• 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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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. 

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    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.

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    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.

    Sign up to receive the Weekly Roundup via email.

    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

  • Hugo Chávez’ Withdrawal from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

    May 7, 2012

    by Christopher Sabatini
    Shortly before he left for Cuba for another round of cancer treatment, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced his plan to pull his country out of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The last president to make a similar threat was Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori in 2000 when the IACHR had handed down a series of recommendations about death squad killings, the seizure of a private television station and the sacking of a constitutional court judge. 

    The spectacle of two supposed ends of the ideological spectrum—the self-proclaimed socialist Chávez and the neoliberal Fujimori—railing against the IACHR is really not as surprising as it sounds. It’s the common bond of autocratic regimes that want to be free of international scrutiny and the obligations to protect and defend their own citizens that transcends ideology.  And for those, the IACHR—which has stood in defense of human rights for over 50 years irrespective of the ideology of the government—makes a logical enemy. 

    Affiliated with the Organization of American States (OAS), the independent IACHR has defined human rights law and precedence on everything from holding governments accountable for disappearances by military governments during the bloody dictatorships of the 1980s (issuing a groundbreaking report in 1980 in Argentina), to arguing for aligning domestic laws concerning violence against women with international norms (1998), to defending Indigenous rights in land disputes with governments and investors in Nicaragua (1996) and Brazil (2011). Through it all, the IACHR has maintained a steady independence from the political vicissitudes in the region. 

    In fact, it is the only thing that has really shown any mettle or effectiveness within the inter-American system in recent years. 

    Because the IACHR lacks the power to enforce its recommendations on the member governments, its authority is moral, based on the regional public shame that comes with failing to uphold the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights (to which, sadly and inexplicably, the U.S. is not a signatory) and the precedence and legitimacy of its history.

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    Tags: Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

  • Monday Memo: AQ’s Top Expected Stories for the Week of May 7

    May 7, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Top stories this week are likely to include: Mexico’s presidential candidates debate; Dilma and the forestry law; Humala and Santos travel to Asia; and Venezuela proposes an alternative to the IACHR. 

    Challengers Hammer Peña Nieto in Presidential Debate: The leading presidential candidates in Mexico held their first debate last night, and frontrunner Enrique Peña Nieto of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) was the biggest target of attacks from  candidates Josefina Vázquez Mota (Partido Acción Nacional) and Andrés Manuel López Obrador (Partido de la Revolución Democrática). Peña Nieto’s challengers painted him as a corrupt politician who oversaw a poor economy in Mexico state. During the debate, Peña Nieto noted that Vázquez Mota and López Obrador “seem to have come to an agreement… they’re coming with knives sharpened.” However, political analyst Jorge Zepeda opined that “Peña Nieto survived…I don’t think the debate will have a big impact.” Adds AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak: “Without a clear winner in last night's debate, look for the campaign to turn increasingly hostile as candidates seek to make up ground against Peña Nieto.” Now that the candidates have squared off in their first debate—the next one will be held in June—look for how the Mexican electorate responds on the campaign trail. 

    Dilma May Partially Veto the Forestry Law: In a political setback to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s legislature approved a controversial forest code on April 26 at the urging of the powerful farmers’ lobby. The code gives way for further deforestation of the Amazon and provides an amnesty from being fined for illegally clearing trees. Rousseff is now being pressured by environmentalists to veto the law, especially ahead of next month’s Rio+20 global summit on sustainable development. Advisors in Brasilia are now indicating that the president may issue a partial veto to two particularly controversial clauses: one on amnesty from prior deforestation and another on reducing vegetation on the margins of the rivers. Look for news this week.

    Humala to Asia: Peruvian President Ollanta Humala will make his first official trip to Asia this week, aiming to sell his country as a trans-Pacific destination for trade and investment. Humala arrives in Japan tomorrow for trade talks with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Emperor Akihito, then continues to South Korea where he will sign a declaration of strategic association with Prime Minister Lee Myung-Bak. “Coming on the heels of nationalizations in Argentina and Bolivia, Humala will likely use the trip to exhibit the stability for investments in Peru,” notes AQ’s Jason Marczak.

    Santos in Singapore and China: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos landed in Singapore yesterday for a six-day trip to Asia that will also include a state visit to China. Santos is accompanied in Singapore by a business delegation and his ministers of commerce, mining, transport and agriculture, and foreign affairs. He lands in China tomorrow to build “a much closer framework of cooperation between the two countries,” according to Xinhua and will depart on Saturday.

    Venezuela Proposes IACHR Alternative:
    After suggesting last week that his country should withdraw from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and his administration have proposed an alternative human rights body for Latin American states that would exclude the United States. Chávez has accused the IACHR, under the aegis of the Washington-based Organization of American States, of being a tool of the U.S. government. However, the informal proposal of an alternate commission issued over the weekend in Cartagena, Colombia, by Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro should bring cause for concern that Venezuela is flouting its international commitments. The move has been criticized by Venezuelan human rights groups and the United Nations. Look for formalized proposals going forward.

    Tags: Human Rights, Brazil, Mexico, Environment, China, Juan Manuel Santos, Japan, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Dilma Rousseff, Ollanta Humala, Enrique Peña Nieto, Josefina Vázquez Mota

  • Brazil’s Supreme Court Approves Racial Quotas

    May 4, 2012

    by Paulo Rogério

    Please find the original text below, submitted in Portuguese.

    A 10–0 decision by Brazil’s Supreme Court, O Supremo Tribunal Federal (STF) on April 26 was a landmark verdict for Brazil’s Afro-descendant population. The STF approved the incentive program for black and underprivileged students to attend college in Brazil, ProUni (Programa Universidade para Todos—University Program for All); after the end of slavery and the passage of the Racial Equality Law, this was the most important public policy addressing the Afro-Brazilian population. 

    The challenge to ProUni’s constitutionality was filed by the Democratas party, which argued that the universities’ adoption of the system violated constitutional principles of equality. On the other hand, social organizations claimed that quotas are a mechanism to reverse historic exclusion and create opportunities for thousands of descendants of African slaves. In 2003, only 3 percent of Afro-Brazilians had a university degree; in 2010 this number was 10 percent. These figures pale in comparison to the actual number of Afro-Brazilians: 51 percent of the population, according to the latest census.

    The approval of quotas marks the end of a decade-plus debate in Brazil—one that saw biased opposition to the system by the mainstream media outlets, despite strong support from the Afro-Brazilian rights movement. The media’s opposition contradicted public opinion: Datafolha polls from 2006 and 2008 showed that the 65 and 62 percent, respectively, of Brazilians actually supported the affirmative action plan.

    Tags: Brazil, Education, Social inclusion, Affirmative Action, Afro-Brazilians

  • Haiti Lawmakers Approve New Prime Minister

    May 4, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Haitian legislators yesterday approved President Michel Martelly’s nominee for Prime Minister, Laurent Lamothe, ending a confirmation standoff that has brought Haiti’s federal government to a virtual standstill for nearly two months. Lamothe, a former special adviser to President Martelly before being appointed foreign minister in September 2011, was confirmed by a vote of 62–3 after a six-hour long debate centered on whether he met residency requirements for public officials stipulated in the country’s constitution.

    In an interview after the vote with the Associated Press, Lamothe vowed to immediately begin working to get Haiti’s post-earthquake recovery back on track saying, “We have a lot of work to do now… I feel that the country finally has the opportunity to work on the people’s problems. We have a lot of different issues to deal with and finally we have the team in place to start solving the people’s problems.”

    The confirmation will also ease concerns in the international community—particularly among donors and aid organizations—which had grown weary of dealing with a government partner hobbled by political infighting. In remarks delivered before the vote, UN Special Envoy to Haiti Bill Clinton weighed in saying officials needed to set aside self-interest for the good of the country and “restore confidence in Haitian institutions so that donor funds can flow again and attract new investment.”

    Observers note that even with the confirmation, it could still take weeks before the legislature finally approves Lamothe’s government plan and his choices for Cabinet positions.

    Tags: Haiti, Bill Clinton, Michel Martelly, Laurent Lamothe

  • La hazaña Langlois, una lección para los corresponsales de guerra

    May 3, 2012

    by Jenny Manrique

    Sería realmente alentador, además de novedoso, que llegara una celebración del Día Mundial de la Libertad de Prensa sin malas noticias para el gremio. Pues este 3 de mayo no logró ser la excepción, ya que además de repasar las cifras que no ceden en lo que a violaciones a la libertad de expresión se refiere (Reporteros sin Fronteras (RSF) dijo que ya van 21 comunicadores asesinados en 2012 y que las FARC y las Águilas Negras siguen siendo predadores de la libertad de prensa en Colombia), desde hace seis días es incierta la suerte del reportero francés Romeo Langlois, freelance para la cadena France 24 y el diario Le Figaro en el país.

    La historia es así: Langlois se fue con el Ejército colombiano a cubrir una operación antinarcóticos en Unión Peneya, un sector del municipio Montañitas de Caquetá, al sur del país. Un municipio, dicho sea de paso, que hizo parte de la zona de distensión que en el gobierno de Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002) se despejó para que las FARC tuvieran diálogos con el gobierno y que en últimas terminó siendo un fortín para que la guerrilla se vigorizara y la anhelada paz se diluyera así como la confianza en la salida negociada al conflicto que, lamentablemente, ha sido difícil de recuperar pese a los connotados esfuerzos de la sociedad civil. Hoy día Unión Peneya es uno de esos rincones del país donde la presencia del Estado parece un chiste bogotano, lo que facilita que la guerrilla maneje todo el ciclo de producción de la cocaína a través de milicias armadas.

    El grupo de soldados con el que iba Langlois cayó en una emboscada de la guerrilla de las FARC que al final dejó cuatro muertos, pese a que los reportes irresponsables iniciales, compartidos por un general del Ejército a través de Twitter, hablaban de 15, mientras algunos medios, quien sabe basados en qué fuente hablaban de hasta 20 fallecidos. (Entre otras cosas, flaco favor le hace a la libertad de prensa dar partes oficiales apresurados en zona de guerra.) Los heridos confirmados fueron siete, mientras la suerte del reportero todavía sigue siendo materia de confusión: el gobierno colombiano dice que cesará acciones militares en la zona en cuestión y emprenderá un rescate si el gobierno francés lo autoriza; el secretariado de la guerrilla no confirma ni niega la versión de una supuesta vocera del frente XV de las FARC que se atribuyó el plagio; el gobierno francés está seguro de que es un secuestro; el gobierno brasileño ofrece mediación; la Organización de Estados Americanos, la Organización de las Naciones Unidas, y la Unión Europea condenan el hecho e instan a las FARC a liberarlo.

    Mientras todos sus colegas nos unimos al clamor por su libertad, el caso fue el punto de partida para reflexionar sobre el ejercicio que realizamos los reporteros en zona de guerra. Sobre todo en un país como Colombia donde el conflicto hace rato que se cubre desde los escritorios y solo algunos valientes van al lugar de los hechos, generalmente viajando como es el caso de Langlois, con alguna unidad militar. Es el término llamado embedded journalism acuñado desde que los periodistas norteamericanos se montaron en los convoys militares que llegaban a la Guerra de Iraq en 2003. Es a veces la única opción para llegar a ciertos “teatros de operaciones” a los que los medios no se le miden a enviar periodistas por su cuenta, por miedos legítimos, restricciones financieras, desinterés, o inexperiencia.

    Read More

    Tags: Colombia, FARC, Media, Press Freedom

  • U.S. Reacts to Venezuela’s IACHR Withdrawal Plans

    May 3, 2012

    by AQ Online

    A spokesman for the U.S. State Department said Wednesday “it would be deeply regrettable” if Venezuela were to leave the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). President Hugo Chávez announced on Monday that Venezuela would seek to withdraw from the inter-governmental body, describing it as “a mechanism that the United States uses against us.” The IACHR is an autonomous branch of the Organization of American States tasked with the promotion and protection of human rights in the hemisphere.

    Also on Monday, Chávez named various allies to seats on a newly created advisory body, the State Council, and tasked the committee with assessing the process for withdrawal. On Wednesday, the Venezuelan State representative for human rights, Germán Saltrón, argued that the IACHR is biased against Venezuela, and claimed that it endorsed the April 2002 attempted coup to unseat Chávez. Venezuela, said Saltrón, “is a democratic country and no one can come here to claim the moral high ground on human rights.” He added that the withdrawal may take one year.

    Speaking to reporters during a daily press briefing yesterday, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said, “Washington considers the body an effective and unique organization within the hemisphere.” Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL), president of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House of Representatives, said that with his proposal to withdraw Venezuela from the body, Chávez “again is trying to silence advocates of human rights throughout the hemisphere… [which] will have widespread negative implications for democracy and fundamental freedoms.” In Americas Quarterly, IACHR Executive Secretary Santiago Canton has called the commission “a crucial tool against injustice—exceeding the imagination of its founders and mak¬ing it a force in the hemisphere and an example in the world.”

    Last month, the IACHR released its 2011 annual report, which denounced the Venezuelan government’s political intolerance and violence against unionists, women and rural farmers.

    Tags: Venezuela, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, U.S.-Venezuela Relations, President Hugo Chávez

  • Latin America Needs More Cultural Exchanges with China

    May 2, 2012

    by Andrés Bermúdez Liévano

    A couple of weeks ago, a small but evocative display of 30 abstract sculptures, paintings and engravings by artist Manuel Felguérez opened in the stunning boomerang-shaped museum designed by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki for Beijing's Central Academy of Fine Arts. The exhibition of recent works by Felguérez, one of the most prominent members of the generation that helped pave a new way in Mexican art beyond the aesthetic ideas of Diego Rivera and the Mexican muralists, was quite an event. And indeed it was intended to mark a special occasion: the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Mexico and China.

    Despite the quality of the exhibition and the presence of the sculptor and painter himself, in reality this is not a common event. Not only is a Latin American art exhibition in China a rare occurrence but, sadly, this cultural exchange mirrors how little importance nations in the region give to a country that has already become their first or second trade partner.

    Over the past couple of years only a few major exhibitions have been organized by Latin American countries in China: Colombia brought a large sample of Pre-Hispanic gold objects to the Shanghai Museum and Peru exhibited a range of objects made by Pre-Incan civilizations at the National Museum in Beijing last year. Very little modern art has been displayed, with the possible exceptions of Felguérez and the kinetic works of Venezuela's Carlos Cruz Díez in Ningbo.

    But it's not just art. The presence of prominent Latin American intellectuals has generally been scarce. Last year's only high profile visit was that of Mexican writer Sergio Pitol, probably the Latin American intellectual with the closest ties to China, after having lived here for almost a year just before the Cultural Revolution. Argentine poet Juan Gelman and Peruvian novelist—and Nobel laureate—Mario Vargas Llosa have both visited China, albeit on invitations from Spain's Instituto Cervantes. The only important author to visit during this first half of 2012 has been Peruvian writer Fernando Iwasaki, who spoke in the Chinese capital last week.

    Read More

    Tags: Latin America, Art, China, Music, Culture, Dance

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    May 2, 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.

    Chile Proposes New Tax Code to Fund Education

    Chilean President Sebastián Piñera introduced a bill to Congress on Monday to reform the country’s tax code. The new tax code raises corporate income tax and sales taxes, but lowers income taxes across the board. It also permits families to write off 50 percent of the cost of education on their tax returns. The reform further progressively eliminates import duties—currently at 6 percent—over the next three years. Piñera said the reforms should raise between $700 million and $1 billion a year to be used to fund education and government scholarships. CIPER Chile calls the government’s reform “regressive,” saying a tax cut for the rich while raising sales taxes for everyone is “unjust.” 

    Bolivia Nationalizes Electrical Grid

    On May 1, President Evo Morales announced that Bolivia would take over the country’s electrical grid Transportadora de Electricidad, currently operated by Spanish company Red Electrica Corps. Morales ascribed the move to underinvestment in the sector and a need for government control of electricity. 

    Brazilian Supreme Court Rules Racial Quotas are Legal

    The Brazilian Supreme Court ruled unanimously last week that racial quotas for university admissions are constitutional. The justices said such measures were necessary in order to guarantee the advancement of Afro-Brazilians and correct past injustices against black citizens. However, two judges expressed reservations, urging the court to consider more specific criteria than race such as socio-economic status. “No one has the power to say who is white and who is black in a highly mixed society,” one justice said. 

    Read More

    Tags: Press Freedom, New Chile Tax Code, Bolivia Nationalized Electric, Brazilian Forest Code, State Department Sustainable Cities

  • Bolivia Nationalizes National Electric Grid

    May 2, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Bolivian President Evo Morales on Tuesday announced his intention to nationalize a majority of the country’s electricity transmission system, which is currently administered by a number of private-sector companies. Transportadora de Electricidad S.A., part of the Spanish multinational, Grupo Red Electrica de España, holds a 74 percent stake in Bolivia’s electric grid and administers approximately 1,720 miles of high voltage lines. The remaining 26 percent of the grid is owned by individual domestic and foreign companies serving specific regions of the country.

    The government justified this decision by characterizing as insufficient the $81 million that firms have spent on maintaining and expanding the grid over the past 16 years. In a press conference in La Paz’ Palacio Quemado, Morales said, “we are nationalizing the Transportadora de Electricidad in the name of the Bolivian people as homage to the workers who fought for the recovery of our natural resources and basic services.” The decree also said that the shareholders of the affected companies will be compensated, but did not specify exactly how.

    This latest move is part of a larger trend in Bolivia toward nationalization that began in 2006 and has affected numerous sections, including hydrocarbons, telecommunications and agriculture. The Morales government considers certain “basic services”—energy, water and telecommunications—to be strategically vital and subject to state ownership.

    There is likely to be swift condemnation by foreign investors in the region, particularly in light of recent moves to by the Cristinia Fernández de Kirchner government in Argentina to nationalize that country’s largest energy firm, YFP.

    Tags: Bolivia, Evo Morales, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Nationalization in Bolivia, Bolivian Electricity

  • A Canadian View of Barack Obama

    May 1, 2012

    by John Parisella

    As was the case with many countries outside of the United States, Canada had its share of Obama fever back in 2008. His candidacy was arguably seen as transformative, if only by being the first African-American candidate in a serious position to win the presidency. To be fair, the 2008 Democratic primary season also had all the makings of another rendezvous with history: the possibility of the first woman, Hillary Clinton, to capture the U.S. presidency. When Obama ultimately triumphed, Canadians seemed as excited as our neighbors to the south and hope was as much in the air in Canada as in the U.S.

    Unlike some of our American friends who may have since soured on President Obama, Canadians generally retain a positive view of the President. It is not an exaggeration to say that his re-election for a second term would be seen very favorably. In fact, the general consensus after the rather disappointing Republican primary season is that Obama will walk away with an easy victory. It seems that many in Canada confuse their wishes with reality on the ground as Americans are bracing for a hard fought election.

    The reality is that the United States remains fundamentally a 50-50 nation, with independents holding the key to the final results. The sluggish recovery in the U.S. (20 percent of lost jobs have been recovered) is contrasted by a far more robust recovery in Canada (over 100 percent). While our optimism is somewhat guarded regarding the economy, it is clear we did not have a housing crisis and a financial meltdown of the magnitude of America. Our single payer healthcare system, while under some financial strain, remains very much a major tenet of our social and economic security. Our growth outlook is generally considered good compared to our fellow OECD countries. So we tend to extrapolate our comparative good fortune with that of President Obama’s attractiveness and ask: Why would America change leaders now? The fact is that the economic picture will be a decisive factor in the November election.

    Read More

    Tags: Canada, Stephen Harper, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Keystone XL, Alberta

  • U.S. Labor Organization, Mexican Lawyers Challenge HB 56

    May 1, 2012

    by AQ Online

    The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Asociación Nacional de Abogados Democráticos (ANAD) filed a complaint with the Mexican Department of Labor on Monday against Alabama’s harsh immigration law, HB 56. The SEIU, which represents 2.1 million workers in North America, wrote in the complaint that the law violates international human rights and labor rights standards and is in direct conflict with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

    Specifically, both organizations argue that HB 56 contradicts the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation—a supplemental labor agreement to NAFTA—by “creating a climate of fear and intimidation that chills immigrant workers and their co-workers who seek to form trade unions, bargain collectively or participate in other worker advocacy organizations.” The complaint goes on to claim that HB 56 contributes to increased racial discrimination, minimum wage and overtime violations, workplace health and safety hazards, and discrimination against workers who appear foreign.

    The Mexican Labor Department will now launch an investigation into the allegations. “We are confident they will see HB 56 for what it is: an immoral racial profiling law that now threatens workers and economic stability,” said Eliseo Medina, SEIU's International Secretary-Treasurer. SEIU filed a similar complain last month with the International Labour Organization.

    Monday’s complaint focuses on the economic and labor consequences of HB 56, but this type of harsh immigration legislation also takes a significant social toll on immigrant families, and particularly children—including many who are U.S. citizens—argues Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco in, “The Dream Deferred,” published last week in the Spring 2012 issue of Americas Quarterly.

    Tags: NAFTA, Labor rights, Alabama Immigration, HB 56, ILO

  • Guatemala Works toward Increased Security

    April 30, 2012

    by Joshua Ryan Rosales

    During last year’s presidential campaign in Guatemala, many were wary of what a government headed by a former military officer, then-candidate Otto Pérez Molina, would look like. Specifically, the concerns centered on if Guatemala could retrogress to the era of abuse and totalitarianism that ruled the country from 1954 to 1986.

    To the surprise of many, however, things appear to have turned out quite the opposite. President Pérez Molina of the Partido Patriota (Patriot Party) has thus far helped restore confidence in government institutions in a country plagued by high levels of organized crime and impunity.

    The president has governed pragmatically, particularly by way of his progressive stance on drug decriminalization: an issue that dominated the media coverage of the Sixth Summit of the Americas earlier this month in Cartagena, Colombia. His decriminalization position represents a major shift in a country with strong traditional and religious values and a highly conservative economic and political class.

    The hemisphere is listening. At the summit, Organization of American States (OAS) member-states agreed for the regional body to investigate the prospect of decriminalizing drugs—a notable breakthrough from previous regional conferences. Although some believe this is a political strategy to pressure Washington to boost aid in Guatemala, Pérez Molina’s push has brought results, including President Barack Obama’s recent announcement to increase security cooperation in Central America.

    Read More

    Tags: Guatemala, Counternarcotics, Crime and Security, Otto Perez Molina

  • Monday Memo: AQ’s Top Expected Stories for the Week of April 30

    April 30, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Top stories this week are likely to include: Dilma Rousseff’s possible veto of Forestry legislation; The search ends for Cuban actors who defected; the vote on drug victims compensation law in Mexico; construction resumes on Peru’s Conga mine.

    Brazil’s Forestry Laws: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is facing extreme pressure from environmentalists, who believe that a new forestry bill, which last week passed both legislatures after fierce lobbying by agroindustry, will speed up deforestation of the Amazon.  Current laws establish that 80 percent of private land in the Amazon region is off limits for development. The new law will allow for the development of vast areas that were previously off limits. According to observers, the changes threaten 270,000 square miles (690,000 square kilometers) and will prevent Brazil from reaching its deforestation reduction goals.  “It’s fitting—if a bit ironic—that this is playing out in the country that will soon host the Rio+20 Conference,” says Chris Sabatini, editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly.

    Cuban Defections:
    Two young Cuban actors who disappeared last week while making their way to the New York-based Tribeca Film Festival for the U.S. premiere of the film Una Noche have resurfaced and announced their intention to apply for asylum in the United States. The actors, both in their 20s, went missing during a brief stopover in Miami and had not been heard from in nearly a week. “Defections from Cuba are common;” says AQ editor Matthew Aho, “they result from a combination of accommodating U.S. asylum policies for Cubans and the lack of real opportunities for Cuban youth.”

    Conga mine construction to resume: The largest-ever mining investment in Peru’s history will be allowed to move forward this year, after months of construction delays caused by local protestors’ fears of environmental damage and water contamination. The Conga protests were the first major crisis of President Ollanta Humala’s administration. His decision to allow the project to proceed will be another major test of his government and could spark a wave of similar protest in the Cajamarca region.  “For many who questioned Humala’s commitment to a market economy and investment, his actions in this case demonstrate that the Peruvian President—at least when it comes to mining—is a pragmatist, says Sabatini.

    Drug Crimes Compensation: A bill that would provide victims of drug violence passed Mexico’s Senate last week and is poised to advance through the legislative process this week. The measure, which would provide victims of drug violence with up to $70,000 in financial compensation, along with a variety of specialized social services, is a central demand of a growing piece movement being led by poet Javier Sicilia. The bill’s sponsors, Senators Fernando Baeza and Tomas Torres, are optimistic about its passage, saying it “lays the foundations to reconstruct the social fabric which has been so gravely affected by violence.”

    Tags: Peru, Cuba, Brazil, Environment, Dilma Rousseff

  • Stephen Harper’s Financial Troubles

    April 27, 2012

    by Huguette Young

    It’s been a long eleven months for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his fellow Conservatives. After a strong start in May 2011 following the election of his first-ever majority government, Harper has faced months of relentless attacks in the House of Commons—and the strain is showing.

    Now the public is witnessing another Stephen Harper. Always in control, he now has a hard time getting his message through. Day after day during the daily Question Period in the House of Commons, the prime minister has had to defend unpopular positions about costly fighter jets, a rollback on pension eligibility (from 65 to 67 years old starting in 2023), and the suspected involvement of the Conservative Party in an alleged scheme to mislead voters on election day last May.

    Not to mention that Harper is facing a court challenge from the provincial government of Québec over the dismantling of the federal long-gun registry and all the data it contains. Québec is contesting the federal decision because it wants the data collected on the identity of Québec rifle owners to set up its own provincial registry.

    But the Tories’ main problem is the growing controversy over the cost of 65 F-35 stealth fighter jets it plans to buy from the U.S. firm Lockheed Martin as part of an international consortium. Other nations have scaled back their military orders as the ballooning costs became apparent. But the Harper government remained tight-lipped about its plans for months.

    That all changed on April 3. A new report from Michael Ferguson, Canada’s Auditor General who acts as an independent controller with authority to comb through the expenses of federal departments and agencies, lists the cost of these fighter jets at a minimum of $25 billion rather than the roughly $15 billion that was previously anticipated. After initially saying that defense officials withheld information from ministers, Ferguson said it was likely the Harper government must have known about the true cost of the program. He faulted the government for mismanaging the F-35 program and not telling Canadians about the true cost of the country’s largest-ever military purchase.

    Read More

    Tags: Canada, Stephen Harper, Thomas Mulcair

  • Argentine Senate Approves YPF Takeover

    April 27, 2012

    by AQ Online

    The Argentine Senate approved a bill early Thursday morning that would nationalize Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (YPF), the country’s biggest oil and gas producer. Sixty-three out of a total of 72 senators voted in favor of the expropriation—more than the majority required to pass the bill—versus three against and four abstentions. President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s coalition party Frente para la Victoria (Front for Victory—FPV) has strong influence over both houses and the bill is widely expected to also pass the Chamber of Deputies next week.

    The senate vote comes a week following Fernández announcement that the government intended to seize a 51-percent stake in YPF from its Spanish parent company Repsol, which currently ownes 57.4 percent of the company. Fernández blamed energy companies like Repsol for their lack of adequate investment in the energy sector and for Argentina’s energy trade deficit, which reached almost $3 billion in 2011. The government contends that YPF takeover will help solve Argentina’s short-term energy needs.

    Shale gas may in the future offer new solutions to Argentina’s energy challenges, as the country is believed to have the world’s third-largest shale-gas reserves after China and the United States. But in a recent article “Argentina’s Shale Gas Revolution,” published in the Spring 2012 issue of Americas Quarterly, Francisco Resnicoff and Gabi Huesca warn that the Kirchner Administration does not have the financial means to exploit these resources and will likely have trouble attracting the level of foreign investment required to exploit its shale-gas reserves.

    Tags: Policy update, YPF, Argentina Nationalization Gas, Shale Gas, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner

  • A Case for Gay Rights in Chile

    April 26, 2012

    by Eduardo Ayala

    Recent acts of violence alongside pending legislation and international pressure have brought to light the pressing need for lawmaking in support of LGBT rights in Chile. Together with protests for reforms in the education system, the public seems to be increasingly impatient about what the government is doing to protect LGBT rights. These demands are important beyond the scope of gay rights, because they have brought attention to the need for Chile to recognize, accept and protect the human rights of an evolving, heterogeneous culture as a fundamental prerequisite for continued prosperity.

    The passage of an antidiscrimination law, which remained unresolved for over seven years, by a close 58-56 vote in the Chamber of Deputies this month was a basic necessity for the country. The Chilean Movement for Sexual Minorities (MOVILH) notes that in 2011 gay, lesbian and transgender Chileans were increasingly outspoken in reporting abuse and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. However, this recently passed antidiscrimination law does not deal with hate crimes per se, but rather defines illegal discrimination. Furthermore, certain passages have yet to be finalized in a mixed commission of Senators and Deputies on May 2. The recent death of gay youth Daniel Zamudio points to precisely why legislating solely on discrimination does not suffice in this case, serving as an exceptionally violent example as to why hate crimes require specific punishment under the law. 

    Zamudio received not only the public’s sympathy, but also worldwide attention including a briefing note from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ spokesman, Rupert Colville, urging Chile to enact hate crime legislation. In this regard, the MOVILH also argues that Chilean society is not opposed to legislating on issues of gay rights and antidiscrimination in its entirety, but there is a lack of bravery and willingness within Congress to approach these pending issues. The recent Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ overturning of a Chilean court ruling against lesbian Judge Karen Atala, who lost custody of her children because of her same-sex relationship, is further international pressure for Chile to meet requirements stipulated by international agreements it has signed onto. 

    Chile’s gay rights deficit is worrying as the country continues to be viewed as an example for continued economic growth despite global market volatility. President Sebastian Piñera’s administration is cautious about giving into all public demands, as Chile’s Minister of Finance Felipe Larraín recently said: “If we surrender to the temptation of appeasing demands by giving in to all of them, we will never get to our final goal [development].” However, most gay rights issues rely merely on political willingness rather than investment for social welfare. Furthermore, acting on gay rights is not the investment equivalent of reforming a public education system.

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    Tags: Chile, Sebastian Piñera, Gay Rights, LGBT Rights

  • Canada's Alberta Province Rejects its Tea Party

    April 26, 2012

    by John Parisella

    It’s been said that the United States is a center-right country and Canada is a center-left country.  Actually, given the evidence, it should be said that both countries generally prefer the center when it comes to selecting its leaders.  According to nearly all the opinion polls, Canada’s oil rich province of Alberta was set to choose the Wildrose, Canada’s version of the Tea Party, as its government.  Instead, this past Monday (April 23 ) it decided to keep the incumbent and mainstream Progressive Conservative party, stewards of Alberta for 41 consecutive years, as its government.

    True, Alberta is probably Canada’s closest version of Texas.  It has the lowest tax rate in the country, is the home of Canada’s largest reservoir of fossil fuels and generally is seen to be the jurisdiction with the strongest libertarian streak in the country.  Over the decades, the governing Progressive Conservative party has become a reliable and stable fixture, despite the obvious fatigue voters are beginning to feel with 41 years of rule.  The Wildrose party, with striking similarities to the U.S. Tea party including its brand of conservative populism and its economic libertarianism, seemed at the end of the day, too extreme even in the Canada’s most pro-free enterprise province.

    Just as in the United States, Canada has its ideologically based parties, but when it comes to electing its prime ministers and premiers, it prefers that their leaders govern with the widest consensus possible.  In a parliamentary system, governments can often be found with a majority of seats but with less than 50 percent of the popular vote.  Any government that is insensitive to this reality will eventually pay a price at the next political rendez-vous.  Pragmatism and compromise are preferred to rigidity and ideology.

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    Tags: Canada, United States, Tea Party, Alberta, Wildrose Party

  • Chile Most Inclusive Country in Hemisphere, Says AQ Study

    April 26, 2012

    by AQ Online

    With today’s release of its Spring 2012 issue, Americas Quarterly has unveiled a new index that measures social inclusion in the Americas. This ranking evaluates 15 different indicators and compares them across 11 countries in the hemisphere. The variables include a country’s economic competitiveness, percent of national GDP spent on social programs, level of political and civil freedoms, and citizen perception of personal empowerment and government responsiveness in that country.

    Out of a maximum of 100, Chile came out on top with a score of 71.9, while Guatemala ranked lowest at 7.5. The index praises Chile’s “consistently high rankings across almost all indicators” and cites “severe inequalities by race and ethnicity” in the case of Guatemala, adding that “Indigenous and Afro-Guatemalans lag far behind” socioeconomically. Uruguay and Brazil ranked second and third, respectively.

    For four variables—enrollment in secondary school, percent of population living on more than $4 per day, access to adequate housing, and percent of population with access to a formal job—Americas Quarterly uses data collected by the World Bank in household surveys and disaggregated by race and gender.

    According to the index, social inclusion is defined as “the concept that a citizen has the ability to participate in the basic political, economic and social functioning of his or her society. It includes not just economic empowerment, but also access to basic social services, access to infrastructure (physical and institutional), access to the formal labor market, civil and political participation and voice, and the absence of legally sanctioned discrimination based on race, ethnicity or gender.”

    Access the full results of—and methodology behind—AQ’s social inclusion index.

    Tags: Chile, Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, Mexico, Colombia, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Social inclusion, poverty, Ecuador, Uruguay, Paraguay

  • Media Crackdown in Hugo Chávez’ Re-Election Campaign

    April 25, 2012

    by Andrés Cañizález and Roberto Velásquez

    Any crackdown on media freedom is harmful to democracy in any country at any time. In Venezuela, President Hugo Chávez' abuse of power is particularly egregious since the ongoing and intensifying crackdown takes place in what is the most important electoral campaign of the last 14 years in Venezuela. Presidential elections are to be held on October 7, 2012.

    Hugo Chávez’ biggest efforts to thwart media freedom—in terms of impact on democracy—are threefold. First and most importantly, the inappropriate abuse of the public media spectrum for political gain significantly restricts freedom to equal representation and equal access to the airwaves, including both radio and television in Venezuela.

    Second, the long-standing intimidation of private media outlets—heightened in the current electoral season—essentially forces them to: broadcast the government line; curb political discussion altogether; or face the consequences. See the Marta Colomina interview with César Miguel Rondón from earlier this year for anecdotal evidence of this crackdown.

    Read More

    Tags: Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, Press Freedom

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    April 25, 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. Defense Secretary Tours Brazil, Chile, and Colombia

    Colombia, Brazil, and Chile will host U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta this week. “This is a way of making contact and dealing with the region at a time when there’s growing concern over the ability of many countries to be able to handle the threat posed by transnational crime and, specifically, drug trafficking organizations,” one former Pentagon official told Voice of America. In Colombia, Panetta secured the sale of 10 U.S. helicopters to that country to be used in combatting drug trafficking and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Panetta met with Brazilian Defense Minister Celso Amorim in Brasilia as part of the first U.S.-Brazil Defense Cooperation Dialogue, established during Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s visit to Washington earlier this month, and discussed ways to expand bilateral trade in defense technology. Panetta will next head to Rio de Janeiro before departing for Chile, where he is expected to discuss joint naval drug-patrol operations off the Central American coast.

    Mexican Migration to the U.S. at a Standstill

    A poll from the Pew Hispanic Center finds that Mexican migration to the United States has stopped and perhaps even reversed. The research finds that from 2005 to 2010, 1.4 million Mexicans emigrated to the United States, and 1.4 million Mexican immigrants returned to Mexico from the United States. The report also finds that the number of undocumented immigrants living in the United States dropped by nearly 1 million by 2011. The report says the decline is a result of “weakened U.S. job and housing construction markets, heightened border enforcement, a rise in deportations, the growing dangers associated with illegal border crossings, the long-term decline in Mexico’s birth rates and changing economic conditions in Mexico.”

    U.S. Funds to Fight Intellectual Property Crimes in LatAm

    Last week, the U.S. State Department announced 12 international intellectual property training programs, designed to combat transnational crime and piracy by educating judges and law enforcement agents on the subject. Of the $2.6 million set aside for these efforts, $438,814 is destined for programs in Mexico, $150,644 for Brazil, $100,000 for Chile, and $70,000 for Colombia. 

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    Tags: SB 1070, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Mexico Migration, Intellectual Property, Puerto Rico Primary

  • Argentina, Uruguay Sign Tax Evasion Treaty

    April 25, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Argentina and Uruguay signed a bilateral treaty yesterday as part of a joint effort to stem tax evasion, reduce capital flight, and attract greater foreign investment. Argentine citizens have long used Uruguayan banks accounts to avoid tax payments. The new measure, which will likely be approved by both countries’ legislatures later this year, will allow investigators from Argentina’s tax authority, Administración Federal de Ingresos Públicos (AFIP), to access financial data on suspected tax evaders.

    “This is a fundamental tool for international cooperation on tax matters,” said Uruguayan Minister of the Economy Fernando Lorenzo. The treaty also allows  Uruguay to respond to Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recommendations that it shore up its highly deregulated banking sector.

    The treaty is very specific on how and what information on depositors can be shared. Information will only be exchanged on a case-by-case basis and a formal legal petition has to be filed by tax authorities for each individual under scrutiny. It is estimated that approximately $ 2 billion in Argentine savings have been deposited in Uruguayan banks in recent years by depositors anxious about the possibility of further currency controls.

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    Tags: Argentina, Uruguay, Tax evasion

  • Argentina Is Not Brazil and YPF Is Not Petrobras

    April 24, 2012

    by Janie Hulse Najenson

    After much speculation, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner once again proved she has the guts to move forward with a politically controversial government takeover. This time around Spanish oil company Repsol was the victim. In 2009, another Spanish company, Marsans, was forced to cede the Argentinean flagship airline to the government, and in 2008, $30 billion in private pension funds were nationalized.

    Ms. Fernández announced a week ago that her government would expropriate 51 percent of YPF from Repsol, which would give the government control of the company. She cited insufficient investment resulting in energy scarcity as the reason for the takeover.

    As with Aerolineas Argentinas' expropriation, the YPF takeover was popularly supported. The majority of Argentineans believe that the state should control strategic resources like oil. According to the consultancy Poliarquía, six out of every ten Argentines support the measure. This figure is lower than the 74 percent support rate reported by a government-friendly poll.

    This public support, however, must not be confused with support of the government’s handling of energy policy. Indeed, according to polls, most Argentineans blame the government over YPF Repsol for dwindling hydrocarbon reserves. The public is aware how government price controls and fluctuating subsidies have distorted market forces and made necessary investments less attractive.

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    Tags: Brazil, Argentina, Petrobras, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Repsol YPF

  • Guatemalan President Completes First 100 Days with High Approval

    April 24, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Survey results released yesterday show that 82 percent of Guatemalans consider President Otto Pérez Molina’s performance during his first 100 days in office “good” or “acceptable,” while 11 percent consider it “bad.” Approval of the formal military general, who represents the Partido Patriota (Patriot Party) was highest (87 percent) in the capital, falling to 82 percent in rural areas and 81 percent in other urban areas.

    The survey of 1,201 Guatemalans was conducted between April 10 and 15 by the private firm Prodatos and published yesterday by the newspaper Prensa Libre. It had a confidence level of 95 percent and a margin of error of 2.8 percent.

    Pérez Molina’s stance on education, security and decriminalization appeared to be among the factors most strongly influencing Guatemalans’ perceptions of his administration. Manuel Pérez Lara, an analyst and dean of the Universidad del Istmo, said, “My sense is that [the citizenry] recognizes a certain leadership in the new government, in that its lines of action have been clear and defined from the beginning.” Eight-two percent of those surveyed approved of the government’s performance on education issues, 81 percent supported its fight against delinquency, 71 percent responded favorably to its initiatives to combat narcotrafficking, and 67 percent supported its efforts to fight corruption. In contrast, 12 percent of survey respondents said the president’s efforts to decriminalize drugs are “the worst” thing he has done.

    The survey results also show that Guatemalan citizens recognize that much remains to be done, although they are on the whole positive about their current leadership and the future. Forty-eight percent of respondents said they thought things would improve in Guatemala in the next few months, compared with 23 percent who believe things will stay the same and 29 percent who say they will get worse. The majority of respondents consider President Pérez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti “hard-working,” “well-intentioned,” “honest,” “sincere,” and “open to dialogue.”

    In an interview with Prensa Libre, Pérez Molina said he would rate his first 100 days an “eight,” although he acknowledged that the period is a short one from which to evaluate his administration. He cited fiscal reform and the Hambre Cero program to combat malnutrition as signal accomplishments.

    Tags: Guatemala, Otto Perez Molina