Former president Efraín Rios Montt will stand trial for genocide and crimes against humanity, after he refused to testify in his defense during Thursday's investigation phase.
Rios Montt will remain free, on Q500000 bail ($64000) and live under house arrest until the trial date is set, which will be at least two months from now. He faces 20 to 30 years in prison per charge.
Firecrackers and cheers greeted the news outside the Palacio Justicia, where the proceedings were broadcast to a crowd that could not get into a packed courtroom. Inside, the handful of Ixil Mayans that had made the long journey to watch proceedings remained stoic, as their 29-year wait for accountability moved a step closer to ending.
A crowded courtroom on the 15th floor of the Torre de Tribunales started 30 minutes late as over 300 people packed into the Primera Corte de Alto Riesgo.
Prosecutors from the Ministerio Publico made their way through a wealth of evidence, including documents, expert analysis, military plans, witness testimonials, forensic anthropology and video in an attempt to prove their allegations.
News yesterday that the U.S. Department of Defense is poised to undertake force reductions and base closings in response to challenging national economic circumstances contrasts sharply with trends elsewhere in the hemisphere to ramp up defense spending and military purchases.
According to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, army and Marine Corps. force reductions should save $487 billion over 10 years without compromising overall U.S. military readiness. Others called the proposed cuts dangerous; Arizona Republican Senator John McCain says Panetta’s plan “ignores the lessons of history,” and will result in a military “too small to respond effectively to events that may unfold over the next few years.”
While the U.S. is reducing defense spending our neighbors in the hemisphere are increasing theirs. In the most recent issue of Americas Quarterly, U.S. Army War College professor Gabriel Marcella argues that Latin America’s defense spending is projected to grow significantly by 2014—much of which is to finance arms purchases from China.
In recent years, China has sold $58 million worth of Karakorum jets to Bolivia, $150 million in air surveillance systems to Venezuela and has donated military equipment to Bolivia, Guyana, Colombia and Peru. The question of whether these activities threaten U.S. interests is open to debate, but according to Marcella, “U.S. officials are not publicly concerned about China’s military activities. Frank Mora, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Western Hemisphere Affairs, stated in 2009 that while the U.S. stands for transparency, China’s arms and technology transfers are standard in the international community, and that some of the equipment can help Latin American governments improve security and counter drug trafficking.”
Research published in the Winter issue of Americas Quarterly, released today, shows that Chinese exports not only compete with Latin America in export markets, they also undermine manufactured goods domestically. Osvaldo Rosales of the Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean writes in his article, “Trade Competition from China,” that China’s emergence on the global trading scene “has undoubtedly delivered benefits for Latin America—primarily by enhancing the value of its exports of natural resources and related products,” but also produced “a major competitor” in the markets of Latin America’s key trading partners.
A study conducted by Rosales and his colleagues empirically documents the effect of competition from Chinese goods on the products of four select Latin American countries (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico) in third markets and within countries. The study shows that, as China’s participation in the four countries’ key markets—the U.S. and Latin America—increased, their own market share was eroded, in both high- and low-tech products. Overall, the affected market share in 2010 for the four countries represented 25 percent of their total exports to the U.S. and 12 percent of their total intraregional exports.
In spite of the substantial inroads that Chinese imports have made in Latin America’s domestic industries and export markets, writes Rosales, “public policy can make a difference.” He notes that Latin American products’ competitiveness could be increased by reducing logistics costs to enable them to benefit from shorter travel distances to markets; increasing spending on research, development, design, and marketing of products that already have a higher probability of maintaining market share; and fostering innovation and improving quality control.
For more on China and Latin America, read the new Americas Quarterly.
It is no secret that China is now a major economic presence in Latin America. For countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, and Venezuela this has meant money to help keep their economies going, to build power plants, to provide loans to business, to increase the consumption and trade of agricultural goods, and to create new opportunities for both foreign and domestic investment. China also has overtaken the U.S. to become Brazil’s largest trading partner.
But China is not the only Eastern nation playing in Latin America’s sandbox. Japan has also amassed a great deal of assets, investment gains and trade opportunities—most notably in Brazil. Japanese foreign direct investment in Brazil totals just over $4 billion—well behind that of China ($17 billion) and the U.S. ($8.2 billion) but not insignificant. Brazil has just what Japan needs: commodities, natural resources and high-yielding interest rates on investment.
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.
López Bows Out, Supports Capriles ahead of Venezuelan Primary
Venezuela’s El Universal reports that pre-candidate Leopoldo López pulled out of the race for the opposition primary and gave his support to frontrunner Henrique Capriles Radonski. “Henrique, you will be the next president of Venezuela and I will dedicate all I have…and will not rest until we win on October 7,” said López upon announcing his decision. López’s renunciation leaves five candidates to compete in the upcoming primary on February 12.
Venezuelan Opposition Unveils Platform
The Venezuelan opposition coalition, known as the Democratic Unity Board (MUD), released a statement this week detailing how they plan to govern should they win the presidential election in October. The platform names “democratic reconstruction,” “a sustainable economic development model,” and a foreign policy based on “true commercial interests and a historic commitment to democracy” among its promises.
The Legacy of Venezuela’s Last Dictator
For Venezuelans, January 23 will mark the fifty-fourth anniversary of overthrowing the country’s last military dictatorship under Marcos Pérez Jiménez. Foreign Policy’s Transitions blog explores the significance of that date, which ushered in a 40-year period of democracy that “remains the only reference point Venezuelans really have for stable democratic governance.” The blog also makes reference to attempts by the Chávez government to redefine the date and Pérez Jiménez’s legacy.
Please find the original text below, submitted in Portuguese.
It may be one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse countries in the world, but Brazil has still not been awakened to its full tourism potential. As Brazil attempts to lure travelers ahead of the 2014 and 2016 “mega events”—the FIFA World Cup and Olympic Games, respectively—Brazil must devise a strategic vision for tourism. Here, authorities would be wise to look to the Afro-Brazilian population.
Brazil welcomed 5.4 million tourists last year. This is certainly laudable, but given that Paris attracted 5.2 million tourists in the same time period, it is clear that Brazil has room for improvement. Fortunately, Brazil’s tourism promotion authority, Empresa Brasileira de Turismo (Brazilian Tourism Company, or Embratur), is taking note.
Embratur began 2012 with a series of actions to bolster Brazil’s tourism image abroad—with the ultimate goal to receive 10 million visitors annually by 2020. According to organizers for the World Cup, Embratur will target 17 priority markets this year: Argentina, Bolivia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, Spain, United Kingdom, United States, and Uruguay.
Increased promotional campaigns will yield some success, but these advertisements should also highlight the rich Afro-Brazilian culture and religions; otherwise this success will remain limited.
I find that tourists who come to Brazil have been encouraged most by word of mouth. There is not enough awareness among other black populations in the world about Brazil’s significant black population. The African-American community in the United States is one clear example. With purchasing power totaling roughly $1 trillion, this demographic can certainly bring much needed tourism dollars to Afro-Brazilian areas and businesses.
The truth is that there are numerous attractions in Brazil: music, gastronomy, history, fashion, festivals, concerts, and of course the people themselves. Highlighting all the diverse ethnicities in Brazil—including the Afro-Brazilian community—could pique global interest, and this message of ethnic tourism has the potential to also generate employment opportunities. The black community still suffers from high unemployment as we know, so any government action to incorporate input from the business sector and civil society organizations will go a long way toward generating income for thousands of people across the country.
There are many highlights of Afro-Brazilian culture: hundreds of quilombolas, samba groups, and afoxé-playing musicians. There could be religious tours completely designed around Afro-descendant religions, or perhaps ecotourism packages around Afro-Brazilians who live in nature reserves. These are just a few ideas—but Afro-Brazilians need the support of the public and private sectors.
Brazil is preparing intensely for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games; this will undoubtedly mean more contracts for Brazilian companies and more opportunities to attract foreign tourists and investors. But even in 2012, there is not enough integration of Afro-Brazilians in the effort, nor are there substantial investments in training workers or subsidizing businesses.
Brazil needs to wake up and tap into its tourism potential. This is a matter of cultivating a strategic vision and putting up the investment dollars to sustain it. If Brazil doesn’t do this, Afro-Brazilians will continue to remain excluded in society.
A segunda nação negra do mundo, e um dos países com maior diversidade cultural do mundo, ainda não despertou para o potencial turístico que possui. Por ano, o país deixa de arrecadar milhões e incluir um enorme número de pessoas por falta de visão estratégica e investimento na atração de pessoas interessadas na história e cultura afro-brasileira.
Que o Brasil é um país de cenários exuberantes, riqueza natural e gente hospitaleira todos sabem. Porém, os fatos comprovam que o Brasil não explora as suas possibilidade turísticas como deveria. Em 2011 o país comemorou a a marca 5,4 milhões de turistas. Porém, somente a Torre Eiffel, na França, recebe 5,2 milhões por ano, o deixa óbvio que o Brasil precisa promover melhor seus destinos no exterior.
A Empresa Brasiliera de Turismo (Embratur) iniciou o ano de 2012 com um pacote de ações para melhorar a imagem do Brasil como destino turístico no exterior e alcançar um aumento do turistas, visando a meta de dez milhões de visitantes em 2020. Segundo o Portal da Copa 2014, a Embratur focará suas ações em 17 mercados prioritários, em 2012, são eles: Argentina, Chile, Colômbia, Paraguai, Peru, Uruguai, Alemanha, Espanha, Estados Unidos, França, Reino Unido, Itália, Holanda, Portugal, Bolívia, Canadá e México.
Se o plano realmente for efetivado será um avanço, porém o que se vê até então é um desconhecimento sobre a cultura, religiosidade e situação social brasileira no exterior. Um exemplo é a comunidade afro-americana que movimenta aproximadamente 1 trilhão de dólares por ano e, em geral, desconhece a realidade dos negros brasileiros. Não se vê nos veículos de comunicação destinados a essa comunidade nos EUA nenhum tipo de publicidade ou ação, o mesmo acontece na Europa, África e outras partes do mundo. Os turistas que chegam ao Brasil seguem ainda motivados pelo marketing boca-a-boca e não dispõem de um cuidado especial e uma infraestrutura favorável a esse tipo de turismo voltado ao aspecto cultural e histórico.
Por outro lado, as atrações são inúmeras. Música, culinária, história, moda, festas populares, shows e o próprio povo são ativos que poderiam gerar um fluxo contínuo de turistas de todo o mundo interessados na história da comunidade negra brasileira.
Fomentar o turismo étnico é gerar oportunidades. A comunidade negra no Brasil, como se sabe, ainda sofre pelo alto indicie de desemprego e falta de oportunidades, portanto uma ação do governo envolvendo o setor empresarial e organizações sociais poderia certamente gerar emprego e renda para milhares de pessoas em todo o país. São centenas de comunidades quilombolas que podem receber turistas pelo país, grupos de samba, afoxé e blocos afros que podem aumentar o número festas, grupos afro-religiosos que podem falar sobre suas crenças, sem contar com as comunidades situadas em reservas naturais que podem oferecer pacotes de ecoturismo, com destinos únicos no mundo.
Os chamados Megaeventos, como a Copa do Mundo e Jogos Olímpicos, estão próximos e até agora não há uma ação clara do governo brasileiro face a inclusão de roteiros afros no leque de opções dos visitantes do exterior ao Brasil. Além disso, não há um investimento em qualificação profissional ou financiamento para negócios desse segmento.
O Brasil precisa acordar e explorar todo o seu potencial turístico para incluir sua população. É uma questão de estratégia e de investimento a longo prazo. Ou acordamos para isso, ou os afro-brasileiros perderão mais uma vez o bonde da história.
Venezuelan opposition candidate Leopoldo López of Voluntad Popular pulled out of the presidential primary race on Tuesday to form an alliance with current opposition frontrunner Henrique Capriles Radonski of Primero Justicia. According to Dataánalisis, a Venezuelan polling firm, Capriles leads López by 29 percentage points (45 to 16 percent) ahead of the February 12 primary elections.
One of the reasons Leopoldo López decided to pull out this late in the primary race was his precarious position as a candidate. He was barred from holding public office until 2014 over corruption charges; the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that this decision violated his political rights, but the Venezuelan Supreme Court dismissed this decision saying he could run for office but not hold office.
López decided to support Primero Justicia because of similarities in the electoral base. According to López: “We both have the same dream.”
President Hugo Chávez, who has been in office for 13 years and is seeking another six-year term in the October 7th presidential election responded to the news: “They are all the same. They are the candidates of the Yankee Empire.” Recent polls show he remains popular with a 50 percent approval rating.
In the Brazilian state of Tocantins, learn about how Bunge Foundation—through a program called Integrated Community—is spurring sustainable territorial development both socially and economically. Currently, the program exists in three cities in Tocantins: Pedro Afonso, Tupirama and Bom Jesus do Tocantins.
Bunge Foundation undertakes a three-pronged approach:
1) Forging relationships with the community, which then promotes awareness of the Bunge enterprise in the region and also helps the enterprise become part of the community.
2) Strengthening public institutions such as municipal councils and tax and budgetary authorities, in order to develop sustainable infrastructure.
3) Lending support for human and social development, which strives to promote community development through occupational training and development of suppliers, among other actions.
Learn more about Integrated Community on Fundação Bunge's official website.
Any piece of legislation that addresses the issue of sex is bound to be met with controversy. This is only magnified in countries that promote policies that run against LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) members of their population. Stakeholders like the Church, for instance, police morality by prohibiting any form of same-sex intimacy.
Today, terms like “sex” and “rape” are only viewed in the heterosexual prism—that is, only men and women legally engage in sexual activity. When these definitions were conceptualized, our awareness of the many ways in which people exercise their sexual freedom was perhaps very limited. But in 2012, despite cultural awareness to the contrary, much legislation does not deviate from conventional paradigms.
Beginning in 1927 in the United States, rape was defined as the “carnal knowledge of a woman, forcibly and against her will.” The Obama administration, however, expanded that definition to include more forms of sexual assault such as rape of men and oral or anal sex. According to Vice President Biden, "this long-awaited change to the definition of rape is a victory for women and men across the country whose suffering has gone unaccounted for over 80 years."
The United Nations announced yesterday that it is investigating two cases of sexual exploitation of children allegedly committed by UN police personnel in Haiti. One case involves the UN Police (UNPOL) in Port-au-Prince, while the other implicates one or more members of the Formed Police Unit (FPU) in the northern city of Gonaives.
UN Spokesperson Martin Nesirky said that the Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) alerted UN headquarters of the allegations last week. “The United Nations is outraged by these allegations and takes its responsibility to deal with them extremely seriously,” said Nesirky in a statement. The UN has not disclosed the nationalities of the police officers in question, but confirmed that they have been removed from duty while under investigation.
Since peacekeepers first arrived in Haiti 2004 to restore order following the ouster of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the UN has had a sometimes tense relationship with the local population. Last September, five Uruguayan peacekeepers were recalled after being accused of sexually abusing a Haitian man at a UN base, while recording the incident on a cellphone. Four months earlier, an independent UN panel concluded that the Cholera epidemic that infected 344,000 Haitians and killed over 6,000 likely originated from poor sanitation by Nepalese peacekeepers stationed in Mirebalais. Both incidents resulted in protests and clashes between protesters and UN and Haitian police.
In an effort to ebb anti-UN sentiment in Haiti, the Security Council decided last October to withdraw 3,000 troops from the Caribbean nation, returning the force to pre-earthquake levels. Still, President Michel Martelly maintains that UN troops are a necessary presence in Haiti until the country’s police force—or a new military—can ensure security.
In a symbolic display of solidarity, roughly 12,000 Guatemalan citizens formed a human chain on Saturday around Volcán de Agua, one of Guatemala’s 37 volcanoes, to protest the high level of domestic violence throughout the country. This volcano, referred to as Hunapú by the Indigenous Mayan population, is extinct and its peak stands at 3,765 meters (12,352 feet) high.
Using the slogan “Rompe el Ciclo” (Break the Cycle), protestors spanned all ages and genders. The demonstration was well attended by foreign and domestic politicians, including Guatemala’s new president and vice president, Otto Pérez Molina and Roxana Baldetti. President Pérez Molina said, “We want violence to end in this country, we don't want Guatemala to be one of the most violent countries in the world.” Pérez Molina campaigned on a platform of drastically reducing violent crime.
The protest called to attention Guatemala’s rising rate of domestic violence. Government statistics indicate that 646 women were murdered in 2011—almost half of them inside their own homes. Guatemalan daily Prensa Libre notes that domestic violence is the crime most reported to the Ministerio Público (Public Ministry). The ministry is led by Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz and, despite showing signs of reform, Guatemala still holds one of the highest rates of impunity; less than 4 percent of crimes result in successful conviction of perpetrators.
Nonetheless, this weekend’s protest shows promising signs for the future, especially with the youth in attendance. British Ambassador to Guatemala Julie Chappell, who helped organize the human chain, commented, “We are trying to bring about a generational change of attitudes.”
Another Cuban, Wilmar Villar, died in a hunger strike on the island last week protesting the abuses of the Castro regime. His wife was not permitted to see his body. Yoani Sanchez, the Cuban blogger who has received several international awards and who is not permitted to travel abroad, reported his death on the Internet.
For weeks Cuban exiles had been calling on governments and human rights organizations for help. We do not know if Cardinal Ortega Alamino, who has access to General Raúl Castro, interceded privately with him on behalf of Wilmar who is the father of two children; or if the Cuban Cardinal, who participated in the arrangement where Cuba released political prisoners and forced many of them and their families, including children, into banishment in Spain, alerted the Holy See about the impending death.
The Cuban regime can no longer murder in secrecy; it fears the Internet and the Cubans who are willing to die demanding respect for human rights. But the regime continues to enjoy international impunity for its unspeakable deeds. The opening to Havana sponsored by the Obama Administration has emboldened the Castro brothers who are engaged in a widespread human rights crackdown. Right now Senator Richard Durbin is in Havana, presumably discussing ways of further lessening of U.S. sanctions with Cuban authorities.
With an emphatic, “I swear,” last weekend Otto Pérez Molina became the first former soldier to be democratically elected as president of Guatemala since the 1996 Peace Accords.
By his side was Roxana Baldetti, who was sworn in as the first woman to hold the title of vice-president in the country’s history.
The inauguration, attended by 98 international missions, including 12 heads of state and Spain’s Prince Felipe de Borbon, had an element of tension to it. When President Otto Pérez Molina promised to spend 55-60 percent of his government’s time on security, he could not have meant within the first 24 hours of his presidency.
Events around the country threatened to overshadow Pérez Molina’s big day.
The murder of congressman Valentin Leal Caal, in close proximity to the Congress building in Zone One of Guatemala City, occurred a day before the presidential handover. Leal Caal was elected as a candidate for LIDER, headed by Manuel Baldizón, who lost to the retired general in the second round of the Guatemalan election in November.
In October 2011, USAID convened a forum of business leaders to discuss the importance of public-private partnerships and specifically why PPPs are integral for international development. Panelists included representatives from Merck, Swiss Re America Holding Corporation and Cargill.
President Barack Obama announced yesterday in Orlando, Florida, a new strategy to boost tourism, including special provisions to make it easier for Brazilian and Chinese citizens to acquire tourist visas at U.S. consulates overseas. In the 2011 fiscal year alone, more than 800,000 Brazilians received tourist visas.
Given the increasing importance of tourists from Brazil and China to the overall U.S. tourism sector, the new measures are estimated help create 1.3 million jobs over the next decade.
Despite record demand for U.S. tourist visas, applicants worldwide complain about the application costs (which can reach $500 per person), long processing times and the difficulty in traveling to the nearest U.S. consulate. Under the new plan, applications will be processed in less than three weeks and travelers who currently hold expired visas would not be required to redo the entire application process to renew their travel documents.
Last week marked the two-year anniversary of the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, one of the most devastating in history. It magnified global attention to the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation, especially as the hardest-hit neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince were 25 kilometers from the tremor’s epicenter.
In order to prevent these areas in Haiti from sliding into indigence, the World Bank is proactively funding initiatives to empower Haiti’s government and civil society to become more prepared against future natural disasters. Learn about how financing and training from the World Bank is helping the poorest communities of Haiti better determine risk through infrastructure and urban planning as the country continues to rebuild.
Yesterday Peru’s government shared plans to increase investment in social programs and infrastructure in the country’s impoverished center—a region with the world’s highest coca-leaf production. These investments will complement a renewed military offensive against narcotrafficking.
Speaking at a press conference, Peruvian Minister of Defense Alberto Otárola admitted that the government had previously neglected the area. “The state has had its head turned the other direction,” he told reporters, but now recognizes that one solution to narcotrafficking is in increasing social spending in zones heavily influenced by coca production. According to private reports, the area with the highest concentration of coca cultivation in Peru is the Apurimac and Ene River Valley (known as VRAE), a high jungle region in the south-central part of the country.
Otárola’s announcement followed one made last month by Peru’s new cabinet chief Oscar Valdés, who said that the government would tackle drug trafficking by increasing development and state presence in the VRAE region. This would include building new roads and bringing in the Agriculture Ministry and other organizations to promote crop substitution.
After Colombia, Peru is the world’s second largest producer of cocaine, though analysts predict it could soon surpass its northern neighbor if it doesn’t take steps to combat the drug trade. Though Otárola insisted that the solution to the problem in the VRAE region “is not a military but a political one,” Peru’s armed forces are likely to continue playing a role in the fight against narcotrafficking. This will include seeking the capture of former Shining Path members who now play an armed role in the drug trade, as well as the mass eradication of coca-growing fields. Last week President Ollanta Humala replaced drug czar Roberto Soberon—who had previously suspended manual coca plant eradication, arguing it hurt poor growers—with Carmen Masias, who said in an interview that Peru had “let down its guard” on eradication last year.
Otárola also confirmed yesterday that two U.S. surveillance planes will assist Peru in combating drug trafficking and hunting down former Shining Path guerrillas, flying over the coca-growing regions in the VRAE and Upper Huallaga Valley.
From 1931-1932, Mexican muralist Diego Rivera created eight large-scale, “portable” murals for a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Eighty years later, five of these works—freestanding murals as large as six by eight feet, made of steel armature, reinforced concrete and frescoed plaster— have been reunited in “Diego Rivera: Murals for the Museum of Modern Art,” on view at MoMA through May 14.
Visiting on a recent Sunday, I was struck by how contemporary the themes of the works—which are divided into a Mexico and a New York series—felt. They span questions of national identity, class inequality and the role of public art in an increasingly commercialized art world.
The first half of the exhibition, dedicated to the Mexico-themed works, offers a somewhat mythologized chronology of Mexican history, from its pre-Columbian and conquista past to its revolution and then its industrial present. Though painted in New York in the six weeks leading up to the exhibition’s opening, they reflect themes Rivera explored in fixed murals he painted in Mexico during the 1920s, when the country was still emerging from revolution and was in the process of actively forging a new cultural identity. They were all produced in the classical fresco style, which Rivera studied in Italy in 1921 at the request of Mexico’s Minister of Education as part of a public art initiative by the Álvaro Obregón government.
Guatemala Inaugurates New President
Otto Pérez Molina was sworn in as president of Guatemala on January 14 after winning a November runoff vote. In his inaugural address he promised a “total transformation of society.” Among recent indications of policy shifts, Pérez Molina indicated in a recent interview with Mexican channel Televisa that he would be open to region-wide decriminalization of drugs as a means to target narcotrafficking.
Read an AS/COA News Analysis on Pérez Molina’s inauguration.
Reflecting on 20 Years of Peace in El Salvador
In a guest post on Central American Politics blog, Washington College Professor Christine J. Wade discusses the 20-year anniversary of the Chapultepec Peace Accords that ended El Salvador’s 12-year civil war. While some progress has been made, including judicial and electoral reforms, violence is still a serious issue. “Post-accord El Salvador has been plagued by a seemingly unending crime wave that threatens not only Salvadoran citizens, but the very spirit of the accords. The violence is so consuming that some Salvadorans refer to the past 20 years as ‘not war,’ finding it impossible to reconcile such violence with ‘peace,’” Wade writes.
Peace Corps Pulls Volunteers out of Honduras
The Peace Corps evacuated all 158 volunteers from Honduras on January 16 amid safety concerns. The program also announced that it would stop sending new volunteers to El Salvador and Guatemala. In an opinion piece for The Los Angeles Times, Jared Metzker, who volunteers with the Peace Corps in Guatemala, argues the reports of violence are overblown, and states: “There is no Peace Corps draft, after all; we sign up and agree to come, fully cognizant of the risks.”
Today’s rejection by the White House of the proposal to build the Keystone XL Pipeline is neither surprising nor terminal. Pressure from anti-Keystone activists on the Left has been high and, in an election year, President Obama doesn’t want to risk alienating his base. And by requiring the administration to make a decision on Keystone XL within 60 days (by February 21), Congressional Republicans gave Obama the out he needed. While the refusal to grant the permit for the pipeline may sound like a death knell, it isn’t necessarily.
In response to environmental concerns, TransCanada, the company behind the proposed pipeline that would carry crude oil from Alberta to refineries in Oklahoma and Texas, is working to reroute a section in Nebraska that originally would have passed over the sensitive Ogallala Aquifer, which runs under eight states. Those who oppose the Keystone XL pipeline also claim that, among other ills, it will lock us in to our “addiction” to oil. But it’s hard to imagine how one pipeline would do that. The reality is we use a lot of oil. According to U.S. Energy Information Administration projections, U.S. oil demand will remain fairly stable as a portion of overall energy use through 2035. At about one-third of overall energy use, the United States will be dependent on oil for a large part of its energy consumption for the foreseeable future. Ultimately building the Keystone XL Pipeline will not change our overall patterns for energy use.
A pesar de muchos avances en México con respeto al género, las mujeres en el Estado de Oaxaca aún son marginadas. Usando el ejemplo de Evitelia Pacheco, una oaxaceña que fue elegida en Emiliano Zapata como una autoridad municipal, vean cómo las leyes indígenas de “usos y costumbres” limitan la inclusión social de mujeres como Evitelia.
(Foto en la página principal: Evitelia Pacheco entrevisando en su cocina; cortesía de la autora.)
Omar Chehade, Peru’s second vice president, resigned from his post on Monday evening in the midst of questions over his role in an influence-peddling scheme. The move, coming the night before a congressional vote on whether to suspend him from political office for five years, may have been a calculated attempt to keep his congressional seat, according to Peru21. If so, it appears to have worked. On Tuesday evening, after four hours of debate, the Permanent Comission of the Peruvian Congress rejected a motion (by only one vote) that would have removed him from Congress and temporarily banned him from political office.
The prime minister, Óscar Valdés, said that Chehade’s resignation earlier this week was a strictly personal move.
The vote last night came after opposition members like Congressman Mauricio Mulder said the move to push aside Chehade was actually an effort by the ruling parties to preserve their power in Congress. “It is a fabricated scene, so that this Tuesday the public opinion does not turn against the decision of Gana Peru and Peru Posible to protect him.”
In December, Chehade was suspended for 120 days over allegations that him, his brother Miguel Chehade, three police generals, and a businessman attempted to help another agricultural company gain control of the Andahuasi sugar plantation. This is a particular embarrassment for President Ollanta Humala who has vowed to fight corruption but yet has watched numerous cabinet officials face corruption allegations in recent months.
Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael Ramírez this weekend announced his country’s intention to withdraw from the World Bank’s Washington DC-based International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). If carried out, Venezuela’s decision will affect the claims of nearly 20 foreign firms with cases pending before the ICSID worth an estimated total of $40 billion.
Ramírez’ announcement follows weeks of political posturing by the Venezuelan government in the wake of a $908 million judgment against Venezuela in a case brought by energy giant Exxon Mobil. In explaining his government’s position, Ramírez claimed in an interview that Venezuela “does not accept impositions and we are going to rescue our national sovereignty.”
It remains to be seen how the planned withdrawal will affect Venezuela’s agreements with other investors since international arbitration is contractually obligatory under virtually every bilateral investment agreement between Venezuela and foreign firms.
Las comunidades indígenas guatemaltecas celebraron Navidad con sus propios costumbres.
Fotos y pies de foto cortesía de Hector Javier Tecúm.
Aquí son unos comentarios sobre las celebraciones:
Cofradías en Chichicastenango: En las fiestas del fin del año las cofradías que son integradas por líderes Indígenas rinden homenaje a las imágenes de San José San Sebastián y Santo Tomás, este último es el patrono del pueblo.
Nacimiento en el convento de Chichicastenango: En el convento del municipio de Chichicastenango preparan un nacimiento con las imágenes de San José y la virgen María esperando el nacimiento de Jesús, éste es visitado por cientos de personas.
Nacimiento en Esquipulas: Esquipulas es un municipio situado al oriente del país, es conocido como capital centroamericana de la fe, debido a que en estas fechas llegan a este lugar miles de peregrinos de toda América Central y México. En la imagen se observa un nacimiento.
Nacimiento en casa particular: En la mayoría de casas se coloca el árbol navideño, además del nacimiento o misterio que representa el nacimiento de Jesús.
Presentan nacimiento de Jesús: Un grupo de niños Indígenas del municipio de Chichicastenango presentó una obra del teatro llamado en esos lugares como “Pastorela” en la que representó la historia del nacimiento de Jesús.
Tradicional baile del palo volador: Solamente en tres lugares de toda Guatemala se presenta el baile del palo volador representado por bailadores disfrazados de monos quienes se sujetan de una cuerda que gira alrededor de un árbol, conforme se desenreda la cuerda ellos van bajando al suelo. Este es un baile que representa la historia de una abuela cuyos nietos se convirtieron en monos narrado en el libro sagrado de los indígenas Kichés el “Popol Wuj.”
Este 14 de enero, en Guatemala van a tomar posesión las nuevas autoridades quienes llevarán el rumbo del país. La población, como cada cuatro años, mantiene la esperanza de que las autoridades electas puedan responder a las principales demandas, especialmente de todos los sectores tradicionalmente marginados como el caso de los pueblos Indígenas y las mujeres.
Es importante destacar que en los últimos años ha existido una mayor participación de los sectores Indígenas en la elección de autoridades locales como el caso de las alcaldías municipales. Sin embargo en el caso de los principales puestos como la presidencia o las diputaciones, aun es muy marcada la discriminación y las pocas oportunidades que los partidos políticos brindan a los sectores Indígenas.
Por ejemplo en el departamento de Quiché, al noroeste del país y uno de los que tiene mayor caudal de votantes, elige un total de ocho diputados para el Congreso de la República. De las ocho diputaciones únicamente tres son Indígenas aunque no necesariamente identificados con las causas de este sector y solamente figura una mujer por lo que es otra clara muestra de la inequidad existente en el país.
En relación a la conformación del nuevo gabinete de gobierno, de los 14 ministros solamente figura un Indígena que es el Ministro de Cultura y Deportes que estará a cargo de Carlos Batzín y solamente figuran tres mujeres para dirigir los ministerios de: educación; medio ambiente y recursos naturales; y el nuevo ministerio de desarrollo social.
On July 1, Mexicans will choose their president for the next six years. This will be the fourth time the electoral process is not organized by the government but by a supposedly non-biased institution, the Instituto Federal Electoral or IFE.
Mexico likes to boast (especially since 2000) that we hold free, fair and transparent elections. And while that may be the case to some extent, the country could learn a lot from its Latin American neighbors with regard to the process in itself. More than ever, Mexico would benefit from the implementation of a two-round runoff election as opposed to its current majority rule system.
Prior to 1994, general elections were but a façade to legitimize the perpetuation in power of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). Without an independent regulatory body to observe the process, elections results were heavily and systematically manipulated, voting booths with opposition preference were ransacked and official tallies always placed the PRI as an absolute majority winner. Under these circumstances, the official rules of the process were irrelevant and a second round of elections would have never made sense as the PRI would always get over 50 percent of the supposed electorate preference.
"Plaza Sésamo" follows César, a young Bolivian, as he navigates his way through a La Paz marketplace. Video used with permission from Sesame Workshop.
Unemployment in Latin America and the Caribbean dropped to 6.8 percent in 2011 from 7.3 percent in 2010 and reached its lowest levels in most countries since the mid-1990s, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO) recent report Panorama Laboral 2011. The report also projects unemployment numbers to remain stable in much of the region through the end of 2012.
“There is no doubt that unemployment rate trends have been very positive in recent years, which should help the region develop labor markets that not only generate more jobs, but better ones,” said the regional director the ILO’s Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, Elizabeth Tinoco.
Despite notable progress, nearly 16 million urban Latin Americans remain out of work and joblessness among specific demographic groups—particularly youth—is three times higher than national averages. "The economic and social progress of recent years is unsustainable if policymakers don’t face the challenge of creating better opportunities for young people", says Tinoco.
With the expiration of the U.S. tariff on ethanol imports at the end of 2011, this year marks a potential watershed in U.S.–Brazil trade ties. For three decades, Washington protected corn-based ethanol producers from Brazil’s more environmentally-friendly and economically-efficient sugar-based ethanol. Now, without the 54-cent-per-gallon tariff on imported ethanol or the corresponding 45-cent-per-gallon tax credit, the U.S. market is open for business for ethanol imports.
The demise of these protectionist measures removes a bone of contention with the Brazilian government, saves U.S. taxpayers about $6 billion a year and expands access to cleaner energy for U.S. consumers. Though the move will have positive foreign policy repercussions, it stemmed from domestic political dynamics: as the industry matured, subsidies became a harder sell, particularly at a time of high corn prices.
Ironically, Brazilian ethanol production fell in 2011, requiring imports from the United States to meet local demand. This unusual situation, largely due to poor weather and delays in crop replanting after the 2008 financial crisis, will minimize the immediate impact of the end of the U.S. ethanol tariff. Still, industry analysts expect new investment to revive exports.
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.
Ahmadinejad Tours Latin America
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad began a tour of four Latin American countries on Sunday, beginning in Venezuela and traveling to Nicaragua yesterday for President Daniel Ortega’s inauguration. He is visiting Cuba today, and will fly to Ecuador on Thursday. Ahmadinejad is continuing efforts to expand Iran’s political and economic influence in the region, even while a crisis involving Western sanctions and a threat to block the Strait of Hormuz takes place in Iran. In an interview with Al Jazeera, COA Vice President Eric Farnsworth commented on Iran’s relationship with its few Latin American allies: “It is certainly a marriage of political convenience. In other words, they need each other."
Read an AS/COA News Analysis about Ahmadinejad’s trips to Latin America.
U.S. House Speaker Leads Delegation to LatAm
House speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is leading a congressional delegation to Latin America this week, with stops in Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico to focus on energy and economic security. As well as discussing implementation of Colombia’s free-trade agreement—recently ratified by the U.S. Congress—the delegation will also consider energy issues in Brazil. During the first leg of the trip in Rio de Janeiro, the delegation visited a recently pacified favela.
Romney Releases First Spanish-Language Ad
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has released a Spanish-language campaign ad in Florida. The ad is narrated by Romney’s Spanish-speaking son Craig. The Washington Posts’ The Fix blog states that “while the ad does not mention Cuba, Cuban-Americans are obviously Romney’s focus,” given that 72 percent of registered Republicans in Miami Dade county are of Hispanic descent and largely Cuban-Americans. The ad features three Cuban-born Florida Republican lawmakers: Representative Mario Díaz-Balart, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and former Representative Lincoln Díaz-Balart.
Following victories in the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney is increasingly seeking to broaden his appeal with Spanish-language voters. Yesterday he launched “Nosotros,” a Spanish-language ad narrated by his son Craig that prominently features the endorsement of three Cuban-born Floridian lawmakers.
The 31-second ad, which includes shots of the Miami skyline and Romney’s November visit to a Conchita Foods grocery store, signals the Romney campaign’s efforts to specifically target voters in Florida’s Miami-Dade County, where 72 percent of registered Republicans are Latino, and most are of Cuban descent. Before airing “Nosotros,” Romney had skipped the Miami-Fort Lauderdale market in his $850,000 purchase of English-language broadcast ads made last week, pointing to his intention to focus particularly on Cuban-American voters with this ad. In addition, “Nosotros” features three prominent Cuban-born Floridian lawmakers—Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Representative Mario Díaz-Balart and his brother, former Congressman Lincoln Díaz-Balart—who tout Romney’s ability to restore America to greatness, create jobs and restore national security.
Romney and other Republican candidates face a challenge of appealing to Latino voters while portraying themselves as “true conservatives”—which may mean taking an enforcement-only approach to one issue on many Latinos’ minds: undocumented immigration. Recognizing the importance of the Latino vote in Florida and across the country (about 21 million of the 50.5 million Latinos in the U.S. are eligible to vote), Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus announced on Wednesday that the RNC would be undertaking a major effort to engage Latino voters, including digital outreach, voter identification and traditional get-out-the-vote campaigns.
Florida’s primaries will take place on January 31, with early voting beginning 10 days earlier. It will be the nation’s first big-state presidential primary, and Florida is likely to play a key role in the outcome of the presidential election in November. Quinnipiac polls released this week show Romney having a double-digit lead among likely Florida Republican voters; Obama is tied with either Romney or Rick Santorum in a hypothetical general election match-up.
With partial funding from Cisco Systems, "Mujer en la Red" (Women on the Network) provides underprivileged young women in the Dominican Republic with access to the ever-growing Information and Communication Technology industry. Video in Spanish.
Mexican public opinion research company Consulta Mitofsky released a new poll on Tuesday indicating that Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto’s support among likely voters has dropped from 44.6 percent in November 2011 to 42 percent. Although Peña Nieto is still considered the strong favorite in July’s presidential elections, likely rival Josefina Vázquez Mota of President Felipe Calderón’s Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) has since climbed from 17.2 percent in September 2011 to 20.8 percent in the poll released yesterday.
Most analysts attribute the slight dip in Peña Nieto’s support to a series of gaffes the candidate committed in recent weeks, which included the seeming inability to name three books that have influenced his life, not knowing Mexico’s federal minimum wage and misstating the price of a kilogram of Mexico’s ubiquitous corn tortillas.
According to political commentator Raymundo Riva Palacio, the recent missteps “reinforce the collective impression that [Peña Nieto] is a little media figure for whom years of careful choreography on a controlled stage allowed the construction of an attractive image for voters." Peña Nieto in mid-December attempted to counter recent criticism, saying "I may not remember the name of a book's author, but let it be clear, what I will not forget is the violence, the poverty and the desperation that Mexico is living through."
Andrés Manuel López Obrador, former Mexico City mayor and the candidate for the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD), registered 17.2 percent support compared to 16.1 percent in November 2011. Consulta Mitofsky polled 1,000 people from December 26 to 29. The survey had a 95 percent confidence rate, and a margin of error of up to 3.1 percentage points.
Please find the original text below, submitted in Portuguese.
Brazil’s black community faces many social and political problems, but a lack of economic opportunities is what most prevents this population from climbing the income ladder. According to Brazil’s National Association of Collective Black Entrepreneurs (Associação Nacional dos Coletivos de Empreendedores Negros, or ANCEABRA), the majority of Afro-Brazilians are in the informal workforce because of a lack of opportunities in the formal sector. Many Afro-Brazilians also face difficulty in opening legitimate, lasting businesses, with ANCEABRA reporting that only 3.8 percent of Afro-Brazilians identify professionally as entrepreneurs.
Why are Afro-Brazilians unsuccessful as entrepreneurs? Three factors are at play: a lack of societal encouragement to become entrepreneurs; family members without any history in creating their own enterprises; and, above all, the persistent difficulty of accessing capital. Brazil also has never had a public policy that sought to specifically promote black-managed enterprises.
This systemic problem presents a form of “black invisibility” in the business sector. This invisibility stands in stark contrast to Brazil’s position as one of the top-five countries in terms of entrepreneurship. Brazil’s enviable ranking puts it ahead of several enterprising European countries—yet most of these Brazilian enterprises are neither started nor managed by Afro-Brazilians.
But there’s more to this great challenge. A survey by the Ethos Institute showed that female Afro-Brazilians comprise only 0.5 percent of the top corporate executives of the 500 largest companies in Brazil. Our country, which proudly presents itself as a multicultural and multiracial nation, is ranking behind nations with similar ethnic compositions.
Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi won the 2011 Balon d’Or (Golden Ball) yesterday during a ceremony in Zurich. The FC Barcelona striker and captain of the Argentine national team became the first player to win it three years in a row. The Balon d’Or is given to the best all-around player for club and country and is soccer’s top individual honor granted by the Féderation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the international governing body. Only former Frech captain Zinedine Zidane and Brazilian legend Ronaldo have won the award three times.
2011 was a record-setting year for 24-year-old Messi. He won the La Liga Player of the Year after scoring 55 goals for FC Barcelon, was deemed Man of the Match in the team’s Champions League victory over Manchester United and won the 2010-2011 UEFA Best Player in Europe award. The Argentine received 47.9 percent of the points in votes cast by national team coaches and captains as well as select reporters. Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo finished second with 21.6 percent and Spanish midfielder (and Messi’s teammate on Barcelona) Xavi got 9.2 percent to finish third for the third year in a row.
As Messi continues to rack up more awards in his young career, he also finds time to stay active off the field. In 2007, he founded the Leo Messi Foundation, which provides access to education and health care for at-risk children in Argentina and also serves as a UN Goodwill Ambassador. To learn more about how Messi and five other top athletes are giving back, check out the “Good Sports” feature in the Summer 2011 issue of Americas Quarterly.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.