Although stocks are not likely to be affected by yesterday’s election, the Brazilian real is likely to continue appreciating ahead of what will now be a second round of voting.
Catching some observers by surprise, presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff, the former chief of staff to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, received 46.9 percent of total votes cast in national elections on Sunday—just shy of the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff election against former São Paulo Governor José Serra. Mr. Serra won 32.6 percent of the votes, followed by Green Party candidate Marina Silva, who captured 19.3 percent.
Going into the election, the Brazilian real, traded at about 1.68 per dollar, its highest level since the September 2008 financial crisis in the United States. This is a clear change from most past elections that have been preceded by market jitters.
With the presidential decision now on hold until a second round on October 31, the government is unlikely to make any moves that could affect the exchange rate. "In the near term, the Brazilian real is likely to continue to strengthen as the government will put off any announcements of policies to help weaken the currency," said Doug Smith of Standard Chartered Bank.
Stay tuned for more election coverage from AQ Blogger, Paulo Rogerio.
(Homepage photo by Roberto Stuckert Filho.)
Susana Villarán appears to have squeaked into Lima’s mayorship with the narrowest of margins, amid fearmongering that the human rights activist could be a “trojan horse” for radical leftists.
Villarán, a moderate, will be Lima’s first leftist mayor since 1983, and the first elected female mayor in five centuries.
With 58.4 percent of the votes counted, Villarán had 38.95 percent, compared with Lourdes Flores, a lawyer and two-time presidential candidate, who secured 36.85 percent. Fernando Tuesta, a respected pollster at Lima’s Catholic University, told Peruvian daily La Republica the margin giving Villarán a victory, although small, was almost certain to stick.
With Peru’s economy bouncing back strongly from last year’s global recession, Lima is benefiting from a boom in construction, strong inflows of foreign direct investment and the rapid growth of a new middle class.
Chávez Lashes out at Reporter after Election
Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez issued a stinging critique of Andreína Flores, a Radio France reporter who questioned how vote tallies correspond to seats won in the National Assembly. Although opposition candidates picked up half the votes, recent redistricting means they captured only a third of the seats in September 26 parliamentary elections compared to the two-thirds snapped up by members of Chávez’s party. “It seems as if you're totally ignoring what happened here, as if you lived on the moon,” said Chávez in response to the reporter. Radio France issued a reply which said that Flores “still has the full confidence of Radio France’s leadership,” and invited Chávez to “speak before the microphones as part of another interview.”
Read an AS/COA news analysis of the results of Venezuela’s September 26 parliamentary elections.
Responding to the dramatic events that transpired on Thursday in Ecuador, leaders from across Latin America expressed their unequivocal support for that country’s president, Rafael Correa. In pan-American solidarity, presidents ranging from Bolivia’s Evo Morales to Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos condemned the police attack on President Correa, which left him captive in a Quito hospital for hours before being freed by a successful military rescue operation late Thursday night.
Members of the police force rioted Thursday to protest a new law reducing benefits and the pace of salary increases for public servants. It was unclear whether they sought actual control of the government.
Heads of states belonging to the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) flew to Buenos Aires late Thursday to participate in an emergency meeting on developments in Ecuador. Only President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, on the campaign trail ahead of Sunday’s presidential elections, and President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay, recovering from chemotherapy treatment, did not attend.
Shortly after the meeting began, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced that Correa had been liberated and was in good health. UNASUR issued a statement denouncing the rebellion and emphasizing the preservation of democracy and institutional order. The South American bloc was joined in its sentiments by the Organization of American States and U.S. State Department.
Earlier in the day, individual heads of state, beginning with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, had issued statements in support of Correa’s democratically elected government. Chilean President Sebastián Piñera urged UNASUR nations to meet to end any attempt to disrupt the constitutional and democratic order in Ecuador, while Cuban leader Fidel Castro called the attack an “already-failed coup d’etat.” Both Peru and Colombia closed their borders with Ecuador in an additional sign of solidarity.
UNASUR foreign ministers are expected to travel to Quito Friday morning “to show their support to President Rafael Correa and to the Ecuadorean people,” according to Argentine Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman.
Click here for a resource guide to the crisis in Ecuador.
At least 10 inmates died in an armed battle between rival gangs in a Venezuelan prison on Wednesday. The violence, which took place in Tocoron prison in the central state of Aragua (75 miles south of Caracas), was reportedly triggered by the murder of a gang leader in the same prison earlier this week. During the eight-hour battle for control of Tocoron, inmates used automatic weapons, and even hand grenades, against other inmates and prison guards.
Police surrounded the prison during the firefight, but were forced to wait outside until the intensity diminished before restoring control. Among the wounded were four female relatives of inmates housed in Tocoron, who were hit by stray bullets while waiting outside for news of their loved ones.
The gang fight at Tocoron highlights the dire conditions in Venezuela’s prisons. More than 220 Venezuelan inmates died in prison in the first quarter of 2010 alone. The violence is due in part to a rampant gang culture that is linked to the country’s drug trade. Prisons are also overcrowded with 40,000 inmates occupying a correctional system that is only meant to accommodate 15,000.
The Bolivian government has gotten itself into a strange debate about free speech. A proposed “law against racism and all forms of discrimination,” which President Evo Morales is strongly backing, would allow the government to shut down newspapers or broadcasters that publish racist material.
Reporters Without Borders says this gives the government broad powers to censor media. For his part, Morales says the law is just part of a push to end
Morales can speak with direct passion on this issue. He is Aymara, from the countryside and he is
Morales grew up hearing stories from his mother about the racism of city people, who drove her off the sidewalks when she came into town and made her walk in the dirt “with the horse, with the animals.” He saw first-hand how impoverished campesinos were routinely turned out of banks and driven away from city centers. And his own story, for him, is symbolic of
A group of women delivered thousands of signatures demanding the restoration of therapeutic abortion to representatives of President Daniel Ortega. The signatures, collected in Europe by Amnesty International, were turned in by leaders of the Strategic Group for the Decriminalization of Therapeutic Abortion, in hopes that international pressure will aid in passing “legislation regarding abortion to be able to save women’s lives,” according to Wendy Flores, one of the group’s leaders.
In Nicaragua, Chile and El Salvador, abortions are illegal under any circumstances, including rape, incest or risk to the mother’s life. According to Flores, women in Nicaragua have died because abortions are inaccessible. She accused the government of withholding data about such deaths. The prohibition on abortions is a recent development, having been outlawed following the 2006 electoral campaign, after being allowed in cases where the mother’s life was at risk for over a century. The decision has been criticized by women’s groups, the physicians’ association of Nicaragua, Human Rights Watch, the United Nations, and the European Union, which have demanded further discussion on the issue.
The petition was coordinated to coincide with an international Day for the Decriminalization of Abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean, which saw protests and rallies in other Latin American countries to decriminalize abortions.
A survey released today by Brazilian polling agency Datafolha shows that voter support for ruling party presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff has fallen to a one-month low of 46 percent, down from 49 percent one week ago and 51 percent the week before. Results from the poll, which surveyed 3,180 people and have a 2 percent margin of error, make it more likely that a runoff will take place four weeks after the first round of voting on October 3. A candidate needs at least 50 percent of the valid vote to win outright.
Analysts suggest corruption allegations against the government are turning well-informed middle-class voters away from President Lula’s hand-picked successor. Last week, Erenice Guerra—who replaced Rousseff as Lula’s chief of staff—resigned over allegations that she sought kickbacks for helping businesses secure contracts and state loans for public work projects. Previously, members of Lula’s Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) were accused of illegally releasing the tax records of opposition candidate José Serra’s daughter.
Serra, of the centrist Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB), has tried to use the recent scandals to his advantage, but data from this most recent poll show that his support among voters has remained steady at 28 percent. Rather, voter support for Partido Verde candidate Marina Silva increased 2 percentage points to 16 percent.
Although the recent scandals and slip in Rousseff’s popularity may affect her ability to win in a first round, they are unlikely to affect the final outcome of the election. Data from the new Datafolha poll show Rousseff beating Serra in a second round, 52 to 39 percent.
The president of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council, Tibisay Lucena, today announced the results of Sunday’s congressional elections. President Hugo Chávez’ United Socialist Party won the majority of seats, 95 out of 165, and the opposition Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Democratic Unified Panel) won 61 seats, according to preliminary results. Two legislators were elected from other parties and the outcome of seven seats remained in question.
With these results, the opposition claimed victory as it won 52 percent of the popular vote. Chávez fell short of his goal on Sunday to win two-thirds of the congressional seats, which would have given him the ability to push through legislation without opposition roadblocks.
Chávez, who had controlled 139 of the congressional seats, refrained from making a public appearance and instead opted to connect via Twitter: “Well my dear compatriots, it’s been a great election day and we’ve obtained a solid victory; enough to continue deepening the Bolivarian revolution and Democratic Socialism. We need to continue strengthening the revolution!”
Ramon Guillermo Aveledo head of the Democratic Unified Panel proclaimed, "we are the majority" and it will "only grow further in the next two years" in reference to the 2012 presidential elections. Political analyst and pollster, Oscar Schemel remains cautious and said “this doesn’t mean that Chávez’ leadership has crumbled.”
El cuerpo hinchado y amoratado de Víctor Julio Suárez (alias el “Mono Jojoy”), desprovisto del bigote que tenía cuando aparecía en los vídeos en que maltrataba a secuestrados, o daba órdenes a sus hombres, fue mostrado al mundo envuelto en unas bolsas plásticas como un trofeo de guerra. “Esta es la bienvenida a las Farc”, dijo el Presidente Juan Manuel Santos en Nueva York, desde donde anunció con júbilo la muerte del líder guerrillero. “Es como si Estados Unidos matara al terrorista Osama Bin Laden”, aseveró orgulloso. También recibió las felicitaciones del propio Barack Obama con quien tuvo su primera reunión bilateral.
Con un mes y medio de mandato en la Casa de Nariño, el flamante presidente logró lo que en sus años de Ministro de Defensa le trasnochaba: acabar con el líder militar de las Farc, considerado la cabeza del ala dura del grupo guerrillero más cerrada a la negociación, intransigente, sanguinario, cruel, autoritario, practicante de la guerra sin límites ni proporcionalidades y responsable de los más duros ataques que haya recibido el ejército y la sociedad civil en más de medio siglo de lucha guerrillera.
No en vano, a nivel judicial sobre Jojoy pesaban no menos de 60 ordenes de captura, 12 medidas de aseguramiento, cinco condenas, dos peticiones de extradición y 25 investigaciones por rebelión, homicidio con fines terroristas, y secuestros, entre otros delitos, como lo reveló Presidente Santos en su alocución presidencial donde dio el parte de victoria.
Las víctimas de Jojoy son innumerables. Fue responsable del ataque a las Delicias, en el sureño departamento de Putumayo donde murieron 37 militares. Otro 60 militares se encontraron en el botín de secuestrados de las Farc, a quienes pretendía canjear por los presos guerrilleros en las cárceles. Hoy, después de liberaciones unilaterales, rescates y fugas, todavía hay 17 víctimas de las tomas de Patascoy, Mitú y Puerto Rico que no han recuperado su libertad. Son las familias de estas personas quienes en Colombia no están celebrando por esta reciente victoria militar. Son ellos que temen que los ánimos de venganza de la Farc se vuelquen contra los suyos. (Ayer expresamente pidieron al comandante Alfonso Cano que respete las vidas de sus seres queridos).
Jojoy también planeó la bomba contra el Nogal, un club donde se reúnen las élites políticas y empresariales del país, que en 2003 fue objeto de un atentado en que murieron 36 civiles. Planeó asesinatos como el de los misioneros estadounidenses, Stephen Everett Welsh y Timothy Van Dick—quienes difundían el catolicismo en comunidades indígenas en Colombia—y del congresista liberal Diego Turbay Cote.
Colombian authorities announced that police have shut down 40 illegal gold mines, confiscated heavy machinery and made 16 arrests for illegal mining linked to armed groups in targeted operations which began on September 11. Under orders from President Juan Manuel Santos, the crackdown took place across a wide area of the northwestern province of Cordoba and the Cauca region and included 400 police officers. The effort to “eradicate illegal mining in the region and harm the finances of the outlaw groups that foment violence with the resources derived from the mines” was coordinated jointly by the Minister for the Environment, Beatriz Uribe and director of the National Police, General Oscar Naranjo.
Illegal mining operations have not only funded criminal activity, but have also been responsible for severe environmental damage to surrounding ecosystems and communities. In comments made at an Americas Society and Council of the Americas dinner in New York last night, President Santos said that his administration will continue to be proactive in eradicating illegal mining operations throughout the country and take the steps needed to repair damage to the country’s rich ecosystem.
Authorities say the illegal mining operations “began with the forced expropriation of land promoted by the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC),” which demobilized in 2006.
Chilean President Sebastián Piñera cautioned Wednesday that if the United States did not move to strengthen its economic ties to Chile and other Latin American countries soon, others would fill the void shortly.
In a speech delivered at Americas Society and Council of the Americas, President Piñera urged the United States to pass long-pending free-trade agreements with Colombia and Panama. He also stated that China, with which a free-trade agreement has been in effect since 2006, is a principal business partner of Chile’s. In addition to copper, China has become a consumer of Chile’s wines and is poised to become the country’s biggest foreign investor.
Piñera used the speech to highlight Chile’s recent economic achievements. With an economy expected to grow 6 percent in 2010, Chile is currently in the midst of “a true economic renaissance,” he said. The country has the second-biggest economy in Latin America and weathered the economic recession well. From March to June 2010, Piñera’s government created 165,000 jobs, bringing the level of unemployment down from 9 percent to 8.3 percent. A net creditor, it is unlikely to borrow very much this year.
In spite of these successes, Piñera outlined a series of measures to address the economic challenges Chile faces. He hopes to create 200,000 new jobs per year and double public investment in education. He also emphasized the goal of eliminating extreme poverty by 2010.
From the 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.
WEF Competitiveness Report: Chile Leads LatAm, Panama Makes Gains
The World Economic Forum released its Global Competitiveness Report for 2010-2011, with Chile remaining the most competitive country in Latin America. Panama posted the largest improvements in the region, pulling ahead of Costa Rica as the most competitive country in Central America, and moving to 53 on the list with boosts to infrastructure, macroeconomic stability, and technological readiness. The report identifies the need to improve infrastructure as a challenge for the region’s competitiveness.
DREAM Act Blocked by Republican Filibuster
An attempt by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to push the DREAM Act through U.S. Congress fell apart on Tuesday. Democrats lacked the necessary votes to start debates on the annual defense authorization bill, on which DREAM Act amendments had been tagged. The legislation, first introduced in 2001 and rejected multiple times, allows undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States before the age of 16 a path to citizenship by attending university or through military service. A Univision.com report argues that the damage done by denying this path to citizenship extends beyond the immigrant community.
Border Governor Meeting Exposes Tensions
Governors from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border wrapped up a tense meeting at the annual binational conference of governors on Monday, reports The New York Times. Arizona originally planned to host the meeting, but canceled it after all six of Mexico’s border governors threatened to boycott due to Arizona’s controversial immigration law. The conference relocated to New Mexico. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and Texas Governor Rick Perry chose to skip the meeting, demonstrating the tensions underlying border issues.
The Summer 2010 issue of Americas Quarterly features a debate between Governor Brewer and New Mexico’s Governor Bill Richardson regarding immigration reform.
Access an AS/COA Resource Guide covering SB1070, Arizona’s controversial immigration bill.
CentAm Countries Added to White House Drug List
The White House announced its list of Illicit Drug Producing Countries for 2011, adding the Central American Countries of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Honduras. An Americas Quarterly blog post argues that the inclusion taps into the theory that drug traffickers are moving their operations into smaller countries to escape anti-trafficking efforts in Mexico and Colombia.
Honduran President Requests UN Support
On the sidelines of the opening 65th UN General Assembly this week, President of Honduras Porfirio Lobo met with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and received Ban’s assurance of the UN’s continued support for Lobo’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee. The agency is investigating human rights issues in the run up to Honduras’ June 2009 coup.
Nicaragua Reprints Constitution, Reenacts Old Law
The Christian Science Monitor reports on a decision by the government of President Daniel Ortega to reprint the Nicaraguan Constitution during a national holiday period and, in the process, reenact a law taken off the books 20 years ago. The law allows public officials such as Supreme Court justices to retain office beyond term limits until new officials are appointed.
Accord Brings S. Korean Factories to Haiti
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive signed an accord with a South Korean manufacturer, giving it the green light to build garment factories in Haiti. Bloomberg reports that “restoring Haiti’s once-profitable garment assembly sector has been a cornerstone of economic plans” since before the January 12 earthquake.
South American Resources May Be Costly Deal for China
A blog post for Reuters Breaking Views argues that aggressive Chinese investment in Latin American resource production may not be worth the costs, despite China’s large appetite for commodities. “The more finite resources China buys at exuberant prices, the higher the premium sellers will demand,” according to the post. “Japan learned that lesson when its 1980s foreign investment surge culminated in crazy bids for trophy assets like Rockefeller Center and Pebble Beach golf course. China’s conquistadores have a clearer strategic goal, but they too may leave behind more treasure than they haul away.”
Chinese Firms Making Canadian Mineral Purchases
In terms of Western Hemisphere investments, China isn’t just looking to Latin America for natural resources. Financial Times’ Beyond Brics blog reports that China’s largest producer of nickel and cobalt agreed to buy a Canadian metals explorer. The purchase comes on the heels of another Chinese bid, this time by chemicals group Sinochem to purchase one of Canada’s largest mining companies, PotashCorp.
Canada and Russia Ask UN to Settle Arctic Dispute
At a September 16 meeting, Russian and Canadian foreign ministers agreed to allow the UN to settle competing claims for a ridge under the receding Arctic polar ice. The issue has gained importance as global warming exposes new seaways and ocean resources.
Rousseff Pledges to Continue Brazil’s Fight against Poverty
In an op-ed written for TerraViva, Dilma Rousseff, the leading candidate in Brazil’s October 3 presidential election, touts Brazil’s record of meeting its Millennium Development Goals and promises to continue poverty reduction while promoting sustainable development upon assuming the presidency. Entitled “A Brazilian Promise,” the article emphasizes “Brazil’s new relationship with the rest of the world.”
Brazil to Aid Cuba in Small Business Growth
Foreign Minister Celso Amorim announced that Brazil aims to support economic development in Cuba by helping small and mid-sized entrepreneurs. Calling Cuba’s recent layoffs of 500,000 public workers “very courageous,” Amorim said that the move only pays off if these workers don’t “fall into the informal economy,” reports Reuters.
Chile Celebrates Bicentennial
September 18 marked Chile’s two-hundredth birthday as the bicentennial was celebrated across the country. The Chilean government’s official bicentennial website features photos and more information about this year’s independence commemoration.
Argentina Mulls Chilean Guerrilla’s Fate
Chile’s most wanted guerrilla, Sergio Galvarino Apablaza,of the Frente Patriótic Manuel Rodríguez, remains in limbo in Argentina as the government decides whether to extradite him to Chile or grant him asylum. MercoPress reports that the Supreme Court of Justice authorized the extradition last week. Argentine Senator Jovino Novoa said that “any other decision [than to approve the extradition], in my perspective, would be a grave offense to the rule of law.”
Ecuador, Colombia to Meet on Refugee Issue
Bilateral meetings begin Thursday to resolve the crisis of refugees crossing from Colombia into Ecuador. Two Weeks Notice blog reports that "this is one of numerous gestures President [Juan Manuel] Santos has made to neighboring countries" since his August inauguration in Colombia in August. Some 50,000 Colombians have fled to Ecuador, which expects another 15,000 this year.
Colombian Military Strikes FARC Base
The Colombian military carried out an attack on a Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) base near the border with Ecuador on Monday. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos called the strike “the biggest blow in recent times” to FARC rebels. The attack killed 27 guerillas, including a high-ranking political leader known as “Domingo Biojó.”
Obama and Santos to Talk Trade and Defense
U.S. President Barack Obama and his Colombian counterpart Juan Manuel Santos will meet on September 24 for the first time since Santos took office. Dinero reports that the two leaders will likely discuss the pending Free Trade Agreement between the two countries, as well as details of an agreement that allows U.S. forces to use bases inside Colombia.
Caracas Considers Arms Ban as Crime Rises
The head of Amnesty International (AI) in Venezuela criticized the government of Hugo Chávez for its inability to control illegal weapons, which AI estimates total 12 million, leading to roughly 15,000 murders in Venezuela in 2009. Carlos Lusverti made the comment as Venezuelan lawmakers contemplate a new law that would mandate citizens to surrender illegal firearms or face stiff penalties of up to 12 years in prison.
Venezuela Closes Schools for Elections
Latin American Herald Tribune reports that “an inopportune and arbitrary ruling by the Ministry of Education” has kept schools closed until five days after the September 26 legislative elections. The extended school vacation is problematic, the piece argues, because not all the schools will be used as polling stations and polling operators will be vacating the stations on September 27.
Read an AS/COA analysis of Venezuela’s September 26 election.
Ciudad Juarez Newspaper Asks Cartels for Truce
An editorial published by Ciudad Juarez’s El Diario on Sunday directly asked drug cartels “What do you want from us?” and requested a “truce.” After the killing of another of its journalists, the piece argued that that it had no choice but to address the cartels because the government had failed to protect journalists and the gangs had become the city’s de facto authority. Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s security spokesman responded by saying “in no way should anyone promote a truce or negotiate with criminals who are precisely the ones causing anxiety.”
Mexico Looks Back to 1985 Earthquake
An El Universal interactive presentation commemorates the twenty-fifth anniversary of the earthquake that claimed thousands of lives and devastated the Mexican capital. The presentation contains images, testimonies, and before-and-after pictures showing damage and reconstruction.
Women Lead Polls in Lima Mayoralty Race
Lima could soon have its first female democratically elected mayor. The left-leaning Susana Villarán and former legislator Lourdes Flores Nano lead in the polls, with 42 percent and 28 percent respectively, according to a survey published by El Comercio. The elections take place on October 3.
Puerto Rican Birth Certificates Stir Controversy
Officials at the Department of Homeland Security announced that Puerto Ricans wishing to use their birth certificates as proof of U.S. citizenship have until September 30 to apply for an updated version of their original birth certificate. The move came after agencies in several U.S. states sparked controversy by refusing to accept birth certificates from the U.S. territory as proof of U.S. citizenship.
U.S. Stamp Honors Puerto Rican Poet
The face of renowned poet Julia de Burgos now graces the face of a new U.S. stamp. The poet, who penned 203 poems published in four books, moved to New York in 1940 and passed away in 1953 at the young age of 39. Daily News reports that the stamp draws on imagery from “Río Grande de Loíza, ”one of her best-known poems, which is “a sensuous ode to a river in Puerto Rico” where she was raised.
Join Americas society for a presentation of the Norton Anthology of Latino Literature on September 30.
The British Foreign Office minister, Henry Bellingham, announced yesterday that Turks and Caicos' elections set for July 2011 would be delayed to allow for anti-corruption measures and government reforms to take effect, sparking protests and increasing tensions on the Caribbean island. Britain’s direct rule on the islands began in August 2009 after a probe into allegations of misuse of public funds and improper sale of government owned land found “urgent and wide-ranging systemic change” was necessary on the islands.
Following the dismissal of the local government and legislature, Britain appointed Gordon Wetherell as governor of the islands.
The People’s Democratic Movement, which previously welcomed British efforts to clean up the government, released a statement demanding “a return of power to the people of the Turks and Caicos islands,” and characterized the British announcement as a “blatant attempt to further separate Turks and Caicos Islanders from [their] inalienable rights to full democracy.”
Islanders’ frustrations with the British interim government have increased amid the economic downturn and continued political turmoil.
The past few weeks have been tough on El Salvador and Central America. The tragic discovery of 72 murdered immigrants in the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico, generated widespread commotion given the fact that most were Salvadoran, Guatemalan and Honduran citizens. The news—beyond moving society due to the cruel and sadistic nature of the crimes—became an ironic reminder for most young Central Americans who constantly flee their nations to escape increased violence and lack of economic opportunities.
Aggressive calls have been made by government officials and the alleged survivor of the massacre not to travel through Mexico due to increased violence and harassment toward immigrants. However, after the mourning of the deceased, everyone seems to have turned the page and recognize that these are no longer just isolated initiatives.
El Salvador’s President Funes just came back from a meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderón where they first agreed on establishing a high-level working group on security and justice led by high-level political officials. Pessimism aside, the initiative will likely fail to deliver systematic changes in immigrant security. We all know that the situation in Mexico is complex, to say the least.
A second highly publicized incident came with the three-day suspension of virtually all economic activity in El Salvador due to a massive public transportation system halt. Beginning September 9, a generalized threat from maras led Transportistas to go a 72-hour closure of services that brought the country to a complete stand still. The threat was accompanied by the murder of several transportation workers and the burning of some buses. The government called for prudence and calm while deploying 2,000 additional armed forces personnel to patrol the streets and accompany what few buses did work.
In the midst of these two events, but particularly the second one, observers would expect an energetic outcry from civil society. However, aside from an estimate of economic loses made by the main business associations, civil society and the public in general had a very weak response to an ineffective public safety and crime stopping policy.
Mexico celebrated its Bicentennial Independence Day last week by honoring the Grito de Dolores (Cry of Dolores)—Miguel Hidalgo’s call for the people to join him in arms that is re-created across the country every Independence Day.
On the morning of September 16, 1810, Hidalgo rang out the Dolores bell and after a motivating speech yelled, "¡Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe! ¡Abajo el mal gobierno, ¡Viva Fernando VII!" (Long live the Virgin of Guadalupe! Down with bad government! Long live Fernando VII!). This act, referred to as el grito, is recognized as the beginning of the struggle for autonomy and independence in Mexico.
In present day, the tradition is that at 11:00 pm the President, governors and city mayors each step out to a balcony in a public square, ring out a replica bell and honor the heroes of our independence through a modification of the Cry of Dolores. Each chant for every hero mentioned is followed by a loud retort from the amassed people in the squares, yelling "Viva!" In the major cities, these festivities are accompanied by popular concerts, pyrotechnic shows and gatherings of up to millions of people.
El grito is a manifestation of freedom and joy, and the Bicentennial was geared up to be a huge celebration nationwide. Though security measures were heightened in access points to public squares and during the ceremonies, most of the country was able to honor this important occasion regally. However, nine cities in the border state of Chihuahua fell hostage to fear from organized crime and drug cartels and were forced to cancel their celebrations. The harshest case was Ciudad Juárez, a city in which rule of law has become as plausible as the tooth fairy.
The race for mayor of
Lima has never seen a female alcalde before (nor a female president). However, this year, the polls show that it is likely that one of these two women will win the mayoral race. While
Although both women have in the past advocated for women rights, in this campaign, neither has played up their gender. Despite being female and middle class, there is little else in common between the two candidates.
Lourdes Flores leads the Partido Popular Christiano party. She has run for president twice before, coming in second place. She is a lawyer by training and has served in Congress. Susana Villarán leads the Fuerza Social movement and was Women’s Minister in 2002, and has served as the ombudsman for the national police. She has always been a champion for human rights and has run for President, coming in seventh place.
Mexican President Felipe Calderón visited the state of Veracruz on Monday—the region hardest hit by flooding and mudslides caused by Hurricane Karl. President Calderón did a fly-over of the affected areas, accompanied by Veracruz Governor Fidel Herrera, National Defense Secretary Guillermo Galván Galván, and Social Development Secretary Heriberto Félix, among others. President Calderón later said in a public address that "the Army and navy have been instructed to tighten security" due to widespread reports of looting in city centers.
More than 40,000 Veracruz residents took refuge in state shelters and schools, while many remain stranded on rooftops awaiting rescue. Between 250,000 and 500,000 are believed to be left homeless. The most devastated areas of the state include Veracruz, Boca del Rio, Cotaxtla, Medellín, and Jamapa.
Hurricane Karl touched down as a Category 3 hurricane last Friday with 105 mph winds, and has killed 16 people—12 of the fatalities occurred in Mexico. Before Karl made landfall, the Interior Ministry declared a state of emergency in 62 municipalities. Laguna Verde Nuclear Power Station was preemptively shut down, while Pemex evacuated 14 of its facilities on the Gulf of Mexico. The red alert will remain in place for several weeks to keep the public informed of developments in the rescue effort.
After eight long years of internment at the United States’ Guantánamo Bay detention camp in Cuba, the so-called Gitmo prison, Omar Khadr’s military trial is scheduled to resume on October 18, 2010. This comes nearly two months after his trial was suspended on August 13—the first day of arguments.
There is no more room for delays. Since being interned at Guantánamo, Khadr has faced delays after delays, he has fired his lawyers and has seen his trial postponed while the Obama Administration reviewed the functioning of military commissions. Then, on the first day of Khadr’s trial, his freshly-appointed military lawyer, Army Lt.-Col. Jon Jackson collapsed in the courtroom, and was air-lifted from the base to the United States for medical treatment. It is thought his malaise might be linked to a previous gallbladder surgery.
On top of that, Khadr has turned down a plea bargain, which would have limited his prison term to five years instead of the 30 years he faces.
Either way, the trial is off to a bad start
The military judge presiding over the 23-year-old Canadian citizen’s trial, Army Col. Pat Parrish, ruled that evidence obtained through interrogations while Khadr was 15 years old was admissible. His lawyers maintained those confessions were extracted under duress and torture. The Supreme Court of Canada, Canada’s highest court, had reached the same conclusion in its January ruling but stopped short of ordering Canada to ask for Khadr’s repatriation to Canada.
“The whole thing was a disgrace in terms of the rule of law,” says Allan Hutchinson from the University of Toronto’s prestigious Osgoode Hall.
Only four of Haiti’s 19 presidential candidates participated in the country’s first televised presidential debate—a two-hour event held this past Saturday. Forty people attended the discussion but many left frustrated by vague responses from the candidates and the fact that all questions were required to be submitted in writing. Elections will be held on November 28.
Notably absent from the debate was Wyclef Jean, the hip hop artist ruled unable to run due to not meeting residency requirements.
When announced, the debate was lauded as a noteworthy example of transparency in an electoral climate that has been marred with criticisms. Colin Granderson, Assistant Secretary General of the Caribbean Community and Common Market says there are “concerns that the electoral council is not independent and is being manipulated by the president.”
The White House has named Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras for the first time to its list of 20 “major illicit drug transit or major illicit drug producing countries.” The list is effective for fiscal year 2011.
The addition of these countries has further pushed the theory that drug runners are relocating their transit and operation centers to smaller Central American nations from countries like Mexico and Colombia that have pursued an all-out crackdown. This was reported by the U.S. Department of State in March.
Panama and Guatemala were already on the list, while El Salvador and Belize somehow didn’t make the cut. (Please add your comments below as to why you think that might be.)
The White House explains the new additions as follows:
“As Mexico and Colombia continue to apply pressure on drug traffickers, the countries of Central America are increasingly targeted for trafficking of cocaine and other drugs primarily destined for the United States. This growing problem resulted in Costa Rica, Honduras, and Nicaragua meeting the threshold for inclusion in the Majors List,” reads President Barack Obama’s September 15 memorandum for the secretary of state.
The Central American countries join a 20 nation list that now includes: Afghanistan, The Bahamas, Bolivia, Burma, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela.
On Saturday, September 18, viewers in Haiti and across the world can tune in to the country’s presidential candidates' debate at 9 a.m. on Radio Kiskeya, Radio Tele Ginen and Signal FM. International media have been invited to cover the event, and several universities, including New York University and University of Miami, will be streaming it live on the internet. To be broadcast from Pétionville, a relatively affluent suburb of Port-au-Prince, the debate will be the first in a series organized by the non-profit organization Haiti Aid Watchdog (HAW) in collaboration with the Interuniversity Institute of Research and Development (INURED). The theme of the series is, Nou pap vote moun men nap vote pwogram ("We are not voting for a person but a program").
The 19 approved presidential candidates have been invited to present their platforms, and Haitian citizens within the country and in the diaspora are encouraged to participate via Skype, video conferencing, email, or SMS text.
HAW monitors the Haitian government and seeks to educate voters and promote fair elections. It has organized the debates to foster dialogue and accountability from candidates on issues such as public services, international assistance, security, re-construction, and judicial reform.
The debate series is welcome news of a measure of transparency and accountability. An August 16 meeting between President René Préval and members of Haiti’s election commission, CEP, led observers to wonder whether the commission four days later rejected certain candidates’ eligibility—including that of hip-hop star Wyclef Jean—on the basis of political considerations instead of constitutional law. An electoral observation mission run jointly by the Organization of American States and Caribbean Community has requested that the CEP disclose its reasons for dismissing candidates. However, most members of the international community—providing the bulk of the election’s $29 billion budget—are hesitant to interfere and slow down the election process.
Marcos Díaz, a 35-year-old ultra distance swimmer from the Dominican Republic, completed an aquatic tour across five continents when he arrived in New York City on Wednesday. The Santo Domingo native partnered with the United Nations on the “Swim across the Continents” tour to raise awareness for the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Díaz, nicknamed the “Dominican Dolphin,” began his journey on May 15 when he swam the 12 miles (19.5 km) from Papau New Guinea to Indonesia, crossing Oceania and Asia in four hours and 18 minutes. Over the next four months, he traveled from Jordan to Egypt; from Morocco to Spain across the Strait of Gibraltar; and from Russia to Alaska.
Díaz completed the final leg of his trip in New York City yesterday, when he swam from the Statue of Liberty to Gantry Plaza State Park across from UN headquarters. There he presented UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with a petition signed by 200,000 people across the world, urging leaders to maintain their commitment to the MDGs. The end of the tour coincides with a UN summit commemorating the 10-year anniversary of the signing of the MDGs by every UN member country.
The MDGs, which have a deadline of 2015, include freedom from extreme poverty and hunger, quality education, decent employment, adequate health and shelter, the right of women to give birth without risking their lives, environmental sustainability, and gender equality.
From the 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.
Cuba’s Ideological About-face
Former Cuban President Fidel Castro sparked controversy last week when he told The Atlantic that “the Cuban model doesn’t work.” He later said that he wasn’t maligning Communism, but actually meant “exactly the opposite,” claiming journalists misinterpreted his seemingly straight-forward comment. Despite Castro’s backtracking, the Cuban government announced Monday that it will cut half a million government jobs and encourage those workers to transition into the private sector, clearly suggesting a shift away from Cuban-style Communism.
Al tiempo que la Revista Semana se ganó el premio IPYS a la mejor investigación periodística en América Latina, por su brillante trabajo sobre las Chuzadas del DAS, nuevas revelaciones sobre cómo el aparato de inteligencia del Estado no solo grabó ilegalmente sino que persiguió y desprestigió a políticos opositores, magistrados y periodistas, están desmenuzando poco a poco la estructura criminal que se valió de tácticas impensables para conseguir información.
El premio fue entregado en Buenos Aires al director de la revista, Alejandro Santos, durante la II Conferencia Latinoamericana de Periodismo de Investigación (Colpin) auspiciada por IPYS y FOPEA. Santos relató cómo una historia a la que uno de sus reporteros llegó siguiendo unos sobrecostos en la contratación de la compra de unas cafeteras en el DAS, terminó siendo uno de los mayores escándalos del gobierno saliente, que tendrá muchos ecos en el que acaba de comenzar si la justicia decide finalmente llegar hasta los culpables intelectuales de estos hechos.
Las recientes confesiones de funcionarios involucrados parecen de novela. Ya son media docena los implicados que poco a poco, acogidos al principio de oportunidad con el ánimo de conseguir beneficios penales, han contado en extensas sesiones ante la Fiscalía, las ordenes que recibieron, las reuniones secretas que tuvieron en varias ciudades del país y la milimétrica puesta en escena de una operación de espionaje nunca antes conocida en Colombia.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced yesterday the appointment of former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet to head a newly created United Nations agency to promote women’s equality. The UN Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women, or UN Women for short, will focus on promoting equality issues in education, government and employment which, according to a UN study conducted this past June, has progressed slowly.
The former President’s nomination was considered along with two other candidates. She was unanimously approved by a 26-member selection committee to head the agency following interviews with each candidate by the Secretary-General last week. “I’m confident that under her strong leadership we can improve the lives of millions of women and girls throughout the world,” said the Secretary-General of Bachelet. In congratulatory remarks, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted: “She has broken barriers for women in Chile and throughout the region, and I am inspired by her passion, her expertise, and her courage to speak out on difficult issues.”
The creation of UN Women was approved unanimously on July 2 this year and will consolidate the activities of four UN agencies including; the Division for the Advancement of Women, the Development Fund for Women, the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women, and the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender issues. The new agency will have 41 members consisting of member countries from each region.
Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim on Saturday in Geneva announced that Argentina is on track in 2010 to become Brazil’s largest trade partner behind China, replacing the United States in second position. The announcement was shared at the eighth annual International Institute for Strategic Studies meeting.
Bilateral trade between the two Mercosur-member countries is projected to reach up to $34 billion by the end of this year. This comes despite trade relations between Argentina and Brazil being strained at times. Brazil has periodically been accused of using unfair non-tariff policies to favor its import-competing industries. Addressing the need for improved bilateral trade relations with Argentina, Amorim recently called for “a leap forward in [liberating] the services and investment sectors.”
Amorim will continue trade discussions during his European tour and will meet with Pascal Lamy, director general for the World Trade Organization.
Four Chilean congressional representatives from opposition parties announced today that they are joining an ongoing hunger strike by 34 indigenous Mapuche prisoners, who are protesting the use of Pinochet-era anti-terrorism laws to charge indigenous civilians for their role in land disputes with the government. The protesters say they are political prisoners and should not be treated as terror suspects or have to face trial in military courts.
According to congressional aides, the leftist lawmakers are members of a human rights commission in the lower house of the national congress and have demanded that President Sebastian Piñera's government begin talks with the inmates.
Reports indicate that Mr. Piñera this week introduced legislation that aims to ensure that civilians cannot be tried in military courts, and to reduce sentences under the anti-terror statutes. The Piñera administration has so far declined, however, to enter direct talks with the protestors. In response to the lawmakers’ decision to join the hunger strike, Minister of the Interior Rodrigo Hinzpeter has said the legislators are acting like “kindergartners” and should return to congress to press their case.
The Bolivian government is planning to invest $450 million in large-scale production of lithium carbonate and potassium carbonate, Morales aide and former mining minister Luis Alberto Echazu told Spanish news agency Efe last week. His announcement came just a few days after Bolivian President Evo Morales and South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak signed an agreement to jointly develop a lithium mine and infrastructure for processing and refining.
Lithium—as lithium carbonate—is the key component in rechargeable batteries that power electric devices, including electric and hybrid vehicles, while potassium carbonate is mostly used in fertilizers. As automakers and governments alike pursue alternatives to fossil fuels, they are likely to become increasingly dependent on mineral reserves such as lithium. For Bolivia, which is the poorest country in South America but possesses half of all proven lithium deposits on Earth, this could very well bring about an economic transformation.
The Morales administration says some 100 million tons of lithium lie under the Uyuni Salt Flats in southwest Bolivia. Other estimates, such as one by the U.S. Geological Survey, suggest that the reserves number merely 5.4 million tons. Regardless, electric car manufacturers could draw on the reserves for decades to come. Companies from across Asia and Europe are eager to partner with the Bolivian government to secure access to the reserves.
Echazu, the head of the evaporitic resources office of the COMIBOL state mining corporation, said he expects to have the $450 million in funds by 2011. In the meantime, a pilot plant will be launched to produce 1,000 tons of potassium carbonate per month and 40 tons of lithium carbonate per month. The office’s ultimate goals for annual production of these resources are 700,000 tons and 30,000 tons, respectively.
Over the last decade, organized labor has become a major player in the movement for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR). With more members, resources and political clout than most other immigration reform supporters, union support has become a sine qua non for any potential legislation. As part of an ongoing series of interviews on the current prospects for immigration reform, I spoke with Eliseo Medina, Executive Vice President of Service Employees International Union (SEIU), one of labor’s most outspoken advocates for immigration reform. Mr. Medina spoke to me about various issues, including labor’s position in the pro-CIR movement, SEIU’s role in the boycott of Arizona, and the union’s efforts to increase Latino political strength throughout the country.
Medina: When SB 1070 was introduced, we spent a lot of time and energy trying to lobby the legislature, and then for the governor not to sign it. We felt it was unconstitutional, mean-spirited and divisive. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful. From there, we switched to a strategy of trying to deal with the law and how it was introduced. Our strategy built on the following components:
Number one, challenge the law in the courts. We joined with a number of other organizations in Arizona and nationally to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the initiative.
Number two, we joined with the NCLR [National Council of La Raza], the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People], and a number of other groups supporting a boycott of Arizona, because we felt that the only way we were going to be listened to was if there was some economic pressure brought to bear on Arizona. It became apparent to us that this was not a question of good, sound policy arguments, but rather a political and ideological battle. If they weren’t going to listen to us with their minds, we felt maybe they’d listen to us with their pocketbooks.
The third thing we did was campaign to bring together different groups in Arizona that were interested not only in fighting 1070, but also empowering the Latino community to advocate for its own interests. We put together a table of 501c3 and 501c4 organizations with the goal of reaching out to the Latino community, giving them the information they would need to come out and vote in November, and actually getting them to vote. This would help us deliver a powerful message at the polls.
Because SB 1070 has begun to rear its ugly head [through potential copycat laws] in 21 or 22 other states, we’ve been working with partner organizations and individuals across the country, lobbying at the state level to stop legislation while trying to make the boycott as successful as possible in order to send a message to other states.
Medina: Boycotts work, because economic pressure can really focus the mind. They also allow the broader public to do something very specific in support of the movement and to express their opposition to SB 1070. So we have organizations [that] have cancelled their conventions, musicians and artists who have cancelled their performances, individuals who have cancelled their vacations to Arizona—not going to that state is their statement. A boycott is something that is very democratic, because it’s something in which everybody can participate. They don’t have to be in the state of Arizona; they can be anywhere in the world and participate. It helps to build a movement, while at the same time putting pressure on and ensuring that the message about this law is picked up.
From the 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.
Petrobras Plans World’s Largest Public Offering
Mercopress reports that the Brazilian state-owned oil company Petrobras plans to sell as many as $64.5 billion in shares at the end of September to fund the development of new oil reserves. The Brazilian finance minister made assurances that the government will “act strongly” to protect the integrity of the real from the pending currency influx. But the IPO is also a turning point for China, marking the “first time a Chinese investment bank is taking a key role in a major share issue outside the mainland China and Hong Kong market,” reports People’s Daily Online.
With all the recent talk about a slow economic recovery and rising unemployment in the United States, there is a real risk that major environmental concerns will once again get overlooked for the sake of achieving renewed growth. Worse still, the failure of the UN Copenhagen Conference of 2009 to achieve substantive gains and the inability of the U.S. Congress to pass climate change legislation could lead many observers to conclude that the push for sustainable economic development is losing momentum. Based on some recent trends and events, however, I believe neither is happening and that the general consensus of the past decade that economic prosperity must not be achieved at the expense of environmental conservation is holding firm.
The quest for renewable energy sources and the development of green technology is generally supported by policymakers across the globe. The lack of progress at the Copenhagen summit had more to do with the process than an absence of conviction. Countries throughout the hemisphere, from Chile to Canada and Quebec realize the threat that global warming poses to our collective future.
The emerging debate around the exploration of shale gas in the Northeast of the North American continent is evidence that the economic potential of this resource should not blind us to the concerns of local populations regarding the technology used and its possible impact on the environment. New York State is in the process of establishing a moratorium on shale gas exploration in order to conduct further studies on its environmental consequences. Pennsylvania, which has embarked on an aggressive initiative to explore shale gas, has also substantially increased the number of its environmental inspectors. Just recently, the Quebec government asked its environmental assessment agency to conduct a thorough study of shale gas exploration with the promise that legislation will follow that takes into consideration the studies’ results.
Puerto Rican government authorities have declared a public health emergency following the deaths of 10 people from dengue fever. The emergency declaration will result doctors’ receiving a course in the detection and treatment of the disease. A public awareness campaign is also being ramped up to prevent further spread of the disease.
Dengue infections are on pace to break historic records. The total number of deaths attributable to the disease may reach 32 so far this year in Puerto Rico, outpacing the previous high mark of 19 deaths and over 11,000 cases of diagnosed dengue in 1998. Total suspected cases of dengue this year have already totaled over 12,000.
Actions by both patients and doctors have been blamed for the increase in fatalities with officials noting that doctors have not been providing appropriate follow-up care, while patients have insisted on leaving hospitals while still infected with the disease or not seeking immediate help. Chief epidemiologist Carmen de la Seda calls the problem serious, but she has thus far rejected claims that the epidemic is out of control.
Seven individuals were identified by Mexican authorities on Monday as suspects in the massacre of 72 migrants in northern Mexico, whose bodies were discovered during a raid on August 24. Three of the suspects were killed by navy personnel during the raid, while another three were found dead near a highway shortly thereafter. All suspects, including a seventh that was arrested last week are believed to be part of Los Zetas drug cartel and were identified by one of the three massacre survivors.
The bodies of the 72 mostly Honduran, Salvadorian and Ecuadorian migrants were discovered in the town of San Fernando in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas on the Texas border. As of Tuesday, 27 victims had been identified and are being repatriated to their home countries.
The massacre is the latest example of drug-related in northern Mexican states along the U.S. border. According to Alejandro Poiré, the government spokesman for security issues, the mass-murder “confirms that criminal organizations are looking to kidnapping and extortion because they are going through a difficult time obtaining resources and recruiting people willingly.”
Mr. Poiré’s comments come less than a week after the U.S. government announced it would withhold about $26 million in funding to Mexico’s anti-narcotics efforts over concerns that Mexico has not done enough to protect its people from cartel and police abuse.
Franklin Brito, a farmer in the southern Venezuelan state of Bolivar, died Monday night while protesting the government sanctioned takeover of his farm in 2000 under President Hugo Chávez’s land reform policies. Mr. Brito had failed to regain his land from the government for the past decade despite numerous appeals and several previous hunger strikes that began in 2005. Mr. Brito passed away in a military hospital where he had been forcibly interned for his own safety, according to government officials.
Brito’s claims had initially garnered the support of Chávez who publicly supported him and called for government officials to rectify the situation. However, the government made no further attempts to satisfy Brito’s land dispute. Eventually, the government turned against Brito and accused him of having mental health problems. Venezuela’s minister for agriculture and land, Juan Carlos Loyo, stated publicly that Mr. Brito was being used by opponents of Hugo Chávez and his administration for political ends.
Brito had been placed in a medically induced coma last Friday to treat a respiratory condition, according to government sources, and also suffered from severe liver and kidney damage. Authorities claim he collapsed and that attempts were made to revive him before he was pronounced dead at 9 p.m. on Monday evening.