesterday. Solís, 56, appeared alongside First Lady Mercedes Peñas Domingo at the National Stadium in San José for the inauguration ceremony, saying, “We want to effectively combat poverty, not just administer it.” In addition to its plan to reduce poverty, Solís’ administration will face a divided legislative assembly, ongoing border issues with Nicaragua, and the challenge of regaining Costa Ricans’ trust in politicians and the government.

    The victory for Solís and the leftist Partido Acción Ciudadana (Citizen Action Party—PAC) marks the first time since 1948 that a non-traditional party has interrupted the two-party dominance of the Partido Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Party—PNL) and the Partido de Unidad Socialcristiana (Social Christian Unity Party). On April 6, Solís won an astounding 78 percent of the votes in the second round of the Costa Rican elections. This after PLN candidate Johnny Araya dropped out of the presidential runoff race following a poll that showed that Solís already had a commanding 44 percent lead.

    The outgoing president, Laura Chinchilla, has faced criticism for the country’s weak infrastructure and growing debt, and her inability to address various scandals. Her PLN party has been in power for the last 8 years.

    Tags: Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera, Costa Rican elections, Partido Acción Ciudadana

  • Argentina Creates Culture Ministry

    May 8, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Argentina’s official government gazette announced yesterday the creation of a cultural ministry department to be headed by folk singer and composer Teresa Adelina Sellares, also known by her stage name, Teresa Parodi.                    

    Prior to the creation of the Cultural Ministry, the government cultural department was run through the Secretary of Culture, Jorge Coscia, who resigned from his position with the appointment of Parodi. The decree issued by the government noted the importance of recognizing culture, given that “political decisions, economic and financial initiatives and social reforms have much more possibilities to success if the cultural perspective is considered.” Among other areas, the Cultural Ministry is in charge of all national museums, and will also work closely with the Assistant Secretary of Sociocultural Policies, Franco Vitali.

    Prior to her appointment, Parodi—a former teacher, artist and Peronist activist—had been working at the Espacio Cultural Nuestro Hijos (ECuNHI), a human rights organization run by the Madres de la Plaza de Mayor (Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo). Over her lifetime she has produced 30 albums and received various awards, including the Platinum Konex Award for best author-composer of the decade in 1995, the Award of the National Endowment of the Arts in 1999, the Gardel a la Música in 2003, and the Grand National Prize of Arts and Sciences in 2011.

    Cultural development has been a priority for President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s administration, supported by leaders in the music, film and art world. With the addition of Minister Parodi, Fernández de Kirchner’s cabinet is now comprised of 16 ministers, all headed by Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich.

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    Tags: Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Ministry of Culture, Teresa Parodi

  • Dos Interpretaciones a la Visita de Sánchez Cerén a Venezuela

    May 7, 2014

    by Julio Rank Wright

    Luego de pasar por la elección más reñida en la historia reciente de El Salvador, el país espera que en menos de un mes Mauricio Funes,  el primer presidente del  partido de izquierda Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN), deje el poder y le pase la banda presidencial al primer presidente excombatiente del FMLN, Salvador Sánchez Cerén.

    El país está literalmente dividido—después de una elección cuya diferencia fue de apenas 0.22 por ciento—y se encuentra en un ambiente de expectativa, en ocasiones tenso y nervioso. Ante una realidad como esa, sumada a un panorama económico desalentador y un aumento en la delincuencia, el presidente electo se verá obligado a colaborar con la oposición política al menos hasta las elecciones legislativas del 2015. Es por eso que la reciente visita de Sánchez Cerén a Venezuela ha generado reacciones encontradas.

    Yo le doy dos posibles lecturas a la visita de Sánchez Cerén a Venezuela el pasado 1 de mayo: la primera es optimista y la segunda es un poco más apegada a la realidad. Hace dos meses, en las vísperas de la elección presidencial de El Salvador, el presidente venezolano Nicolás Maduro fue el primero en felicitar a Sánchez Cerén, aun cuando a El Salvador se le agotaban los recursos legales para afirmar quien había ganado la elección presidencial con los márgenes de diferencia más estrechos de las últimas décadas.

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    Tags: Salvador Sánchez Cerén, El Salvador, Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela

  • Colombian Group Accused of Spying on Peace Talks

    May 7, 2014

    by AQ Online

    The Colombian attorney general’s office announced yesterday that authorities have arrested a hacker suspected of spying on communications belonging to the government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) as they conduct peace talks in Havana.

    Andrés Sepúlveda was arrested in a raid on a Bogotá office for allegedly running an illegal spying ring. Attorney General Eduardo Montealegre said that Sepúlveda’s operation was selling information to a third party in an attempt to “sabotage, interfere and affect the peace process in Havana.” Investigators believe that President Juan Manuel Santos’ emails may have been intercepted.

    Sepúlveda is linked to the political campaign of Óscar Iván Zuluaga, the Centro Democrático (Democratic Center) candidate who is running against Santos in Colombia’s May 25 presidential election. Zuluaga acknowledged yesterday that Sepúlveda has been providing social network and security services for his campaign since February, but insisted that the spying ring had nothing to do with his campaign.

    A prior spying scandal unveiled in February also targeted the peace talks in Havana, but Montealegre said that the latest scandal was not linked to Operation “Andrómeda,” in which members of the Colombian military set up a special intelligence unit to spy on the government, the FARC, and journalists’ communications.

    The raid comes days after Santos’ chief campaign strategist, J. J. Rendon, resigned amid allegations that he received $12 million from drug kingpins in exchange for mediating a negotiated surrender.

    Tags: Colombia, Peace Talks, FARC, President Juan Manuel Santos

  • Revisiting Capital Punishment in the United States

    May 6, 2014

    by John Parisella

    The botched April 29 execution of Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett made headlines throughout the world, leading to appeals to either abolish capital punishment in the United States or revisit the methods used to execute by lethal injection (in this case, the nature of the drugs).

    Since 1976 (after a brief suspension of the death penalty by the U.S. Supreme Court), over 1,000 people have been executed and over 3,000 are currently on death row.  Presently, there are only 18 U.S. states that have abolished the death penalty altogether.

    U.S. President Barack Obama has asked Attorney General Eric Holder to look into the circumstances surrounding the execution in Oklahoma. However, there will likely be little change resulting from this initiative. Obama is not an abolitionist himself, and individual states have the upper hand on this issue.

    Proponents for or against capital punishment weighed in on Sunday talk shows, such as “Meet the Press” and “This Week”. The views ranged from limiting the categories of murders subject to the death penalty to the use of drugs tested and approved to avoid future botched executions—not too encouraging for those who oppose capital punishment and want a wider debate.

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    Tags: Capital Punishment, United States, Death Penalty

  • Maduro’s Popularity Drops Amid Economic Uncertainty

    May 6, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Public support for Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro dropped to its lowest rate since he took office in 2013, the daily newspaper El Universal reported on Monday.

    The Venezuelan executive’s approval rating dropped from 46.8 percent in February to 37 percent in April amid chronic consumer shortages, high inflation, increased violence, and street protests that began in February.

    The poll, conducted by public opinion group Datanálisis, also found that 79.5 percent of Venezuelans have a negative view of the country’s current state. The economic conditions—including an inflation rate rapidly approaching 60 percent—as well as the violence and extreme shortages that sparked the nation-wide protests in February continue to be the biggest factors affecting Maduro’s popularity. A third of Venezuelans polled cited these as the country’s main problems.

    Venezuela has also faced international scrutiny for its response to the three-month-long demonstrations that have paralyzed major cities across the nation. A recent Human Rights Watch report highlighted the unlawful use of force perpetrated by security forces against unarmed, nonviolent anti-government protestors, who have been shot at point blank range, severely beaten, and forced to undergo physiological and physiological torture.

    Tags: Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro

  • Paz y Paz Sidelined in Guatemala Attorney General Vote

    May 5, 2014

    by Nic Wirtz

    Guatemala’s Comisión de Postulación, a national selection committee, announced the six nominees for country’s next attorney general  last week, with the name of current attorney general Claudia Paz y Paz conspicuously absent from the list. Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina will make his choice after interviewing the remaining candidates, and must announce a new attorney general by May 17.

    Paz y Paz’s exclusion has generated outrage in Guatemala and abroad from human rights groups who say the snub was politically motivated. “We knew that the prosecutor [Paz y Paz] had many enemies, but we hoped the Commission would be independent,” said Helen Myrna Mack, of the Myrna Mack Foundation. “I think everybody was surprised and disappointed.  It shows the system lacks credibility, it means that there’s no autonomy.”

    Diego Álvarez, the spokesman for the Comisión Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (Commission against Impunity in GuatemalaCICIG) said, “We are surprised that Paz y Paz is not on the list of six candidates, despite her excellent performance during her term, along with her classification in the process.”

    After an intensive interview before the Comisión de Postulación, Paz y Paz’s score (69 out of 100, later amended to 73) placed her first among the 26 competing candidates.  The Commission reviewed each candidate’s work experience and credentials and asked the candidates generic questions, followed by a round of more personal, specific questioning. The candidates also completed a written law exam.

    However, Paz y Paz’s true test was whether the 14 members of the Comisión de Postulación would cast their vote for her. Milton Argueta, the dean of the faculty of law at Universidad Francisco Marroquin, reported that he had received death threats prior to making his vote, and two text messages to his cell phone suggested that his wife would be murdered if he remained on the Commission, but he remained.

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    Tags: Guatemala, Claudia Paz y Paz, Human Rights

  • Monday Memo: Panama Elections – Haiti and the Dominican Republic – Uruguayan Marijuana – Colombian Mine Collapse – Brazil Soccer Death

    May 5, 2014

    by AQ Online

    This week’s likely top stories: Juan Carlos Varela will be Panama’s next president; talks between Haiti and the Dominican Republic are postponed; marijuana legalization goes into effect in Uruguay; a Colombian mine collapse kills at least 12 people; a Brazilian soccer fan is killed in Recife.

    Juan Carlos Varela Wins Panamanian Election: Juan Carlos Varela of the Partido Panameñista won a highly anticipated election on Sunday as Panamanian voters elected their next president. With 80 percent of votes counted, Varela had gained a 7 percent lead over his closest rival, José Domingo Arias of the ruling Cambio Democrático (Democratic Change), with Partido Revolucionario Democrático (Democratic Revolution Party—PRD) candidate Juan Carlos Navarro in third. Both Arias and Navarro conceded victory to Varela on Sunday night, although the election results are not yet official. Varela will take office on July 1 with Isabel Sain Malo, who will become vice president.

    Talks Between Haiti and the Dominican Republic Postponed Again: A third round of talks between the Haitian and Dominican government have been postponed a fourth time after Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elías Jaua, who is mediating between the two countries,  asked to reschedule. Haitian and Dominican leaders were expected to discuss trade, health, tourism and migration on May 6—and to address last year’s Dominican Constitutional Court decision that has left hundreds of thousands of descendants of Haitian immigrants born in the Dominican Republic without citizenship. A first round of talks between the two countries took place on January 7, and a second round took place on February 3. The third round was originally scheduled for March 12, and is now expected to take place on May 8.

    Uruguayan Marijuana Law Comes into Force: Uruguay’s marijuana legalization law will go into effect on Tuesday, permitting Uruguayan adults to grow up to six cannabis plants and to purchase up to 40 grams of the drug each month. All Uruguayan pharmacies that choose to sell cannabis must register with the national government, as do all individuals who wish to purchase marijuana from pharmacies. Diego Cánepa, head of the country’s drugs board, said that the sale of cannabis is not expected to begin until late 2014, but that the licensing process for companies to grow the plant will be rolled out within the next 15 days.  Uruguayan President José Mujica, who will visit the White House on May 12, has criticized pot laws in the United States, saying that Uruguay’s policies will be more restrictive.

    Death Toll Rises in Colombian Mine Collapse: At least 12 people were killed when an illegal gold mine in Colombia’s Cauca department collapsed last Wednesday night. After three victims were identified last week, rescue workers recovered more victims this weekend, and say that at least four other people who are still missing may have perished. The mine collapse was the second in less than a week in Colombia, after four miners in Antioquia department died after inhaling toxic fumes in an illegal mine.

    Brazilian Soccer Fan Killed in Recife: A 26-year-old Brazilian soccer fan was killed outside the Estadio do Arruda in Recife on Friday, when unidentified fans ripped toilet bowls out of the stadium bathroom and threw them from the top deck in a match between Santa Cruz and Paraná. Brazilian authorities will bar fans from the stadium for the next two matches and said that Santa Cruz fans will be banned from all stadiums until those responsible for the death are identified. The Arruda stadium will not host any World Cup matches, which start next month.

    Tags: Juan Carlos Varela, Panama, Marijuana, Uruguay, World Cup

  • It's Long Past Time to Get a U.S. Ambassador to Lima

    May 2, 2014

    by Eric Farnsworth

    In early March, The Washington Post ran an article on pending ambassadorial nominations worldwide, highlighting the fact that political maneuvering in the U.S. Senate was stalling numerous nominations and that, by implication, U.S. interests abroad were suffering. 

    Nowhere is this more evident than in the Western Hemisphere, which, at the time the article was written, hosted U.S. embassies with almost half of the ambassador slots vacant.  Some of these vacancies—such as in Bolivia and Venezuela—are long-standing, owing to political difficulties with host nations.  Others, including in Colombia, have subsequently been filled.

    Still, a disheartening number of posts remain without fully accredited ambassadors.  Of these, one in particular stands out: Peru, which has been without an ambassador since Rose Likins left in September 2013. 

    A qualified candidate to replace her, career official Brian Nichols, was nominated on June 24, 2013, and was unanimously approved by the Foreign Relations Committee in October and again in January 2014.  He has yet to be confirmed, patiently waiting longer than any other nominee for any other ambassador post worldwide.

    This is particularly strange—to say nothing of the personal toll that it takes on nominees and their families—because a prosperous, democratic Peru is a cornerstone of U.S. policy in the Americas.  The trade and investment relationship is strong and growing.  Peru is an important economic partner with a bilateral free trade agreement and a party to the ongoing TPP negotiations.  Peru is also a founding member of the Pacific Alliance, consisting of four Latin American nations pursuing a new vision of economic integration that fits comfortably within a framework of U.S. interests.

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    Tags: Peru, Peru-U.S. relations, Pacific Alliance

  • Protesters in Haiti Demand President’s Resignation

    May 2, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Protesters in Haiti called for the resignation of Haitian President Michel Martelly as they closed a major road in Port-au-Prince on Thursday. Some 2,000 protesters accused Martelly of corruption and demanded that the government hold elections.

    This is the third protest against the Haitian government this week after elections have been delayed for almost two and a half years. In March, a U.S. Congressional delegation to Haiti—including Florida Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart, and Frederica Wilson—voiced concern over Haiti’s delay to hold elections. UN Special representative and head of the UN Stabilization Mission to Haiti (MINUSTAH), Sandra Honoré, has encouraged the participation of all actors after the executive, the legislative and political parties reached the Accord of El Rancho in February, agreeing to combine parliamentary and municipal elections.  If elections are not held by the end of 2014, the parliament will dissolve in January of 2015, allowing Martelly to rule by decree.

    The protests on Thursday were broken up by riot police and UN peacekeepers after the blockade and the Associated Press reported that at least 10 protesters were detained. Demonstrations overtook the northern city of Cap-Haitien on Sunday, and protests in the capital turned violent on Monday after protesters smashed car windows in Port-au-Prince.

    Tags: Haiti, Haiti elections, Michel Martelly, corruption, protests

  • While Brazil Sambas with Cuba, the U.S. Dances Alone

    May 1, 2014

    by Christopher Sabatini and Alana Tummino

    Brazil is betting on an eventual opening in Cuba. The bet is more than economic; it’s linked directly to a larger geopolitical project intended to draw Cuba toward its own model of economic and political organization as Cuba wakes up from its 55-year slumber under the Castro regime.

    The process has already started with a series of market-oriented reforms initiated by Raúl Castro—brother to Fidel—and will only accelerate with the passing of the octogenarian Castro brothers and their guerrilla field comrades. Unfortunately, as Brazil engages in a wise game of hemispheric chess, the U.S. is playing solitaire: the result of the self-imposed embargo that has prevented economic, diplomatic and even routine contact with an island 90 miles away from the United States.

    In the last five years, Brazil financed the majority of the $957 million deep water Mariel port project in the northwest of the island built by infrastructure giant Odebrecht. The port, and the 180-square-mile free-trade and development zone that surrounds it, is intended to service wide draft ships that will be able to pass through the expanded Panama Canal—a requirement that many U.S. ports won’t be able to meet when the updated canal completes its expansion by 2015. And it’s only the beginning. Recently, when he was in the country to tour the facility, former President of Brazil Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva announced the acquisition of the iconic beer company Bucanero by the Brazilian beer giant, InBev, and there is talk that Brazil’s recent investments in Cuba’s Mariel port facility and free trade zone are only the  tip of the iceberg.

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    Tags: Brazil, U.S.-Cuba relations

  • Peña Nieto Proposes New Energy Rules

    May 1, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto proposed new rules yesterday aimed at increasing oil production and boosting the economy.

    The proposed legislation includes the creation of eight new laws and the modification of 13 existing laws. Mexican Secretary of Tax, Luis Videgaray, and Secretary of Energy, Pedro Joaquín Coldwell, have said that, with the exception of public gasoline sale, the new rules would open the sale of energy resources to foreign and private firms while keeping them under state control. Videgaray maintained that the laws will reduce Mexico’s high fiscal dependence on oil revenues.

    If the rules are approved by Congress, it would end a 75-year monopoly by the state-run oil company Pemex, which was created by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) under President Lázaro Cárdenas in 1938. While giving new businesses the opportunity to invest in Mexican oil, the laws would also lower taxes on Pemex from 79 percent to less than 65 percent. Pemex would also be guaranteed at least a 20 percent stake of business in oil deposits in defined territories.

    Political opposition parties, the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN) and the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution—PDR) have both pushed back against the reform. The PAN has made its support of the new rules conditional on the passage of electoral reform that would weaken the PRI’s influence. The PRD is hoping to overturn the proposed reform altogether.

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    Tags: Mexico, Mexico energy reform, Enrique Peña Nieto

  • Virginia Grants In-State Tuition to DACA Recipients

    April 30, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring announced on Tuesday that undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children and are granted legal presence through the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program would qualify for in-state tuition at the state’s public colleges and universities.

    In a speech at Northern Virginia Community College’s Alexandria campus, Herring said, “Instead of punishing and placing limits on these smart, talented, hard-working young people, Virginia should extend them an opportunity for an affordable education.”

    Under the new law, DACA recipients would qualify for in-state tuition at the University of Virginia, which is $12,998—as opposed to the out-of-state fee of $42,184. The Republican leadership in the state legislature responded in a statement saying, “We are deeply concerned by the attorney general’s actions today and what appears to be a continued willingness to ignore and circumvent the duly adopted laws of the Commonwealth.” Herring’s unilateral action comes four months after the wider-reaching Virginia State DREAM Act (SB 249) was voted down in the Senate Committee on Education and Health.

    Virginia is now the nineteenth state to have enacted some form of in-state tuition for qualified undocumented immigrant youth. Herring previously drew the ire of Republicans in January, days after being sworn into office, when he refused to defend Virginia against lawsuits challenging the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

    Tags: Immigration, DREAM Act, Virginia, Deferred Action

  • The Future of Québec Independence

    April 29, 2014

    by John Parisella

    On April 7, 2014, Québec voters chose to elect a majority Liberal government, and handed the pro-independence Parti Québécois (PQ) its worst defeat ever.  Since then, speculation has surfaced about the future of the Québec independence movement.

    In his first post-election press conference, Québec’s new premier, Philippe Couillard, struck a positive note when he was asked whether the idea of Québec independence (separation) was over.  An ardent federalist, Premier Couillard astutely responded that you could not kill an idea.  And he’s right both in fact and in tone.

    The dream of an independent Québec has its origins in history, from the early settlers who followed Québec’s founder, Samuel de Champlain, to the British Conquest of 1760—where the struggle for survival and identity became the central theme within French Canada’s polity for the next two centuries, and beyond.

    By the early 1960s, pro-independence political parties surfaced in Québec, in line with the progressive forces dominating the political debate of the day.  The so-called “Quiet Revolution,” led by the progressive Liberal Party of Premier Jean Lesage, ushered in dramatic reforms in the economic, health, cultural, and educational sectors.  With it came the rise of a democratic pro-independence movement that in 1968 merged into a political party—the Parti Québécois, led by former prominent Liberal minister René Lévesque.

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    Tags: Canada, Parti Québécois, Quebec independence

  • Cuba Grants State-Run Enterprises More Autonomy

    April 29, 2014

    by AQ Online

    The Cuban government announced a process of decentralization as part of what President Raúl Castro termed Cuba’s “most complex” series of reforms, in the state-run Gaceta Oficial on Monday. The new reforms allow the more than 2,800 state-run enterprises—which represent 80 percent of Cuba’s economic activity—to open secondary businesses outside of the enterprises’ primary focus, retain 50 percent of their profits, sell excess goods at market prices, and set their employee’s salaries independent of the state.

    While state-run enterprises will still be subject to government production quotas, Granma—Cuba’s official newspaper—reports that the reforms are part of a “gradual decentralization process” that transfers more responsibility to the companies’ directors. The new reforms come on the heels of Cuba’s much-anticipated Foreign Investment Law approved by the National Assembly on March 29.

    These changes represent a series of economic reforms championed by President Castro since 2011, meant to stimulate the island’s stagnant economy and attract foreign investment. While the effects of the reforms have been modest—the economy grew by just 2.7 percent in 2013—the non-state sector has grown to 450,000 workers who now make roughly $100 a month, five times that of state employees.

    Tags: Cuba, President Raul Castro, Economic Reforms

  • Monday Memo: Panama Elections – Colombian Farmers – Venezuela – Mexico Telecom Reform – Brazilian Colonel’s Death

    April 28, 2014

    by AQ Online

    This week’s likely top stories:  Panamanian voters go to the polls on Sunday; Colombian farmers launch another strike; Venezuelan dialogue enters its third week; protesters demonstrate against Mexican telecom reform; the murder of a former colonel could challenge Brazil’s truth commission.

    Panama Prepares for Presidential Election: Panamanians will go to the polls on Sunday, May 4 to vote for their next president in one of the country’s most competitive races in recent memory. Cambio Democrático (Democratic Change) candidate José Domingo Arias faces former Panama City Mayor Juan Carlos Navarro, of the Partido Revolucionario Democrático (Democratic Revolution Party—PRD) and current Vice President Juan Carlos Varela, of the Partido Panameñista (Panamañista Party). Arias’ running mate is Marta Linares, wife of outgoing President Ricardo Martinelli, who is running for vice president despite a constitutional challenge that is expected to be dismissed. According to an Ipsos poll last Thursday, 34.2 percent of voters plan to vote for Arias, while 33.9 percent plan to vote for Navarro.

    Colombian Farmers Prepare to Strike: Ahead of next month’s presidential election, Colombian farmers have launched a strike to denounce what they say are unmet promises made by the government last year during a prior round of strikes. The farmers are protesting the country’s free trade agreements, calling for subsidies, and demanding that the government lower production costs in the agricultural sector. Last August, farmers in departments across Colombia halted production and blocked interstate highways before reaching a preliminary agreement with the government.

    Dialogue in Venezuela Continues: The Venezuelan government and the opposition Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Democratic Unity Coalition—MUD) say that they expect to form working groups this week to investigate the violence that has rocked the country since protests began on February 12. More than 40 people have died since the protests began, while regional leaders have pressured the Venezuelan government to meet with the opposition and resolve the current crisis. This week marks the third week of dialogue between the government and the opposition.

    Mexican Telecom Reform Protests:  Protesters gathered in Mexico City this Saturday to protest President Enrique Peña Nieto’s telecommunications bill, which would regulate and implement constitutional reforms passed last June that aimed to promote greater competition and improve telecom services, according to the government. Opponents of the bill say that portions of the bill would limit freedom of expression by blocking Internet access and censoring content, but PRI Senator Emilio Gamboa promised to cut those provisions from the bill. Congress is expected to debate the bill in June.

    Retired Colonel’s Murder May Dissuade Witnesses: A former Brazilian army colonel’s violent death may complicate the efforts of Brazil’s National Truth Commission to receive witness testimony about the country’s 1964-1985 dictatorship. Paulo Malhães, who confessed to the commission in March that he had tortured and killed political prisoners and attempted to hide their identities, and named two other officers who gave him orders. Malhães was found dead in his apartment late last week after intruders entered his home outside Rio de Janeiro. It is not clear whether the death was an act of revenge, and the murder is being investigated. Rosa Cardoso, a lawyer who works on the Commission, said the murder “will make our work more challenging.”

    Tags: Panama elections, Venezuela, Mexican telecommunications

  • Argentina to Pay Repsol for YPF Nationalization

    April 25, 2014

    by AQ Online

    The lower house of Argentina’s congress agreed to pay Spanish oil company Repsol $5 billion in bonds in compensation for its expropriation of the company’s 51 percent share of Argentine oil company Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (Treasury Petroleum Fields—YPF). After YPF was nationalized in 2012, Repsol’s share in the company was seized and reduced to 12 percent without any compensation. The settlement had been pending since the company’s expropriation.

    The settlement with Repsol is essential in order to attract long-term investors to Argentina’s Vaca Muerta shale deposit in the Patagonia region, potentially one of the world’s largest deposits of natural gas. Since Repsol’s expropriation, YPF has had difficulty attracting partners to the project, which would be a crucial boost to Argentina’s struggling economy, currently dependent on fuel imports.

    The settlement is less than Repsol’s original demand of $10.5 billion. The dollar bond payment—which had been previously approved by the senate—will mature between 2017 and 2033, and guarantees a minimum market value of $4.67 billion. If the market value of the bonds does not amount to the minimum, the Argentine government must pay an additional $1 billion in bonds.

    Tags: Argentina, Repsol, YPF

  • Brazil Signs Internet Bill of Rights into Law

    April 24, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff signed an Internet Bill of Rights into law yesterday—the first of its kind  in the world. The new bill ensures the privacy of its users by restricting the amount of metadata that can be collected and also prohibits companies from restricting certain services by requiring the user to pay more, such as paying additional amounts for access to videos or email

    Since its proposal in 2009, hundreds of individuals and organizations, including Google and Facebook, have supported and contributed to the content of the law. After over three years in the Chamber of Deputies, the bill moved to the Senate where it was approved on Monday. Following the signing of the new bill, President Rousseff delivered a speech at the NetMundial conference in São Paulo where she said, “The rights that people have off-line should also be protected on-line.” Participants at the forum represented 85 different countries and discussed the future of the internet.  The conference was co-hosted with the U.S. and ten other countries.

    One of the participants, Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, encouraged other countries to follow Brazil’s lead, stating that they should “develop positive laws that protect and expand the rights of users in an open, free and universal Web.”

    Tensions rose last September after the Wikileaks revealed that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) was spying on foreign governments, including Brazil. As a result, Rousseff canceled a trip to the U.S. and requested action to require companies hosting data to Brazilians to do so from with-in Brazil.

    Tags: Brazil, Internet Bill of Rights, President Dilma Rousseff

  • Cuba and Paris Club to Resume Debt Negotiations

    April 23, 2014

    by AQ Online

    After a 14 year hiatus, there are signs that Cuba is ready to re-enter the world of international finance by reopening debt negotiations with the informal group of wealthy creditors known as the Paris Club, Reuters reported yesterday. Any negotiations would involve the restructuring of nearly $18 billion in debt—which does not include about $18 billion worth of Soviet-era debt forgiven by club-member Russia in 2013—and increased transparency on the part of Cuban government officials.

    While the Paris Club includes the U.S. amongst its 19 members, the a special working group on Cuba that would participate in debt negotiations excludes the United States. Since 2011, Cuba has restructured its debts with China, Japanese commercial creditors, Mexico, and Russia, meeting its debt repayment obligations to those countries under the new plans.

    Although the U.S. will not be able to participate in the debt negotiations, a recent report released by Americas Society/Council of the Americas’ Cuba Working Group details steps that President Obama can take to ensure that the U.S. isn’t excluded in financially supporting Cuba’s emerging non-state sector, despite the constraints of the 54-year-old embargo.

    Tags: Cuba, Paris Club, U.S.-Cuba policy

  • Will Mexico's Telecom Reform Hurt Internet Freedom?

    April 22, 2014

    by Arjan Shahani

    On March 24, Enrique Peña Nieto presented the Mexican Senate with a bill for a new telecommunications law that complements the constitutional reforms he approved in 2013. The legislation proposes, among other things, to promote competition in the sector, improve telecom services, and regulate the radioelectric spectrum through the new telecommunications regulator, the Instituto Federal de Telecomunicaciones (Federal Telecommunications Institute—IFETEL).  The bill is now being revised, and is expected to be approved in the coming days.

    However, the proposal is already raising eyebrows and creating waves in the digital sphere, where it’s being labeled as a form of government censorship.

    According to Article 2 of the bill, the legislation is intended to “protect the nation’s security and sovereignty,” and the most controversial articles in the initiative are preceded by mentions of criminal prosecution and promoting the public interest. There is room for discussion on the potential effectiveness of this objective, but much like the current debate in the U.S. over the NSA’s capabilities vs. individual freedoms and privacy, citizens in Mexico are worried about ceding too much power to the federal government.  The far-reaching legislation has created a number of trending topics on Twitter, under hashtags like #EPNvsInternet #ContraElSilencioMx and #NoMasPoderAlPoder (roughly translated to #PeñaNietoV.Internet, #AgainstSilenceMx and #NoMorePowerToTheOnesInPower).

    One of the most popular bloggers in Mexico, “Sopitas,” criticized Peña Nieto’s proposal by stating that social media has been the only widespread communication channel where the public can express its dissent with the current government.  On April 21, #EPNvsInternet became a worldwide trending topic on Twitter and, as these words are being written, “netizens” in Mexico City are organizing a massive demonstration at the Ángel de la Independencia monument in downtown Mexico City, which also hosted many of #YoSoy132’s protests against Peña Nieto’s alleged alliance with Televisa in the 2012 presidential elections. When the neutrality of the largest news media conglomerate in the country is in question, citizen journalism becomes crucial.

    Attempts to control speech on the Internet are not new. One need only consult Global Voices’ Advocacy project to see that, when given the power to do so, governments unequivocally use Internet restriction as a means to block and control dissent.

    But how would the president’s telecom law proposal trample on free speech? What are netizens protesting against? Here are some highlights:

    • Article 145, Paragraph III states that Internet Service Providers (ISP) “will be allowed to block access to content, applications or services upon express request by the user, per order of authority...”
    • Article 189 proposes that ISPs be forced to provide real-time geolocation of specific devices to public officials “awarded the faculty of requesting it...”
    • Article 190 states that ISPs will be “obligated to permit […] intervention of private communications…”  
    • Article 197, paragraph VII states that, if requested by authorities, ISPs will “temporarily block, inhibit or nullify telecommunication signals in events and locations critical to public or national security...” 

    Supporters of the proposed telecom law might argue that these new attributions would allow government to better combat organized crime, but the other side of the story shows that if the legislation is approved as-is, any government would be legally awarded the power to read emails exchanged between its detractors, know their location and cut off their communications.

    Would the government consider a mass protest on Avenida Reforma to be an event against public security, and thus block cell phone communications in the area? Those opposing the new law seem to think this is a possibility.

    This developing story has caused outrage on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks. Will this outrage help write a different conclusion—one in which the proposed telecom bill is overturned? Or will Mexico join the ranks of censorship-friendly countries such as Cambodia, Turkey and Venezuela?  

    Tags: Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexico, Telecom

  • AFL-CIO Issues Immigration Recommendations to DHS

    April 22, 2014

    by AQ Online

    The AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the U.S., released a memo on Monday outlining steps that the Obama administration can take to alleviate the burden of immigration enforcement on immigrant workers and families in the absence of congressional action on comprehensive reform.

    The memo, titled Recommendation on Administrative Action on Immigration, calls on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to take four concrete steps: grant work permits to undocumented immigrants; reclaim federal authority over enforcement policy from the states; reform the removal process; and protect undocumented workers who file workplace grievances.

    President Barack Obama has resisted calls to unilaterally reform immigration policy, insisting instead that comprehensive reform should come from Congress. But legislation has reached an impasse in the House of Representatives, despite Speaker John Boehner claiming that he is “hell-bent” on passing reform this year. As a result, reform advocates are increasingly pointing to executive action as the only way to slow the rate of deportation, which, under President Obama, has been higher than under any previous president.

    The memo was released at the same time that the new secretary of DHS, Jeh Johnson, is conducting an internal review of immigration enforcement policies and considering limiting deportations of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally who don't have serious criminal records.

    Tags: Immigration, AFL-CIO, John Boehner

  • Monday Memo: New Bogotá Mayor – Argentine Debt Case – Illegal Mining – Venezuela – García Márquez

    April 21, 2014

    by AQ Online

    This week’s likely top stories: María Mercedes Maldonado becomes Bogotá’s new mayor; the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in the Republic of Argentina v. NML Capital case; the deadline passes to regulate illegal mining in Peru; rallies in Venezuela turn violent; Gabriel García Márquez’ memorial service is held in Mexico City.

    Santos Names Interim Mayor for Bogotá: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos named María Mercedes Maldonado the interim mayor of Bogotá on Monday, weeks after former Mayor Gustavo Petro was officially removed from his post in March. Petro’s removal by Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez—on the grounds that Petro had mismanaged an overhaul of the city’s garbage collection system—was accompanied by a wave of protests and lawsuits, but the decision was ultimately approved by Santos.  Maldonado, a lawyer and professor who has worked in both the public and private sector, was secretary of planning for six months in Petro’s administration.

    Argentine Debt Case Reaches U.S. Supreme Court: The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Monday in Republic of Argentina v. NML Capital, the case that pits the Argentine government against U.S.-based holdout creditor NML Capital, which is attempting to enforce a $1.4 billion judgment against Argentina.  To collect the judgment, NML must be able to enforce subpoenas against Bank of America Corp. and Banco de la Nación Argentina to access Argentina’s non-U.S. assets. NML Capital won the right to subpoena the banks in an August 2012 decision by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court, but the U.S. government has sided with Argentina in arguing that the ruling violates the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act by forcing a sovereign national to reveal assets held outside the U.S.

    Deadline Passes for Illegal Gold Miners in Peru: Saturday marked the deadline for illegal gold miners in Peru to legalize their status as part of a government effort to eradicate illegal mining in the country. Currently, some 40,000 illegal gold miners are active in the southeastern part of the country, where they have clashed with police and blocked highways to protest government efforts to crack down on their livelihood. Illegally mined gold accounts for some 20 percent of Peru’s gold exports and the trade has serious environmental, social and economic consequences, but miners say that the government has offered few alternatives to the lucrative trade, and that the actual process of registering with the government through the national tax agency was overly burdensome.  

    Violence Continues in Venezuela: A rally on Easter Sunday in Caracas took a violent turn as protesters against the government of President Nicolás Maduro clashed with security forces. Troops used tear gas and water cannons against demonstrators, who burned effigies of Maduro in the street and set up barricades in the district of Chacao, which they defended with homemade bombs. Supporters of the government also protested and burned effigies of opposition leader Henrique Capriles. Maduro completes his first year as Venezuela’s president this week, while more than 40 people have died in protests that began on February 12.

    Memorial Service for García Márquez: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto will attend a public memorial service on Monday for the Nobel Prize-winning Colombian literary icon Gabriel García Márquez, who died of a lung infection last Thursday at the age of 87. The service will be held in Mexico City, where the author spent his final days, though his final resting place is not yet known. García Márquez spent much of his adult life in Mexico. The Colombian government declared three days of national mourning for the author, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1982.

    Tags: Gabriel García Márquez, Illegal Mining, Argentina

  • Illegal Logging Destroying the Peruvian Amazon, Report Says​

    April 18, 2014

    by AQ Online

    According to a newly released report, logging concessions in Peru are causing increasingly widespread illegal logging, which in turn is having a detrimental effect on the environment, biodiversity and hardwood resources of the Amazon.

    Scientific Reports published the report on Thursday, detailing the geographic and legal violations related with logging violations specific to concessions—contracts for public land for up to 40 years and for 10 to 125 acres of land. The report found that 70 percent of government inspected logging concessions have major violations or have had their contracts revoked, leading to an increase in unregulated logging.

    Despite several attempts to control logging through legislation, there is still pervasive corruption and abuse. Peru’s 2000 Forest and Wildlife Law No. 27308 established a process for regulating permits, concessions, and authorizations of logging in an effort to promote sustainable logging in the area. The U.S.-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement of 2009 included a Forestry Annex that attempted to create a new legal system for logging, but failed to eliminate exploitation. And the most recent Forestry Law, passed in 2011, has not yet been executed.

    While the report focused on concessions and their environmental effects, the researchers also mentioned the social effects of unregulated logging. “The Peruvian people will get less economic return than they could, particularly those who depend more directly on the forest such as some indigenous communities, while Amazonian biodiversity will continue to decline,” said Clinton Jenkins, one of the report’s authors.

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    Tags: Peru, Illegal Logging, sustainability

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