The White House announced yesterday that Joe Biden will travel to Mexico and Honduras on March 4–6. In Mexico City, he will meet with President Felipe Calderón to underscore the U.S. commitment to dialogue and collaboration on a range of issues important to both countries. Following that, Vice President Biden will travel to Tegucigalpa for a bilateral meeting with President Porfirio Lobo. Further details about these meetings will be released at a later date.
Biden will also participate in a meeting of Central American leaders organized by President Lobo, the president pro tempore of the Central American Integration System. It is expected that the topic of crime and security will figure heavily into that meeting—especially following Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina’s statement last week that his country and others should consider legalizing drugs to help reduce violence in the region.
In both countries, Biden will also be discussing the agenda for the Summit of the Americas, which will be held in Cartagena, Colombia, in mid-April, and the official theme of which will be physical integration and regional cooperation within the Western hemisphere as mechanisms for development and increased prosperity.
Biden last traveled to the region in March 2009, when he met with Latin American heads of state at the Summit of Progressive Leaders in Viña del Mar, Chile and a summit of Central American leaders in San José, Costa Rica.
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.
Venezuelan Election Outlook Complicated by Chávez Cancer News
President of Venezuala Hugo Chávez confirmed the discovery of a new tumor in his pelvic region on February 21, and said he will undergo surgery in Cuba. Speaking to Venezuelan television, Chávez said the tumor could be malignant, and was found in the same location as a previous tumor he had removed last year. Chávez’s announcement comes after a weekend during which officials denied media rumors that Chávez went to Cuba to receive medical treatment, and months of Chávez repeatedly declaring he is cured of cancer. Foreign Policy’s Transitions Blog discusses the implications of Chávez’s new diagnosis, especially in an election year, asking in the headline “How do you campaign against a cancer victim?”
Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis on Henrique Capriles Radonski's victory in the opposition primary.
Read an AS/COA Hemispheric Update on what to expect from Venezuela's upcoming presidential election.
Homeless in Venezuelan Election Spotlight
NPR’s All Things Considered discussed Venezuela’s housing crisis, which Venezuela’s opposition sees as an election issue. Though the Chávez government promised housing for Venezuela’s homeless, opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski points out that official data show fewer homes have been built by the Chávez government than any previous administration. More than 2 million Venezuelans are homeless out of a total population of 29 million.
Venezuelan Regulator Shutters 35 Radio Stations in Three Months
The Caracas Chronicles blog discusses a report in Venezuela's El Nacional on the Chávez government’s closure of 35 radio stations in the past three months. Though the reasons for the closures vary, the author believes it is part of a strategy to limit the opposition's media outreach. “With most TV off-limits, radio was the one remaining medium the Capriles campaign could count on to reach a mass audience.”
Read an Americas Quarterly web exclusive by Caracas Chronicles author Juan Nagel on Capriles' vision for Venezuela.
U.S. Vice President to Visit Honduras, Mexico in March
The White House announced today that U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Mexico and Honduras from March 4 to 6. In both countries he is expected to discuss April’s Summit of the Americas, to be held in Cartagena, Colombia. The Mexico stop will focus on bilateral cooperation while the Honduras visit will involve meetings with Central American leaders.
On Tuesday, the Unidos de Vila Isabel school took this top honor at carnival with the theme “You semba there[…] I sambo here. The free song of Angola.”
The announcement came as the Carnival celebration ended on Tuesday in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, after attracting what Brazilian authorities believe is a record total of 2.2 million revelers. According to tourism officials, up to 850,000 foreign tourists had traveled to Rio de Janeiro to partake in the celebrations.
The traditional Carnival festivities are held across Latin America every year 46 days before Easter. Brazil’s celebrations are among the world’s most famous, but there are distinct celebrations for every city and country in the region. Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival, Bola Preta, which officially dates back to 1918, is a five-day celebration and massive parade through the iconic sambodromo stadium. Every year, seven different samba schools parade and compete for the title of the Estandarte de Ouro for the city’s best samba school. This year the Unidos de Vila Isabel school took the prize. Once a religious holiday, Carnival has taken a different focus and is seen as a celebration that brings everybody together, from all districts and neighboring towns.
Last week, a United Nations Security Council delegation visited Haiti to assess the 10,500-member peacekeeping force, known as the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti or MINUSTAH. The visit was to assess security needs in Haiti before the UN Security Council makes a decision about whether to reduce the number of forces stationed in the country.
In a complete departure from past assessment missions, this trip included minimal assessment of actual peacekeeping, the reason MINUSTAH was sent to Haiti in the first place. Instead, the Security Council focused primarily on two major afflictions caused by MINUSTAH: Their admitted introduction of cholera to Haiti and corresponding failure to respond adequately despite ongoing death and illness, as well as reports of sexual abuse by peacekeeping troops, some of which were even recorded on film. Both of these crimes, very distinct in nature, have made it nearly impossible for the UN peacekeeping mission to be successful in its mandate to “keep the peace,” if there is even a peace to keep. Indeed, if anything, MINUSTAH is responsible for much of the unrest and instability.
Recent protests in Haiti have largely focused on the problems brought by the peacekeepers. Not surprisingly, the Security Council visit last week brought on a new wave of such protests—one of the ways Haitian people have expressed their ongoing frustration with the UN “occupiers” as they are called. One in ten MINUSTAH peacekeepers worldwide are currently stationed in a country the size of Massachusetts, a country where there is no war. Even so, the UN continues to spend more than $2 million a day on the peacekeeping operation. In my own conversations with MINUSTAH personnel, they expressed boredom and difficulty communicating with Haitians, but never mentioned war or peace. They admitted that it is unclear how much security forces can do for Haiti. Haitians, for their part, are calling for justice. They are demanding accountability. They know the UN is responsible for so much pain they have suffered, and they are asking for compensation.
Vanderbilt University's Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) released a new report yesterday on whether educational attainment, a key indicator of socioeconomic status, is related to skin color in Latin America and the Caribbean. "Pigmentocracy in the Americas: How is Educational Attainment Related to Skin Color?" is written by Edward Telles and Liza Steele, both at the Department of Sociology of Princeton University, and is part of LAPOP's AmericasBarometer series.
Based on data from LAPOP's 2010 AmericasBarometer, Telles and Steele's analysis concludes that people "with lighter skin color tend to have higher levels of schooling than those with dark skin color throughout the region, with few exceptions." The authors go on to say that "the negative relation between skin color and educational attainment occurs independently of class origin and other variables known to affect socioeconomic status."
For more analysis, read "The Effects of Skin Color in the Americas", an AQ Web Exclusive by the authors of this LAPOP report.
The director of the Apodaca prison in Monterrey, Mexico, was fired yesterday along with several prison officials following Sunday's bloody riot that killed 44 inmates and led to the escape of 30 more prisoners. The escaped prisons are suspected of having ties to the Zetas drug cartel, while most of the murdered inmates were from the rival Gulf gang. The two gangs were allies before they split in 2010 in a turf war over Monterrey's drug trafficking routes.
The dismissed officials were suspected of abetting the riot and consequent prison break, as there was no sign that the inmates received external help. "It is hard for us to accept that the treachery, corruption and complicity of some [officials] can undermine the work of the good police and military who risk their lives every day for public security," said Nuevo León Governor Rodrigo Medina. Prison guards in Mexico are susceptible to corruption due to low pay and common threats made to them or their families by gangs. A $775,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the capture of the fugitive prisoners. One of the escaped inmates was identified as Oscar Manuel Bernal, alias "El Spider," a Zeta lieutenant arrested in 2010 for the murder of the Nuevo León police commander.
Overcrowding and corruption in prisons has been a persistent problem in Nuevo León and other states at the center of Mexico's drug war. In the state of Tamaulipas, a riot last month killed 31 people, while 20 more died in a similar conflict in October. Central American countries like Guatemala and Honduras are facing similar problems. Only last week, a fire in the severely overcrowded Comoyagua penitentiary killed 359 inmates in Honduras. The prison held twice its capacity of inmates, many of whom were being held on suspicion of drug- or gang-related activity but were not convicted of any crime.
Exactly 40 years ago, Richard Nixon landed in China for the beginning of a seven-day state visit that was quickly dubbed “the week that changed the world”. It probably didn't, but it certainly had long-lasting effects on the delicate balances of power of Cold War diplomacy. The visit, which had been carefully prepared by Henry Kissinger and his team, quickly became engraved in pop culture thanks to iconic photographs of Nixon eating with chopsticks next to Mao and of the entire delegation admiring the Great Wall.
Fast forward 40 years and Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping just completed a five-day visit to the U.S., with stops in Washington, Los Angeles and, quite astonishingly, Muscatine, Iowa. This time there were no memorable photo ops, besides one of the man slated to become the next Chinese president driving a tractor. But Xi did more than that: he captured the soul of a small town that had hosted him 27 years ago when he was a provincial public officer on an agricultural mission. On display were his characteristic smile and his apparently affable personality, which have quickly become part of his public image. (And Xi knows the importance of collective imagination quite well, married as he is to one of China's greatest pop singers.)
El derecho a la ternura (The Right to Tenderness), a book that argues in favor of treating thy neighbor kindly, was somewhat of a local bestseller in Colombia in the mid-1990s. Its author, Luis Carlos Restrepo, had already been mildly successful with another book, La trampa de la razón (The Trap of Reason), which develops the quite original subject of how excessive reasoning is bad in fields like love, sex and friendship. Restrepo, a psychiatrist, became a somewhat successful public lecturer, and a frequent guest of morning radio and TV shows.
But he is now a prominent fugitive, wanted by the Colombian authorities, after his polemic term as Peace Commissioner during the Uribe administration. Restrepo, however, had fled the country, his whereabouts being completely unknown, and according to a statement released yesterday, is now seeking asylum.
The current situation dates back to 2002 when Álvaro Uribe announced he would appoint Luis Carlos Restrepo to lead his peace initiatives. It was a generally well-received choice: Restrepo’s experience as a psychiatrist and an author, dealing with issues such as friendship, tenderness and reconciliation seemed fit for the job.
Ecuador’s National Court of Justice upheld a ruling on Thursday that found a columnist and three publishers of the newspaper El Universo guilty of defaming President Rafael Correa. The 2011 opinion column in question, written by chief opinion editor, Emilio Palacio and titled “No a las mentiras” (No more lies), referred to Correa as a “dictator” and criticized his handling of a police revolt in September 2010 involving a hospital full of civilians.
Correa filed suit a year ago against Palacio and El Universal publishers (and brothers) Carlos, César and Nicolás Perez and won the case. The four defendants were ordered to pay Correa $10 million each in damages and serve three years in prison, though no time has been served due to the appeal process. Carlos, who was granted political asylum by Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, said yesterday that the verdict “exposed raw corruption in Ecuador’s judicial system” and symbolized “attack on our newspaper and the sacred right of free speech” by Correa.
International human rights and free speech groups joined in the condemnation of the lawsuit, claiming that it stifles free speech and freedom of the press and intimidates political opposition. The Inter-American Press Association described the president's actions as "a systematic and hostile campaign to do away with the independent press." The Committee to Protect Journalists said the ruling against the newspaper is a "setback for democracy in Ecuador.” But Correa, who maintains a 70 percent approval rating, argues that the case is defending Ecuador against dangerous ties between big business and the news media.
Lending by the Chinese Development Bank (CDB) and Export-Import Bank of China (China Ex-Im) to Latin America is larger, newer, and growing faster than its Western counterparts. According to our research, since 2005, China has provided $75 billion in loans and credit lines to Latin American countries. In 2010, Chinese funding exceeded the region’s combined financing from the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and U.S. Export-Import Bank. In fact, China overtook the World Bank and IDB even as those banks doubled lending to the region from 2006 to 2010.
China’s emerging role as a major lender to Latin America has raised concerns regarding the competitiveness of loans from World Bank and Western export credit agencies and implications on governance and environmental initiatives. In an article for The Washington Post, journalist John Pomfret further outlined these concerns stating that “China is a master at low-ball financing, fashioning loans of billions of dollars at tiny interest rates that can stretch beyond 20 years… This has become a headache for Western competitors, especially members of the 32-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which long ago agreed not to use financing as a competitive tool.” Others argue that Chinese financing provides an alternative source of financing without the restrictive policy conditionalities imposed by the World Bank. Deborah Bräutigam, a professor at American University, believes that in Africa, China is filling an unmet need for energy, mining, infrastructure, transportation, and housing lending, which was all but abandoned by the World Bank decades ago.
In the midst of these debates, our report "The New Banks in Town: Chinese Finance in Latin America" released by the Inter-American Dialogue examines the volume, composition, and characteristics of Chinese lending to Latin America and the Caribbean. Our report found that lending by the CDB and China Ex-Im to the region is newer, larger, and complements lending by their Western counterparts.
Lending by Chinese banks are recent additions to the region with annual lending never exceeding $1 billion prior to 2008. Since then, Chinese lending has skyrocketed. Over 90 percent of Chinese funding is packaged as loans of $1 billion or more in comparison to 22 percent of the World Bank’s loans. Despite concerns about emerging competition between Chinese banks and their Western counterparts, China’s lending complements rather than competes by lending at commercial rates to different countries and sectors.
Venezuela and Ecuador received 61 percent of China’s total loans to the region, filling a gap left by sovereign debt markets. Chinese loans also concentrate in different sectors than their Western counterparts. An estimated 87 percent of Chinese loans are focused in the energy, mining, infrastructure, transportation, and housing sectors rather than the health, environment, and public administration sectors dominated by the World Bank.
The Argentine government announced tough new regulations on Wednesday to crack down on corruption in the country's soccer league. The rules published by Argentina's Financial Information Unit require the Argentine Football Association and every club in the top two divisions to file annual reports on everyone on the payroll who make at least 60,000 pesos ($13,800) a year.
The regulations take aim at the barra bravas—mafia-like networks that wield considerable power in soccer stands and among fans. Barras, which are endemic to Argentine soccer, make their money through ticket resale and parking rackets, controlling the sale of club merchandise. In order to keep order among their fans and peace with their corresponding barra, clubs have allegedly paid these networks portions of multimillion dollar player transfer fees and even paychecks.
To curb this trend, the new rules require clubs to report all financial compensation earned by league officials, players, owners, club staff, corporate sponsors, investors, government officials, and any entity that conducts business with the federation of clubs. The income information requested in the rules go far beyond just salaries to include outside bonuses, prizes, loans and gifts such as housing and cars. But the statute causing the most ire is the fine for violators, set at 100,000 peso ($23,000) or 10 times the money involved in the illegal transaction-whichever amount is higher.
The Argentine government's tougher stance on illegal activity in sports and elsewhere come in response to increased pressure from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international body that develops government policies to combat money laundering. If Argentina had not passed these regulations, it could have been penalized by being added to the FATF's list of countries where financial transactions carry a high risk of criminal activity. The Argentine Football Association agreed to the tougher rules in exchange for the government paying $200 million a year in tax dollars to televise games for free through the "Football for All" program.
The stage is finally set for the presidential race between Josefina Vázquez Mota (PAN), Andrés Manuel López Obrador (PRD/PT) and Enrique Peña Nieto (PRI/PVEM). What is about to unfold in the coming months is a barrage of party propaganda and news media stories designed to pull the undecided electorate toward one or the other candidates, but the actual content of the messages will surely show the lack of political consciousness in Mexico.
The product of a school system in crisis, a large portion of Mexico’s constituency is comprised of uneducated voters. Moreover, for those lucky enough to have gone through formal schooling, two essential things are missing: development of a widespread civic/political culture and embedding the capacity for critical thinking. With regard to elections, Mexicans’ decisions have traditionally been based on a simplistic understanding of what candidates represent, if we like the way they talk and even their looks.
A very young and sensationalist media also works against the creation of a politically informed voter base. Mainstream newspapers and TV networks are more interested in covering and making fun of the latest verbal gaffe by one of the candidates than really doing an in-depth analysis of the actual platforms they are running on. And the worst part is some of the current candidates have caught wind of this so their campaign focus will be less on substance and more on giving the media what they want in order to get more exposure. A secondary concern is the actual proposals and solutions to the country’s biggest challenges.
Of the three candidates, the only one who has provided public discourse with a somewhat clear and consistent direction is López Obrador. To be fair, his campaign is six years ahead of the other two but that doesn’t excuse the fact that Vázquez and Peña have been unable to effectively communicate what they stand for and what their governments would seek. They might not even be trying to do this, as they’ve found they can try to win the election through other strategies.
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.
Honduran Prison Fire Kills over 350
A fire at Comayagua prison in central Honduras killed over 350 people on Tuesday night. The origin of the fire is unclear, though Honduran press speculated a short-circuit was the cause. Authorities suspect inmates escaped during the blaze. It is the third major prison fire in Honduras in the last decade and one of the deadliest Latin American prison fires in the last quarter century. Just last month, a fire also broke out at a forced detention drug treatment center in Peru, killing 27.
The Legacy of Honduras’ Coup
NPR’s Weekend Edition broadcast a two-part series on the legacy of Honduras’ 2009 military coup that ousted then-President Manuel Zelaya from power. The series examines the effect of the coup on the country now, suggesting Honduras may owe its status as the world’s most violent country in part to that event. “If the president can be taken out of a country and have his rights taken away, without a trial or anything, then what becomes of your average citizen?” asks one Honduran.
Deposed Honduran President’s Wife Running for Office
Xiomara Castro, wife of former Honduran president Manuel Zelaya, announced her candidacy for president of Honduras on February 11, reports Honduras’ La Tribuna. She will compete as a pre-candidate for the Popular Strength and Refoundation Party in November and would run in the 2013 presidential election. She pledged that, if elected, she would pursue constitutional reform. Her husband also pushed for such reforms before the military ousted him from power in 2009.
Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli signed a pledge on Tuesday stating that he will not seek reelection in the country’s 2014 presidential elections. According to media observers in Panama, Martinelli made the pledge in response to controversial rumors of his desire to run again in a country with strict constitutional prohibitions against consecutive presidential terms. Until recently, President Martinelli's approval ratings hovered around 80 percent, but recent actions to quell protests by the Indigenous Ngabes Buglés people regarding mining and hydroelectric activities has brought his job approval and likability figures to around 33 percent—their lowest levels ever.
Martinelli challenged members of the opposition to sign a similar document and accused opposition parties of spreading false rumors about his seeking reelection. However, opposition party leader Francisco Sanchez of the Partido Revolucionario Democratico says the president’s move “shows that no one believes him,” and only serves to underline the Martinelli administration’s desperation to improve its job approval figures.
The latest poll, released Tuesday by research firm Dichter & Neira, questioned 1,200 people and found that 80.3 percent of respondents disapproved of how Martinelli handled the Indigenous strike. In addition, 71.8 percent believed the administration authorized excessive force against the protesters.
"Plaza Sésamo" reaches out to traditionally marginalized Nahuatl communities by broadcasting a full episode in the Nahuatl language. Here is a clip, used with permission from Sesame Workshop.
Viettel, a Vietnamese telecommunications company, has recently made headway in the Latin American and Caribbean region. What makes this company unique in the region, besides being based in far-flung Honoi, is that its executives report to the Vietnamese Department of Defense. It is a military-run telco, which inevitably leads to comparison with another presumably military telco that has stormed Latin America over the last several years: China´s Huawei. (Though the latter actively denies widespread reporting of its connections to the People’s Liberation Army, PLA). Though a relative newcomer, Huawei is now a top equipment supplier to the region´s major telco service providers.
Like Huawei in the beginning, Viettel focuses on the low cost segment and aggressively competes on price. It has taken a model that served it well at home where it now boasts over 50 percent market share and exported it abroad. The Vietnamese group is a service provider in Cambodia, Laos, Mozambique, Haiti, and Peru. Its international subscribers now outnumber its Vietnamese subscribers. Despite the global economic downturn, Viettel reported a 28 percent increase in revenues in 2011, reaching $5.6 billion.
In Haiti, the company launched services in September 2011. It successfully entered the island nation by offering substantial charity to earthquake victims; free-of-charge Internet services to schools; and preferential mobile prices for students, police and the poor. Something similar happened in Peru where the group beat out the competition—Russia´s Wynner Systems, Chile´s Americatel under Entel, and Brazil´s Hits Telecom Holding Company—with free service to over 4,000 schools over the next 10 years. During this same time period, it will invest around US$400m in setting up the network and business organizations in Peru.
Governments have shown little concern regarding the company’s military status. Unlike Huawei, that did face resistance in countries like India and still does today in the United States, developing world governments appear to overlook that issue and focus instead on the benefits of low-cost, high quality competition.
President Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala said Monday that his country and others in Central America should consider legalizing drugs to help reduce violence in the region. Speaking at a press conference with President Mauricio Funes of El Salvador after a meeting on crime and security issues, Pérez Molina said, “We’re bringing the issue up for debate. If drug consumption isn’t reduced, the problem [of drug trafficking] will continue.” Funes, too, said he was “open to discussion” in his country on the matter.
Pérez first indicated his support for legalization in a radio interview on Sunday, saying his proposal would include legalization of consumption and transportation of drugs. He plans to bring the issue up at a summit of Central American leaders next month. The U.S. Embassy in Guatemala responded to the proposal with strong criticism, issuing a statement in which it said to legalize drugs would represent “a threat to public health and safety.” Pérez Molina said he considered the statement to be “premature” and that the U.S. should be a part of the debate.
Pérez Molina, a former general, was elected in November 2011 and took office last month promising to crack down on crime, including military action against drug cartels. In his first month in office, he has transformed himself into one of the strongest voices in favor of legalization. Anita Isaacs, a Guatemala expert and professor of political science at Haverford College, said the change could be a political calculation to pressure the U.S. into providing Guatemala with more military aid, while Pérez Molina’s backers say the change reflects a realization that, with continued U.S. demand for drugs, Guatemala will never have the resources to stem the flow of drugs north.
A growing number of Latin American leaders have expressed support for the legalization of drugs. President Santos has said it is a theme that “must be addressed,” and that he would be open to legalizing drugs if the entire world were. Former Presidents Vicente Fox, of Mexico, and Fernando Enrique Cardoso, of Brazil, have also expressed support.
El Salvador is heading toward another important electoral event within the next month. On March 11 Salvadorans will cast their votes to elect 262 mayors and 84 deputies to the Legislative Assembly. The results, especially for the legislative election, will shape the remaining two years of the Funes presidency.
The latest polls show a strong political opposition led by the conservative Alianza Republicana Nacionalista, ARENA, with higher voter preference over Funes’ governing, left of center, Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberacion Nacional, FMLN. President Mauricio Funes still maintains high approval ratings however it seems like his apparent likeability among voters isn’t translating into potential votes for his party. Some argue that this may be the result of Funes (and the FMLN) maintaining a complex relationship filled with public disagreements on some issues and coincidences on others.
If the polls remain the same for the next month the big looser may be the orthodox leadership of the FMLN. Pressure has been mounting on the traditional, hard line leadership of the FMLN, from their base to break away completely from Funes. These militants perceive Funes as too much to the right and not pushing for radical reform. However, if ARENA does well and the FMLN doesn’t perform as expected this would leave President Funes in an awkward position as he would effectively become a “presidente sin partido” (president with no party). Should this scenario occur Funes would most certainly look for refuge in one of the smaller political parties and face a difficult two years characterized by attacks from both the left and right of the political spectrum.
Yesterday evening, Miranda Governor and Primero Justicia (Justice First) candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski decisively earned the Venezuelan opposition presidential nomination, winning over 62 percent of votes in the primary contest. He will face incumbent President Hugo Chávez in the October 7 election. In his victory speech, Capriles Radonski proclaimed, “I say to all our people, without fail: we came to build a distinct future, we came to build a future for all Venezuelans. Now is not the hour of left nor right; it is the hour of Venezuela, of all Venezuelans.”
Unlike the 2006 election, Chávez, who is competing for a third consecutive term, now faces a united alliance of opposition parties: the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Coalition for Democratic Unity, or MUD). Over 2.9 million Venezuelans voted yesterday, a number that surpassed expectations. All MUD candidates signed a pledge in 2010 promising to respect the results of yesterday’s primary, and to rally behind the winner.
While yesterday’s MUD primary was open to any eligible Venezuelan voter, Chávez warned his supporters against participating, claiming that the social welfare programs enacted during his presidency would disappear were he to lose in the October general election.
At the conclusion of the Fifth Summit of the Americas in 2009, President Obama called for hemispheric partnership in place of “stale debates and old ideologies.” Three years later, the stalest of all debates is once again dividing the region. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa leads a threat to protest the absence of Cuba at the Sixth Summit by boycotting the entire event. While the political storm clouds will likely dissipate before April, the episode reveals the magnified symbolic importance of the lone outlier in the inter-American system.
Correa’s proposal immediately met with the avid support of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and the other members of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) bloc gathered in Caracas last weekend. In response, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department appropriately pointed out that Cuba has not reached the threshold for participation—the essential elements of a representative democracy—as recognized at the Third Summit in Québec in 2001. The Secretary-General of the Organization of the American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, hastened to add that the Cuban government has not requested “the process of dialogue” necessary to participate in the OAS, as stipulated by the 2009 resolution that revoked its nearly five-decade-old suspension. Meanwhile, Colombian Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín has reiterated that an invitation does not depend on her government, which will host the Summit in Cartagena, but rather must result from a consensus decision among the member countries.
The notable lack of consensus is striking for what it says about the incentives and challenges faced by each of the actors involved. Policy toward Cuba has always generated controversy, less for the island itself than for larger principles; Cuba can represent either a litmus test for a government’s commitment to human rights and democracy or, as is so common in Latin America, a measure of a government’s independence from Washington. While this week’s debate does indeed spark a sense of déjà vu, it also demonstrates shifting dynamics in inter-American relations.
For Ecuador’s agent provocateur, Cuba fits neatly into a strategy of discrediting the OAS in favor of hemispheric organizations that exclude the United States, principally the new Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). Correa is locked in a fight with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an autonomous branch of the OAS that has documented his abuse of press freedoms. Fellow firebrand Hugo Chávez is facing his own domestic problems, with rising inflation and crime endangering his electoral prospects in the October presidential contest while also contributing to a loss of regional influence for the ALBA bloc. In this context, Caracas and Quito have little to lose in promoting Havana’s participation in the Cartagena Summit, even knowing that the proposal will be a non-starter in Washington.
On Thursday, 1,000 activists arrived in Lima to demand the end of millions of mining operations that they claim are contaminating water and causing pollution. Their nine-day protest began last week in Peru’s northern region of Cajamarca but has now moved to Lima after a journey by bus and foot. Marco Arana, one of the leaders of the protest, said “we are demanding that all mining activities at the source of water basins be prohibited.”
Arana, leader of the left-wing movement Tierra y Libertad and who supported Humala during his electoral campaign, said that “we have to make a decision to choose between mining and water.”
Peru has 200 outstanding social conflicts, the majority of which relate to fears of environmental damage caused by the country’s mining industry--estimated to represent $50 million in investment in coming years. The anti-mining movement has united leaders from disparate mining regions who have distanced themselves from President Ollanta Humala in their “war for water.” Some protests have achieved their goals: in November protesters were able to paralyze the project in the Conga mine under the administration of Newmont, a U.S.-based company.
Analysts fear the eruption of violent protests, which could disrupt up to 60 percent of Peru’s mining exports. Protest leaders will meet members of Congress today to present a legislative initiative that seeks to suspend mining activity.
Please find the original text below, submitted in Portuguese.
As is the case across Latin America, diverse populations in Brazil have contributed much to the civic and cultural fabrics of society. Key influencers in Brazil span a range of ethnic origins—including Indigenous, European, African, and the immigrants who arrived in the twentieth century.
However, historically, contributions from Afro-Brazilians and Indigenous Brazilians have been minimized—if not distorted or outright erased—from the official historiography and from Brazilian classrooms. Curricular references in Brazil still reflect the colonial European viewpoint and it is not rare to have cases where discrimination against Afro-Brazilians is taught in elementary textbooks.
Some textbooks still depict Afro-Brazilians and the Indigenous as inferior groups who can only give limited societal contributions in areas like music and cooking. Outside of school, the Indigenous are perceived as wild and uncultured. But Brazil has tried to rectify this exclusive policy. In 2003 then-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva enacted Lei 10.639, which regulates the teaching of African and Afro-Brazilian history in public and private schools in Brazil. In 2008, this policy was extended to educating about Indigenous people, the history of their resistance, and their contributions to the formation of Brazilian identity. The idea was that once schools began discussing the history of pre-colonial Africa, Afro-Brazilians and the broader Diaspora would understand the rich and diverse contributions of Afro- and Indigenous Brazilian peoples.
A series of events, trainings and demonstrations have been held to maximize the effectiveness of Lei 10.639, but there still remains much to be done. After all, the structural problems of public schools in Brazil as well as continued scant governmental investment in diversity programs hinder substantive innovations in Brazilian education.
Police, government and UN officials watched yesterday as half a ton of ammunition blazed in a furnace in Kingston, Jamaica. This followed the 2,000 pistols and revolvers that were melted down on Tuesday, as part of an effort to combat gun trafficking and corruption and reduce violent crime. Many of the firearms had been seized during police operations; others were decommissioned and being destroyed to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands.
Jamaica’s new minister of national security, Peter Bunting, said the destruction of the guns was an important first step toward reducing trafficking and the risk of theft. “The removal will help to reduce the risks of these weapons possibly being diverted back into the illicit trade,” he said at the Jamaica Constabulary Force armory.
Jamaica has one of the highest gun-crime rates in the world. Criminal gangs—whose turf wars and fatal shootings make up the bulk of Jamaica’s homicides—often possess as much firepower as police forces. Their weapons are in large part smuggled in from the U.S., although corrupt Jamaican police officers willing to sell weapons to criminal networks have also been a concern. A report released yesterday by the UN found that Jamaica has the Caribbean’s highest murder rate—even though the 1,124 murders reported in 2011 represented a seven-year low for the country—and the third-highest murder rate (60 murders per 100,000 inhabitants) in the world, after El Salvador and Honduras.
The Caribbean Human Development Report 2012 (the UN’s first-ever dedicated to the Caribbean) also found that gang-related crime costs Jamaica $529 million a year in lost income—much of it from the tourism industry. On the whole, the total cost on the regional economy was estimated to be between 2.8 and 4 percent of GDP.
The report was based on consultations with 450 experts and leaders and a survey of 11,555 citizens in seven countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.
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.
Cops and Soldiers Clash in Brazilian Police Strike
Soldiers clashed with police in the Brazilian city of Salvador da Bahia, where police are protesting in favor of a 30 percent wage increase. Soldiers fired tear gas and rubber bullets at police occupying the state’s legislature. The BBC reports that crime has soared in Salvador since the start of the protests last week, with the murder rate more than doubling. Jornal do Brasil reported on February 8 that police strikes could inspire strikes in six other states this week, including Rio de Janeiro. The protests come two weeks before the country’s carnival celebrations, leading some to accuse the police of holding the government hostage.
In Peru and Argentina, Top U.S. Envoy Promotes Educational Exchange
Mercopress reports on U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta S. Jacobson’s travels to Peru and Argentina this week. Jacobson will introduce Obama’s "100,000 Strong in the Americas" plan to increase international study between the United States and Latin America, as well as tackle a number of economic and civil society issues with the Peruvian and Argentine leadership.
U.S. Leaves Diplomatic Posts Vacant in Latin America
An article in The Wall Street Journal explores the lag in appointing U.S. ambassadors to a number of Latin American diplomatic posts. The article observes that no other region in the world has as many U.S. ambassadorial vacancies. A meeting of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on February 7 decided to delay the decision on any pending nominations.
A DREAM Deferred? Looking at the ARMS Act
Feet in 2 Worlds blog questions the wisdom of the Adjusted Residency for Military Service (ARMS) act, introduced by Representative David Rivera (R-FL) on January 26. The ARMS Act is a revised version of the DREAM Act, which would grant citizenship to youths brought to the United States illegally as children if they completed college or served time in the military. The ARMS Act removes the education component. The blog asks if this might lead some to “sign up out of desperation” rather than an honest commitment to military service, and if it is wise to “deport trained professionals or students who have benefited from the public education system funded by the taxpayers.”
Learn more about opportunities and challenges for women in the CARICOM region, featuring Kerlin Charles from Grenada and Michelle Summer Williams from Guyana.
Two journalists were ordered on Tuesday by Judge Maria Mercedes Portilla of the province of Pichincha to pay a total of $ 2 million to President Rafael Correa, on the grounds that they had caused him “moral damage.” Judge Portilla issued the sentence to journalists Juan Carlos Calderón and Christian Zurita over their book El Gran Hermano, in which they expose the often-obscure circumstances in which the president’s brother, Federico Correa, acquired various government contracts.
Both journalists said in a press conference that they intend to appeal the decision, and that they see this as yet another limitation by the Ecuadorian government on an individual’s right to free speech as well as on the right to free press. According to Zurita, “This is yet another method of punishing the work of journalists; the amount is absurd and irrational.” For his part, Correa’s lawyer defended his client by stating that the sentence shows that both journalists fabricated the information in order to make money.
The journalists’ sentence follows approval of a law on Monday by the Ecuadorian legislature that will limit the press and other media from publishing anything favorable or unfavorable about a candidate 45 days before an election—at any level. These two events constitute a further development in the Ecuadorian government’s efforts to crack down on media, including a referendum last May that curtailed the media and a severe ruling last July against the directors and former opinion editor of El Universo newspaper.
"Plaza Sésamo" profiles a Mayan school in Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula, and teaches viewers how to count to 10 in the Mayan language. Video used with permission from Sesame Workshop.
Over 50 years of work have gone into facilitating and promoting regional integration in the Caribbean, but the 15-member regional bloc known as CARICOM (Caribbean Community) appears to be floundering.
Regional integration has long been seen as a response to protect the small, vulnerable economies of the Caribbean from the effects of globalization and the emergence of trade blocs. In 1989, regional heads of government adopted the Grand Anse Declaration, which was designed to facilitate the launch of a CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME). The CSME was established in 2006 after 13 years of deliberation, and had several intentions: to enable free movement of goods, services, capital, and labor; to increase intra-regional, cross-border trade and investment; and to improve the region’s international competitiveness.
Yet, thinkers such as the University of West Indies’ Norman Girvan lament that very little progress has been demonstrably achieved since the CSME was launched; others cite a variety of other problems. For example, intra-regional travel is still very difficult for both business and leisure purposes; crime and violence as well as unfair trade competition continue to stymie progress; entrepreneurship continues to suffer; and exports are low despite much assistance from the U.S. through the Caribbean Basin Initiative.
Thousands of Brazilian federal troops surrounded the state legislature building in the northeastern city of Salvador on Monday as tensions mounted over a week-long strike by the city’s police force. Approximately 3,500 troops are currently being deployed to Salvador to deal with the 4,000 police officers and their families—including 300 children—that have been occupying the government building since last Tuesday. The police are demanding a 50 percent wage increase and better working conditions.
Crime has soared in Salvador since the strikes began, resulting in widespread looting and over 83 murders—up 129 percent from the previous week. Bahia Governer Jaques Wagner condemned the situation, saying "A group of police using reprehensible methods, spreading fear among the population, caused disturbances in some parts of the state.” But strike leader Marcos Prisco warned yesterday that "if the army storms the building there could be a catastrophe,” referring to the large number of civilians participating in the protest. One strike leader was arrested for taking control of more than a dozen police vehicles, and warrants have been issued for 11 other strike leaders.
Salvador is Brazil’s third largest city and home to one of the country’s largest Carnival celebrations that begin in just two weeks. The city will also host several games during the 2014 World Cup. In an effort to address concerns over transportation capacity surrounding the upcoming World Cup, the Brazilian government moved to privatize operations at three of its major airports yesterday. But the ongoing standoff in Salvador shows that violence and insecurity issues continue to loom over Brazil’s hosting duties.
Después de las elecciones generales realizadas en Guatemala en septiembre del año pasado y de la toma de posesión de esa autoridades electas el mes pasado, se ha constatado que la inclusión de más mujeres en puestos de toma de decisiones sigue siendo un reto tanto para las autoridades y una de las demandas del movimiento de mujeres en este país, pues los datos muestran nuevamente un estancamiento en el tema.
Para Dora Amalia Taracena—de la organización Convergencia Cívico Político de Mujeres—un hecho histórico en el país es que por primera vez asumió una mujer como Vicepresidenta de la República, Roxana Baldetti, lo que se considera un avance innegable y digno de reconocer.
Taracena señaló que en el Congreso de la República la situación hasta este momento es la misma, pues en esta nueva legislatura se reporta la presencia de 19 diputadas de 158, al igual que a nivel de alcandías donde de 333 puestos, sólo siete son ocupados por mujeres.
La profesional indicó que a nivel de ministerios, de 14 sólo tres están dirigidos por mujeres: educación; desarrollo social; y ambiente y recursos naturales. Se está a la espera de la oficialización de las secretarías para saber cuántas mujeres serán incluidas.
At a summit of the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Bolivarian Alternative to the Americas, or ALBA) this past weekend in Caracas, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, ALBA’s founder, backed Argentina’s claims for sovereignty of the Malvinas (or Falklands) Islands. ALBA’s eight member countries—Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, and Venezuela—agreed to ban vessels flying the Falklands flag from docking at their ports, echoing a similar Mercosur decision last December.
The islands have been a British overseas territory since 1833, when Argentina claims the United Kingdom stole the land from them. Argentina attacked the islands in April 1982, sparking a two-month war that retained British control over the archipelago. The UK will commemorate the 30-year anniversary of the war later this year.
Over the weekend, Chávez pledged the support of the Venezuelan army if Argentina ever reignited the conflict militarily. Chávez added, “I’m speaking only for Venezuela, but if it occurs to the British Empire to attack Argentina, Argentina won’t be alone this time.” Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa opened up the possibility of stronger economic measures, noting, “We have to talk about sanctions.”
Also at the ALBA summit, Chávez proposed to offset the global economic crisis by accelerating the usage of the SUCRE currency that was established in 2009. Chávez wishes to use the SUCRE as a substitute for the dollar; Venezuela has already paid for food imports from fellow ALBA countries with the virtual currency.
As the global marketplace becomes increasingly competitive, the pressures of manufacturing costs have risen to the forefront. These challenges drive the locations of manufacturing, where products are transported and where investors look to spend their capital. It seems that the days of faulty, substandard major projects in Central America are over as individual governments take seriously the attractions for businesses to manufacture in other world regions.
From Guatemala to the end of the isthmus at Panama, Central American nations have all realized that the only way their countries can be competitive in the modern global economy is by building a first-class infrastructure. These outputs must offer sufficient capacity to handle the demands of the movement and delivery of goods, people and services in a cost-effective and efficient manner. Every country is pouring significant funds into infrastructure, with Panama, Guatemala and Costa Rica leading the pack.
Panama, which is often considered to be the “hub of the Americas” in terms of maritime and aviation, has spent over $3 billion in projects related to the widening of the Panama Canal, and another $3 billion in the construction of a metro-rail transportation system, among other initiatives. Meanwhile, Costa Rica has posted an impressive growth rate in recent years due primarily to tourism and producing high-value products. However, Costa Rica has been criticized for its lack of infrastructure and for the bureaucratic delays that surround the approval of any major project. With hopes of sustaining its current growth, Costa Rica has responded to this criticism by reforming its concessions law to further attract investment as well as signing a historic free-trade agreement with China, aimed at attracting heavy infrastructure-related foreign direct investment as it recently did.
Brazil’s Minister of Cities Mário Negromonte resigned on Thursday amid allegations of corruption published in the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo. Wednesday’s report alleged that the ministry’s executive director Roberto Munize held secret meetings with a lobbyist from Negromonte’s Partido Progressista (Progressive Party) and a businessman who was interested in bidding on a public works contract in Cuiaba that the ministry was in charge of granting.
The minister of cities coordinates urban development policies like Minha Casa, Minha Vida (My House, My Life), a federal program that builds low-cost housing for families making less than $1,600 reais ($930) per month. As a result of its booming economy, 80 percent of Brazilians now live in urban centers, giving increased importance to the ministry.
President Dilma Rousseff accepted Negromonte’s resignation and Aguinaldo Ribeiro, who is also a member of the Progressive Party, is expected to be inaugurated as the new minster of cities on Monday. Following a meeting with the president, Ribeiro said that his top priority will be “overcoming obstacles” in the ministry and that he would use the weekend to consider the “real outcomes” of the ministry’s actions.
Negromonte is the seventh member of President Rousseff’s cabinet to step down since June on unrelated corruption charges, along with the ministers of defense, transportation, labor, the chief of staff, and others.
The following is not yet another tirade against President Hugo Chávez. Instead, it is a warning: recent developments suggest that, in the case that Chávez does not manage to survive his illness, his successors could turn Venezuela into a narco-autocracy run by corrupt military officers who care more for money and riches than ideology or revolution. This would be of great concern for my country, Colombia.
When it was first announced that Chávez was suffering from cancer, conjectures started to arise as to who could succeed him in case he died, or he had to step aside. Two sides were identified. First, a group of high-ranking government officials, all civilians, who are very loyal to Chávez, apparently favored by the Cubans and strictly committed to the ideology of the revolution. The feisty Nicolás Maduro, minister of foreign affairs, and the left-wing intellectual and activist Elías Jaua, vice-president, were seen as the captains of such group. Initially, my own bet was that they would be picked by Chávez, with the blessing of the Castro brothers, given the likely potential that they would continue the revolution.
For the second day in a row, Indigenous groups protesting mineral resource extraction and hydroelectric projects in Panama shut down parts of the Pan-American Highway yesterday. Hundreds of Indigenous Panamanians from the Ngabe Buglé comarca in the country’s northwest placed tree branches and rocks at points along the highway in Chiriquí and Veraguas provinces, as well as on the highway between Chiriquí and Boca del Tora. All locations are part of the comarca, a type of reservation for the Ngabe and Buglé Indigenous groups with a high degree of administrative autonomy.
The demonstrators were protesting mining activities and the construction of hydroelectric projects in the region. Their leader, Toribio García, told local press that “we don’t want transnational companies to take over our natural resources and [cause people to] lose their lands.” Specifically, the Indigenous protesters were incensed over the approval last week by the National Assembly’s Commerce Committee of a bill, Ley 415, which addresses the protection of mineral, water and other natural resources in their region. They said they were not consulted during debate over the bill, and demanded that Article 5 of the original bill, which was dropped in the approved version, be reinstated. That article had called for an immediate suspension of all active concessions to national or foreign companies interested in mineral resource extraction or the development of hydroelectric plants within Ngabe Buglé and neighboring territories.
Representative Raúl Hernández, president of the Commerce Committee, said all groups had been invited to contribute, and the bill as it was endorsed “fulfills its obligations from all sides.” Before becoming law, the bill will go through two more rounds of debate and, possibly, further modifications.
In March 2011, faced with strong opposition and protests by Indigenous groups, the Panamanian government was forced to repeal a law that would have opened mining activities in Panama to private and foreign investment.