• Guatemalan Presidential Hopefuls Vow Continuance of Anti-Poverty Programs

    September 9, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Three of Guatemala’s ten presidential candidates in separate campaign events yesterday promised to leave untouched many of the anti-poverty programs established by outgoing President Álvaro Colom. The programs, which have been overseen by Mr. Colom’s wife, Sandra Torres, are extremely popular among Guatemala’s poor and were the basis of Ms. Torres’ recently abandoned run for the presidency.

    The top contender in Sunday’s first-round election, former-General and Partido Patriota candidate Otto Pérez Molina, vowed that his top priority in office will be to crack down on crime and gang-related violence “with an iron fist.” But Molina also proposed expanding programs that promote greater social inclusion and creating a new government ministry that will focus on social development. Líder party candidate Manuel Baldizón, currently second in polls, delivered a similar message to supporters in Guatemala’s northern city Santa Elena, saying he is the only candidate “truly committed” to the fight against poverty.

    In polls released yesterday, Baldizón trailed Perez by a hefty 16 percentage-point margin. However Guatemala’s electoral system requires a runoff in the event that no candidate receives a majority of first-round votes—given a second-place finisher eight more weeks to catch up to Molina before second-round voting on November 6.

    Tags: Guatemala, Social inclusion, Álvaro Colom

  • 9/11: Also a Call for U.S. Leadership on the Inter-American Democratic Charter

    September 9, 2011

    by Javier El-Hage

    September 11, 2001, is remembered as the day the United States received a dramatic call to lead the world in defeating terrorism. It is also the day the U.S., along with 33 nations of the Americas, signed the Inter-American Democratic Charter (IADC) committing to the collective promotion and protection of democracy. Through ten years of costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. has failed to lead the implementation of the IADC and has stood in the sidelines as democracy has eroded in the Americas. It is time to take action—a peaceful one.

    Just minutes after New York City and Washington DC were hit, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell gave this moving speech in Lima, Peru, at the Organization of American States’ (OAS) General Assembly:

    "A terrible, terrible tragedy has befallen my nation, but it has also befallen all of the nations of this region, all the nations of the world, and all those who believe in democracy. [Terrorists] can destroy buildings and kill people—and we will be saddened by this tragedy—but they will never be allowed to kill the spirit of democracy. They cannot destroy our society, nor our belief in the democratic way.
    It is important that I remain here for a bit longer in order to be part of the consensus on this new Inter-American Democratic Charter. That is the most important thing I can do before returning to Washington DC.
    I hope we can move forward in the order of business to the adoption of the Charter, because I very much want to be here to express the commitment of the United States to democracy in this hemisphere."

    Powell’s word on the importance of the IADC and the U.S. commitment to democracy in the face of a massive terrorist attack is not an overstatement. Terrorist organizations are exclusively harbored and sponsored by non-democratic states that deny basic human rights to their citizens. As with the Third Reich’s Germany or the Taliban’s Afghanistan, it is no coincidence that the U.S. has never had to wage war on a democratic nation. In a world where territories and populations are governed by states, the struggle for peace is first and foremost a struggle for a democratic world comprised of a community of democratic nations.

    Here’s where the IADC has a purpose. The IADC is the most ambitious pro-democracy document yet to be approved at an international level. It is the cornerstone of an emerging international law on democracy and represents a groundbreaking step toward the consolidation of democracy and human rights around the world.

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    Tags: Inter-American Democratic Charter, Organization of American States (OAS), Democratic Governance

  • Mexico Mourns After Casino Royale Massacre

    September 8, 2011

    by Arjan Shahani



    Mexico suffered the criminal attack with the highest number of civilian casualties in its near history recently as a group of 10 to 12 armed men entered the two-story Casino Royale in the city of Monterrey, doused it with a flammable liquid and threw Molotov cocktails in the first floor. The exact details are still sketchy and the real death toll might never be established (there are inconsistencies in numbers reported by authorities, witness accounts and morgue registries) but unofficially the number is above 50, most of them women. The full motive behind the attack will probably never be determined, but the local media’s investigative reports point toward non-compliance with a criminal gang that had demanded a cut of the business’ profits in exchange for “protection.”

    Gruesome as the attack was, the reason for the elevated number of victims sadly has more to do with institutionalized corruption than with the criminal act itself. Survivors to this tragedy have testified that other than the main entrance to the establishment (which was blocked by the attackers), four non-labelled service doors were locked and the only supposed emergency exit to the place was fake and had a concrete wall behind it. The amount of suffering and emotions the victims must have felt when they thought they would be able to escape the fire and faced a wall in front of them, is horribly unimaginable.

    Casino Royale received its license to operate as a restaurant and betting house in 2007, during the administration of Mayor Adalberto Madero, who in 2011 was officially kicked out of the PAN party for corruption charges and tainting the party’s image (he was later reinstated due to a technicality). Ironically enough, Rodrigo, José Francisco and Ramón Agustín Madero (Adalberto’s cousins) are members of the administrative board of the company that owns Casino Royale.

    The matter becomes worse when we learn that during 2011 the establishment had already been subject to two other criminal attacks; the venue was not shut down permanently after the follow-up investigations even though it was not up to code. As if that wasn’t enough, videos showing Monterrey Mayor Fernando Larrazabal’s brother going into the Casino and suspiciously receiving wads of cash in cell phone boxes were leaked by the local and national media, furthering social outrage.

    Today, a city and a whole country continues to mourn. Frustration is at an all-time high and is manifesting itself in different ways. On Twitter users heightened their continued demands for both Larrazabal and Governor Rodrigo Medina to resign. The local soccer teams held minutes of silence before their recent games. Masses honoring the victims have been held and peace rallies are the current talk of the town, though actual turnout has been surprisingly low.

    Read More

    Tags: Monterrey, Massacre

  • GOP Candidates Square Off on Immigration Policy

    September 8, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Republican frontrunners took to their podiums last night for the second televised debate, where a discussion on immigration reform and border security featured prominently. Texas Governor Rick Perry’s debut in the GOP race was rare opportunity for guest-moderator and Telemundo anchor Jose Diaz-Balart to press candidates on their views on immigration, with a focus on the undocumented population.

    Gov. Perry, who currently leads the race despite announcing his candidacy for president less than a month ago, stirred things up with his criticism of President Barack Obama’s immigration speech in May. "For the President of the United States to go to El Paso, Texas, and say the border is safer than it’s ever been,” said Gov. Perry, “either he has some of the poorest intel in the history of this country or he was an abject liar to the American people."

    Gov. Perry’s calls for more border agents were echoed by many of the other candidates, including Herman Cain and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, currently second place in the polls, pushed for continued construction of the fence along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. Romney also stressed the need to minimize the economic incentive, what he calls the “magnet,” that attracts undocumented immigrants to the United States.

    Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman and Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, focused instead on legal immigrants’ contribution to the economy and American competitiveness. “Immigration has made this country the dynamic country it continues to be,” said Santorum, whose parent emigrated from Italy, “so we should not have a debate on how we don’t want people to come to this country.


    Tags: Immigration, Border security, GOP Debate, Republican Debate, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney

  • Violence at West Indian Parade a Reminder to Provide Youth Opportunities

    September 7, 2011

    by Nina Agrawal

    The West Indian Day Parade and its pre-dawn “J’ouvert” revelries have taken place every year on Labor Day in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn since the 1960s. Modeled on the traditional Carnival festivities of the Caribbean islands, the parade includes revelers painted black and red to evoke the devil, mas bands dancing to soca, calypso and steel drums, masqueraders dressed in elaborate feather and sequined costumes, and plenty of Caribbean food. Monday's event concluded a series of activities over the Labor Day weekend this year celebrating West Indian culture.

    As an annual attendee myself, I was deeply saddened to hear of the violence that took place near and around the parade routes, both during and after it—not to mention the spate of shootings across New York City during the holiday weekend. All in all, from Friday through Monday, 52 shootings claimed the lives of 13 and wounded 54 others, according to police data. In a particularly devastating incident, a shootout on Park Place and Franklin Avenue around 9 p.m. on Monday left two men and an innocent bystander dead, in addition to wounding two officers. Fifty-six-year-old Denise Gay was sitting on her stoop with her daughter when she was struck by a stray bullet in a dispute between Leroy Webster and Eusi Johnson, both former convicts who lived nearby.

    In processing this violence, I was disheartened to hear people blaming the West Indian parade, which I and many others experienced as a celebration that brought together the neighborhood’s diverse communities—with roots in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Guyana, and Haiti, to name just a few—to recreate a Caribbean tradition in New York.

    I also tried to come up with an explanation—and perhaps more naively, a solution. What caused these acts of violence? Why were my neighbors and peers caught in crossfire and engaged in violence when I led a life of comparative security and ease? What could be done to prevent similar incidents in the future?

    Read More

    Tags: Education, Economic Development, Youth, Crime and Security, West Indian Day Parade

  • Children’s Rights in Jamaica

    September 7, 2011

    by Jaevion Nelson

    On May 22, 2009 in St. Ann, Jamaica, seven girls died in a fire at the Armadale facility, which was a state-run juvenile center that housed girls exposed to crime and violence. Those that made it out of Armadale alive suffered severe injuries as a result of the blaze.

    While the fire has long been put out in St. Ann, the apathy surrounding the protection and promotion of children’s rights in Jamaica is not yet extinguished. In fact, it has been burning for decades. The underlying problems continue: weak governing policies, lack of accountability for responsible adults, inherent flaws in the child protection system, and lack of training and capacity building for those in charge of children in juvenile facilities.

    The Armadale tragedy is testament to the pervasiveness of these problems, which impede important steps in appreciating and fulfilling human rights as we seek to build a more advanced country in Jamaica. The roadmap for Vision 2030, the National Development Plan, seems clear and exhaustive. But the rights of our children are not adequately taken into account; if they are not addressed, Vision 2030 will be a useless blueprint and will fail to take Jamaica forward. 

    Jamaica ratified the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1991 and has legislated the obligations of this international treaty into the Child Care and Protection Act (CCPA) of 2004. But arguably, there have been few changes on this front since the CCPA. Teachers still practice capital punishment, parents continue to neglect their child rearing responsibilities, older men and women continue to use power and influence to engage in human trafficking, and even religious leaders sexually exploit our children while pretending to offer guidance and emotional support. Additionally, those who must take action and make a difference ignore the immediate and long-term implications until these situations escalate and draw the attention of the media.

    Tags: Jamaica, Youth

  • 9/11 Remembered

    September 7, 2011

    by John Parisella

    In the course of human history, few events come along that are so indelible that people remember where they were, what they were doing, and how they felt at one exact moment. For many of my contemporaries, the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 brings back vivid memories of the day when the United States’ Camelot came to an abrupt end. The tragedy of 9/11 is one such event.

    The unspeakable terror of the events of September 11, 2001, will remain as the singular, horrific day that transformed the world and America in particular—and the way the world has evolved since that day. The politics surrounding 9/11 remain, and historians will surely debate its ramifications for decades to come: two wars that directly resulted from the attacks continue in their distinctive forms; the Patriot Act remains fundamentally in force; and Guantánamo Bay is still open. 

    The human tragedies woven around the 2001 attacks will be commemorated in the coming days. Nearly 3000 people lost their lives on 9/11 and it has been estimated that possibly over 10,000 lost a relative in the World Trade Center. Twenty-four Canadians also perished that day. Some remains have never been found, and for all who were involved in some capacity, the wounds have not healed. Last year’s controversy over a mosque and community center near Ground Zero is clear evidence that time is moving ever so slowly.

    Read More


  • Guatemalan Court Rules on Child Abduction for Adoption Case

    September 7, 2011

    by Karen Smith Rotabi

    Loyda Rodriguez finally received a long-awaited Guatemalan court order on July 29, 2011, which found her daughter’s intercountry adoption to the U.S. to be illegal. The court order gives a 60-day window for return of the child.

    In the ruling, the courts determined that the adoption was processed with fraudulent paperwork (including an illegal passport) and require repatriation of the young girl, now a U.S. citizen. This comes after five years of searching for the child, engaging high-profile human rights defenders and staging hunger protests to demand justice. Still, her daughter’s return home remains up in the air. 

    The ruling is a watershed moment for Rodriguez and at least two other women seeking to have their daughters returned from the United States. All three of these children now live with U.S. families after coming to the country through what initially appeared to be legitimate adoptions—any initial wrongdoing by the families is not clear. But when all three U.S. families were informed that the adoptions were a result of alleged abductions, the children were not returned to Guatemala. The U.S. families remained silent and may have even worked to block concerted efforts for DNA testing and desperate pleas from the mothers for justice.

    And with this recent court ruling, the U.S. Department of State remains silent while deferring all questions to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Will DOJ require the foreign court order to be enforced? That is unlikely given DOJ’s decision to decline formal requests from the Government of Guatemala for DNA tests in each of the three cases. But there is a glimmer of hope. At the end of last month, Senator Mary Landrieu (LA) visited Guatemala and met with the mothers; hopefully Senator Landrieu will attempt to influence U.S. legal collaboration.

    Read More

    Tags: Guatemala, CICIG

  • Ecuador, U.S. On Track to Normalize Relations

    September 7, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino has expressed optimism that the ongoing talks to restore U.S.-Ecuadorian diplomatic relations will be resolved before the end of this year. Relations were downgraded five months ago to the charge d’affaires level but, in an encouraging sign, both countries recently nominated ambassadors for their respective embassies. U.S. President Barack Obama named career diplomat Adam Namm yesterday to be the ambassador in Quito, while Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa tapped Nathalie Cely, minister of coordination and production, over the weekend for the ambassadorship in Washington.

    Patino revealed that Namm will have the consent of the Ecuadorian government to assume his post, although Namm still requires approval from the U.S. Senate. Cely’s nomination is still pending approval from Washington. During a press conference, Patino said, “We have maintained contact with the State Department and gradually advanced to this level of recovery.”

    Bilateral relations hit a low point in April when a WikiLeaks cable from 2009 was published in the Ecuadorian newspaper El País, which revealed U.S. concerns of corruption among high-level national police officials and knowledge of such by President Correa. Shortly thereafter, U.S. Ambassador Heather Hodges was expelled from Ecuador, and in response Ecuadorian Ambassador Luis Gallegos was declared persona non grata in Washington, resulting in the formal downgrading of relations.

    Tags: Ecuador, State Department, Rafael Correa

  • Martinelli Pursues Electoral Reform in 2012

    September 6, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli announced yesterday that he will hold a referendum in 2012 on a constitutional modification to reform the country’s electoral system. The initiative was already introduced by the executive branch in March as a law and is currently being discussed in Congress. A controversial point is that the proposed changes would include presidential re-election and the possibility of runoff starting 2014 if no candidate obtains an absolute majority of the vote.

    Last week a dispute over the referendum during a debate in Congress led to the demise of the Alianza por el Cambio, a national political coalition initiated in 2009 between Martinelli’s Cambio Democrático (Democratic Change) party and the opposition (Partido Panameñista, the Unión Patriótica and the Movimiento Liberal Republicano Nacionalista). By the end of last week, Martinelli dismissed Juan Carlos Varela from his post as foreign minister (Varela remains Vice President) due to their differing positions on the proposals.

    Martinelli, who according to a recent poll by Dichter & Neira  (D&N) has lost 20.5 percentage points of popular support since last month and is blamed for the political rupture, said “there’s nothing more democratic than re-election.” He added, “The ones who oppose a second round are against democracy or have personal or party interests.” Before Martinelli’s announcement, Vice President Juan Carlos Varela—and leader of the Partido Panameñista—had already said that re-election must be approved by Panamanians: “Let the people decide,” he told a local newspaper last week.

    Varela’s stance throughout the crisis has increased his appeal among voters. The D&N survey showed that the percentage of Panamanians who would vote for him in 2014 increased by 7.6 percentage points up to 24.8 percent during the last month; the percentage of Panamanians who would vote for Martinelli decreased by 6.6 points.

    Tags: Panama, Ricardo Martinelli

  • Brazil Unexpectedly Cuts Key Interest Rate

    September 1, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Citing concerns about slowed global as well as domestic growth, Brazil’s central bank cut its key interest rate from 12.5 percent to 12 percent on Wednesday. The move, which follows five rate increases this year, surprised many and worried investors concerned about inflation. It also raised questions about government influence on monetary policy, as a number of politicians, including President Dilma Rousseff, had recently called for a rate cut.

    The Banco Central do Brasil’s monetary policy committee, Comitê de Política Monetária (Copom), voted five to two on Wednesday to cut the Selic rate by 50 basis points, translating to an interest rate decrease of 0.5 percentage points. A Reuters poll of 20 economists showed that they all expected the central bank to maintain the rate at 12.5 percent; investors expected at most a decrease of 25 basis points.

    In a statement accompanying the news, Copom said that in “reevaluating the international scenario, [it saw] a generalized reduction of great magnitude in the growth projections” for the U.S. and European economies. The committee was concerned that this dip would affect the domestic economy through reductions in trade, weaker investment flows, tighter credit, and pessimism among consumers and businesses. The statement said effects were already being felt in declining growth projections for the Brazilian economy.

    Signs of an overheated economy and unsustainable growth have lately begun to manifest themselves in Brazil. The real has appreciated more than 40 percent against the dollar since the end of 2008, hurting the manufacturing sector through less competitive exports and cheaper imports. As of mid-August 2011, annual inflation stood well above the central bank’s target 6.5 percent upper limit—at 7.1 percent. Throughout this year, Brazil has been taking steps to tighten its economy, not only raising the key interest rate multiple times, but also cutting spending and requiring banks to increase their reserves. Nonetheless, Copom said that at this time it considered the balance of risks against inflation to be “more favorable.”

    Though government officials say that the central bank maintains independence in setting interest rates, Rousseff’s administration said earlier this week it was increasing its 2011 surplus target to pave the way for looser monetary policy, and central bank president Alexandre Tombini has in the past advocated for greater policy coordination with finance ministry officials.

    Tags: Brazil, Economic Policy, Central Bank of Brazil, Comitê de Política Monetária (Copom)

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    September 1, 2011

    by AS-COA Online

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

    Sign up to receive the Weekly Roundup via email.

    Mexico Mourns, Makes Arrests after Casino Royale Tragedy

    Police in Mexico arrested five men thought to be members of the Zetas drug gang and responsible for arson that killed 52 people in a Monterrey casino on August 25. Authorities believe gang members carried out the brutal attack, which led to three days of national mourning, after the casino’s owners failed to pay protection money. Despite the arrests, questions persist about who is at fault. President Felipe Calderón, who labeled the attack terrorism, placed blame on the United States for its role in the violence due to drug consumption—a move that Malcom Beith critiques in In The Los Angeles Times’ La Plaza blog, Daniel Hernandez explores the blame game; he writes that some place responsibility in the hands of Calderón’s National Action Party (PAN), given that casinos—“seen as magnets for organized crime”—have proliferated since the PAN came to power a decade ago. Poor safety measures are at least partly to blame, writes James Bosworth for The Christian Science Monitor; blocked emergency exits prevented victims from escaping the fire.

    In the days since the Casino Royale tragedy, a debate between Calderón and his predecessor, Vicente Fox, picked up steam. Fox supports negotiating with drug trafficking organizations to reach a pact to end the drug war—an idea Calderón has firmly rejected, as Mexican daily El Universal reports.

    ATF Head Transferred after Botched Mexican Gun Operation

    In the wake of the Operation Fast and Furious scandal, Kenneth Melson—head of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)—will be transferred to another position at the U.S. Department of Justice. The ATF operation, which intended to gain intelligence on gun trafficking, allowed thousands of weapons to “walk” in southwestern states and across the Mexican border. The guns have been linked to at least 12 violent crimes in the United States and an unknown number of crimes in Mexico.

    U.S. Grants Asylum to Second Mexican Reporter

    Cameraman for Televisa Alejandro Hernández Pacheco became the second Mexican journalist to receive asylum in the United States because of Mexico’s drug war violence, news agencies reported Monday. Hernández, who was kidnapped by the Zetas cartel in July 2010 and later fled to El Paso, Texas, is expected to confirm the report in a press conference in the next few days.

    Read More

    Tags: President Daniel Ortega, Mexico Casino, Latino College Enrollment, Colombian Defense Minister

  • Indigenous Groups and Presidents Clash in Ecuador and Bolivia

    August 31, 2011

    by Christopher Sabatini

    In both Ecuador and Bolivia, the rhetoric of political inclusion is crashing into the politics of identity and collective rights. Both Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa and Bolivian President Evo Morales and their broad, heterogeneous movements rode to power by tapping popular frustration over social and political exclusion and discrimination. Their electoral arrival came in the wake of the collapse of traditional party systems that for decades had survived with a near monopoly of power, sustained through closed deal-making and the effective disenfranchisement of vast segments of the population.

    Now, though, both presidents are confronting a grassroots backlash by the very particularistic groups that they claim to represent. It is as much a story of the genie they uncorked, as an example of challenges of governing nationally in an era of competing rights and identities and escalating demands. The outcome will test not only the fate and intentions of both governments-but also the future of the Andean region and the viability of those nation-states.

    Since being re-elected in 2009 under a new constitution, President Correa has clashed repeatedly with indigenous organizations in Ecuador. Ironically many of those same groups celebrated the 2008 plurinational constitution inspired by the President as the most significant achievement for inclusion in Ecuador's history.

    According to the 2001 census, close to seven percent of the Ecuadorian population identified itself as indigenous. And many are increasingly self-defining as individual nationalities, with identities often tied to specific territories inside Ecuador. Since the early 1990s, the indigenous civil society organization Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) and the indigenous party Pachacutik have claimed to speak almost exclusively on behalf of all those indigenous nationalities and ethnicities. Their participation, much like their history, has tended to be outside the system. While Pachacutik, for example, has had representatives in the national congress, it has tended to act as a spoiler rather than a loyal opposition. Pachakutik has contributed to the downfall of three governments-President Bucaram in 1997, President Mahuad in 2000, and President Gutiérrez in 2005-when their presidents have failed to meet the indigenous group's demands.


  • Colombian Congress Approves Landmark Social Inclusion Law

    August 31, 2011

    by AQ Inclusion

    Yesterday Colombia’s congress approved an anti-discrimination bill that levies prison sentences of one to three years for acts of discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, political belief, or sexual orientation. The bill, Ley 08 in the Senate and Ley 165 in the House of Representatives, was authored by Senator Carlos Baena of the Partido Mira. It now awaits a signature from President Juan Manuel Santos.

    Passage of the bill is considered a landmark victory for Colombia’s minorities, including Afro-Colombians, Indigenous populations, and LGBT groups, and had the backing of many NGOs supporting greater rights for these traditionally excluded populations. According to the 2005 Colombian census, 10.5 percent of the Colombian population self-identifies as “black, mulatto, or of African descent.” The Comisión Intersectorial Afrocolombiana reports that 80 percent of Afro-Colombians live below the line of extreme poverty.

    During legislative consideration, observers debated whether jail time was the most effective form of punishment. Some, including the former Deputy Attorney General Francisco José Sintura, argued that prison sentences were excessive and opted for other means like education. The bill also received criticism—and its passage delayed—for not specifying what constitutes an act of discrimination. Before yesterday’s final vote, however, Partido Mira refined the bill’s language to define six circumstances that could be considered discriminatory under the law, including physical assault, employment discrimination and refusal of admittance to movie theaters, bars, etc.

    In a statement, Senator Baena said that the new law will “settle a historic debt with the Afro-Colombian population that continues to face racism.” Baena added that “the Afro-Colombian role is essential to the economic, social and political reality of our country.”

    Colombia is a focus country for the Americas Society Social Inclusion Program.

    Tags: Colombia, Social inclusion, Juan Manuel Santos, Afro-Latinos

  • Colombian Congress Approves Landmark Social Inclusion Law

    August 31, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Yesterday Colombia’s congress approved an anti-discrimination bill that levies prison sentences of one to three years for acts of discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, political belief, or sexual orientation. The bill, Ley 08 in the Senate and Ley 165 in the House of Representatives, was authored by Senator Carlos Baena of the Partido Mira. It now awaits a signature from President Juan Manuel Santos.

    Passage of the bill is considered a landmark victory for Colombia’s minorities, including Afro-Colombians, Indigenous populations, and LGBT groups, and had the backing of many NGOs supporting greater rights for these traditionally excluded populations. According to the 2005 Colombian census, 10.5 percent of the Colombian population self-identifies as “black, mulatto, or of African descent.” The Comisión Intersectorial Afrocolombiana reports that 80 percent of Afro-Colombians live below the line of extreme poverty.

    During legislative consideration, observers debated whether jail time was the most effective form of punishment. Some, including the former Deputy Attorney General Francisco José Sintura, argued that prison sentences were excessive and opted for other means like education. The bill also received criticism—and its passage delayed—for not specifying what constitutes an act of discrimination. Before yesterday’s final vote, however, Partido Mira refined the bill’s language to define six circumstances that could be considered discriminatory under the law, including physical assault, employment discrimination and refusal of admittance to movie theaters, bars, etc.

    In a statement, Senator Baena said that the new law will “settle a historic debt with the Afro-Colombian population that continues to face racism.” Baena added that “the Afro-Colombian role is essential to the economic, social and political reality of our country.”

    Colombia is a focus country for the Americas Society Social Inclusion Program.

    Tags: Colombia, Social inclusion, Juan Manuel Santos, Afro-Latinos

  • Extradition of President Portillo Approved by Court in Guatemala

    August 30, 2011

    by AQ Online

    On Friday the Constitutional Court of Guatemala upheld a ruling authorizing the extradition of former president Alfonso Portillo to the U.S. to face charges of laundering $70 million. President Álvaro Colom must now decide whether to approve the Court’s ruling or pardon Portillo, who served as president of Guatemala from 2000 to 2004.

    In January of this year a federal grand jury in New York requested Portillo’s extradition under the claim that he embezzled Guatemalan public funds and hid the money in U.S. banks. There are also allegations that the former president laundered money through European accounts. Shortly after the U.S. indictment was made public, Portillo was captured by the Guatemalan police near the country’s Caribbean coast.

    Portillo’s lawyer, Gabriel Orellana, argues that the Constitutional Court has overstepped its power by ruling on an issue that falls under the purview of the sitting president. It is the role of the president to implement foreign policy and diplomacy with other nations, he says—a terrain the Constitutional Court is now meddling in. Reacting to the judgment, Orellana told a local newspaper that the ruling “imposes several requirements on the U.S. that only the president can solicit.”

    The Constitutional Court judges conditioned Portillo’s extradition on respect for his human rights and required that—in the event that he is found guilty—the former president fulfill his sentence in Guatemala.

    The U.S Embassy in Guatemala said, “We applaud the efforts made by the Constitutional Court, the Attorney General's Office and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala." Portillo is currently under house arrest and will remain so until President Colom decides on his future.

    Tags: Guatemala, President Alfonso Portillo

  • Argentina and Uruguay Inaugurate Trans-Border Train Line

    August 29, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (CFK) will travel today to Salto, Uruguay, to meet with her Uruguayan counterpart José Mujica. Together they will preside over the opening of a new train line that will connect passengers in the two countries.

    In recent years only cargo has crossed the Argentina-Uruguay border by rail. Passenger train service was discontinued nearly 30 years ago due to frayed bilateral relations. In recent years disagreement has centered on the construction of a cellulose plant in Fray Bentos, Uruguay, that Argentina alleged would pollute the Río Uruguay on the border of both countries. For the last three years, Argentines in the city of Gualeguaychú, Entre Ríos (at times with the support of the federal government), staged numerous protests including a blockade of the bridge over the Río Uruguay.

    The new railway—and this afternoon’s inauguration ceremony, which hundreds of government officials from both countries are expected to attend—underscores the warming relations between the South American neighbors. CFK’s trip, replete with symbolism, will take her from across the Río Uruguay in Concordia, Entre Ríos, to Salto, as she and Mujica launch the rail line traversing the river border between their two countries.

    This transnational infrastructure is part of El Plan de Acción Binacional Argentino-Uruguayo (Argentine-Uruguayan Bi-National Action Plan), that was signed earlier this month by the two countries’ ministers of transport. Today’s symbolic journey from Concordia to Salto will expand on September 9 to a weekly, 813-kilometer (505-mile) journey from Pilar, Argentina to Paso de los Toros, Uruguay. Service will become daily by December.

    Tags: Argentina, Uruguay, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, José Mujica

  • I’m Colombiana. The Movie Is Not.

    August 25, 2011

    by Lina Salazar Ortegón

    When I heard about the controversy surrounding (yet another) movie in which Colombia is portrayed as a land of cocaine, crime and armed insurrection, I was disheartened. It is baffling how apparent ignorance in Hollywood has led to the continued dissemination of the notion that Colombia—my country—is still an unsafe, violent place where visitors and tourists are regularly kidnapped or killed.

    On August 26, 2011, Sony Pictures’ Colombiana will premiere at theaters across the United States. It may be titled Colombiana, but the movie’s official synopsis doesn’t even mention the country. According to the Internet Movie Database, the entire film was shot in Mexico, Chicago and France—producers never even set foot in South America. Even more disturbing: the movie won’t have the same name in every country. In Colombia its title will be Dulce Venganza (Sweet Revenge), and Chinese theatergoers will flock to see Black Beauty Evil.

    Colombiana’s title is a brazen attempt by Hollywood producers to capitalize on the decades-old reputation of a country that has made tremendous progress in recent years. It is a purely commercial strategy grounded in fantasy, not reality. And what producers don’t realize is that perpetuating the myth that Colombia is a violence-ridden failed state can have real costs for people living there, and that negative perceptions can have serious negative real world consequences, such as an impact on tourism.

    This is good reason to support organizations such as Por Colombia—a group of volunteer students and friends of Colombia in the U.S. and Canada—and initiatives like Colombia, the Other Side of the Coin—a pacifist campaign lead by Carlos Plaza, a Colombian community leader in New York. The latter is leading efforts to distribute materials on premiere night in theaters throughout New York City that shed a more positive (and realistic) light on Colombia.

    When they first saw the trailer early this summer, Por Colombia launched #ColombiaisBeautiful—a grassroots social media campaign on Facebook and Twitter designed to counteract overly negative depictions of Colombia in pop culture. The campaign’s banner is a digitally altered poster of the movie: instead of a gun, the “Colombiana” on the film’s poster holds a bunch of flowers, and the tagline "Vengeance is Beautiful" is replaced by "Colombia is Beautiful."  This simple campaign has attracted thousands of followers and received coverage from national and international media outlets, including Univision and Huffington Post.

    Bogotá-born Carlos Macías, the president of Por Colombia, argues that Sony Pictures is making a profit at Colombia’s expense. Colombians are not against talking about the conflict, says Macías. “If you’re going to talk about the Colombian armed conflict, go ahead, we’re the first to start the conversation," he points out. We don’t deny that violence remains a problem, but we demand balance. We want to provide people with actual facts, while at the same time remembering to include the country’s positive side—which is all too often left out.

    A few months ago a Russian student at Columbia University told me he had been everywhere in Latin America except Colombia. When asked why, he replied, “Because my dad can’t afford to pay the ransom.” Maybe it was a bad joke, but there is nonetheless some truth to it. It may have been slightly offensive, but it is good reason to stop and think.

    How can we expect people not to say such things when in July, policemen José Libardo Forero, Wilson Rojas, Carlos Duarte, Jorge Romero y Jorge Trujillo completed  12 years in captivity by guerillas? When in April, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) kidnapped two more unarmed soldiers in Medellín, Antioquia? And in July five Colombians were kidnapped in Arauca and that same month a money-laundering network caught in Spain with $30 million in Colombian cocaine money?

    Let’s face it: as long as these things keep happening, the rest of the world will keep making jokes about Colombian cocaine and kidnappings. It would be great if more people would keep an open mind, but that can’t be expected. So let’s focus on what we, as Colombians, can do. First, let’s avoid complaining about or denying our reality. Let’s not always answer, “We also have coffee and flowers.” (We do, but it goes beyond that.) We must be permanent promoters of our positive side by recognizing the improvements the country has achieved and delivering good, unbiased information about Colombia. 

    We can also cite some concrete facts. For example, security on our national road system is better today than anytime in recent history, and more Colombians and tourists are traveling by car throughout the country. From 1990 to 2009, 26,977 drug laboratories were destroyed, according to the Observatorio de Drogas of the Dirección de Antinarcóticos, and 92,772 hectares of illegal crops have been eradicated so far in 2011. In addition, there were 1,602 extradition requests from 2002 to 2010, 1,106 of which were approved.  These are real improvements. Further progress is a matter of time and consistent policy.

    Por Colombia and The Other Side of the Coin are great initiatives deserving of broad-based support. Let’s all join Por Colombia’s social media rally on August 26. It’s about becoming agents of “the other side of the coin”: the reality that Colombia is a fascinating country that has captured—rather than kidnapped—thousands of foreigners who have visited recently and simply fallen in love with our people.

    Lina Salazar is a guest blogger to AQ Online. She works with Americas Quarterly and in the policy department at Americas Society/Council of the Americas.

    Tags: Colombia, Colombiana, Por Colombia, Colombia The Other Side of the Coin

  • Unasur Unity Tested by Events in Libya

    August 25, 2011

    by AQ Online

    The foreign affairs ministers of Union of South American Nations (Unasur) member-countries gathered in Buenos Aires, Argentina on Wednesday for a meeting  on economic cooperation and diplomacy. The members agreed on plans to send Unasur monitors to upcoming regional elections but could not reach a consensus on the group’s position on recent developments in Libya.

    Members are divided between those—like Colombia and Brazil—who suggest formally recognizing Libya’s National Transition Council (NTC) and those, like Venezuela and Ecuador , who question the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) multilateral military intervention.

    Brazil’s Antonio Patriota added the Libya conflict to this year’s meeting agenda and proposed that the bloc recognize the NTC alongside Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain and others. In Latin America, only Colombia has officially recognized the governing body.

    “We exchanged our views and recognized that this is a situation in permanent evolution but we have not established a position about it”, said Carolyn Rodrigues-Bickett, Guyana’s Foreign Affairs minister and also president pro tempore of the Union.

    Members also agreed that Unasur will start working on the design of a multilateral payment system to reinforce the use of local currencies and the creation of a regional bank, Banco del Sur. The 12 countries also agreed on steps to coordinate the use of their reserves to quell economic volatility.

    Tags: UNASUR, Lybia

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    August 25, 2011

    by AS-COA Online

    Obama Administration to Halt 300,000 Deportations

    U.S. Department of Homeland Security head Janet Napolitano revealed August 18 that the United States will review 300,000 pending deportation cases for people living in the country for several years who have not committed serious crimes. The Houston Chronicle reports that Napolitano submitted a letter to 22 senators saying “it makes no sense to expend our enforcement resources on low-priority cases, such as individuals...who were brought into this country as young children and know no other home.” Given that the move will affect undocumented immigrant students, supporters of the long-stalled DREAM Act heralded the decision.

    The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog outlines who might qualify to remain in the United States under the new Obama immigration policy, with factors for staying deportation including an individual’s length of residence, age at the time of arrival, educational pursuit or military service, age, and role as primary caretaker.

    Learn more about immigration issues at AS/COA's Hispanic Integration Hub.

    Cancer Claims Canadian Opposition Leader

    Jack Layton, who led Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP) to Official Opposition status for the first time in May’s federal vote, lost his battle with cancer this week. His passing came as a surprise, given his late-July announcement that he would step down from his position temporarily to seek treatment. In a letter penned in the final days before his death, Layton—known for his tendency to avoid political mudslinging—addressed Canadians by saying: “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic.”

    Layton’s passing leaves Canada’s two main opposition parties, the NDP and the Liberal Party, with interim leaders at a time when the governing Conservative Party holds a parliamentary majority.

    Rousseff Ranked World’s Third-most Powerful Woman

    The Brazilian president took the number three spot in’s list of the 100 most powerful women in the world, behind German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner took spot number 17.

    Read More

    Tags: Weekly Roundup

  • Pobreza en El Salvador: Izquierdas y Derechas

    August 24, 2011

    by Julio Rank Wright

    La superación de la pobreza no es cuestión de izquierdas o derechas, es cuestión de voluntad. No comparto con quienes vociferan que en el mundo hay una gran conspiración de los ricos para explotar a los pobres. Tampoco me identifico con quienes sugieren que a las izquierdas les conviene mantener niveles de pobreza altos como caldo de cultivo para la sobrevivencia de sus postulados ideológicos. La pobreza en El Salvador es una realidad.

    La Dirección de Estadísticas y Censos de El Salvador (DIGESTYC) publicó recientemente los resultados de la Encuesta de Hogares de Propósitos Múltiples (EHPM) para el 2010. La EHPM arroja datos importantes que se supone deben orientar las políticas públicas, no sólo del gobierno de turno, sino de toda la clase política. ¿Qué nos dicen los últimos resultados? Primero, el 12.6 por ciento de los salvadoreños viven en pobreza extrema, es decir con un ingreso menor a $45.12, lo equivalente al costo de la canasta básica alimentaria. Segundo, el 25.3 por ciento de la población salvadoreña vive en condiciones de pobreza relativa, es decir hogares sin la capacidad de cubrir el equivalente a dos canastas básicas alimentarias. En síntesis, el nivel de pobreza general en El Salvador es del 36.5 por ciento. Los niveles más bajos ocurrieron en el 2006 y pues obviamente los efectos de la crisis financiera mundial del 2008 incrementaron de nuevo los niveles de pobreza.

    ¿Qué sentido tiene enumerar cifras que seguramente sabremos estimar? Leídas fríamente quizás sugieran que El Salvador es otro país más, que a pesar de haber logrado importantes avances democráticos y de desarrollo, seguirá destinado a la pobreza. Sin embargo, hay una lección más importante que se puede derivar de las cifras y su evolución con el tiempo: para poder superar la pobreza es necesario primero trascender la disputa entre  izquierdas y derechas.

    Es urgente encontrar puntos de coincidencia en políticas públicas específicas para reducir los niveles de pobreza. Las diferentes fuerzas vivas del país deben reconocer abiertamente que existen dos amenazas claras para la sostenibilidad democrática del país, y la región: la inseguridad ciudadana, incluyendo crimen organizado y la pobreza. En un escenario ideal no debería de existir retórica ideológica de izquierda y derecha al afrontar realidades que ponen en jaque la viabilidad nacional. La combinación de liderazgos anclados en el pasado, un aparato estatal lento e ineficaz y la ausencia de una visión compartida del futuro entre la clase política, sociedad civil y sector privado nos mantienen en medio de una batalla ideológica.

    El contexto electoral es la oportunidad perfecta para que los partidos políticos logren acercar posiciones, sin temor, en temas de trascendencia nacional. En pleno siglo veintiuno hay temas que no deberían ser víctimas de la polarización: acceso a servicios básicos, educación, salud, política energética, competitividad nacional, institucionalidad democrática y prevención de la violencia, entre otros.

    La reacción de la sociedad civil salvadoreña ante la crisis de choque de poderes entre los órganos legislativo y judicial unos meses atrás fue ejemplar. Sin embargo, así como se reaccionó apasionadamente ante un decreto legislativo, es preciso reaccionar más enérgicamente contra la pobreza que roba vidas y aplasta sueños.

    Julio Rank Wright is contributing blogger to AQ Online. He is from San Salvador, El Salvador, but temporarily living in Washington DC.

    Tags: El Salvador, poverty, political system

  • Bolivia Accuses U.S. of Stoking Unrest

    August 24, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Bolivian President Evo Morales this week accused the United States government of conspiring with local NGOs to incite the ongoing indigenous protest marches that began on August 16. The Isiboro-Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS) inhabitants, the Confederación de Pueblos Indígenas de Bolivia (Cidob) and the Consejo Nacional de Ayllus y Markas del Qullasuyu (Conamaq) are marching in opposition to the construction of a highway that would cross a 9,997 square kilometer (2,470,400 acre) national park that has been a self-governing territory since 2009.

    “Capitalism and non-governmental organizations use indigenous leaders to promote a march whose objective is not the protection of natural resources of the madre tierra, but a conspiracy against Bolivia”, said Morales in El Pueblo es Noticia, a T.V. show of the state-run media agency. He added that Bolivia will have to “reconsider the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) presence in the country.”

    In a meeting with Minister of the Presidency Carlos Romero, U.S. deputy chief of mission William Mozdzierz rejected Morales’ claims and insisted that the United States’ only goal is to improve bilateral relations within a framework of mutual respect.

    Beyond President Morales’ statements, Romero also claims that the objective of protest groups isn’t to protect the environment or their cultural heritage: rather it is to defend illegal deforestation and illicit resource extraction interests.

    Tags: Bolivia, Indigenous rights, United States.

  • Dealing with Debt and Deficits, Canadian Style

    August 23, 2011

    by John Parisella

    In the wake of the debt ceiling debate in the U.S. and Euro zone summits about the precarious financial situation of some of its members, articles and editorials in The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post have referred to Canada as a potential model to emulate in order to eliminate deficits and reduce the debt. They refer to how deficits in Canada in the early 1990s were eliminated mostly through spending cuts, and how tax cuts were the source of the growth that put Canada’s fiscal house back in order.

    There is some truth to this narrative but it is highly incomplete and one needs to state that the overriding factor in Canada's success had more to do with a political class of different stripes working together, although not without debate or conflict.  In practical terms, a federal Liberal government in Ottawa, which was not allergic to an activist governmental agenda, decided to lead the way to a balanced budget. The message was clear: problem solving must take precedence over winning ideological and partisan battles. Even social democratic parties like the NDP in Manitoba and Parti Quebecois in Quebec were willing to put their ideology aside and exact serious spending cuts.

    Read More

    Tags: Canada, Debt.

  • Mexico and Costa Rica Sign Security Accord

    August 23, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla yesterday signed an agreement in Mexico City with her counterpart, President Felipe Calderón, which will expand bilateral cooperation on security issues, including anti-drug trafficking efforts. Chinchilla and her delegation will also hold talks on a wide range of bilateral issues including improvements in investment and trade between the two countries.

    The agreement signed yesterday includes a new extradition treaty to allow for criminals and suspects to be transferred more easily between the two countries and will create new mechanisms to share information on organized crime groups. “Collaboration on security matters is essential to strengthen the fight against crime,” said Chinchilla. “It's a problem that will get out of hand if we don't confront it now."

    Following the signing, President Calderón stressed the regional nature of the fight against organized crime: “All nations in the Americas share the common challenge of providing security to our citizens, even in the context of an increasingly intense and challenging fight against transnational organized crime.”

    Before meeting Calderón, President Chinchilla visited Mexican businesses organizations to promote trade and investment between the two countries. In 2010, trade between Mexico and Costa Rica topped $2.7 billion, up from $551 million in 2001.

    Tags: Costa Rica, Mexico, Felipe Calderon, Laura Chinchilla

  • Ortega Leads Polls as Nicaragua Campaign Kicks Off

    August 22, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is the frontrunner candidate in a nationwide presidential campaign that officially began on Saturday in Managua. Mr. Ortega is running for his second consecutive five-year term following a 2009 Supreme Court ruling that overturned a legal prohibition on consecutive reelection. He is facing a fragmented opposition represented by four presidential candidates.

    A recent CID-Gallup poll showed Ortega leading the field with 41 percent of voters voicing support for him, while Liberal Constitutional Party candidate Fabio Gadea got 34 percent and former president Arnoldo Aleman won 11 percent. To win the election outright in the first round, the winning candidate must win either 40 percent of the vote or at least 35 percent and a lead of 5 points over the runner up.

    Mr. Ortega’s candidacy in this year’s elections has been called unconstitutional by Nicaraguan legal scholars and opposition candidates. Ortega first held the presidency from 1984 to 1990 and began his second term in 2007. He was the only presidential candidate of the Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional (FSLN) party in national elections that took place in 1984, 1990, 1996, 2001, 2006, and now 2011. Nicaraguans will head to the polls on November 6 to determine their country’s future leadership.

    Tags: Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega

  • Women on the Losing End of Political Puppetry in Mexico’s Congress

    August 19, 2011

    by Yoloxóchitl Casas Chousal

    Please find the original text below, submitted in Spanish.

    Although supporters of female suffrage in Mexico got their wish nearly 60 years ago (in 1953), access to the Mexican political system for women has remained a difficult and complicated process. In the 1990s, women’s rights activists started a movement in favor of a gender quota system, using international treaties to bolster their argument. Notable examples cited at the time included the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Inter-American Convention to Prevent, Sanction and Eradicate Violence against Women, and the Beijing Declaration of 1995.

    Their work paid off. Article 219, paragraph 1 of Mexico’s federal electoral code, El Código Federal de Instituciones y Procedimientos Electorales, now reads: “From the total number of registration requests for deputies or senators done by political parties or coalitions before the Federal Electoral Institute, at least 40 percent of them must be for candidates of the same gender, aiming for parity.”

    This landmark development should have translated to a discernible increase of female legislators in the bicameral federal Mexican Congress. But in reality, all kinds of trickery have been employed to limit female presence in either house of Congress.

    Women have worked hard within Mexico’s political parties. But public complaints have been raised around the fact that women were listed in districts or electoral constituencies that strategists knew would go down in defeat. Women have appeared as substitutes for senators and deputies in party lists for districts where those parties didn’t have a sufficient base of support. In other words, women were included in the electoral process, but a confluence of unfavorable circumstances ultimately prevented them from entering Congress.

    Tags: Mexico, Gender Rights

  • DC Water Cooler: Vacant Slots at State Reflect Policy Shortcomings

    August 18, 2011

    by Liz Harper

    The tweeting Georgetown academic, former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela, announced his departure in early May. Four months later, the United States still does not have a nominee. 

    Of course, several well-qualified people have been bandied about as Valenzuela’s possible replacement. 

    Here’s a brief rundown of who’s been mentioned:

    First, there is Kristie Kenney, a highly regarded career Foreign Service officer, a former ambassador to Ecuador, and, as of January, ambassador to Thailand. She is well-known for her social media smarts. There is also William Brownfield who is Kenney’s husband and equally as charismatic and talented as his wife. He is a former ambassador to Colombia, Venezuela and Chile, and became assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs in January. And there is Anne Patterson, a career foreign service officer with extensive and varied experience in Latin America. She has proven herself adept at dealing with tough issues especially in her current post as the ambassador to Egypt.

    Read More

    Tags: Cuba, Nicaragua, Ecuador, State Department, Rafael Correa, Arturo Valenzuela

  • Ecuador Aims to Stamp Out Police Corruption

    August 18, 2011

    by AQ Online

    At a news conference yesterday, Ecuadorian Police Chief General Wilson Alulema announced the launch of an anti-corruption plan that will create an intelligence department to monitor corruption within the force. The new plan, which is to take effect “immediately,” will require each of the 42,000 officers, and all future agents, to take a lie detector test. Additionally, officers will have to declare their personal assets. This is intended to facilitate investigations of bribes, peddling and corruption.

    The anti-corruption measures are in part a response to the police mutiny of September 2010, in which protests by police and military groups against benefits cuts turned violent. President Rafael Correa was tear gassed and trapped in a military hospital in Quito for over 12 hours. Following the attacks, Correa’s administration took control over the force, and the president has called for its modernization.

    Despite the new initiatives, General Alulema lamented the judicial re-instatement of almost 300 officers who had been suspended over allegations of corruption. His new plan will create an incentive system to award officers demonstrating proper ethics and values and to denounce internal corruption.

    Tags: corruption, Ecuador, Rafael Correa

  • Announcing AQ Online's Social Inclusion Portal

    August 17, 2011

    by AQ Inclusion

    Many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have registered remarkable achievements in recent years, including prudent fiscal management throughout the Great Recession, the further institutionalization of democratic governance, improved health services, and more. Still, a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report published last year named Latin America and the Caribbean as the “world’s most unequal region.” This not only harms those excluded but also stifles  the expansion of new markets and the competitiveness of local economies. Clearly, more progress is needed.

    This is why Americas Quarterly is launching this Social Inclusion portal. More attention must be focused on the “have-nots” of the hemisphere—those often excluded from the fruits of socioeconomic development or decision making processes. This makes business sense as well. Greater inclusion fosters econonomic growth and maximizes the overall productivity and consumption of a society. The great challenge for business, society and policymakers is to identify policies and practices that can reduce endemic exclusion of underserved populations such as the Indigenous, Afro-Latinos, urban and rural poor, and women.

    For many, the problems of exclusion stem from the historic lack of access and opportunities blocked by racism, feckless states, weak and imperfect markets, marginalization, and political and economic monopolies. Breaking these patterns will depend on innovations that recognize these connections, the risks of not addressing them, and involving and elevating fresh voices in the policy debate on social inclusion.

    We are dedicated to promoting debate of this critical issue. With the launch of this Social Inclusion portal, AQ Online is bringing together voices from across the hemisphere of those that represent traditionally marginalized groups to connect with business and policymakers. In doing so, we are starting a conversation about where good policies and programs are being created to foster greater inclusion while also generating debate about what must be done to create more equal and economically prosperous societies. We invite you to join this conversation.

    Read a post, watch a video, or view a slideshow, and then comment on it and add your voice to the discussion. And come back to our Inclusion page for continuous coverage of hemispheric news and developments related to inclusion. The bloggers covering these issues—four current bloggers and four more to be announced shortly—are recognized thought leaders and advocates for social inclusion, and will focus on issues such as market access, political participation, education, health care, representation, justice, digital divide, land rights, and other topics that arise.

    Daniel Mera Villamizar is the director of Fundación Color de Colombia (Colombia Color Foundation), an organization of Colombia’s black middle class. Jaevion Nelson is executive director at the Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network (J-YAN), a youth-led volunteer and advocacy organization based in Kingston, Jamaica. Paulo Rogério Nunes is executive director of the Instituto Mídia Étnica (Ethnic Media Institute) in Salvador, Brazil. Yoloxóchitl Casas Chousal is a journalist by profession and feminist by conviction who has appeared across written, radio, television, and internet platforms in Mexico City for more than 30 years.

    We welcome your suggestions of topics to be covered or any other recommendations. We also invite you to learn more about the Ford Foundation-funded project being implemented by Americas Society of which this page is a component.

    Tags: Social inclusion

  • Religious Intolerance in Brazil

    August 17, 2011

    by Paulo Rogério

    Please find the original text below, submitted in Portuguese.

    Prejudice against religions of African descent is a growing problem in Brazil. The most recent census, taken last year, notes that more than 70 percent of Brazilians self-identified as Catholic—making Brazil the largest country of Catholic worshippers in the world. However, religiously motivated conflict typically originates among smaller, more ideological faiths. For example, police have been called in to break up conflicts between Evangelical Brazilians, who represent 15 percent of the population, and religious Afro-Brazilians, 0.3 percent of the population. This is frequent in cities like Salvador, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and São Luiz. 

    The Mapa da Intolerância Religiosa: Violação ao Direito de Culto no Brasil (Map of Religious Intolerance: Violations of the Right to Worship in Brazil) was launched last May to monitor religious intolerance throughout the country. The Mapa aims to relay to the press and relevant authorities any instance of physical or symbolic aggression.

    Complaints to the police range from invasions of Afro-Brazilian churches by radical evangelicals to the iconic death of Mother Yalorixá Gilda. A famous name in my community, Mother Gilda was the leader of the Candomblé religion—the most traditional of the Afro-based religions in Brazil. She had her photo printed in a newspaper of the Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus (Universal Church of the Kingdom of God), the largest Pentecostal church of the country, with inscriptions incorrectly suggesting that she was a charlatan. Although the courts ruled in favor of Mother Gilda’s family, the conflicts between the two sects did not end.

    Brazil’s government has also violated the right to worship. Three years ago, the mayor of Salvador, João Henrique Carneiro, ordered the overthrow of a religious African temple in a critical area of the city. He alleged that the temple was built illegally. This act was seen as a serious crime against human rights, in addition to being unconstitutional and the social activist protests that followed made headlines in numerous newspapers. That caused even more dismay in Salvador being the city with the most number of Afro-Brazilian religions (1155).

    Tags: Brazil, Salvador, Bahia, Religion

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    August 17, 2011

    by AS-COA Online

    U.S. Envoy Travels to Mexico amid Debate over CIA’s Drug War Involvement

    Deputy Secretary Bill Burns—the U.S. State Department’s second in command—traveled to Mexico City this week to meet with Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa and continue talks on U.S.-Mexico cooperation. His visit comes amid controversy surrounding an article published in The New York Times earlier this month. The report stated that Washington has recently posted CIA operatives and retired military personnel at a Mexican military base to share information about and help combat cartel operations. The New York Times indicated that the United States is considering sending private-security contractors as well. Mexican daily El Universal reports on the visit by Burns, who said during a press conference that Washington respects Mexican sovereignty and does not carry out operations on Mexican soil. Mexican security spokesman Alejandro Poiré acknowledged last week that U.S. agents participate in information exchanges but do not participate in raids or arrests.

    Calderón Eliminates Pocket Veto

    On Tuesday, Mexican President Felipe Calderón inked a constitutional change ending the “pocket veto,” which allowed presidents to reject legislation by ignoring it, reports the Associated Press. Mexican heads of state will now be required to approve a bill or resubmit it to the country’s Congress within a 30-day period. 

    Merida Initiative Shifting Focus to Mexico’s North

    El Paso Times reports that the $1.5 billion Merida Initiative will move its focus to Mexico’s northern states in an effort to support state and local initiatives combating cartel activities. "This is where most of the cartels have focused their activities," said William R. Brownfield, assistant secretary of the U.S. Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, on Tuesday at a border-security conference in El Paso.

    At a recent COA event, Ambassador Brownfield discussed Central American security issues, including their impact on Mexico’s drug war. Watch a video.

    UNASUR Ministers Meet to Confront Global Financial Volatility

    South American finance ministers and central bank heads convened in Argentina on Friday to discuss how to meet global financial instability head on. Unasur officials proposed boosting trade, creating a $10 billion to $20 billion fund to help countries facing capital flight, and strengthening an existing fund that helps Latin American countries facing balance of payment problems.

    Make Way for the Multilatinas

    In a guest post for the Financial Times beyondbrics blog, ESADE Professor Javier Santiso writes that “the rise of the Latin multinational cuts across many countries and sectors” as multilatinas—the term coined to describe international Latin American firms—become increasingly globalized. Of the 66 most globalized firms in the region, 53 run operations outside Latin America.

    Funes Discusses Talks about El Salvador’s Crime Fight

    In a 25-minute interview with Al Jazeera English, Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes discusses how his government is working to reduce one of the highest murder rates in the world while also attempting to address the root causes of his country’s violence. “We are convinced that our problems—poverty, the lack of or slow economic growth, and climate change—can only be solved regionally,” Funes said.

    Sotomayor Visits El Salvador

    Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor arrived in El Salvador on August 15 for a week-long visit, in which she will meet with Mari Carmen Aponte, the U.S. ambassador to the Central American country. During her trip, Sotomayor will also meet with her Salvadoran counterparts in the Supreme Court as well as law students in the capital of San Salvador.

    Panama Canal Marks Anniversary with Ongoing Expansion

    A mile-long, 100-foot deep hole marks the beginning of the Panama Canal’s first expansion in its century-long history. The $5.25 billion project is expected to greatly expand trade between the Americas and Asia by allowing ships that are 965 feet long and 106 feet wide to pass through the canal’s locks. The expansion is scheduled for completion in 2014.

    U.S. Legislator Calls for Overhaul of Cuban Adjustment Act

    Congressman David Rivera (R-FL) this week called for a change to the Cuban Adjustment Act, a 1966 law that grants residency to most Cubans who arrive in the United States. Rivera wants to exclude emigrants who return to the island to visit their relatives, arguing that they should not qualify for a law enacted to provide political asylum. The initiative responds primarily to the desires of hardline elements from the generation of Cuban-Americans who left the island in the 1960s fleeing communism and who oppose President Obama’s loosening of travel restrictions, but Phil Peters of the Lexington Institute does not expect the bill to move forward.

    Peru’s Mining Firms Agree to Higher Royalties

    A Peruvian government source said this week that mining firms in that country have agreed to pay higher royalties, based on profits rather than sales. “The new system would be similar to one used in Chile,” reports Reuters. The new royalty rate has not yet been determined. President Ollanta Humala pledged renegotiation of royalty rates while campaigning for election.

    Humala Follows Colombian Model to Combat Shining Path

    In an effort to combat a resurgent Shining Path, Peru’s President Ollanta Humala appears to be following in Colombia’s footsteps to find a solution, reports The Christian Science Monitor. Humala is seeking to reshape Peru’s counterinsurgency strategy and “has studied the recent success of Colombia in beating back the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia” (FARC) with an eye to the intelligence work used in deadly attacks against FARC leaders Raul Reyes and Mono Jojoy, writes Geoffrey Ramsey. “Intelligence work was a key factor in both of these assassinations, and military sources told the newspaper that they are restructuring their intelligence organs to focus on taking out the Shining Path's leaders.”

    Growing Number of Colombian Municipalities at Risk for Electoral Fraud

    Colombia’s Electoral Observation Mission, an NGO, presented a report on August 17 finding that 544 municipalities are at risk for electoral fraud as the country prepares for regional elections in October. The figure marks an increase of 216 compared to 2007. The report highlighted that violence against political candidates had increased by 68 percent since 2007.

    Venezuela to Expropriate Gold Industry

    President Hugo Chávez said on August 17 he would nationalize the country’s gold industry, in order to boost international reserves. “We don’t only have oil wealth, we have here one of the largest reserves of gold in the world… Let’s convert it into our international reserves because gold is increasing in its value,” Chávez said, according to The Wall Street Journal.

    Morales Confronts Indigenous Protests in Bolivia

    Bolivian President Evo Morales faces protests in the Amazon from indigenous groups opposed to a joint project with the Brazilian government to build a road through the rainforest. Bloggings by Boz points out that reaching an agreement with protesters, who oppose the highway project over environmental concerns, could prove difficult for Morales, despite his hopes for developing the country’s infrastructure.

    Law Reins in Brazil’s Pretrial Detention Troubles

    Open Society Foundations’ blog reports on a Brazilian law passed in July that seeks to trim pretrial detention and, thereby, overcrowding in the country’s prisons. After telling the story of one man who spent a decade in pretrial detention before his name was cleared, the post explains that Brazil has the fourth largest prison population in the world—and almost half of those incarcerated await trial. The new law, ushered through with the help of civil society groups, offers nine options to pretrial detention, including bail and electronic monitoring. 

    Brazilian Companies among Hemisphere’s Most Valuable

    The consultancy Economatica reported that Petrobras and Vale—Brazil’s state-controlled oil company and private mining company—ranked as the fourth and fifth most valuable enterprises in the Americas, respectively, in the first trimester of 2011. Only Exxon Mobil, Chevron Texaco, and Apple topped Petrobras’ $7.01 billion in revenue, according to Economatica.

    Fernández de Kirchner on Track to Win a Second Term

    President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner performed better than expected in Argentina’s first national and obligatory primary election on Sunday, taking just over 50 percent of the vote and winning in all but one province. With no clear opposition figure emerging from the contest, it appears increasingly likely that Fernández de Kirchner will win the election in the first round.

    Read an AS/COA Online news analysis of Sunday’s primary election and check out an AS/COA hemispheric update, which explores Argentina’s electoral landscape.

    Argentine Agriculture Reshaped by Soy Crops

    The Los Angeles Times looks back over Argentina’s shift from farming livestock to soybeans. The total cattle herd in Argentina dropped from 58.3 million to 47.9 million since 2007 while soybean harvests are forecast to reach 50 million tons this year—up from 30 million tons a decade ago. 

    Chile Discusses Ending the Binomial System

    The Sebastián Piñera administration and opposition politicians in Chile's Congress have agreed to begin discussing a reform of the country's binomial system, an electoral system that encourages the formation of coalitions and reduces the possibility of competition from third parties. Changing the electoral laws may require amending the Constitution.

    Congressmen Urge Obama to Close School of the Americas

    Sixty-seven Democrats and two Republicans have signed a letter asking U.S. President Barack Obama to close the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly called the “School of the Americas.” The letter contends that closing the school, based in Georgia and used to train Latin American soldiers, would save the United States $180 million over the next decade. The school has long been a source of controversy, due to allegations that its alumni perpetrated human rights abuses in the past. 

    Sizing up Rick Perry’s Immigration Stance

    Despite his reputation as a Tea Party-backed hardliner, Texas Governor Rick Perry holds views on immigration that conservatives view as left-of-center. His positions, outlined by Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post’s Right Turn blog, include opposition to Arizona’s SB 1070 and support for Texas’ 2001 state-level DREAM Act. Perry has said in public statements that he wants the federal government to address national security threats at the border before passing comprehensive immigration reform legislation. But his position may not satisfy Hispanic voters either, some of whom criticize him for only supporting a limited federal DREAM Act, opposing a path to citizenship as part of comprehensive immigration reform, and submitting legislation in Texas to make it harder for undocumented immigrants to receive drivers licenses.

    Where Are the U.S. Cartels?

    Writing for InSight Crime, Nathan Jones asks why the United States does not appear to have the large drug cartels comparable to those found in neighboring Mexico. Jones posits that the United States is dominated by small drug gangs and decentralized networks of prison gangs that are kept in check by law enforcement.

    Competing in Colombia’s Cycling Mecca

    NPR reports on an area of central Colombia where locals train in rural mountains and compete to become some of the world’s best cyclists. “In the European racing circuit, Colombian cyclists are famous for withstanding pain,” writes Juan Forero.

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  • Venezuela Freezes Hospital Fees

    August 17, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Venezuelan Health Minister Eugenia Sader announced during a televised news conference yesterday that the country’s private hospitals will not raise fees for the next three weeks. The freeze is meant to give lawmakers and representatives of the private health care industry time to strategize on ways to keep hospital costs down. The measure is part of a multi-sector effort to curb Venezuela’s 25.1 percent annual inflation rate—the highest in Latin America. This has led to sharp increases in the fees for visits and treatments.

    President Hugo Chávez has long criticized the private health care industry for charging excessive fees and denying access for the poor and uninsured. But Hipolito Garcia of the Association of Private Clinics, who joined Minister Sader at the conference, said that hospital representatives also promised to guarantee care for patients needing emergency medical care even if they lack full insurance coverage.

    Throughout his presidency, President Chávez has sought to improve Venezuela’s public health system. Due to close ties with Cuba’s Fidel Castro—and in exchange for shipments of Venezuelan oil—thousands of Cuban doctors have come to the slums of Venezuela to provide health care to the poor. However, underfunding and a limited number of physicians in public hospitals means that many Venezuelans prefer private clinics despite the high costs.

    Tags: Venezuela, inflation, Healthcare, private clinic

  • Indigenous Protest Amazon Road in Bolivia

    August 16, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Representatives of three native groups in Bolivia started a 603-kilometer (375 mile) march yesterday from Trinidad to La Paz protesting against the construction of a highway through their Amazonian land.  The road between the highland city of Cochabamba and San Ignacio de Moxos in the Amazon lowlands would cross the Isiboro-Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS), a 9,997 square kilometer (2,470,400 acre) national park and self-governing territory since 2009. It is held in common by the Yuracaré, Moxeño and Chimán people.

    The march—led by TIPNIS inhabitants, the Confederación de Pueblos Indígenas de Bolivia (Cidob) and the Consejo Nacional de Ayllus y Markas del Qullasuyu (Conamaq)—challenges President Evo Morales’ plans to build the 305-kilometer (190 mile) road that would cut the TIPNIS territory in half. The two sections of the highway leading to and from the indigenous reserve are already under construction as a part of a $415 million-project mostly financed by the Brazilian government. The controversy surrounds the final stretch which has yet to undergo an environmental review and community consultation process. 

    The president of the Central de Pueblos Indígenas (CPIB), Pedro Vare, said the project was proposed ignoring the social and environmental costs it implies. “Evo Morales never visited the zone. He just got to the colonized area and he didn’t visit the forest where the indigenous people live,” Vare added. Native communities are worried the road will open access to the reserve to illegal loggers, cocaleros and narcotraffickers. The threat to biodiversity also undermines their survival as the inhabitants rely on hunting and fishing for food.

    The government has insisted on the economic benefits of the project, highlighting it will provide a commercial link between central Cochabamba and the Amazonian Beni region. President Morales said “we [the government] will do the consultations, but I want you to know they won’t be binding. We won’t stop the projects just because the indigenous say so.”

    Tags: Bolivia, Amazon Indigenous, Evo Morales, Indigenous Land Rights

  • Argentina Votes for Continuity

    August 15, 2011

    by Janie Hulse Najenson

    At a time of global uncertainty, Argentineans voted for continuity on August 14. More than anything else, Sunday´s presidential primary results revealed the country’s preference for President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Unlike in the U.S. where primaries mean the selection of a party´s candidate, in Argentina, the candidates had already been chosen and voters were free to vote for whomever they wished. In effect, Sunday´s election was a popularity contest and a dry run for the presidential contest on October 23.

    Cristina proved so popular that she blew the other contenders out of the water with over 50 percent of the national vote. She held a nearly 38 percentage point lead over runner-up candidates Ricardo Alfonsín (12.17 percent)—son of popular former President Raúl Alfonsín—and Eduardo Duhalde (12.16 percent), a transitional president after Argentina´s economic collapse in 2002-2003.

    Looking quite fabulous despite her black garb, Cristina Fernández appeared emotionally moved by the support at last night’s results rally. To say the least, she has recently weathered a few sentimental disturbances, the worst of which was the passing of her husband and political sidekick, former President Nestor Kirchner in late October 2010. And just this week, her son´s girlfriend suffered a late miscarriage, which made front page news and led to cancellations on the presidential agenda. These very human experiences seem to have bolstered Ms Fernández´s popularity and helped people overlook her administration’s deficiencies. 

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    Tags: Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Elections in Argentina

  • Canada-Colombia Free-Trade Agreement Enters into Force, U.S. Continues to Wait

    August 15, 2011

    by Kezia McKeague

    I’ve got a flag on my lapel, not a maple leaf,” U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk exclaimed at a Senate Finance Committee hearing in March.  Today, as Canada’s free-trade agreement (FTA) with Colombia enters into force, it is the maple leaf that represents competitive pressures on U.S. market share and the political influence that goes with it.

    Canada and Colombia are two of our closest friends in the Western Hemisphere, and their strengthened commercial ties clearly benefit their mutual interests as well as Washington’s broader goal of promoting open markets and economic development.  Yet U.S. businesses and their congressional advocates are keenly aware that Canada has beat us to the punch, leaving U.S. exporters to an important emerging market at a competitive disadvantage.

    The implications of delayed ratification of the U.S.-Colombia FTA are not lost on either Colombia or Canada.  As Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos bluntly put it in a recent interview with Americas Quarterly, “American products are being replaced in the Colombian market because other countries have free-trade agreements.  If the FTA is not approved shortly, the U.S. will continue losing market share.”  Those losses will be particularly acute in the agricultural sector, where duty-free Canadian wheat will likely replace U.S. imports.

    Read More

    Tags: Canada, Free Trade Agreement, Colombia



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