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  • Brazilian Minister Answers to Corruption Allegations

    November 18, 2011

    by AQ Online

     

    Carlos Lupi, Brazil’s minister of labor appeared before the Senate yesterday to defend himself against a series of corruption allegations that surfaced earlier this month in an exposé by news magazine Veja. According to reports, advisers to the minister demanded kickbacks on government contracts with nongovernmental groups. Also, reports allege that Lupi accepted travel on an airplane funded by the head of an organization that administers contracts for the Brazilian government.

    Lupi fired key advisors to try to move forward from the allegations of wrongdoing. However, members from his Partido Democrático Laborista (PDT) have begun urging him to resign. Lupi’s response has been defiant: “No one can have their honor thrown in the garbage by an anonymous denunciation...I am not involved in any wrongdoing.”

    Minister Lupi is the most recent of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s cabinet members to face possible resignation. Since taking office in January, Rousseff has let go several other ministers including Transportation Minister Alfredo Nascimento, Minister of Agriculture Wagner Rossi,  Minister of Tourism Pedro Novais, Minister of Sports Orlando Silva, and Minister of Defense, Nelson Jobim

    Tags: Brazil Ministry of Labor, Carlos Lupi

  • De los triunfos de la sociedad civil y otros triunfos militares

    November 17, 2011

    by Jenny Manrique

    El tsunami de noticias que sacude permanentemente a Colombia es una de las cosas por las que me gusta ser periodista en este país. No se acaba de reponer uno de una tremenda cobertura sobre las elecciones regionales cuando la agenda de la guerra, de la paz y de la protesta social, sigue moviendo las fichas del rompecabezas de esta nación sudamericana. 

    En principio, muchas cosas hay que decir sobre el acontecer poselectoral. En términos de ganadores cabe mencionar a la registraduría por la rápida entrega de resultados y la puesta en marcha de la huella biométrica que afina un camino exitoso contra el fraude en las elecciones de 2014, más aún si el mentado voto electrónico se materializa.

    Read More

    Tags: Colombia, Elecciones, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), Alfonso Cano, Educación

  • Argentina to Reduce Utility Subsidies

    November 17, 2011

    by AQ Online

    As part of a plan to improve the state of the country’s finances, the Argentine government announced yesterday that it will cut over $800 million in utility subsidies that homes and businesses receive. The subsidies for water, natural gas and electricity would be removed only for high-income families, and the natural gas and power subsidy reduction would only affect large companies  that produce fuels and agrochemicals, according to Economy Minister Amado Boudou.

    Two weeks ago officials made a similar decision to end 100 percent of government assistance to oil, gas and mining companies as well as banks and insurance entities. The government expects to save almost $1 billion. Before the October 23 presidential election, Argentina’s budget deficit doubled to $450 million as a result of government spending on public works and salary increases.

    Households—accounting for 232,000 users—in Puerto Madero, Barrio Parque and other porteño neighborhoods will be the first utility customers to be affected by the measure, which will go into effect in January 2012. Users, nevertheless, will have the option to give up the subsidy voluntarily or request to keep it under an affidavit that will be crosschecked with the Administración Nacional de la Seguridad Social (ANSES), the Administración Federal de los Ingresos Públicos (AFIP) and other regulatory entities. This plan is expected to result in a personalized subsidy where the cost savings are reserved for those who truly need the extra assistance.

    As part of a comprehensive budget deficit plan, the government will create a Subsidy Commission to analyze other changes to the subsidy regimen. In response to fears about inflation increases, Planning Minister Julio de Vido encouraged companies that have benefitted from reduced prices to not transfer their added costs on to consumers.

    Tags: Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Debt, Subsidies

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    November 17, 2011

    by AS-COA Online

    From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.

    Sign up to receive the Weekly Roundup via email.

    Helicopter Crash Claims Mexico’s Second Most Powerful Official
    Mexico’s Interior Minister Francisco Blake Mora died in a helicopter crash on Saturday en route from Mexico City to Cuernavaca. The accident, which killed seven other people, was ruled a weather-related accident. In 2008, then Interior Minister Juan Camila Mouriño died in similar circumstances: he perished in a plane crash in Mexico City nearly three years to the day from Saturday’s accident. Blake was a powerful force in President Felipe Calderón’s war on drug trafficking, and his loss was a blow to the president’s administration’s war on drugs. Blake was also the fourth interior minister under Calderón, so his death could be a setback for Calderón’s National Action Party (PAN) prior to next year’s presidential elections.

    López Obrador to Lead PRD Ticket in Mexico
    Mexico’s leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) chose Andrés Manuel López Obrador as their candidate for the 2012 presidential election. Known as AMLO, the former mayor of Mexico City narrowly lost the presidential election in 2006. James Bosworth of Bloggings by Boz writes that the nomination could actually help the Institutional Revolution Party (PRI) candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, since after AMLO’s 2006 loss, “bouncing back is going to be tough for him.” He also believes that current Mexico City mayor Marcelo Ebrard would have been a more viable candidate for the PRD, with larger national appeal.

    Security, Drug Trafficking Concerns Colored Michoacan Election
    Sunday’s elections in the Mexican state of Michoacan resulted in a victory for the PRI, with the PRI candidate for governor, Fausto Vallejo, eking out a victory over PAN candidate Luis Maria Calderón (sister of the current president). The candidate from the PRD, which has ruled Michoacan for the past ten years, came in a distant third. A piece by Animal Politico evaluates the reasons behind this win, including very high voter concern for insecurity and drug trafficking. Michoacan has become one of the most violent states amid President Calderon’s war on drug trafficking. Those concerned with insecurity generally voted for the PRI, while those concerned with drug trafficking tended to support the PAN.

    Read More

    Tags: Remittances, President Hugo Chavez, President Rafael Correa, Mexico Interior Minister, Mexico Elections, Michoacan Elections, Mexican Migration, APEC Meeting

  • Afro-Brazilian Inclusion in the World Cup and Olympic Games

    November 16, 2011

    by Paulo Rogério

    Please find the original text below, submitted in Portuguese.

    In the next few years, Brazil will host two major world sporting events, the World Cup (2014) and the Olympic Games (2016).

    Beyond putting the country on the international stage and increasing the number of tourists and investors, the big question is what will be the real impact of these events in improving the living conditions of the majority of Brazilians. With this in mind, the Special Secretariat for Policies to Promote Racial Equality (SEPPIR), with support from the U.S. Consulate in Brazil, organized a series of events inviting representatives of social organizations and governments to look at how best to include Afro-Brazilians in the preparations for the games.

    One of the concerns of SEPPIR, a ministry of the federal government, is the fact that the Afro-Brazilian population has historically not been a part of the process of economic inclusion—the result of more than 300 years of slavery and a lack of economic inclusion policies. Social movement activists point out that it is very likely that most Afro-Brazilians will not benefit from the opportunities of the games, even though Brazil is attracting significant public and private investments.

    Tags: Brazil, Olympic Games, World Cup, Inclusion

  • China in Argentina: A Belated Debut

    November 16, 2011

    by Janie Hulse Najenson

    On weekend evenings in Buenos Aires´ upscale Palermo neighbourhood, newly washed sedans and SUVs line up along the wide Libertador Avenue, creating a shimmering cascade of lights as their occupants eagerly await valet parking.

    The restaurant of choice is a fashionable American-style bistro, aptly named Kansas. It has become a staple for well-heeled Porteños whose frequent trips to Miami and New York leave them craving burgers and good service. Known for remarkable consistency in a land of improvisation, the only thing that has changed since its opening six years ago is its clientele. It’s now packed with Chinese.

    Chinatown apparently is unable to satisfy the increasingly sophisticated tastes of Argentina’s Chinese immigrants. At 120,000-strong, when including Taiwanese and temporary visa holders, the Chinese are the fastest growing non-Latin American immigrant population. Since 2004, Argentina has granted over 26,000 visas to the Chinese—a figure topped only by neighbouring Paraguayans, Bolivians and Peruvians, many of whom find work with the Chinese upon arrival.

    A Chinese supermarket opens every two days in Buenos Aires. With over 10,000 in total, it’s rare to walk more than a few blocks without coming across one. Los chinos, as they are known, collectively generate a whopping $6 billion a year. Their secret to success? Location. Location. Location. They also manage to maintain competitive prices thanks to their broad wholesale distribution network; this is especially difficult with inflation topping 20 percent yearly since the 2003 economic recovery.

    Ever evolving, this year the Chinese markets began branding their own products and offering a credit card financed with an initial $20 million by the Chamber of Chinese Supermarkets (CASRECH) and backed by the Chinese government. 

    Read More

    Tags: Argentina-China Relations

  • Mexico’s Left Chooses Presidential Candidate

    November 16, 2011

    by AQ Online

    A coalition of Mexico’s left-leaning political parties has chosen Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) stalwart Andrés Manuel López Obrador to run against near-certain Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) candidate Enrique Peña Nieto in the race to replace current Mexican President Felipe Calderón. The decision to nominate López Obrador—who also ran in the hotly contested 2006 presidential race—was made following the release of poll results showing strong support for another bid among leftist voters.

    The other top opposition candidate, Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, said after the decision, “The left divided would just go to the precipice, and I won't be the one who divides it…I wish López Obrador the greatest of successes and he knows that he can count on my support and solidarity.”

    Mexico watchers are quick to point out that López Obrador will likely face an uphill battle in the race against Peña Nieto. Many voters are still bitter about massive protests López Obrador staged across Mexico In the months after losing the 2006 race, including demonstrations that shut down Mexico City’s main thoroughfare, Paseo de la Reforma. López Obrador is also unlikely to win support from moderate supporters of Calderón’s conservative Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) party, which will announce its presidential nominee in February 2012.  According to one October poll by polling firm Mitofsky, Enrique Peña Nieto leads López Obrador by 23 points.

    Tags: Mexico, Felipe Calderon, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Enrique Peña Nieto

  • The FARC’s Resilience Despite the Killing of Alfonso Cano

    November 15, 2011

    by Andrés Mejía Vergnaud

    It is often said that the FARC is the oldest guerrilla group in the world. That may be true. It also may be true that, along with Hezbollah, the FARC exhibits the most sophisticated organizational design of any irregular armed group in the world. This is one of the reasons –a crucial one, though—why the group did not fall apart after the killing of its top commander, Alfonso Cano, on November 4, 2011.

    The resilience of the FARC is indeed a fascinating fact for any social scientist. Not only has the group survived a number of military offensives, it also survived the fall of the Communist bloc and the disappearance of most Latin American guerilla organizations. It could even witness the eventual downfall of the Cuban regime.

    The FARC were born under the most hostile of circumstances. Their “baptism of fire” came in 1964, with a huge military offensive against a region in the south of Colombia, where a number of small guerrilla groups had converged, initially seeking shelter from Conservative partisan persecution. This region was denounced as an “independent republic” by politicians who demanded military action. The group took heavy losses but was not annihilated, and its members, operating in “columns,” retreated to nearby regions where they would regroup and would declare the birth of the FARC.

    More military setbacks were to come. In 1968, a failed venture by Ciro Trujillo, the FARC’s second in command, resulted in the loss of nearly 70 percent of the group’s manpower, including Trujillo himself. Between 1970 and 1983, the FARC would remain a low-profile rural organization, eclipsed by other groups such as the M19 and the ELN. They were, however, silently working in strengthening their forces. Between 1983 and 1987, taking advantage of a truce with President Betancur (1982-1986), the FARC tripled the number of their “fronts,” and got involved in the drug business.

    In 1990, President César Gaviria ordered a massive surprise military operation, attacking the FARC command centers with the best units of the Army and the Air Force. Optimism, fed by the fall of communism, was fully in fashion. Gaviria declared the FARC to be “…a dinosaur in extinction.” Celebrations were nonetheless premature. Not only did the FARC manage to survive the offensive, they lost none of their commanders. They then took the initiative: the 1990s would witness a drastic military campaign by the FARC, reaching a climax between 1996 and 1998.

    Read More

    Tags: Venezuela, FARC

  • Children’s Rights in Jamaica, Part III

    November 15, 2011

    by Jaevion Nelson

    This post is the final entry in a three-part series on children’s rights in Jamaica. It builds on the first and second entries on the topic.

    There are several inefficiencies in Jamaica’s child care system, and our government is not doing enough to eradicate the problem.

    The event in contemporary Jamaican history that brought the glaring inequality of the state child care system into attention was the May 2009 fire at the Armadale juvenile facility in St. Ann. Armadale was home to 62 girls—or “wards,” some of whom committed crimes as juveniles—who lived in substandard conditions in violation of the national building code. When a section of the facility was engulfed in flames in 2009, seven girls died due to insufficient safety measures.

    An investigative commission found that the girls had been on lockdown since the week before the fire because one had tried to escape. Some of the girls alleged that the fire resulted from a police officer throwing tear gas into the room.

    The nongovernmental organization Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) issued several demands to fix the system’s problems in a 2010 letter to then-Prime Minister Bruce Golding (2007–2011). These included:

    •    Direct the Department of Correctional Services to immediately cease the practice of lockdown in juvenile correctional facilities;
    •    Instruct the Child Development Agency (CDA), Jamaica’s children’s homes agency, to immediately remove all children in lockups and redirect them to appropriate places of safety;
    •    Provide a timeline for the construction of new juvenile facilities; and
    •    Instruct the minister of health to outline the steps that will ensure the longevity of the CDA so that it operates well and also does its job adequately.

    Tags: Social inclusion, Jamaica, Children

  • Colombia Abandons Education Reform Law

    November 15, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Colombian Minister of Education María Fernanda Campo announced today that the ministry will scrap the controversial higher education reform, Ley 30, which is currently in the hands of Congress. The government’s concession on the issue marks a major victory for public university and high school students and labor unions that have banded together to stage nationwide protests. Their actions have paralyzed major streets in the nation’s capital; activists have also occupied several public universities in opposition to the law.

    During a press conference last month, Minister Campo maintained that the government “will not revoke the reform because it will only bring benefits.” But responding to sustained pressure from students, the minister said on Tuesday that the government would officially kill the bill in Congress within the next 24 hours and called for a meeting as soon as this week between the government, students, professors, and school directors to discuss new higher education reforms.

    President Juan Manuel Santos and Minister Campo have vigorously defended Ley 30 over the past several weeks, saying that the reforms will strengthen the university system by investing $3.5 billion into higher education over the next decade, boosting enrolment by 600,000 and offering scholarships to top students. But students fear that the reforms will undermine the autonomy of universities and raise the cost of education; another concern is that an influx of students will overwhelm already cash-strapped universities. The student opposition to Ley 30, led by Colombia's National Student Round Table (MANE), responded to Tuesday’s announcement saying they will only return to the negotiating table once the bill is officially withdrawn.

    Tags: Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, Colombian Congress, Student Protests, Higher Education Reform, Minister Maria Fernanda Campo, Colombian Universities, Law 30

  • Mujeres indígenas en Guatemala con pocos avances en participación ciudadana

    November 14, 2011

    by Hector Javier Tecum

    La participación ciudadana de las mujeres en Guatemala—especialmente las indígenas—ha experimentado muy pocos avances, según han indicado distintas lideresas y activistas de derechos humanos y organizaciones de mujeres quienes ven con preocupación que aún no hay oportunidades para que ellas puedan pasar de ser simples electoras a ser sujetas de elección popular.

    Uno de los pocos aspectos positivos en relación a la participación política de las mujeres es el hecho que—por primera vez en la historia del país—el padrón general registra a más mujeres que hombres, lo que puede ser un indicio de que en el futuro las cosas puedan mejorar para este sector de la población, aunque los espacios reales en puestos de toma de decisión aun son muy incipientes.

    Ante esta realidad diversas organizaciones tanto del gobierno como de la sociedad civil, buscan apoyar procesos de formación de las mujeres indígenas con el fin de lograr a futuro una mejor participación. A mediados del mes pasado, la Defensoría de la Mujer Indígena (DEMI), una instancia del gobierno, culminó un proceso de capacitación iniciado en el 2010 en Santa Cruz del Quiché, una ciudad situada a 160 kilómetros al noroccicente de la capital guatemalteca donde un mayor porcentaje de la población es de origen Maya. En este proceso se abordó el tema de la ciudadanía de las mujeres indígenas.

    Tags: Guatemala, Indigenas

  • Major League Catcher Found Alive in Venezuela

    November 14, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Washington Nationals player Wilson Ramos was found alive and unharmed on Friday, two days after being kidnapped at gunpoint from a family home in the provincial city of Valencia. The 24-year-old rookie had returned to Venezuela just a few days before his abduction to begin training with the Tigres de Aragua team, for whom he planned to play during the U.S. off season.

    Ramos’ rescue required the mobilization of significant government resources, including domestic intelligence agencies and National Guard troops. The operation, which lasted 12 hours, first led authorities to a house the kidnappers used to coordinate logistics, and later to a mountain house where Ramos was being held. Ramos was freed after a shootout between his captors and government forces. Speaking to the press over the weekend, Ramos said “they didn’t hurt me physically, but psychologically [the experience] was extremely harmful.”

    Six Venezuelans have been arrested in the case, though the Minister of Justice and the Interior, Tareck El Aissami, said Saturday that the mastermind of the kidnapping is Colombian. Authorities are still looking for him, along with four other Colombians who managed to flee during the rescue operation.

    The case highlights a problem of deteriorating security and growing violence in Venezuela in recent years, an issue that will figure strongly in next year’s presidential elections. According to unofficial statistics, 1,800 people are kidnapped in Venezuela per year. Relatives of Major League players have been victims of kidnappings in the past, though Ramos is believed to be the first player to be taken hostage.

    Next to the Dominican Republic, Venezuela produces the most Major League players of any foreign country, according to 2011 opening-day rosters.

    Tags: Venezuela, Wilson Ramos, Washington Nationals

  • Crime Up, Convictions Down in Mexico, says Human Rights Report

    November 10, 2011

    by AQ Online

    On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report in which it denounced human rights violations at the hands of security forces in Mexico, as well as impunity for drug-related violence. In the Mexico chapter of its 200-page World Report 2011, the human rights organization says it found “strong evidence to suggest that members of Mexican security forces have participated in over 170 cases of torture, 39 disappearances, and 24 extrajudicial executions.” Moreover, noted José Miguel Vivanco, HRW director of the Americas, while there has been a surge in drug-related violence since President Felipe Calderón took office, there has not been a comparable increase in criminal investigations. Only 997 of the 45,000 deaths related to drug violence have been formally investigated, and of those, a mere 22 have resulted in convictions. Vivanco also noted that, since the crimes are often attributed to disputes between drug cartels, the deaths of the victims are sometimes dismissed.

    In the latest edition of Americas Quarterly, released yesterday, Alejandro Poiré, director of Mexico’s Center for Intelligence and National Security, and José Merino, professor of political science at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, debate the possibility of success in Mexico’s war on drugs.  Poiré believes the war can be won, asserting, “Mexico has chalked up major victories—and will continue to do so, thanks to its multi-track approach that focuses not just on eliminating drug trafficking, but on building stronger law enforcement institutions and reinforcing our social fabric.” Merino, on the other hand, argues, “If winning means eliminating all drug production, trade and consumption, then the only honest answer is ‘no.’ The strategic lines drawn by the Mexican government rely on ‘containment and weakening’ criminal organizations, not ‘elimination,’” he says.

    José Miguel Vivanco delivered the report in person to judicial authorities, military officials and President Calderón—noting that this last meeting was surprisingly constructive. The HRW report recommends a reform of the military justice code such that human rights violations committed by members of the armed forces be tried in civil rather than military courts. It also demands that the code prohibit admitting into court testimony obtained through torture.

    Tags: Felipe Calderon, Drug Cartels in Mexico, Human Rights Watch

  • Panamá Vista por Una Boliviana

    November 10, 2011

    by Cecilia Lanza

    ¡Bang! ¡bang!. Viene un tipo, viene otro, luego serán más. Drogas, dólares y mucha sangre. Aquí todos matan a todos. ¡Bang! ¡bang! Una típica película hollywoodense del hampa chicana. Aunque esta vez el escenario es Panamá, la película es panameña y su autor es Panamalo.

    Panamalo no cuenta su película. La actúa. Tiene ese idéntico gesto de matón de barrio turbio. Cambia la postura sacando un poco la panza, echando los hombros para atrás, abriendo los brazos, ostentando un par de pulseras y un reloj demasiado grande para su estatura. Tuerce los labios hacia abajo, burlón, y habla en un tono Caribe veloz, do mayor, casi ininteligible (por aquí diríamos que tiene una papa caliente en la boca). Los ojos le brillan. Casi, casi quisiera que eso que imagina fuese real. Pronto dirá, enfático: “Es real”. Es más, su protagonista, el malo, el corrupto, es—dice Panamalo—el vicepresidente. No se sabe si se refiere a la ficción o habla del gobierno actual de su país. Aunque al mismo tiempo, y a estas alturas, todos sabemos que Panamalo sabe lo que dice.

    No fue difícil llamarlo Panamalo. Un joven panameño aspirante a director de cine. El caso es que Panamalo reniega y no se tapa la boca. Se sienta y me cuenta que allí donde estamos, en Ciudad del Saber, vivían los norteamericanos. Esos insoportables que ocuparon desde el siglo pasado 16 kilómetros de territorio panameño, ocho a cada lado del Canal de Panamá. Y que todo “su” territorio era inviolable y al que los panameños no podían entrar—¡en su propio país!, Panamalo alza la voz y sus ojos se inflan—, pero que los gringos podían, libremente, pasar y pisar la ciudad. Ellos tenían todo—relata Panamalo torciendo la boca, como cuando cuenta su película: sus supermercados, sus escuelas, sus centros médicos, sus cines, sus parques de diversión, sus viviendas, todo. Se llamaban y hasta ahora se llaman “zonians”. Es decir, nacidos en la zona—entonces norteamericana—del Canal. Ciertamente no eran panameños, no. Eran norteamericanos, aunque…tampoco. Eran “zonians”.

    Y Panamalo pronuncia esta palabra como si hablase inglés. Habla. Es más, su esposa es norteamericana. Ajá.

    Desde que los norteamericanos habitaron Panamá desde 1914 hasta 1999, los panameños tienen un conflicto de identidad.  (Lo mismo que los “zonians” en los Estados Unidos quienes se reúnen anualmente en la Florida, “dominan los dos idiomas, bailan como panameños y actúan como gringos”. De hecho, John McCain es un “zonian”). Panamalo nos lleva a su bar preferido en el Casco Viejo de la ciudad cuyo dueño es un neoyorquino que dice no hablar español pero que cuando nadie lo oye, habla a la perfección. Allí está Felix que dice “hola” queriendo decir “hi”. Porque inmediatamente después comienza a hablar en inglés. Lo interpelo un poco bromeando y entonces saca del fondo de su memoria sus orígenes panameños—nació en Panamá—pero Felix tiene el corazón partido porque se crió en Puerto Rico. So, tú sabes. Y de ahí a Nueva York, no es nada. Entonces, Felix recupera la pose y dice “I am the boss, you know?” y mira a Panamalo pidiendo aprobación.

    Panamalo tiene un país atorado en la garganta. Y cada que puede, escupe. Porque sólo él ha podido responderme ¿por qué en un país con 20 mil millones de dólares anuales de producto interno bruto para sólo 3 millones de habitantes, hay 37 por ciento de pobreza? La anécdota son aquellos hermosos edificios que se yerguen en la ciudad más promisoria de América Latina pero que están deshabitados porque—dicen las malas lenguas—son fruto del lavado de dólares del narcotráfico y la corrupción interna y la de los vecinos más próximos. El resto de la respuesta es casi previsible. ¡Bang! ¡bang! Panamalo.

    Cecilia Lanza
    es una bloguera que contribuye a AQ Online y vive en La Paz, Bolivia.

    Tags: Panama, Security in Panama, Panama Canal

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    November 9, 2011

    by AS-COA Online

    From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.

    Sign up to receive the Weekly Roundup via email.

    Former General Wins Guatemalan Election

    Otto Pérez Molina, a former general who promised to take a mano dura (iron fist) to Guatemala’s rising crime problem, won Guatemala’s presidential election on November 6, capturing close to 54 percent of the vote. In an article for Time’s Global Spin blog, Tim Padgett says Guatemala needs a more effective police force, prosecuters, and judges rather than an iron fist. Writing for the Latin American Herald Tribune, COA’s Eric Farnsworth notes: “Guatemala’s task, along with others of its Latin American neighbors, is to develop effective democratic institutions that go beyond periodic elections.”

    Ortega’s Rival Contests Nicaraguan Election Results

    In Nicaragua’s November 6 election, current President Daniel Ortega coasted to reelection, capturing more than 60 percent of the vote—twice the percentage of his closest rival, Fabio Gadea. However, Gadea refuses to concede citing a "plague of irregularities." Among them, says Gadea, lies the questionable legality of Ortega’s second term. In an AQ web exclusive, James Bosworth puts Nicaragua’s electoral events in the context of other contested Latin American elections and explores what could come next. 

    Obama Signs Economic Development Agreement with El Salvador

    In an interview with El Salvador’s El Diario de Hoy, U.S. President Barack Obama explained the Partnership for Growth Initiative. Signed on November 3, the plan was originally proposed during Obama’s visit to El Salvador in March. The plan aims to aid development and growth in El Salvador through increased investment, public-private partnerships, and technical support. Commenting on the plan, Obama said: “The success of this partnership will be seen through teamwork between the government of El Salvador, the private sector, international partners, and the Salvadoran people.”

    Calderón’s Sister Vies For Governorship in Mexico

    President Felipe Calderón’s older sister Luisa Maria Calderón is running for governor of Michoacán state on the National Action Party (PAN) ticket in the November 13 elections. If she wins, the victory could give a much-needed boost to Calderón’s beleaguered party before the 2012 presidential elections, reports Reuters.

    Read More

    Tags: Nicaraguan Elections, SB 1070, President Daniel Ortega, Otto Perez Molina, Guatemalan Elections, DEA Afghanistan

  • Oil and Education in Brazil

    November 9, 2011

    by Eduardo J. Gomez

    The author also wrote “Dilma’s Education Dilemma” in the Fall 2011 issue of AQ.

    When Dilma Rousseff assumed the Brazilian presidency in January 2011, she inherited perhaps Brazil’s most challenging socioeconomic issue to date: improving its education system. In recent years, Brazil has registered low rankings in international standardized assessments of topics like writing, reading comprehension and math. When coupled with other longstanding issues like inadequate federal funding as well as insufficient human and infrastructural resources, Brazil’s system is simply not able to keep up with the economy’s growing demands—especially in the high-tech sector.

    Nevertheless, my article in the Fall 2011 issue of Americas Quarterly explains the delicacy of improving system: while increasing federal spending for education, Dilma must find ways to prune the budget, reduce fiscal deficits and keep foreign investors happy. By following in the footsteps of her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula), Dilma will turn to state-owned resources like oil to fund education policies—and maintain or increase the level of foreign investment.

    Federal efforts to address the decline in educational performance began under Lula. While education reform was also important under the Cardoso administration (1994-2002), the Lula administration sought to expand and use its oil resources in order to fund education policy rather Cardoso’s approach which had been to pursue privatization and decentralization. In response to the discovery of new Pré-Sal (pre-salt) oil reserves off of the coast of Rio de Janeiro in 2007, before two years had passed Lula created a new federal agency for the national reserves and a “social fund” within the agency. This social fund uses approximately half of Pré-Sal’s earnings to fund education policy, signaling a clear break from Cardoso’s anti-statist approach to education policy—that is, to strategically expand and use state-owned resources in order to enhance the quality of education.

    Read More

    Tags: Education, oil, Dilma Rousseff, Bolsa Familia

  • Chinese Labor Record in Peruvian Mines Questioned

    November 9, 2011

    by AQ Online

    An article in the fall issue of Americas Quarterly, released today, explores the record of Chinese state-owned mining corporations on labor and the environment. In “Do Chinese Mining Companies Exploit More?” three researchers from the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) explore the impact of China’s foreign direct investment in natural resource extraction in Peru—underlining China’s increasing economic footprint in emerging regions like Latin America.

    The article highlights an issue that is of growing concern. Just this month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a 122-page report outlining labor abuses by Chinese firms operating in copper mines in Zambia. The HRW paper states that the Chinese firms clamp down on union activity, promote low pay compared to the international average of copper mines, enforce 18-hour workdays, and operate mines with workplace safety concerns. The Chinese embassy in the Zambian capital of Lusaka has flatly denied HRW’s charges.

    In comparing the practices of two OECD-owned companies to those of two Chinese companies, the PIIE scholars note some alarming differences in adherence to international labor and environmental standards. For example, the Shougang Corporation, which purchased the Hierro Perú mine in 1992, “angered the local population by cutting the Peruvian workforce in half and bringing in Chinese laborers. It reduced the quantity and quality of workers’ housing, while leaving blocks of homes once occupied by workers vacant in a town with an acute housing shortage.”

    Nonetheless, Chinese firms may be treading a different path since the days of their earliest investments. According to the PIIE research, the Aluminum Corporation of China “appears to be working to avoid the behavior of Shougang.” It has not imported labor from China, has conducted public hearings with members of the local community, and has invested in infrastructure and community development.

    Tags: Human Rights, Peru, China, Labor rights, mining, OECD

  • Chile Will Create Telecommunications Regulatory Agency

    November 8, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Yesterday President Sebastián Piñera signed a bill to create the Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones, an agency expected to supervise Chile’s $30 million-telecommunications industry. Accompanied by the Minister of Transporation and Telecommunications Pedro Errázuriz, Piñera said the goal of the bill—which will now be sent to Congress—is to “ensure a deeper control that allows the protection of consumers’ rights and the rapid resolution of conflicts between users and service providers.”

    The size of the industry and the lack of a proper regulatory infrastructure to support it motivated the bill. According to official data from the Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas, Chile has more cellphones than people. In September 2010 the country showed 100 percent penetration with 17.6 million cellphones for a population of 17.1 million people. In addition, there are 3.5 million fixed lines and 2 million cable TV subscribers, accounting for 98 percent of households being provided the telecommunications service. “With this level of demand we must worry about the quality of the service,” said Minister Errázuriz.

    The government expects the bill to be approved by the end of 2012 and the agency to be operational by 2013. Among the tasks that the new agency would have under its control are ensuring that service providers comply with the law, enforcing the regulation (with fines up to 1,000 per cent), issuing and terminating licenses, collecting and administering information about the sector, and regulating prices. Currently, the system is administered by the Subsecretaría de Telecomunicaciones (Subtel). In practice, once the Superintendencia starts working it will take charge of Subtel’s control and punitive attributions, while the Subsecretaría will keep promoting the industry’s development and growth.

    The bill to create the regulatory agency is part of a comprehensive plan to reform the sector. During the last 20 months, other improvements have taken place such as unblocking cellphones, a neutral network, mobile number portability, and most recently the completion of the first phase of a plan to remove charges for domestic long-distance calls. So far, over six million customers have benefitted from this elimination.

    Tags: Chile, Sebastian Piñera, Telecommunications, Regulatory Agency, Subtel

  • Learning from Gilberto Gil’s Efforts to Promote Digital Culture For All

    November 7, 2011

    by Paulo Rogério

    Please find the original text below, submitted in Portuguese.

    In Brazil, one name is synonymous with the digital culture movement: singer and songwriter Gilberto Gil. He has been referred to as a cyber-activist, warrior for free software and a “minister of hacking”—and he is considered the “ambassador” of this cause.

    Gil has made a career out of challenging conventional wisdom and showing sufficient interest in the role that the Internet is playing in transforming the world. At a recent festival in São Paulo called youPIX, the singer, who turns 70 next year, was keen to stress the importance of how the Internet has challenged the status quo in politics, business and society.

    It turns out Gil practices what he preaches. In June of this year, he provided all his discography to mobile platforms like Apple and Android. Gil is one of the great enthusiasts of the copyleft—a concept advocating openness and transparency by opposing the copyrighting of artistic works.

    Known worldwide for his tropicalista songs—referring to the rhythm he invented with the Bahian Caetano Veloso—Gil was one of the two first musicians in Brazil to talk about the importance of digital culture. Even in the 1960s, he was a renegade in releasing a song called “Electronic Brain” which talked about robotics. By the 1990s, he unveiled “Through the Internet,” a song that predicted the potential unifying power of the Internet. The song became an anthem of sorts for Brazilian cyber-activists. 

    Tags: Brazil, Digital Divide, Social inclusion, Gilberto Gil

  • Guatemala, Nicaragua Decide in Presidential Election

    November 7, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Guatemala and Nicaragua went to the polls yesterday to (re)elect their presidents; Otto Pérez Molina was declared the victor in Guatemala, while Nicaragua is still tabulating its votes. Pérez Molina, of the Partido Patriota (Patriot Party–PP) defeated Manuel Baldizón of the Libertad Democrática Renovada (Renewed Democratic Freedom–LIDER) party in Guatemala’s runoff election. Neither candidate had secured a majority vote in the September 11 primary.

    Guatemala’s election authority, the Tribuno Supremo Electoral, notes that the PP got 53.8 percent of the vote and LIDER 46.2 percent. Pérez Molina, a former army general, has pledged to tackle Guatemala’s widespread crime and insecurity with a mano dura (firm hand), partly through hiring and training roughly 10,000 additional police officers and 2500 more soldiers.

    This year’s election was historic for Guatemala because a woman—Roxana Baldetti—will assume the vice-presidency for the first time. Baldetti, a sitting congresswoman, has been a driving force in the PP calling for transparency in Guatemalan politics. She and Pérez Molina have campaigned on the promise to continue the inclusive, pro-poor programs of Sandra Torres, Guatemala’s first lady, which are highly popular. 

    In Nicaragua, President Daniel Ortega and his Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (Sandinista Front of National Liberation—FSLN) are leading in the vote count. Nicaraguan daily La Prensa is reporting that, with 38.8 percent of ballots counted, the FSLN is winning with 63.95 percent, compared to 29.09 percent for its nearest rival, Fabio Gadea of the Partido Liberal Independiente (Liberal Independent Party–PLI). Ortega, who served as president from 1985-1990 and again from 2007 through the present, is widely expected to prevail and assume a third term. Yesterday Ortega’s wife and spokeswoman, Rosario Murillo, proclaimed, “This is the victory of Christianity, socialism and solidarity.”

    Tags: Nicaragua, Guatemala, Daniel Ortega, Otto Perez Molina, Roxana Baldetti, Manuel Baldizon

  • Santos Holds the Line Against the FARC—and Wins

    November 6, 2011

    by Christopher Sabatini and Ryan Berger

    What a difference a decade makes.  The successful operation on Friday by Colombian armed forces that killed Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla kingpin Guillermo León Sáenz—known by his nom de guerre Alfonso Cano—represents another in a series of victories for President Juan Manuel Santos and his counterinsurgency strategy. Santos’s security policy, built on his predecessors’ Andrés Pastrana and Álvaro Uribe, has put the defeat of the FARC in sight—after the 1990s when the region’s longest running civil war appeared to have reached stalemate. 

    While Marxist-inspired guerrilla movements from Guatemala to Argentina put down their arms in the 1980s and 1990s—the result of peace negotiations and democratic transitions—the FARC rebels and the National Liberation Army (ELN), have plagued Colombia for nearly five decades. Both forces claim to represent Colombia’s peasants and at times have managed to control large swaths of territory in Colombia’s rugged rural areas.  Though they continue to wrap themselves in the rhetoric of class struggle, both of the groups long ago became little more than armed criminal syndicates bankrolled by the drug trade in cocaine and other illicit narcotics, illicit commerce in gems, extortion, and kidnapping.

    But the assassination of Cano, 63, referred to by Santos as “el número uno,” calls into question the long-term viability of the FARC.  Shortly after it had happened, Santos’s press office released a statement vowing that the FARC had reached a “breaking point.”

    Cano had assumed operational control of the FARC in March 2008 after one of its founders—Manuel Marulanda, also known as Tirofijo (Sure Shot)—died of natural causes. That same month, Colombian troops killed Raul Reyes, the chief FARC spokesman and member of its seven-person Secretariat. Then in July of that year, the Colombian army launched a successful mission that rescued Íngrid Betancourt, a senator and presidential candidate at the time of her capture in 2002, and 14 other hostages.

    These successive events illustrated the army’s increasing infiltration into FARC operations. They were the result of Plan Colombia, the U.S.-backed program of financial aid, military training and intelligence cooperation.

    Read More

    Tags: Colombia, Crime, Alvaro Uribe, FARC, Juan Manuel Santos, Plan Colombia, Andres Pastrana

  • From Guatemala. A Preview of the Presidential Election on Sunday

    November 5, 2011

    by Nic Wirtz and Kara Andrade

    Guatemalans head to the polls again tomorrow for the second round of their 2011 presidential elections that pits LIDER’s Manuel Baldizón against Patriot Party’s Otto Pérez Molina, a former army general during the height of the country’s civil war in the 1980s.

    During the first round held on September 11, Pérez Molina secured a 13 percent lead over his rival, but not enough to ensure the 50 percent required by national law to claim victory.

    In a surprisingly muted secondary phase of campaigning, Pérez Molina is still the favorite to win, with a 42 to 58 percent voter base according to a poll on Thursday in Prensa Libre, one of the leading national newspapers.

    Iduvina Hernandez Batres, Director of Seguridad en Democracia paints a grim picture of the election. She said, “We are living in a state of risk in Guatemala. And with the chapina curse. That curse is that we have to choose between two criminals.”

    Read More

    Tags: Guatemala, Election

  • Ortega Poised for Victory in Nicaragua’s Presidential Election

    November 4, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Electoral campaigns for Sunday’s presidential and legislative elections closed on Wednesday night, with polls predicting that incumbent president Daniel Ortega will win another term. According to the latest Cid Gallup poll, Ortega, of the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) party, leads with 48 percent of the voting intention. His nearest rival, 79-year-old Fabio Gadea of the Partido Liberal Independiente (PLI), trails at 30 percent. Former president Arnoldo Alemán (1997–2002) comes in third at 11 percent. According to Nicaraguan electoral law, a presidential candidate wins the election with a 40 percent plurality of votes, or 35 percent with a 5 percentage-point lead over the second-place candidate.

    Ortega's high popularity at home is due in large part to an economy that has stabilized during his first term and is experiencing comparatively high growth for the region (next to Panama, it had the fastest growth in Central America in 2010). In addition, thanks to half a billion dollars a year in low-interest, long-term loans from Venezuela, Ortega’s government has given out generous subsidies for transport and electricity and increased spending on social programs, including an update of the land registry and anti-hunger measures.

    Even as Ortega is poised to win, his running for office poses constitutional questions. Nicaragua’s constitution bans any president from serving more than two terms, or serving consecutive terms; Ortega, who served as president from 1979 – 1990 and returned to power in 2007, is barred on both accounts. Yet in 2009 Nicaragua’s Supreme Court, the Consejo Supremo Electoral (CSE), declared that the law did not apply to Ortega.

    In addition, Sunday’s voting, which includes elections for legislative positions in addition to those of the president and vice president, has already been fraught with claims of wrongdoing. The government has been slow and selective in distributing cedulas, identity cards used for voting, and it is not allowing full international observation of the elections—only “accompaniment” by EU and Organization of American States delegates. The CSE has not accredited any domestic civil society organizations to monitor the elections, a move criticised by the EU and OAS.

    Tags: Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua elections, FSLN

  • Hacking for Freedom in Mexico: The Anonymous Movement

    November 4, 2011

    by Arjan Shahani

    On November 5, if the threats posted are real, Mexico could be witness to a new kind of civil resistance to the status quo and political system. Mexican and international members of the hacker group known as Anonymous, have published through different media (interviews to news papers, YouTube videos and twitter accounts) that although #OpCartel has been cancelled, a former member of the network and independent journalist will divulge information of ties between specific high-level government officials and the criminal organization Los Zetas, initially in the state of Veracruz but potentially in all of the country.

    Anonymous officially backed down from unleashing #OpCartel allegedly due to the fact that their kidnapped member was released by the Zetas, but also due to threats from this group of a tenfold retaliation against the families of members in the hacker organization. Barrett Brown’s (@BarrettBrownLOL) decision to reveal information on the drug cartel on his own volition might just be a way to protect the Mexican Anonymous members while continuing to carry out the hackers' intended agenda. If the campaign is successful, the actions initiated by Anonymous and supposedly continued solely by Brown, could lead to a nationwide political scandal at incisively interesting pre-election times for the country.

    In recent articles published here, I’ve posited that regardless of the people in power, Mexico’s core problems are systemic. The political structure in place not only allows, but even invites corrupt practices to take place. Collusion between politicians and criminals is widely suspected. Mexicans know the story all too well and the constant element present in each of the challenges we face as a country is lack of accountability and immense impunity, which is now being challenged by the actions of a rogue hacker group who could open up Pandora’s box and shed some light on the subject.

    Read More

    Tags: Mexico, Security

  • Is the American Dream in Peril?

    November 3, 2011

    by John Parisella

    In 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama spoke a lot about hope, and his book The Audacity of Hope became a best-seller. His campaign later was all about hopes and dreams. But times have changed. Today we have the Tea Party from the Right, active and influencing the mainstream GOP.  The Occupy Wall Street movement from the Left is still very much in the news offering a different assessment of what ails America. This is a time where the outer edges of the political spectrum are dominating the news and affecting the mood of the country.

    The 2008 recession continues to leave its mark on families and the social fabric of the nation. This goes a long way in explaining the emergence of populist movements: high unemployment, huge deficits, increasing debt, and income disparity make the general population more concerned about the direction of the country than at any time in recent memory.  Is the country on an inevitable decline?  Are hopes and dreams just part of the political rhetoric spewed by politicians on the hustings?  Has America seen its best days?

    Read More

    Tags: Barack Obama, Recession, Occupy Wall Street

  • Peru Seeks to Mediate Mining Conflict

    November 3, 2011

    by AQ Online

    The Peruvian Minister of Mines and Energy Carlos Herrera told Congress on Wednesday that the $4.8 billion Minas Conga mine project would not continue without the approval of the local community. “Projects should be approved by the people who will be affected by them," said Minister Herrera. Accompanied by the ministers of agriculture and the environment, Minister Herrera traveled to the project site in the northern Cajamarca region late Wednesday to negotiate an accord between the American mining company Newmont Mining and the local community.

    Minas Conga is being developed in collaboration with Peruvian mining company Buenaventura and is expected to produce between 580,000 and 680,000 ounces of gold per year, starting in 2015. But local residents are concerned that the mine’s proximity to a water basin will cause pollution and sap vital water supplies. Responding to protests by local communities, some of which turned violent, Minister Herrera told Congress that "the position of the government is that it wants investment, but not at any price."

    While it is unlikely that the project will be abandoned, Prime Minister Salomón Lerner Ghitis said on Wednesday that the government will carry out a "strict" evaluation of the mine’s environmental impact. On the other hand, the National Mining, Oil and Energy Society (SNMPE) said the government “cannot allow small, violent groups to impede inclusive development and private investment." An Americas Quarterly article to be released in the Fall issue on November 9 ("Do Chinese Mining Companies Exploit More?") looks at the labor rights and environmental records of Chinese mines in Peru.

    As the world’s sixth largest gold producer, mines like Conga have fueled Peru’s stunning 7 percent annual growth rate. At the same time, President Ollanta Humala has made social inclusion a priority for his administration, promising to resolve the countless social and environmental conflicts plaguing Peru—many of them over mining and oil projects. President Humala will address the issue of responsible investment and social inclusion at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas Latin American Cities Conference in Lima tomorrow.

    Tags: Peru, mining, President Ollanta Humala, Minister Carlos Herrera, Minas Conga

  • Decidir sobre nuestro cuerpo, un derecho inacabado en México

    November 2, 2011

    by Yoloxóchitl Casas Chousal

    En los últimos seis años de gobierno panista bajo la dirección del Presidente Felipe Calderón, 16 estados de 32 entidades federativas que conforman México han cambiado sus constituciones locales para defender la vida humana desde el momento de la concepción.

    La Constitución mexicana salvaguarda el derecho de las mujeres y de las parejas a decidir sobre el número y espaciamiento de las y los hijos, por lo que las recientes enmiendas de las constituciones locales devienen inconstitucionales, incluso ante la prohibición del uso de la píldora del día después y la fertilización in vitro.

    La propuesta del ministro Fernando Franco de declarar fuera del marco de la Constitución general mexicana estas reformas estatales, ha despertado un gran debate en el que han tomado partido varias figuras públicas de alto nivel y defensores de derechos humanos como José Narro, rector de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, máxima casa de estudios en México o del ombudsman nacional, Raúl Plascencia.

    Sin menospreciar las declaraciones del propio jefe de gobierno del Distrito Federal, Marcelo Ebrard, quien se ha manifestado –profusamente y en repetidas ocasiones—en favor del respeto a la libre decisión de las mujeres sobre su cuerpo, la arenga pública ha advertido que este tipo de prohibiciones pone en entredicho el Estado laico. Pocas naciones en el mundo pueden presumir de esta condición que a México le costó varias guerras y muertes entre los siglos diecinueve y veinte en aras de construir una nación fuerte y democrática.

    Pero en este periodo aciago que México vive y la llegada de mentes conservadoras a puestos de poder han inclinado la balanza para que nuestro país se hunda más en el oscurantismo. Tras haber sido durante décadas una nación que mantenía un respetado liderazgo en América Latina, actualmente México—con niveles de desempleo superiores a los vistos en los periodos de crisis, con tasas de crecimiento a la baja durante los últimos 10 años, y en donde se ha recrudecido la violencia contra las mujeres (feminicidio)—se pone a la vanguardia en un afán irrevocable por volver a la ignorancia.

    Tags: Mexico, Felipe Calderon, Women's rights, Abortion

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    November 2, 2011

    by AS-COA Online

    From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.

    Sign up to receive the Weekly Roundup via email.

    Petro Wins Mayoralty of Bogota on Anti-Corruption Platform

    Gustavo Petro, a former presidential candidate and leftist guerrilla, won the mayoralty of Bogota in highly contested elections on October 30. Petro, an independent candidate, won 32.2 percent of the vote, beating his closest runner-up, Enrique Peñalosa, by 7 points, or 150,000 votes. A former Socialist senator, Petro campaigned as an independent with a fierce anti-corruption platform in a city whose last mayor was suspended and jailed in connection with corruption scandals. However, El Tiempo reports that the election was marked by a high rate of abstention, with 52.64 percent of bogotanos not participating. Such a high rate of abstention has occurred previously in Colombia, as in the 2007 election.

    Colombia Dissolves Controversial Intelligence Agency

    On October 31, the Colombian government officially dissolved the Administrative Department of Security (DAS), an agency tainted by scandals, including allegations of espionage and ties to paramilitary groups. Latin American News Dispatch reports that the agency will be replaced with a department connected to the executive branch, called the National Intelligence Agency. The dismantling of the agency came after the largest intelligence leak in Colombian history in September 2011, when it came to light that DAS employees sold thousands of classified documents containing sensitive intelligence information.

    Chinese Minister Expands Military Cooperation on LatAm Tour

    China's Vice President of the Central Military Commission, Colonel General Guo Boxiong, is on a three-country tour of Latin America this week. In Cuba, he met with President Raúl Castro and military leaders, promising to deepen bilateral ties. In Colombia, he signed an agreement to donate $1.5 million to the Colombian government for defense and military investments. He arrived in Peru today, where he will sign bilateral military cooperation agreements. Bloomberg covers the recently signed U.S.-Colombia trade agreement, commenting that it may have been too little too late, pushing Colombia to look for other partners such as China. Says AS/COA’s Eric Farnsworth: “The delay in passing this called into question the United States’ reliability as a partner.” 

    Read More

    Tags: Zetas, Bogota Mayor, Colombian Intelligence Agency, President Raul Castro, Republican Immigration

  • Stephen Harper: The Debate over the Gun Registry

    November 2, 2011

    by Huguette Young

    Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a man in a hurry. But the pace at which he’s pushing through controversial legislation and dismissing the views of the opposition parties has even surprised Tory supporters. And he’s not making any friends in the process.

    Barely two months after the start of the September parliamentary session, Harper has managed to anger the province of Québec for vowing to destroy data compiled in the federal long-gun registry.

    For years, the Conservatives have argued that the long-gun registry, which collects data on duck and big game hunters, was costly, ineffective and useless at preventing crime. Start-up costs ballooned to about $2 billion. Set up by the previous Liberal government in 1995, the registry was meant as a tool to help police officers check if there were guns in the house when responding to calls. The names of hunters and the types and number of hunting rifles and shotguns on their premises were compiled in a national databank.

    Hunters objected furiously, saying it branded them as criminals. Gun owners had to register their guns for a fee and submit to a background check. (A registry for prohibited firearms and assault weapons remains in effect.)

    Supporters of the gun registry argued it saved lives. In the province of Québec, the opposition to dismantling the registry was fierce. This is a result of the still-lingering emotional reaction to a killing spree at the Montréal Polytechnique School in 1989 that took the lives of 14 women—an event that prompted the establishment of the gun registry.

    Read More

    Tags: Canada, Stephen Harper

  • Honduran Police Step Up Anti-Narcotrafficking Measures

    November 2, 2011

    by AQ Online

    In efforts to combat an ongoing wave of narcotics-related violence, police forces  in Honduras yesterday moved in on cities and neighborhoods dominated by criminal gangs. The mission, endorsed by President Porfirio Lobo and referred to as Operation Lightning, began in the large population centers of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. Lobo pledged to “do everything possible within the law to reduce the impunity that makes us all indignant.”

    On Monday, the Associated Press reported that Honduras “has become a main transit route for South American cocaine” bound for the United States, and that Honduran authorities—in cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and other partners—only intercept about 5 percent of the cargo.

    According to the 2011 Global Study on Homicide, commissioned by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and released last month, Honduras had the highest murder rate in the world last year: 82.1 homicides per 100,000 people. El Salvador, Honduras’ neighbor in the Northern Triangle, registered the second-highest homicide rate: 66 per 100,000 people.

    Further, earlier this week Lobo fired his top police commanders in a measure to tackle corruption; four Honduran officers serving prison sentences for murder had been released from jail, inflaming public discontent.

    Tags: Crime, Honduras, Drug Trafficking, Porfirio Lobo, Insecurity

  • The Guatemalan Government’s Apology for the 1954 Coup

    November 1, 2011

    by Nic Wirtz and Kara Andrade

    On October 20, the day of Guatemala’s revolution, the country’s government formally apologized to the family of former President Juan Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán, who was deposed in a coup in 57 years ago.

    “I want to apologize to the family for the great crime committed on June 27, 1954,” said President Alvaro Colom at the National Palace in Guatemala City. “A crime committed against the former president, his wife, his family. It was a historic crime for Guatemala—that day changed Guatemala and we have not recuperated from it since.”

    It was a small ceremony held on a national public holiday to celebrate Revolution Day and only a few weeks before the second round of the election this weekend. In attendance were Jacobo Arbenz Vilanova, son of the ex-president, the government's cabinet, diplomats, national institutions, and, the list of people presented by the family.


    Jacobo Arbenz Vilanova, son of the former president, receives the book Mi Esposo el Señor Presidente, a biography written by his mother, María Vilanova. Photo courtesy of Kara Andrade.

    “There was no intentionality election-wise or because it's the end of the government,” said Dora Ruth del Valle Cóbar, president of Centro de Comunicación y Prensa Alternativa para el Desarrollo Humano (COPADEH). “It's our responsibility and since it's the first 20th of October that we have after signing the agreement with the victims.”

    Read More

    Tags: Guatemala, Juan Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán

  • Chinese Deliver Major Loan to Ecuador

    November 1, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Ecuador confirmed on Monday that it had received $1.3 billion from the China Development Bank (CDB), the first installment of a $2 billion loan signed in Beijing in June. The Ecuadorian Ministry of Finance is free to use the loan for whatever purposes it deems  appropriate.  The remaining $700 million that is included in the loan will be delivered in the next months and will be used to finance priority projects in areas such as infrastructure, energy and agriculture. Chinese companies are active in Ecuador in these sectors. 

    The $2 billion loan—with an eight-year term and a 6.9 percent fixed annual interest rate—was signed by William Vasconez, Ecuador’s undersecretary of public credit. The loan helps the Ecuadorian government in its quest to come up with alternative financing sources after the country was shut out of international credit markets in 2008.

    The receipt of the $1.3 billion adds to a growing financial relationship between the two countries. Since 2009, when Ecuador defaulted on $3.2 billion of bonds, the Andean country has received $6.68 billion from China to finance various projects. In June 2010, for example, the Export-Import Bank of China agreed to finance a $1.68 billion, 1,500-megawatt hydropower plant to be built by China’s state-owned Sinohydro Corporation in the Amazon region. This adds to the $1 billion-loan PetroChina Co., China’s largest oil producer, released in February 2011 in exchange for future oil sales.

    Tags: Ecuador, China, country loan

  • From Colombia. The Victory of Gustavo Petro, Bogotá’s Newly Elected Mayor

    October 31, 2011

    by Andrés Mejía Vergnaud

    One year ago, Gustavo Petro, a former senator and presidential candidate, called a press conference along with his friend Carlos Vicente de Roux (a member of Bogotá’s city Council) and Senator Luis Carlos Avellaneda. At this conference, Petro and his friends presented the results of an inquiry, conducted by themselves, on what by that time was already known as the “Cartel of Contracts,” a multi-million dollar racket involving the infamous Nule Group, a network of corporations that had been awarded important contracts in Bogotá. Gustavo Petro and his friends, all of them members of Polo Democrático, Colombia’s biggest left-leaning party, demanded the prosecution of two prominent members of their own party: Samuel Moreno, the mayor of Bogotá, and his brother Iván, a senator.

    From the beginning, this request faced a hostile reaction from the ruling group in their party. Partly due to ideological paranoia, Senator Jorge Robledo, for example, labeled the accusations as a far-right conspiracy.

    Read More

    Tags: Colombia, Bogota, Gustavo Petro

  • Gustavo Petro Elected Mayor of Bogotá

    October 31, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Gustavo Petro will be the next mayor of Bogotá after winning 32 percent of the vote in yesterday’s election. Elected to the Senate in 2006, Petro of the Movimiento Progresista (Progressive Movement) party ran on a platform of zero corruption. Enrique Peñalosa conceded after losing to Petro by 7 percentage points; he won 25 percent of total votes.

    Peñalosa, mayor from 1998 to 2001, oversaw development of a rapid transit system during his mandate that has earned praise from urban planners and other Latin American mayors. Peñalosa also enjoyed the support during his campaign of former President Alvaro Uribe. Petro, an ex-guerrilla of the M-19 movement that disbanded in the 1980s, finished fourth in Colombia’s 2010 presidential election.

    In a victory speech, Petro promised his governing attitude would embrace dialogue. He also told Colombian daily El Tiempo that his administration would transfer decision-making power “to the citizenry, by means of the budget and democratic participation.”

    Petro’s message against corruption firmly resonates with bogotanos, particularly as Bogotá’s former mayor, Samuel Moreno, awaits a verdict after being indicted by Colombia’s inspector general last month on charges of fraudulent contracting, embezzlement and extortion regarding public works projects. Petro was instrumental in uncovering the scandal earlier this year. 

    Aside from voting in in the capital district, Colombians went to the polls yesterday to vote for 32 governorships and 1,100 mayoralties and municipal council seats. Petro takes office in January.

    Tags: Colombia, Bogota, Gustavo Petro

  • El centralismo de las elecciones regionales

    October 28, 2011

    by Jenny Manrique

    Hablar de política siempre ha sido una costumbre pasional del colombiano.  Podría uno decir que de cualquier ciudadano del mundo. El tema es que en Colombia con la complejidad de la política, esa pasión a veces es violencia, a veces es calumnia, pero también muchas veces es una verdad incómoda.

    Este domingo es el día de las elecciones regionales en Colombia. El portal que dirijo Votebien.com especializado en cobertura electoral, recibió en las últimas semanas decenas de denuncias sobre candidatos cuestionados en todo el país, quienes podrían representar un peligro para la democracia. Con nuestro músculo periodístico pero también con la seriedad que implica seguir una denuncia ciudadana, completamos una base de datos llamada Vote en Alerta, con 140 aspirantes cuyas candidaturas tienen algún grado de señalamiento. La corroboramos con informes de riesgo de autoridades, entes de control y sociedad civil, y el resultado no es menos que lamentable:

    Colombia irá a las urnas teniendo como aspirantes a algunos sancionados por algún delito o que incluso han estado presos. Un buen número tiene el respaldo de personajes cuestionados, es decir que están en la cárcel o investigados. Y otros tienen ellos mismos el respaldo de grupos ilegales que les están haciendo campaña o están impidiendo que otros la hagan. Lo más grave es que varios de ellos son claros ganadores.

    Read More

    Tags: Colombia

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