• Mexican Presidential Race Tightens

    June 1, 2012

    by AQ Online

    The latest polls out of Mexico show Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) candidate and 2006 runner-up Andrés Manuel López Obrador trailing only four points behind longtime frontrunner and Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) candidate Enrique Peña Nieto. Yesterday's poll, published by La Reforma newspaper, shows López Obrador capturing 34 percent of the vote versus Peña Nieto’s 38 percent. At a press conference after hearing the news, López Obrador stated that he “is very happy with the result and his overall strategy is working well.”

    According to analysts, López Obrador’s recent surge in popularity is tied to recent student protests against Peña Nieto and his perceived dependence on corporate campaign supporters, including ties to telecommunications giant Televisa. López Obrador’s campaign has sought to exploit this perception by taking a stance against corporate monopolies in services.

    Although there has been a recent slump in Peña Nieto’s popularity, most observers still believe that he will win on July 1 as most polls still show the PRI candidate with a comfortable lead over other hopefuls.

    Tags: Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexican Presidential Election

  • Mexico's Presidential Race: Arrests, Restless Youth and Inequality

    May 31, 2012

    by Juan Manuel Henao

    Mexico's presidential race does not disappoint. Like any good Latino novela, the campaign has a remarkable ability to weave extramarital affairs, dirty money, lies, accusations, paybacks, hitmen, and cover-ups into a national storyline that has Mexicans, diplomats, investors, the Church, and experts questioning the country´s future. Arrests, restless youth and growing social inequality are some of the major issues facing mexicanos and their presidential candidates ahead of an important election in which voters will either reward the incumbent National Action Party (PAN) for its policies since la alternancia of 2000, or reinstate the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) which shaped Mexico's present-day institutions and held power for 70 years. 

    The most recent episode of the saga includes the arrest of former Tamaulipas Governor Tomas Yarrington in Houston for allegedly accepting and laundering millions of illicit dollars from the Gulf cartel. Prosecutors in Texas seized properties in South Padre Island and Austin, and Mexican authorities began investigating fraud claims reaching $800 million by Yarrington, his son and close associates. 

    In the meantime, Mexico's attorney general was also busy arresting ex-Baja California Sur Governor Narciso Montano and four retired generals (one a former Under Secretary of Defense). Montano was charged with the alleged misappropriation of $5 million during his time in office, and the generals were brought in for ties to organized crime.  The arrests resuscitated questions regarding former PRI President Humberto Moreira, who along with senior officials allegedly falsified legal and financial instruments to balloon state debt from $200 million to $3 billion during his term as governor of Coahuila.  To date, Moreira remains free.   

    University youth too have come to be a critical part of the series.  This important group between the ages of 18 and 29, which carries 30 percent of the electoral roll, has decided to march, protest and heckle all presidential candidates—especially leading contender Enrique Peña Nieto of the PRI. Under the banner of Yo Soy 132, the movement has become the Mexican version of Spain's Indignados. They demand a fair and transparent election free from media favoritism as well as general freedom to access government information. Like other similar movements, they denounce Mexico’s poor public education system, lack of economic opportunity for youth, official corruption, and inequality. 

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

  • FARC Releases French Journalist

    May 31, 2012

    by AQ Online

    After being held hostage for 33 days by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), Romeo Langlois was handed to a humanitarian mission on Wednesday afternoon in the department of Caquetá. The mission was composed of delegates from the International Committee of the Red Cross, a representative of the French government and members of the organization Colombianos y Colombianas por la Paz.

    The capture of Langlois came just two months after the FARC’s February 26 statement in which the guerrilla group declared it would no longer engage in kidnapping as a source of revenue, the first time an announcement of this kind had been made by the FARC. AQ blogger Jenny Manrique notes that the kidnapping “was an example of the power that the FARC maintains in one of its strongholds in the south.”

    Langlois, 35, has lived in Colombia for 12 years covering the armed conflict. For him, the situation does not end there. “The [Colombian] Government advertised the idea that the conflict was over, and that is not true,” he stated during the ceremony that followed his release. Langlois was to meet with French government representatives in Florence, Colombia.

    Tags: Colombia, FARC, Romeo Langlois

  • El regreso de Roméo Langlois: una liberación ‘sui géneris’

    May 30, 2012

    by Jenny Manrique

    Tal y como habían anunciado el domingo, las FARC liberaron al periodista francés Roméo Langlois quien terminó en su poder en medio de un combate de guerrilleros y unidades del Ejército que adelantaban operaciones antinarcóticos, el pasado 28 de abril. Lo que por supuesto no se había anunciado es que el operativo de la liberación iba a ser como ningún otro antes en el país: al menos una decena de guerrilleros de las FARC escoltaron al periodista en medio de las calles de la vereda de San Isidro, en el municipio de Montañita, Caquetá, al sur del país.

    A su lado pobladores de todas las edades le daban con júbilo la bienvenida al periodista, mientras subversivos armados se confundían entre la población civil como en las épocas de los diálogos de paz en San Vicente del Caguán (2001-2002) cuando varios municipios fueron despejados de fuerza pública. Niños y ancianos se acercaban a tocar las armas de los guerrilleros, mientras algunos comandantes lucían uniformes diferentes al tradicional camuflado y más parecidos al del ejército israelí. Momentos previos a la liberación que comenzó a las 4:30 a.m. y se realizó por tierra y río sin el apoyo helicoportado que Brasil prestó en otras ocasiones, los guerrilleros hicieron requisas y retenes para acordonar el área donde Langlois sería liberado. Los civiles eran obligados a bajarse de sus carros antes de pasar hacia el casco urbano del municipio.

    Aunque mediadores como delegados del Comité Internacional de la Cruz Roja (CICR) y Colombianos y Colombianos por la Paz a través de Piedad Córdoba fueron claves garantes de la liberación, no tuvieron el protagonismo que en otras ocasiones a excepción de Piedad a quien se le vio en gestos de camaradería con algunos guerrilleros, gestos que seguramente la pondrán como es usual en la picota pública del país. 

    Es cierto que en toda liberación se exige el cese de operaciones militares para garantizar la integridad de los rehenes, pero lo sorprendente es que incluso en el fin del secuestro de connotados políticos, y de militares y soldados que estuvieron más en el recuerdo de las familias que en el del Estado, las FARC llegaban hasta cierto punto de la selva, entregaban a los liberados a la comisión humanitaria, conversaban con los mediadores y se internaban en la selva.

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    Tags: Colombia, FARC, Crime and Security, Romeo Langlois

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    May 30, 2012

    by AS-COA Online

    Peru Declares State of Emergency amid Mining Protests

    The Peruvian government declared a state of emergency yesterday in the southeastern province of Espinar after a week of protests left at least two dead and 70 injured. Espinar residents are protesting a $1.5 billion expansion of the Tintaya copper mine, claiming that the mine’s Swiss owner Xstrata—the largest single mining investor in Peru—does not contribute enough to the local economy. Similar demonstrations took place last year in the province of Cajamarca, where residents protested the expansion of a gold mine.

    Brazil Plans Five New Hydroelectric Dams

    On May 25, Valor Econômico reported that the Brazilian government is forging ahead with plans to construct five hydroelectric dams in the Tapajos River basin, a tributary of the Amazon. The publication said that environmental studies are underway and bidding for operators will begin next year. Belo Monte—one of the country’s largest hydroelectric construction projects also located in the Amazon basin—encountered numerous obstacles to construction, including lawsuits and worker strikes. 

    Dilma Announces Changes to Polemical Forest Code

    On May 25, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff issued a number of alterations to the new version of the Forest Code, a legal framework for forest preservation in Brazil. She made 12 line-item vetoes and 32 modifications, most notably nixing amnesty for large-scale illegal deforesters who cleared land before 2008. The law now returns to Congress, where it won’t likely be discussed until after Brazil hosts the UN Rio+20 environmental conference in June.

    Read more about the Forest Code in an AS/COA News Analysis on environmental issues in Brazil.

    Brazil, Venezuela Rank High in Software Piracy

    Four Latin American countries—Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela—make the top 20 in the Business Software Alliance’s annual report on software piracy. Brazil comes out on top (and fifth overall) in terms of value of pirated software at $2.8 billion. But Venezuela leads the pack with the highest rate of pirated software—88 percent.

    Venezuela Targets Civilian Aircraft in Drug Fight

    The Venezuelan Congress passed legislation May 23 permitting the country’s air force to shoot down aircraft suspected of carrying illegal drugs. Though the government believes the law will help Venezuela in its fight against international organized crime groups, InsightCrime believes “a policy advocating the use of force against civilian aircraft carries risk.” 

    Poll Shows Narrower Lead for Chávez

    A recent survey by Venezuelan polling firm Varianzas puts opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski within five points of his competitor, President Hugo Chávez. The current president leads with 50.7 percent of likely votes while Capriles has 45.5 percent, the poll found. However, 53.3 percent of respondents said they believed Chávez would win in October, compared with 42.4 percent for Capriles.

    Read More

    Tags: Human Rights, Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, energy, Organization of American States, Venezuela, Environment, Hugo Chavez, José Mujica, Dilma Rousseff, Quebec

  • Bolivian Senator Seeks Asylum in Brazilian Embassy

    May 30, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Bolivian Senator Roger Pinto, leader of the opposition bloc Convergencia Nacional (National Convergence—CN), sought refuge at the Brazilian embassy in La Paz on Monday. In a written statement to other members of the bloc released yesterday, Pinto claimed that he has been the victim of political persecution and the recipient of multiple threats directed toward himself and his family, which in recent days had escalated and led him to fear for his life.

    Diputado Adrián Oliva, also of the opposition, told the Associated Press that the senator faces multiple judicial proceedings that are intended to remove him from his post. In his letter to the CN, Pinto also claimed that a judge had falsified evidence against him. Last week Oliva and Senator Jeanine Añez visited Brazil and met with the Human Rights Commission and select senators to discuss human rights violations and political persecution of the opposition in Bolivia, including the specific case of Pinto.

    In response to the letter written by Pinto, Brazil’s Ministry of External Relations confirmed that the government will analyze the political asylum request and that the senator’s case will be vetted carefully.  In the meantime Pinto can remain in the embassy until further notice. 

    Tags: Human Rights, Political Asylum

  • Canada’s End of Mission in Afghanistan

    May 29, 2012

    by John Parisella

    Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper reflected the mood of Canadians when he announced at last week’s NATO Summit that troops will leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.  While supportive of the original engagement in 2001 and proud of the work of our Canadian troops, Canadians generally want out of this seemingly never-ending conflict.  No longer involved in combat operations on the battlefield, and recently engaged in the training of security forces for post-war Afghanistan, Canada will continue to contribute a significant financial commitment to the efforts beyond 2014.

    When 9/11 occurred, then-Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien supported American efforts through the UN, the Security Council and NATO to remove the Taliban government in Afghanistan and work in a concerted effort to stop Al Qaeda terrorism.  This has often been referred as the “smart” war, as opposed to the “dumb war” in Iraq—terms used by a young Illinois politician called Barack Obama.  Events showing that Osama Bin Laden was able to act with impunity and with state cover from the Taliban justified that Canada join with their international allies and overthrow the government of the day.

    The goals then were clear: defend our national interests, show our leadership in the world community and contribute to stabilizing and rebuilding Afghanistan.  In the decade that followed, however, the war lost favor with the Canadian public. Canadians’ support for the war effort declined consistently to the point where Canada announced its intention to withdraw the bulk of its troops by 2011.

    Overall, Canada’s participation was quite significant in scope and sacrifice.  Canadian troops were intensively engaged in the volatile Kandahar province for a number of years. To date, 158 Canadian soldiers have been killed with most dying in hostile circumstances.  The war has cost Canada more than $10 billion.  The courage of our fallen ones and their families remains a matter of pride to Canadians.

    Prime Minister Harper indicated Canada’s training mission will end in 2014 at a time when U.S. combat forces will have withdrawn. In so doing, the Canadian government will still commit $110 million annually for three years beyond 2015.  It is clear that Canada is now resigned to the fact that no one country can declare victory and mission accomplished in this conflict.

    Canada and the U.S. may have had their differences on whether to go to war in Iraq but not in Afghanistan.  We can recall that Canada had serious doubts when the Bush Administration believed there were weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

    But the course in Afghanistan was an example of two allies sharing objectives and sacrifice.  Now that Canada has signaled the end of its commitment, and the U.S. has outlined its exit strategy, other NATO nations are beginning to gradually disengage.  Still, it is fair to say that significant progress was made in reducing the impact of Al Qaeda. But the overall outcome sadly remains inconclusive and uncertain.

    John Parisella is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He is the former Québec delegate general in New York and currently an invited professor at University of Montréal’s International Relations Center.

    Tags: Canada, Stephen Harper

  • Peru Declares State of Emergency after Mine Protest Violence

    May 29, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Peru’s government declared a 30-day state of emergency in the southern Andean province of Espinar yesterday after clashes between anti-mining protesters and police officers. The state of emergency suspends a number of civil liberties, including the right to freedom of assembly. It also grants local police officers responsibility over public order.

    Protestors have been demonstrating against the Tinaya copper mine in Espinar, near Cuzco, since last week, blocking highway access to the mine and halting production. Violence escalated last weekend, resulting in the deaths of two civilian protestors and the injury of 46 police officers on Sunday. An additional 30 police officers were injured on Monday. Interior Minister Wilver Calle, who announced the deaths yesterday, did not explain how they occurred other than to say that police were forced to open fire in self-defense.

    Protestors claim that operation of the Tinaya mine is polluting two local rivers and damaging the environment. They also say the mine has not contributed sufficiently to the local economy, and are demanding that the mine owner, Xtrata, increase the amount of royalties it provides the local government to 30 percent, from 3 percent. Xtrata, a Swiss-based company and the world’s fourth-largest copper producer, has denied the pollution allegations.

    This is not the first time President Ollanta Humala has resorted to declaring a state of emergency to end anti-mining protests. Last December, his government issued a state of emergency in the northern province of Cajamarca in response to protests against the $4.8 billion Conga gold mining project. That project, owned largely by U.S.-based Newmont Mining Co., has been suspended pending further negotiations over the protection of highland water sources.

    Tags: Peru, Social inclusion, mining, Natural resource extraction

  • Guatemala and the Siege of Santa Cruz Barillas

    May 25, 2012

    by Nic Wirtz

    Last week Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina lifted the state of siege on Santa Cruz Barillas in which 17 residents were arrested for public disturbances. But tensions still remain high weeks after community members first demonstrated their opposition to the building of the new Hidralia Energia dam in this primarily Indigenous town close to the border with Mexico.

    Pérez Molina declared the state of siege on May 3 and sent in an initial force of 260 troops and national police to Santa Cruz Barillas to “restore order” after a group of 200 men armed with machetes and guns took over a military base in the area. He justified martial law on the grounds that rioters’ ties to the Zetas drug trafficking cartel contributed to the disturbances.

    Despite lifting martial law, Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez said 150 troops would remain behind to “guarantee security and avert new disturbances.” Many Guatemalans, however, backed the residents of Santa Cruz Barillas. Guatemala City resident Brenda Hernández said, “We want the government to respect the pueblo.”


    At the height of martial law, an estimated 850-army and national police officers were deployed in Santa Cruz Barillas.  Thousands marched in Huehuetenango, the regional capital on May 15 to denounce governmental action.  Protester Juan Juarez, a 70-year-old resident of Ixcán Playa Grande, Quiché said to citizen journalist website HablaGuate, “Santa Cruz Barillas is suffering repression by the government of Pérez Molina. We worry because the government of Guatemala is defending the interests of the hydroelectric company more than Santa Cruz (Barillas).”

    Clashes first arose after the death of community leader Andrés Francisco Miguel who had opposed the hydroelectric dam. Subsequent attacks on other community leaders left two seriously injured. It was the culmination of years of protests over the building of the dam, which protesters said they were not consulted about; they called for a suspension of the company's license. 

    According to the Guatemala Human Rights Commission, UDEFEGUA (the Guatemalan Human Rights Defenders Protection Unit), the Dioceses of Huehuetenango and the Renovated Democratic Freedom Party had denounced the state of siege in Barillas and demanded it be lifted. There have been numerous reports of violations of community members’ rights such as the illegal entry into homes and the destruction of private property in the search for weapons.

    But the Spanish company Hidralia Energia wouldn’t budge and stated that the project met all environmental and legal requirements.

    Local residents have historically been opposed to the dam. In 2007, 46,000 residents voted against allowing mining or hydroelectric companies to operate in the area. Hidralia Energia, whose local company is Hidro Santa Cruz, did not enter into negotiations with the locals who believe construction would harm the Cambalan river ecosystem. Tensions between the locals and the company increased with allegations that Hidralia Energia was using landmines and Claymore-type bombs to protect their equipment.

    This latest incident is unfortunately part of Central America’s long history of conflict between hydroelectric companies and Indigenous groups that are often forcibly removed to make way for the dams.

    In 1976, the Guatemalan government announced plans to move Achi Indians (who were living along the Chixoy River) in order to build a hydroelectric dam. The village of Rio Negro, the only one that had refused to relocate without adequate compensation, was attacked by soldiers in 1979. Three years later, in February 1982, 73 villagers were ordered to report to Xococ by the local military commander. Only one woman returned; the rest were raped, tortured and murdered by the local Civil Defense Patrol (PAC) in Xococ.

    A month later, 177 Achi women and children were killed at the massacre of Rio Negro by Xococ patrolmen. Three members of the PAC were sentenced to death in 1998 for war crimes; in 2008 five more former paramilitaries were sentenced to 780 years in jail each for their role in events in Xococ.

    In Honduras, the El Cajón dam has been an environmental and financial disaster.  Finished in 1985, the resulting soil erosion has led to lower water quality, negatively affecting the surrounding flora and animal population.   Resistance against the project was so fierce that an army base was constructed at its entrance to ensure its safety.

    At the crux of the problem is Central America’s energy crisis—a result of ageing infrastructure and demand that is increasing by an average of 5-6 percent per year. Guatemalan government reports from 2011 warn that the country could reach full capacity by 2015. That is part of the government’s urgency in building the plant in Santa Cruz Barillas, which is estimated to provide 10 percent of Guatemala’s electricity demand once operational.

    Still, actions such as the recent governmental siege are not a long-term solution for balancing local needs with development priorities. A new approach is needed to meet the country’s competing interests and demands.

    Photos and additional reporting by Brenna Goth.

    *Nic Wirtz is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. A freelance journalist who has lived in Guatemala for the last six years, his work has been featured on the Christian Science Monitor and GlobalPost and he edits the website Vozz.

    Tags: Guatemala, Crime and Security, Otto Perez Molina

  • UN Raises Issue of Sexual Violence in Colombia

    May 25, 2012

    by AQ Online

    United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Margot Wallström this week undertook a four-day mission to Colombia in an effort to highlight ongoing problems of violence against women. “I understand that the country as a whole wants to look to the future, instead of dwelling on the past, but there can be no lasting peace without security and peace for women,” said Wallström on her first-ever trip to the country.

    Wallström’s visit comes less than two weeks after Americas Quarterly social inclusion hero and human rights attorney Mónica Roa endured a campaign of intimidation that included gunshots fired through her office windows. Those acts—a likely response to Roa’s past support for Colombia’s new reproductive rights law—underscore the danger of sexual and gender-based violence facing Colombian women. As program director of the international rights group Women's Link Worldwide Roa had filed a case that in 2006 led to legal changes allowing abortion in cases of rape, incest, severe fetal abnormality, or when the life or physical or mental health of the woman is at risk.

    Wallström went on to say that “Impunity must never be an option,” and that she welcomed the government’s “commitment to a framework for strengthened cooperation between the Government and the UN, for putting survivors and victims of sexual violence at the center of our efforts to assist them, and to work together in an effort to increase the sharing of information and best practices.” 

    Tags: Human Rights

  • São Paulo Faces Chaos as Transportation Workers Strike

    May 24, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Subway and commuter train workers in Brazil’s biggest city went on strike yesterday, paralyzing a system used daily by more than 4 million people and exacerbating already heavy traffic jams.

    Ciro Moraes, a spokesman for the transportation workers’ union, said about 8,000 of the city’s 9,000 subway workers had walked off the jobs on Wednesday to demand a salary increase of about 20 percent (what amounts to an increase of about 14.99 percent in real terms). The city’s transport authority, the São Paulo Metro Company, has offered a 7-percent raise, or 4.15 percent in real terms.

    São Paulo’s metro has fives lines, one of which is run by a private operator and was not affected by the strike. Of the affected lines, the red line is the most active, transporting 1.5 million passengers daily.

    Transit authorities estimate that about 730,000 people were affected. Commuters without cars walked or waited in long lines for public buses. Those with cars sat in heavy traffic—at the peak of traffic, 249 kilometers (155 miles) of roads were backed up, breaking the city’s previous record of 191 km (118 miles), set in November 2004 after heavy rains. Angry subway users protested against the strike by blocking roads, throwing rocks and deflating buses’ tires and were dispersed by police with tear gas and rubber bullets.

    The paralysis of Brazil’s business capital by a single, previously announced workers’ strike is in part a reflection of Brazil’s failure to invest in upgrading and developing new infrastructure. While other emerging economies like China and India also experience infuriating traffic in major metropolitan areas, Brazil’s investment in infrastructure—only 17 percent of GDP in recent years—has lagged behind theirs (44 percent of GDP in China and 38 percent in India). Economists say that poor infrastructure is one major factor—along with high taxes and cost of labor—limiting Brazil’s economic competitiveness.

    Transportation systems in other major Brazilian cities, including Natal, Recife, Belo Horizonte, and Salvador, experienced similar logjams Wednesday in a separate strike by subway workers, bus drivers and commuter train operators.

    Tags: Brazil, Infrastructure, transportation policy, Economid development

  • Cricket and Central America’s Gangs

    May 23, 2012

    by Nic Wirtz

    The ability of sports to unite and promote shared goals has enabled athletes to reach parts of society that have often felt excluded. Could cricket be used to stem gang membership in Central America?

    Cricket dates back to the sixteenth century where it was first played in southern England. By the eighteenth century, it was the national sport, and from there it was exported through the Commonwealth.

    There are national teams throughout the Americas that compete in one-day competitions on the world stage. And in Central America, Belize, Costa Rica and Panama are affiliate members of the International Cricket Council, the game’s ruling body.

    Yet it is from the unlikely source of the streets of Compton, California that a potential blueprint for combating social problems in Central America exists.

    Read More


  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    May 23, 2012

    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.

    U.S. Visa for Castro's Daughter Stirs Controversy

    Last week, Cuban President Raúl Castro’s daughter Mariela received a visa to travel to the United States, sparking controversy among Cuban-American senators. Head of Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education, Castro will attend events in San Francisco and New York beginning on May 24. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) criticized the visit, calling Castro “a vociferous advocate of the regime and opponent of democracy.” AS/COA’s Senior Policy Director Christopher Sabatini told Fox News Latino: “The U.S. government is clearly trying to demonstrate a new, more fluid relationship with some elements of the regime.” 

    UN Begins Cuban Human Rights Investigation

    On May 22, the Geneva-based UN Committee Against Torture announced it would begin an investigation into human rights in Cuba, and demanded information from the Cuban government on poor prison conditions, detention of political dissidents, and harassment of government critics. The same day, government-run Cuban newspaper Granma published a report on prison conditions on the island, writing that the penitentiary system protects prisoner rights and “respects dignity.” 

    Incumbent Party Wins Dominican Elections

    Danilo Medina of the incumbent Dominican Liberation Party declared victory on Monday after winning just over 51 percent of the votes in Sunday’s election. The Dominican Revolutionary Party candidate and former President Hipólito Mejía won almost 47 percent of votes. In an article for Americas Quarterly, former Dominican Ambassador to the U.S. Flavio Darío Espinal argues that Medina owes his victory to President Leonel Fernández’s sound management of the country and missteps by Mejía in the last weeks of the campaign. Mejía questioned the election results, accusing the government of vote-buying, but appeared to concede defeat yesterday. 

    Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis on the Dominican election.

    Read More

    Tags: SICA, Dominican Presidential Election, Enrique Peña Nieto, Haitian Prime Minister, Mariela Castro, Cuba Human Rights

  • Uribe Assassination Attempt Thwarted in Argentina

    May 23, 2012

    by AQ Online

    An Improvised Explosive Device (IED) was discovered yesterday in a Buenos Aires venue slated to host former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe (2002–2010). The device was found at the Gran Rex Theater, where Mr. Uribe was scheduled to speak at a conference promoting dialogue between public- and private-sector leaders on innovation. According to the judge in charge of the case, Norberto Oyarbide, “the symposium will still take place and former president Uribe will attend.”

    Uribe’s administration is generally credited with greatly reducing violence stemming from Colombia’s decades-long conflict with left-wing guerilla forces, but his hardline approach has also left him vulnerable to allegations that his administration had ties to paramilitary forces and authorized actions that resulted in widespread human rights violations. Allegations have also surfaced that, on Uribe’s watch, Colombia’s Department of Administrative Security (DAS) undertook widespread illegal wiretapping on opposition figures, politicians, judges and journalists.

    Yesterday’s discovery comes only days after an assassination attempt against Uribe’s former Interior Minister, Fernando Londoño, which left two dead and dozens injured. Londoño is a vocal supporter of current President Juan Manuel Santos’ “Legal Framework for Peace,” a bill that would provide benefits for demobilized paramilitaries and guerrillas and even permit them to run for public office.

    Read More

    Tags: Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, Argentina, FARC, Juan Manuel Santos, Fernando Londoño, assasination attempt

  • Zeta Arrested over 49 Dismembered Bodies

    May 22, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Mexican army officials announced on Monday the arrest of a Zeta drug cartel member deemed responsible for the dumping 49 bodies along a highway in northern Mexico last week. Daniel de Jesus Elizondo Ramirez, known as “El Loco,” was captured by Mexican troops on Friday and was present at Monday’s press conference. According to a military spokesperson, Zeta bosses Miguel Angel Treviño Morales and Heriberto Lazcano ordered Elizondo Ramirez to leave the bodies in a town square in Cadereyta, though they were ultimately found in the town of San Juan, 18 miles (29 km) east of Monterrey on May 13.

    Graffiti at the scene of the crime immediately made the Zetas likely suspects and authorities’ suspicions were confirmed when a banner was found near the bodies that read, “Gulf cartel, Sinaloa cartel, marines and soldiers, nobody can do anything against us or they will lose,” and was signed by Zeta leaders. In the days following the incident, signs appeared across northern Mexico claiming that the Zetas were not in fact responsible, but authorities did not take the bait. The 43 men and 6 women were found with heads, hands and feet cut off, making the identification process much more difficult for Mexican authorities.

    Last week’s massacre was the third such atrocity this month in the “Triangle of Death”—the area between highways that connect Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Reynosa and Nuevo Laredo that is ground zero of the war between cartels. Eighty percent of the 4,832 missing person cases between 2006 and 2011 occurred in that area.

    Tags: Mexico Drug War, Zetas Drug Cartel, 49 Bodies, Triangle of Death

  • Mexico’s Innovative Youth Offer Hope in the Midst of the Presidential Campaign

    May 21, 2012

    by Arjan Shahani

    In the midst of Mexico’s presidential election and the heated debate on who is the best candidate, we are reminded of the myopic and paternalistic view citizens still have of this emerging democracy. It is not uncommon to hear people saying they will vote for a candidate because he/she “is the one that will put an end to poverty” (or some other priority development issue) as if the responsibility and power to do so lies solely in an ever-powerful and almighty political leader.  

    My intention is not to undermine the role government plays in paving the way for development and growth through policies that promote and attract investment and catalyze job creation and opportunities for economic transformation. But the fact is that our political leaders cannot and will not do it alone. For this reason, it is comforting to learn that MIT’s Technology Review recently awarded and recognized 10 innovative young (under age 35) Mexican individuals whose ideas and creations provide a beacon of hope for the country’s future value development.

    Mexico needs more people like José Manuel Aguilar from Monterrey, whose participation in developing procedures and a biotechnological platform to make H1N1 vaccines more readily available throughout the country helped stop an immeasurable amounts of deaths during the 2009 crisis. Or 31-year-old Ana Laborde, whose company has developed a patented bioplastic with 70 percent made from Agave waste (the plant used for Tequila manufacturing) and is 100 percent recyclable. Inventions like these are a challenge the country’s mentality of being a provider of raw materials with little added-value to industrialized nations.

    Read More

    Tags: Mexico, Development, Mexico presidential election 2012, Technology Review

  • Monday Memo: AQ’s Top Expected Stories for the Week of May 21

    May 21, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Top stories this week are likely to include: Dominican Republic presidential results; Raúl Castro’s daughter travels to the U.S.; Honduran uproar over counternarcotics operation; Colombia responds to last week’s assassination attempt; and Brazil’s economy slows. 

    Medina Leads in Election Returns: With over three-fourths of the vote counted in yesterday’s presidential election in the Dominican Republic, ruling party candidate Danilo Medina leads challenger—and former president—Hipólito Mejía. The tally has Medina ahead of Mejía by 51 percent to 47 percent, according to the BBC, which would cross the majority threshold to avoid a runoff. However, more votes remains to be counted; the Dominican expatriate community could play a deciding factor. Stay tuned for the announcement of a winner.

    Mariela Castro to Visit the U.S.
    : The daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro and outspoken gay rights activist, Mariela Castro, will begin a weeklong visit to the United States this week after being granted an entry visa by the U.S. government last week. She will make stops in San Francisco and New York City. In San Francisco, she will chair a panel on sexual diversity at the forthcoming congress of the Latin American Studies Association. Ms. Castro will also give a talk at the New York Public Library next Tuesday, May 29. What does this mean for the future of U.S.-Cuba exchanges? AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini comments, “While the decision to grant Raúl Castro’s daughter a visa likely indicates a shift in U.S. visa policy, the decision not to grant visas to well-known academics like Rafael Hernandez and others is odd and unfortunate.” 

    Honduras-DEA Fallout: After a Honduran counternarcotics operation last week involving the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) ended in the death of four innocent civilians, local Honduran civil society groups are demanding an end to U.S. presence in their country with a consortium of five Indigenous groups declaring the DEA agents “persona non grata.” Residents burned down government offices last week in protest and U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs Ranking Member Howard Berman called for a review of U.S. assistance to Honduras. AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak points out that “the Hondurans and the U.S. government are both saying that no shots were fired by DEA agents. But still, this incident will likely force a re-evaluation of what should be the exact terms of the U.S. support role.”

    Read More

    Tags: Cuba, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Raul Castro, Dilma Rousseff, Bombing

  • CNC Launches Report on Hispanic Consumer Growth

    May 18, 2012

    by AQ Online

    A report by marketing firm Nielsen on the growing purchasing power of U.S. Hispanics was launched at the Cuban American National Council’s (CNC) Sixteenth Biennial Conference in Miami yesterday. According to the report, titled “State of the Hispanic Consumer: The Hispanic Market Imperative,” the 52 million Hispanics currently living in the United States already represent the twelfth-largest economy with a purchasing power of $1 trillion, and are projected to become the ninth largest economy by 2015 with a buying power of $1.5 trillion.

    This years’ CNC conference, “Hispanics in Americas’ Future,” brings together Hispanic and Latin American leaders—among them, former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe—to discuss demographic and economic shifts in the U.S. population. "Any company that seeks to develop and grow in the U.S. has to attract the Hispanic consumer, it is imperative," said Monica Gil, director of public affairs and government relations at Nielsen. The report’s data also holds major implications for political campaigns, particularly the upcoming presidential election in November.

    The launch of the report at the CNC coincided with the release of Census Bureau data indicating that non-white births in the U.S. reached 50.4 percent, representing a majority for the first time. Among minority groups, Hispanics are experiencing the highest population growth rates across the Southern as well as newer destinations like Iowa, Oregon, Minnesota and Washington, DC.

    Read More

    Tags: Cuban American National Council, Hispanic population

  • Howard Dean and Emerging Federalism

    May 17, 2012

    by John Parisella

    It is always interesting and entertaining to listen to Governor Howard Dean and his take on new trends.  He has never hesitated to explore new areas of interest. Irrespective of party affiliation, Governor Dean can be described as a pragmatic progressive. After all, this was the first Internet presidential candidate.  This is the governor who, against the wishes of more veteran operatives, adopted the 50-state strategy that led to the Democrats takeover of Congress in 2006.  This is the first presidential candidate to oppose the Iraq War in 2003.  As governor of Vermont, he balanced budgets, while being a fervent progressive on issues like civil unions and universal health care for children.  It would be accurate to say that this governor has governed both “in poetry and in prose.”

    His latest take came during a conference about U.S. federalism in Montréal, Canada.  The venue was a Montréal-based think tank, The Federal Idea, and the goal was to see whether there were lessons to be learned when looking at the state of federalism in both countries.  Rather than treat us to a political treatise on the benefits of federalism, Governor Dean told us that federalism as we know it, and governance as we know it, may be on the cusp of major adjustments. The conventional paradigm for looking at federalism may be a vestige of the past. And he bases his observations on the role of today’s social media technology.

    To be fair, his address was meant to be instructive, not to provoke shockwaves.  He lauded Canadian federalism, explained the evolution of American federalism since World War II and showed how the system of federalism is best suited to dealing with diversity and competing interests within a state.  This being said, he argued that today’s generation is no longer limited by the traditional structures of federalism.  Rather, today’s social media gives them a greater say, a more direct voice and a greater capacity to affect change beyond constitutional jurisdictions.

    Read More

    Tags: Canada, United States, Howard Dean, Federalism, Vermont

  • New Mining Laws Are Being Drafted, says Haitian Prime Minister

    May 17, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Newly sworn-in Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe said the Haitian government is drafting legislation to regulate the country’s nascent mining industry. His statement on Tuesday came shortly after the Associated Press reported findings in the northeastern mountain region of precious metals—including gold, silver and copper—potentially worth $20 billion.

    According to Lamothe, the new legislation will lay out rules allocating a portion of royalties to the Haitian government and putting in place protections for the people and environment that could be affected by the mining. “The most important thing,” he said, “is to have the correct mining law.” The legislation is expected to be sent to Parliament soon.

    Gold was last gathered in Haiti by the Spanish in the 1500s. After they moved on to Mexico, Haiti’s reserves remained largely unknown. In the 1970s United Nations geologists documented notable pockets of gold and copper, but foreigners remained unwilling to invest in the industry within Haiti because of the country’s long history of corruption and instability. Since the 2010 earthquake, though, U.S. and Canadian companies have invested $30 million in exploratory drilling, worker camps, new roads, and laboratory studies.

    Haiti’s current mining laws date back to 1976, although in 1996 the firm SOMINE negotiated permits with President René Preval to extract metals out of the mountains. Lamothe said the legislation currently being drafted is designed to benefit Haiti while also attracting foreign investment with the promise of profiting from the mines. He said he hopes Haiti will receive “as much as possible” of the mining revenue “without hampering the profit motive of the mining company.

    Lamothe officially became prime minister on Monday, after Parliament approved his Cabinet and policy plan. He filled a vacuum left by former Prime Minister Garry Conille, who resigned three months ago after only four months on the job, due to differences with President Michel Martelly. In addition to the mining legislation, Lamothe emphasized social investment, including garbage clean-up, better roads and programs to help mothers living in poor neighborhoods in the capital city of Port-au-Prince.

    Tags: Haiti, Economic Development, Laurent Lamothe, Natural resource extraction

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    May 16, 2012

    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.

    U.S.-Colombia FTA Takes Effect

    Approved by U.S. Congress in October 2011, the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement was implemented at 1 a.m. on May 15. Infolatam reports that 4,200 boxes of flowers were the first Colombian products to enter the United States under the agreement. Colombia’s Portafolio reports on the enthusiasm of Colombian producers to reach new markets in the United States. “We’re preparing ourselves with new technology and adapting our production plants,” says Finance Manager Gloria Suárez of Ritchi, a garment producer. “We’re excited for this important moment to reach a market as large as the United States.”

    Read more about the October 2011 approval of the U.S.-Colombia FTA in an AS/COA Congressional Update. 

    In an AQ blog post, COA’s Eric Farnsworth reflects on the trade pact’s implementation and about what should come next in U.S.-Latin American relations. 

    Bomb Targets Former Colombian Minister in Bogota

    A bomb exploded in central Bogota yesterday, killing two and injuring 54. Police say the target was former Colombian Interior Minister Fernando Londoño Hoyos, who served in ex-President Álvaro Uribe’s administration and was a fierce opponent of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The government believes the FARC carried out the attack.

    Ministers Resign after Botched Hostage Rescue in Peru

    Peruvian Defense Minister Alberto Otarola and Interior Minister Daniel Lozada resigned this week over the handling of last month’s rescue mission to free 36 gas pipeline workers from the Shining Path guerillas. The purpose of that mission, which cost the lives of nine Peruvian security force members, was called into question when the workers said the insurgents released the hostages beforehand, reports InsightCrime. 

    Read More

    Tags: U.S.-Colombia FTA, Colombia Bomb, Peru Minister Resigns, UNASUR Military Spending, Chile Anti-Discrimination

  • Keys to the Bombing Attack in Bogotá

    May 16, 2012

    by Jenny Manrique

    Please find the original text below, submitted in Spanish.

    A former minister hospitalized. Two of his bodyguards dead. Fifty wounded. Dozens of businesses destroyed. The vivid scenes in Bogotá on Tuesday reminded Colombians of the worst periods of narco-violence in the country. And whenever events occur in the capital, angry responses came from all sectors.

    Colombia has recently been on a reverse trajectory when it comes to pain and violence. Still, a wounded ex-minister is more important than, say 10 civilians killed, and Bogotá, of course, is more relevant than Catatumbo or Choco—places that today show the raw and living reality of war.

    The terrorists know this. It is common sense. Further, such an act has the potential to radicalize the most extreme forces.  The reprehensible attack on Tuesday had all the ingredients for a real blow to the country.

    1. The place: It occurred in the north of Bogotá, where, in addition to many pedestrians, students and workers, there are also two universities—Universidad Pedagógica and Universidad Sergio Arboleda—that represent the Left and the Right of the country. Although it was a coincidence that former Minister Fernando Londoño was walking by, it is not a minor detail that the attack was near a Transmilenio station on Avenida Caracas—one of the more  popular streets for passenger traffic.

    That resulted in widespread panic among the population. The force of the blow was compounded by the fact that it was not a remote area south of the city where citizens are accustomed to living with urban guerrillas and paramilitary militias. It was a centrally located area guarded by the national police where the impact was meant to be lethal.

    Read More

    Tags: FARC, Juan Manuel Santos, Crime and Security, Fernando Londoño

  • Carlos Fuentes Dies at Age 83

    May 16, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Renowned Mexican author and influential political commentator Carlos Fuentes died of unknown causes yesterday in Mexico City. Fuentes was the author of many literary works and had continued writing up to his death. His most notable novels include La región más transparente (Where the Air is Clear), La muerte de Artemio Cruz (The Death of Artemio Cruz), Terra Nostra, and Las buenas conciencias (The Good Conscience). Fuentes was often cited as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature, but never won it.

    Although controversial at times, Carlos Fuentes is considered one of three great contemporary Latin American writers, alongside Colombia’s Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Peru’s Mario Vargas Llosa. Political leaders from all around the world have expressed their condolences, including the president of his home country. Mexican President Felipe Calderón noted on Twitter that he “deeply laments the death of the beloved and admired Carlos Fuentes, a writer and universal Mexican.”

    Fuentes was an influential and important figure in Latin American politics. He discussed political issues like corruption, censorship, immigration, and was an outspoken supporter of Fidel Castro’s Cuba. The prominent writer also emphasized that “literature and education were essential” to try to eliminate corruption. He often stated the vital roles artists—like himself—played to advance societies and “to point out what needs to be heard.”

    Tags: Mexico, Felipe Calderon, Arts and literature, Carlos Fuentes

  • U.S.-Colombia FTA Goes Into Effect: What Next?

    May 15, 2012

    by Eric Farnsworth

    Today marks the date of entry into force of the U.S.-Colombia free-trade agreement (FTA).  What a long, strange trip it’s been since the agreement was signed in 2006.  The rear-guard action of those opposed to trade generally, those opposed to the United States in Latin America specifically, and those who sought to use the agreement as leverage to promote narrower special interests has been fierce.  In the end, however, it became politically untenable and strategically short-sighted to continue to deny both Colombian as well as U.S. citizens the benefits of the trade agreement, and, as a result, today marks the beginning of a new chapter in U.S.-Colombian relations.

    Nonetheless, amid well-deserved celebrations within the trade community, we should not lose sight of the fact that the current moment is just the next step.  It is a critically important step, to be sure, one that should have occurred years ago, and one that, by its absence, held up much of the rest of the hemispheric agenda for the past several years.  It is important that the U.S.-Colombia FTA be seen as a tool for the improvement of the lives of people in both nations, and that, together, we work toward that outcome through close attention to the implementation process.  And it is equally important that the United States and Colombia begin now to work toward a broader trade agenda, one that would bring Colombia as a Pacific nation into the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum as well as near-term participation in negotiations to create the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  Colombia should also be invited to join the G20 as a permanent member, and, once all standards have been adequately met, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), too. 

    Colombia is a nation on the move, and an engaged, strategically-minded United States would seek to capitalize quickly on the success of the bilateral FTA by working with others to bring Colombia into the broader global trade and investment architecture.  Colombia has a well-established and hard-earned record of success, and it has proven over the years to be a close friend of the United States.  At a time when we need allies globally, we should do what we can to promote Colombia’s broader ambitions, consistent with our own interests, just as we are doing with nations outside this hemisphere.

    Read More

    Tags: Barack Obama, U.S.-Colombia FTA, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation

  • Las FARC, ¿hacia el fin de su actividad o en plena operación?

    May 15, 2012

    by Jenny Manrique

    El secuestro de un periodista y sus últimos ataques contradicen la idea del término de la guerrilla generada por la liberación de rehenes.

    Después de 47 años de lucha guerrillera en Colombia y el secuestro de 2,000 civiles y 250 militares, de acuerdo con el gobierno, las FARC anunciaron en marzo el fin del secuestro y la entrega de los últimos 10 rehenes uniformados. El gobierno interpretó el mensaje como el inicio del fin de la guerrilla, pero sus últimos ataques y el reciente secuestro de Roméo Langlois, periodista francés, demuestran su actividad.

    La carta de las FARC con el anuncio del fin del secuestro supuso para algunos la puerta abierta a las negociaciones. “Es un paso impresionante que hay que aplaudir, pero hay una serie de obstáculos sociales, como las mismas fuerzas militares o los ganaderos que no quieren negociar. La comunidad internacional se va a meter y el mensaje con las liberaciones es que se está creando un ambiente de paz. A punta de conflicto, es muy difícil, y los últimos 10 años lo han demostrado”, señaló Ariel Ávila, analista de la Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris.

    Mientras la incertidumbre rodea la situación del periodista francés, las FARC prosiguieron esta semana su ofensiva armada con un ataque el jueves a un campamento de carabineros en la frontera entre Colombia y Venezuela, que causó siete uniformados muertos y 12 heridos.

    El 20 de febrero, se conmemoró una década de la ruptura del fallido proceso de los diálogos de paz entre las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) y el gobierno del presidente Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002). Esa fecha marcó el inicio del secuestro de políticos, comenzando por el de la excandidata Ingrid Betancourt, rescatada en 2008.

    Read More

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

  • Brazilian Real Drops to Lowest Level since 2009

    May 15, 2012

    by AQ Online

    The value of the Brazilian real dropped to less than two reais per U.S. dollar on Monday for the first time in three years. Responding to investor concerns over Greece’s possible exit from the Eurozone and slowing global economic growth, the euro dropped to its lowest level since mid-January, dragging the real and other emerging-market currencies along with it. The real has seen a 13 percent depreciation since late February, and at 1.99 reais to the dollar, surpassed its previous low point from July 2009.

    Traders expect Brazil’s central bank to begin selling dollars in order to support importers and temper a potential spike in inflation usually associated with a drop in currency value. “Over the next three months, monthly inflation will be slower than in April,” said Brazilian Central Bank President Alexandre Tombini in Rio de Jainero last week. Tombini added that the real is weakening as part of a global trend that favors the dollar over most currencies, particularly those that were boosted by the boom in commodity prices.

    In an effort to quell panic among investors, Finance Minister Guido Mantega explained on Monday that a depreciating real and a strong dollar will help “Brazilian exporters compete overseas and it also helps Brazilian manufacturers compete against imports in our own market." Though the Brazilian government has taken steps to avoid a steep currency appreciation in the past, Mantega said that it will not intervene this time.

    Tags: Brazilian Real, Brazilian Central Bank, Eurozone Crisis, Greece Debt, China Slowed Growth

  • Monday Memo: AQ’s Top Expected Stories for the Week of May 14

    May 14, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Top stories this week are likely to include: Hugo Chávez post-radiation therapy; Michel Martelly begins his second year as president; Dominicans head to the polls; Peru minus two ministers; and Brazil creates a new social program.

    Chávez Ends Cancer Treatment: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez returned from Cuba on Friday claiming that he had ended his radiation therapy session in Havana “in a successful manner.” This appears to be the first full week in the past several weeks where Chávez governs the country while on its soil. Despite his repeated absences, the latest poll by Datanálisis reports that Chávez returns home with a 17 percentage point advantage over opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski ahead of the October presidential election. Now the question is whether Chávez is truly recovered; the recently-formed Council of the State casts some doubt. AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini points out, “Sure Chávez says he is in the clear, and we all hope he is. But President Chávez has said that before. Given the chronic lack of transparency of this regime, it’s impossible to know.”

    Martelly in Second Year: Haitian President Michel Martelly was sworn in one year ago last Friday, and this is his first full week of the new presidential year. The Associated Press ranks his first year as one of “modest gains” that many in Haiti view with “guarded surprise.” Despite clashes with parliament, Martelly has overseen successes such as reduced tuition for schools, funded by a tax on international phone calls, as well as a steady recovery after the devastating January 2010 earthquake. But it has not been without challenges. According to AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak, “A top priority in the next few months will be getting to the UN to devote all the resources necessary to control the cholera outbreak. This cannot be a piecemeal approach; it must be dealt with rapidly and comprehensively before more Haitians die.”

    Elections in the Dominican Republic: Dominicans elect a new president on Sunday, May 20; the two leading candidates are Hipólito Mejia of the Partido de la Revolución Dominicana (Dominican Revolution Party—PRD) and Danilo Medina of the ruling Partido de la Liberación Dominicana (Dominican Liberation Party—PLD). President Leonel Fernández of the PLD is not running for re-election. Sabatini notes, “This election, and the Dominican Republic’s future, turns really on the ability of the PLD and the political system’s capacity generally to renew itself. The truth is: without broader leadership change across the parties, the political and economic miracle of the DR may be at risk—not now, but in the future.”

    Peru and the Ministerial Gap: After last week’s resignation of the interior and defense ministers, Peruvian Prime Minister Oscar Valdés must quickly restore order to President Ollanta Humala’s cabinet. The ministers resigned after a failed operation against the Shining Path rebels killed at least nine soldiers, and they faced a congressional censure. This is not the first ministerial change; the entire cabinet was dissolved by former Prime Minister Salomón Lerner after Indigenous Peruvians protested against the controversial Conga mine. “Increasingly, we’re seeing a government that is shifting more in favor of investor rightism in large part as a recognition of the need of the state to generate revenue to support its social inclusion agenda,” observes Sabatini.

    Brazil Combats Extreme Poverty: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff announced a new social program to fight extreme childhood poverty yesterday. The program, Brasil Cariñoso (Caring Brazil), will spend $4 billion to create 6,000 new daycare units for children and an increased subsidy of the popular Bolsa Família program—and it will affect the most impoverished areas of Brazil, the north and northeast. Marczak says, “The very poor have yet to join in the Brazil miracle, but this newest program has the right ingredients for their young children to have access to many of the foundations needed for success. Once again, Brazil is an example for the region.”

    Tags: Peru, Cuba, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Haiti, Hugo Chavez, Ollanta Humala, Michel Martelly, Henrique Capriles Radonski, Hipolito Mejia, Danilo Medina

  • Is There a Consensus on Gay Marriage in North America?

    May 11, 2012

    by John Parisella

    President Barrack Obama’s pronouncement in favor of gay marriage certainly qualifies as both historic and courageous, not only for its content but also for its timing. Some critics already see some political machinations in this statement, which came shortly after Vice President Joe Biden seemed to indicate support for gay marriage. The polling data, however, would indicate that the president made a somewhat risky move whose ramifications remain uncertain.

    The issue of gay marriage has been a polarizing issue more so in America than in my home country of Canada. In the 2004 presidential election, the Bush campaign cleverly used state referenda on banning gay marriage or defending traditional marriage as an instrument to bring out the religious right in favor the president. Considering the narrow victory by Mr. Bush over Senator John Kerry, it has become conventional wisdom to consider the tactic a success.

    Read More

    Tags: Barack Obama, Same-Sex Marriage

  • Haitian Sexual Abuse Victim Testifies in Uruguay

    May 11, 2012

    by AQ Online

    A 19-year old Haitian man who accused six Uruguayan UN peacekeepers of sexually assaulting him testified in a closed Uruguayan civilian court on Thursday. According to the victim, Johnny Jean, the six marines who were serving with the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) raped him on a UN base in Port Salut last September.

    The peacekeepers involved, including one who recorded the incident with his cell phone, were recalled to Uruguay and imprisoned shortly after the case began making headlines. A preliminary investigation conducted by the UN and the Uruguayan Navy concluded that the peacekeepers had acted indecently but had not raped the Haitian man. As a result, the peacekeepers were released in late 2011, pending the outcome of the current investigation. According to Uruguayan Supreme Court spokesman Raul Oxandabarat, next steps in the case will depend on how Judge Alejandro Guido received Mr. Jean’s testimony

    Tensions between UN peacekeepers and the local Haitian population have run high since Nepalese peacekeepers were found to be the source of the 2010 cholera outbreak. Less than two years later, the disease has spread across the country and spilled into the Dominican Republic, killing over 7,000 Haitians and infecting 530,000 more—roughly 5 percent of the total population. To make matters worse, the Centers for Disease Control report published last week shows that the cholera strain is evolving to circumvent immunity, igniting fears of a potential second wave of the epidemic.

    Despite rising antagonism toward the UN presence in Haiti—and the potential for violence if the accused  Uruguayans are found not guilty—newly confirmed Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe ruled out the possibility of a hasty removal of UN troops. "Once we increase our security forces, the number of MINUSTAH troops will gradually fall," Lamothe said.

    Tags: MINUSTAH, UN Peacekeepers, Laurent Lamothe, Cholera Epidemic, Haitian Prime Minister

  • Recasting the Security Policy in Central America

    May 10, 2012

    by José Miguel Cruz

    In the mid-1990s, the Inter-American Development Bank published various reports indicating that El Salvador and Guatemala had the highest homicide rates in Latin America. Fast-forward sixteen years later and these two countries form, along with neighboring Honduras, the most violent region in the world by all accounts.

    With a combined population of 28 million, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador constitute the northern triangle of Central America; a sub-region that has experienced almost twice-as-much violence as Mexico has since 2006, when Calderon’s war on drugs started. According to official data, approximately 50 thousand people have been killed in Mexico since 2006. In contrast, the northern triangle, with a population four times smaller than Mexico, has endured nearly 90,000 murders during that same period. But while Mexico, with an annual homicide rate of 18 deaths per one hundred thousand inhabitants, is a tragedy, the northern triangle, with average homicide rates surpassing 60 per one hundred thousand, is a catastrophe.

    Many believe that the appalling rates of violence in the sub-region are the result of the penetration of Mexican and Colombian drug cartels.  According to this argument, in their effort to control the drug routes from South America to the United States, criminal organizations are not only bringing unparalleled violence to Central America, but also taking over highly fragile public institutions.  The logical extension of this argument then is that this relentless assault of transnational gangs can only be addressed with greater police and military force.

    Although the presence of criminal cartels has undeniably contributed to the skyrocketing violence in the northern triangle, the fundamental problem of security in Central America does not have to do merely with drug traffickers—or social conditions, for that matter. It has to do with government institutions.  It has to do with local political and criminal-justice organizations that are extremely corrupt. It has to do with institutions that have been historically pervaded by local criminal lords, death squads, crooked politicians, and vicious paramilitaries who were present long before the Mexican Zetas or the Colombian syndicates began crowding the illegal enterprises of the region. 

    Read More

    Tags: Central America, El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Los Zetas, Crime and Security, Otto Perez Molina

  • Colombia Seeks Stronger Bilateral Relationship with China

    May 10, 2012

    by AQ Online

    In Beijing yesterday Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said China is “very interested” in investing in an oil pipeline that would run from Venezuela to Colombia’s Pacific coast. President Santos is currently in China on a five-day trip to promote trade and investment ties between the two countries. China is already Colombia’s second-largest export market, mainly for oil and coal, and with demand growing there while the U.S.’ energy market evolves, “we have to start shifting our markets to Asia,” said Colombian Minister of Mines and Energy Mauricio Cárdenas.

    On Wednesday the state-owned Chinese Development Bank signed a preliminary agreement with Colombian state oil company EcoPetrol to provide financing for the pipeline. The final route has not been determined, but it is expected to transport 600,000 barrels of Venezuelan and Colombian oil per day by the time it is completed in 2018, ensuring quicker transport of oil to China and other Asian markets. Chinese and Colombian officials also discussed bringing in the state-owned petrochemical firm Sinochem International Corp. as an equity partner.

    The ministers accompanying President Santos also held talks with Chinese officials about developing central Colombian reserves of coking coal, which is used to make steel; building a railroad from the center of the country to the Pacific coast to facilitate the exploitation and export of those reserves; and possibly undertaking joint ventures to mine for coltan, a conductor used in many consumer electronic products.

    President Santos’ visit comes at a time of evolving relations between the U.S. and Latin America, and of ever increasing ties between Latin America and China. U.S. demand for energy sources such as coal and oil has slowed as its energy mix shifts toward natural gas, while China has increased its investment in oil exploration and production in the region, including an $867-million takeover in 2009 from Emerald Energy PLC of Colombian and Syrian oil assets.

    Tags: Colombia, China, Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia-China relations

  • Legislative Blunders and Expectations in El Salvador

    May 9, 2012

    by Julio Rank Wright

    El Salvador has undergone various political events in the past couple of months. Political drama and institutional bickering have been present in daily news. For one, the legislative and municipal elections that took place this past March were fair and clean, while the same cannot be said about other countries in the region—namely Nicaragua. The outcome of El Salvador’s election results was bleak for the ruling Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (Farabundo Martí Liberation Front, or FMLN) party; FMLN’s largest loss was in the country’s most populous and important municipalities.

    Second, the main opposition party, Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (Nationalist Republican Alliance, or ARENA), simply recuperated what they had historically obtained in legislative elections before the defection of 12 of their deputies in 2009. ARENA’s main win was in taking the larger, emblematic municipalities from the FMLN which are also founding shareholders of Alba Petroleos, the gasoline-importing Venezuelan joint venture with the FMLN. With these results the citizens of El Salvador confirm the country’s preference for the two larger parties.

    Changes in electoral legislation allowing for independent candidates proved useless: the most voted independent candidate only obtained a little over 1,000 votes. El Salvador’s strong political party system has allowed, for the most part, defining medium-term policy agendas and a certain degree of accountability toward voters. This is unlike Guatemala, where political parties come and go—creating a real problem for the democratic process.

    Unfortunately, the outgoing legislature made some nefarious decisions prior to their term coming to an end on April 30. The most troubling decision was made regarding the anticipated election of Supreme Court magistrates and specifically some magistrates in the Constitutional Tribunal. In essence, the previous President of the Supreme Court—who also heads the Constitutional Tribunal—was removed from his office by the legislature before his term was over. The reason behind the shuffle presumably responded to some decisions that the previous Tribunal had made regarding electoral reform and political parties. Civil society organizations denounced the decision to no avail.

    Read More

    Tags: El Salvador, Rule of Law, Supreme Court, Democratic Governance

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    May 9, 2012

    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.

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    Mexico Hosts First 2012 Presidential Debate

    On Sunday night, the four top Mexican presidential candidates faced one another in the country’s first of two planned presidential debates. The debate was seen as an opportunity for candidates to gain an edge as the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s (PRI) Enrique Peña Nieto maintains a lead of over 20 percent. Though the National Action Party’s Josefina Vázquez Mota and the Party of the Democratic Revolution’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador attacked Peña Nieto’s record, polls after the debate show no diminished support for the PRI candidate. The Wall Street Journal noted that the debate revealed areas of agreement between Peña Nieto and Vázquez Mota, such as allowing foreign investment in Mexico’s state oil company and fighting crime. The paper said this “suggests that Mexico could begin to see consensus on key issues like energy, where attempts at reform have been blocked by a divided Congress for years.” 

    Social Media a Double-Edged Sword in Mexico's Election

    Mexico’s 2012 election marks the first time many of Mexico’s tech-savvy youth will vote, giving social media—and especially Twitter—a tremendous influence on the campaign, writes Nathaniel Parish Flannery for The Atlantic. “For the campaigns, the hope is that something that comes out of social media will get picked up as news and broadcast more widely,” commented the Council on Foreign Relation’s Shannon O’Neil in the article. However, Flannery writes that “[c]andidates have…seen the strategy backfire, as viral videos of awkward stumbles during important speeches by both Josefina [Vázquez Mota] and Enrique Peña Nieto spread rapidly across the web.”

    U.S. House Speaker Urges Engagement with LatAm

    On May 8, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) addressed the Council of the Americas’ 42nd Washington Conference, cautioning that disengaging Latin America could threaten security and economic stability in the Western Hemisphere. He advocated for a free enterprise zone in the Americas, and spoke about the threat of organized crime in the region. “The best defense against…the destructive aspirations of international criminals is for the United States to double down on a policy of direct engagement,” he said. 

    Access full coverage of COA’s 42nd Washington Conference on the Americas, including summaries of remarks by speakers such as Boehner, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, and Argentine Vice President Amado Boudou. 

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    Tags: UNASUR, Mexican Presidential Election, John Boehner, Brazilian Troops, Brazil Drought, Bogota Gun Ban

  • OAS Secretary General to Meet with President Correa

    May 9, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General José Miguel Insulza will arrive in Ecuador tomorrow to begin discussions with President Rafael Correa over his government’s decision not to participate in last month’s Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia. Insulza will likely also address recent calls by the Ecuadorian government to modify the OAS constitution to reduce U.S. influence within the organization.

    Ecuador’s decision to boycott April’s summit in protest over Cuba’s exclusion the meeting comes alongside other recent Ecuadorian complaints, such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ (IACHR) request to suspend the defamation sentence against El Universo newspaper. A columnist and three directors of the newspaper have since been pardoned.

    Correa has recently said publicly that the only legitimate multilateral organization in Latin America is the Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños (CELAC)—created in Venezuela last year—which excludes the United States and Canada. Additional details of Thursday’s planned meetings have been scarce, with Ecuador’s foreign ministry saying only, “The goal is to maintain a political dialogue on the Organization of American States.”

    Tags: Jose Miguel Insulza, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Rafael Correa, Organization of American States (OAS)

  • Continued Fallout over YPF Expropriation

    May 8, 2012

    by AQ Online

    European Union Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht yesterday announced that Argentina may face retaliatory measures following the nationalization of Spanish energy giant Repsol’s majority stake in YPF, Argentina’s largest oil and gas company. De Gucht’s comments were delivered during a seminar in Brussels, Belgium, on “Strategic Challenges in the EU–Brazil Relationship.”

     “We will soon be moving forward with a response to Argentina's action in the Repsol case,” said De Gucht, adding, “There has for many years been a debate about open markets in the region[…] In recent weeks, we have seen that debate heat up again with Argentina's move against a Spanish company's stake in YPF.”  Although De Gucht did not specify what actions the EU is considering, any moves would presumably be in addition to the European Community’s plans to file a WTO complaint over Argentina’s alleged use of protectionist policies, such as the use of non-automatic import licensing for commonly traded goods.

    On Friday, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner signed into law the expropriation measure and named Miguel Galuccio as its chief executive. He promises to have a five-year plan ready within 100 days.

    Tags: Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Repsol YPF, European Union Trade Commissioner