It was a sad day for the rule of law in the United States. Sunday, Omar Khadr became the first child to be prosecuted by a Western nation for war crimes since the Second World War. After an intense week, a U. S. military panel returned its verdict, condemning Khadr to a 40-year prison sentence.
But that sentence was largely symbolic. As part of a pre-hearing plea deal, unbeknownst to the panel of jurors, Khadr had already agreed to an extra eight years in jail. He has already served eight at the U.S. Guantánamo Bay Detention Center in Cuba. The jury went even farther than the 25-year sentence recommended by the prosecution.
Now 24, Khadr pleaded guilty last week to five war crimes charges including killing an American soldier in Afghanistan in 2002 during a war fight. He was 15 years old at the time. Badly wounded, he was sent to an U.S. army hospital then incarcerated at the Gitmo prison.
Before his sentencing, he told the widow of the soldier he killed that he was “really, really sorry.”
A border dispute between Costa Rica and Nicaragua has escalated from finger-pointing to formal diplomatic protesting to its latest development: Costa Rica will issue an appeal this week to the Organization of American States demanding Nicaragua withdraw troops from alleged Costa Rican territory.
The land in question, along northeastern Costa Rica and southeastern Nicaragua, is Calero—an island in the middle of the San Juan River, which is the body of water that forms the shared border. Costa Rica claims Calero as sovereign land, and Security Minister José María Tijerino confirmed that the Nicaraguan flag and armed forces were spotted there during a recent flyover operation. Members of Costa Rica’s Fuerza Pública police force were dispatched to the Refugio Nacional Barra del Colorado in the northeastern area of the country. Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega's government has flatly denied that any foreign territory was invaded.
Nicaraguan forces were first seen two weeks ago in Calero engaging in dredging: an environmental practice of gathering sediment and disposing of it elsewhere. Gen. Julio Aviles, Nicaragua’s army chief of staff, claimed the dredging was ordered in an effort to combat drug trafficking—and that it was done on Nicaraguan soil. San José alleged that Managua was not only causing environmental damage, but attempting to change the course of the San Juan River and move the border.
Minister Tijerino affirmed that Costa Rica does not seek military confrontation with Nicaragua, and petitioned his citizens to avoid expressing anti-Nicaraguan sentiments.
For those who find U.S. elections too long and sometimes endless, brace yourself as the next cycle begins tomorrow morning. The near unanimity of prognosticators are predicting a Republican wave, and this will only raise the ante as to whether President Obama will be a one-term President. History leads us to be cautious about predicting presidential elections based on midterm elections.
Since WW II, there have been three blowout results (Harry S. Truman in 1946, Ronald Reagan in 1982 and Bill Clinton in 1994) and each of these Presidents were re-elected two years later. With less than 50 percent of the electorate expected to vote and with the average midterm loss around 28 seats in the House and four in the Senate, it is almost certain that the Democrats will suffer some serious losses. But this is mainly an election about local issues, the current state of the economy and how this impacts on the mood of the country. A presidential election is a much different dynamic.
Elections do often carry some surprises. Races which were leaning heavily Republican are now much closer and some are trending Democratic as is the case in California, Delaware and Connecticut. The weekend rally under the aegis of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert using satire and the theme of sanity indicates that enthusiasm is not just in the Glen Beck camp. President Clinton in a Montreal speech last Friday predicted that the Democrats will cause some surprises. However, while he may be on to something, it is fair to say that if the House flips to John Boehner and the Republicans this Tuesday, the presidential stakes in the Republican Party will begin in earnest.
Fifty years ago, a young senator, John F. Kennedy was elected the 35th president of the United States of America. Winning a close victory against his opponent, then-Vice President Richard M. Nixon, Senator Kennedy made history by becoming the first Roman Catholic president. As the years pass by, the memory of President John F. Kennedy still seems to capture the imagination of historians and scholars.
President Kennedy, with all the promise of a new generation born in the twentieth century taking power, inspired his fellow Americans and the world with the words: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. It seemed better days were before us and that feeling was shared beyond the borders of the United States. Kennedy, a war hero and part of what newscaster Tom Brokaw called the Greatest Generation, assumed the reigns of power at a crucial time in history as two dramatically opposed ideological powerhouses were engaged in what was called the Cold War—each with diametrically distinct political and economic views of the world. And each capable of destroying each other.
It did not take long for the young president to be tested. A failed military operation against Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, the construction of the Berlin Wall by the East German Communist regime and a major nuclear showdown with the Soviet Union about the installation of offensive nuclear missiles just 90 miles from the U.S. shore demonstrated the dangers facing the world following his election and during his time in office.
On the domestic front, the economy was maintaining steady, post-war prosperity despite the usual economic cycles of growth and recession. There was, however, growing unrest. The civil rights movement was gaining in numbers and momentum but encountering significant resistance from segregationist leaders in the South. It was not long that the Kennedy Administration had to address the issue of civil rights and in so doing unleashed a movement toward transformational change.
Brazilian Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff handily beat Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB) candidate José Serra on Sunday in the second-round of voting to become Brazil’s first female president-elect. The final tally gave her 56.05 percent support (55.7 million votes) to 43.95 percent (43.7 million votes) for Mr. Serra. The outcome was no surprise to most observers, as polls had shown Ms. Rousseff with a substantial lead over her rival in the weeks leading up to the election.
President-elect Rousseff spoke after news of her victory in equally compelling language about her goals for handling poverty and the Brazilian economy saying, “We can not rest as long as Brazilians are hungry, while there are families living on the streets, while poor children are abandoned to their fate." She then also stated that "it is necessary, multilaterally, to establish clearer rules for the restoration of capital markets, limiting excessive speculation and leveraging, which increase the volatility of capital markets and currencies."
One day after her electoral victory, Ms. Rousseff maintained a busy schedule at her home in Brasilia. According to local media sources, she was visited by political allies including PT President José Eduardo Dutra, former Finance Minister Antonio Palocci, and special presidential adviser for international affairs, Marco Aurélio Garcia—all of whom have been tapped to assist in preparations for the transition.
Marco Aurélio Garcia, President Lula’s special advisor for international affairs, announced that Rousseff will accompany the president to Mozambique and then on to the G-20 Summit in Seoul, South Korea, on November 11-12.
According to the terms of an agreement signed last week, Peru will allow Bolivia to build a port on its territory. Chile defeated Bolivia and Peru in the War of the Pacific (1879-1884) and Bolivia has been landlocked ever since. In 1992, Peru and Bolivia signed an agreement granting the latter token access to a three-mile stretch of coastline, but it prohibited it from owning property on the land.
The latest deal, signed on October 19 by Presidents Evo Morales, of Bolivia, and Alan García, of Peru, will allow Bolivia to build a naval dock, operate a free-trade zone, and operate an annex of its naval school on a 1.38-square-mile tract of land on the Pacific coast. The meeting marked a clear warming of relations between the two presidents. The agreement is also expected to boost Bolivia’s global trade. A large producer of zinc, tin and silver, Bolivia currently must gain approval from Chile or Peru to move its exports across land. Access to the Pacific coast will cut transportation distances to Asian markets by approximately 40 percent.
Bolivia’s quest for maritime access is the source of a long-standing dispute with Chile. Although the two countries have engaged in diplomatic discussions on the topic for the past five years, including a meeting earlier this year, the government of Chilean President Sebastián Piñera has stated clearly it will not cede sovereignty. Chileans were somewhat disconcerted by news of the agreement. Some perceived it as a move to exert pressure to quickly resolve the dispute, while others called it an effort by Peru to sour Bolivia and Chile’s relationship.
La muerte del ex-Presidente Néstor Kirchner no pudo ser mejor descrita en su dictamen médico: Súbita. De la misma forma como recibió la noticia el pueblo argentino: súbitamente. De manera repentina e inesperada. Tomó por sorpresa a millones de ciudadanos de este país austral que el miércoles 27 aguardaban en sus casas a que se completara la jornada de censo nacional. La orden era no salir a las calles hasta las 20 horas después de responder a los censistas una serie de datos que al final del relevamiento, en un par de meses, les dirá cuánto ha aumentado la población en los últimos 10 años. Aunque muchos no salieron hasta ser contabilizados, desde temprano, exactamente a las 9:15 a.m., la jornada se vistió de luto. Censistas y censados, lloraron. Otros quisieron afanar el proceso. Otros se fueron y no esperaron. Algunos, celebraron, lo que provocó el rechazo inmediato de sus vecinos. El tres por ciento del censo no se hizo, pero un buen porcentaje del país, literalmente se deshizo
Hoy, miles de argentinos hicieron filas de hasta ocho horas para llegar al Salón de los Patriotas donde yace el cuerpo sin vida del mandatario que los gobernó de 2003 hasta 2007 y quien se perfilaba como el más seguro sucesor de su esposa, la actual presidenta Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, en las elecciones de 2011. El ataúd de Néstor Carlos Kirchner permanece cerrado y cubierto de coronas florales, banderas albicelestes, pañuelos de algunas madres y abuelas de Plaza de mayo y notas efusivas de ciudadanos visiblemente conmovidos. Algunos de los argentinos que vienen desde todas partes del país, han podido darle directamente su pésame a Cristina. La abrazan, le aplauden. Le gritan “Aguante” y “Fuerza”, ahora que queda no sólo viuda en términos maritales, sino políticos, pues para muchos Kirchner era el poder tras el trono.
Former Argentina President Néstor Kirchner’s sudden death on October 27 is the biggest shake up for Argentina’s Peronists since the death of Juan Domingo Peron on July 1, 1974. And a crisis in the Peronist movement—the powerful yet amorphous, catch-all party—tends to translate to the whole of Argentine society. Many analysts in the country are calling it a “before and after” event for Argentine politics.
In some ways, it’s as if an acting president died. In Argentina, Néstor Kirchner is to this decade what former president Raúl Alfonsín was to the 1980s and Carlos Menem was to the 1990s. Many people believe the former president, first-man, sitting congressman, Peronist party leader, and temporary president of Unasur was, for all intents and purposes, helping to call many shots in the executive branch. His wife and partner in leading the Peronist faction Frente para la Victoria, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, rarely questioned his authority in public. There were also strong rumors of Néstor Kirchner’s intentions to run for president again in the October 2011 elections.
Beginning in 2007, Kirchner amassed a great deal of power derived from alliances with lower-level Peronist politicians, union groups and businessmen. Despite creating his own populist version of Peronism, Kirchner shared the party founder’s audacity and sense of conviction. After being elected by default in a run-off election in 2003, Kirchner worked swiftly increase executive control over government institutions and challenged powerful political opponents—most notably the farmers, industrialists and previously amnestied military leaders who served during the country’s bloody dictatorship.
He also took the reins of the economy and, with strong public support, paid off the country’s $9.8 billion debt to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), partially paid back creditors from the $100 billion default in 2001 and later, during his wife’s presidential administration, pushed for the nationalization of $30 billion in private pension funds. Controversies involving the manipulation of government statistics and a number of corruption scandals, however, also weakened popular support for the Kirchners.
Los argentinos amanecimos ayer—27 de octubre—con una noticia que nos dejó conmocionados, el ex-Presidente Néstor Kirchner había muerto. Era un día feriado por el censo de población, lo que hizo darle un marco más enrarecido a un día que cambió la política Argentina.
Néstor Kirchner murió a los 60 años, victima de una afección cardíaca que lo venía aquejando desde hace tiempo. Fue, sin dudas, el líder político más importante que tuvo la Argentina en la última década. Su partida deja un gran vacío tanto en su propio partido como para sus acérrimos opositores. Guste o no, casi toda la discusión política del país pasaba por Kirchner, ya sea para atacarlo o para apoyarlo. Eso deja a todos los sectores de la vida política en una situación difícil y llena de incógnitas. Hoy quedan más preguntas que respuestas.
Los partidarios de Kirchner han mostrado mucho dolor y han acompañado multitudinariamente en las calles. Todos los políticos opositores, que últimamente lo criticaban con ferocidad, han respondido con madurez, serenidad y expresando su apoyo a la Presidenta Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. También casi todos han coincidido que la historia lo recordara a él como un buen presidente.
Cuando llegue el momento de reflexionar sobre el legado de la presidencia de Néstor Kirchner, no va a faltar la polémica. Para algunos será el gran presidente apasionado que sacó a la Argentina de su peor crisis contemporánea y le devolvió sentido a la política en el país. Para otros, un populista agresivo que abusó de las instituciones y promovió más divisiones entre los argentinos. A la historia le tocará juzgar eso. De todas maneras, creo que cuando traspasó el mando a su esposa en 2007, entregó un país un poco mejor del que había encontrado en el 2003.
A partir de ayer, la política en Argentina cambió. Es muy difícil hoy predecir que sucederá, ya que mucho depende de cómo la Presidenta Fernández de Kirchner reaccione personal y políticamente. Todos dan por descontado que es una persona de mucha fuerza y convicciones, por lo que la institucionalidad y continuidad de su gobierno está garantizada. Pero las elecciones presidenciales del año entrante generan muchos interrogantes.
La partida de Néstor Kirchner deja un vacío muy importante que afecta tanto al gobierno como a la oposición. La gran pregunta es quien tomará las riendas de la estructura política que hasta ahora lideraba Kirchner. ¿Lo hará la propia Presidenta? ¿Cuál será el rol del Gobernador de Buenos Aires Daniel Scioli y los demás gobernadores peronistas? ¿Quién contendrá al líder sindical Hugo Moyano?
Doubts have begun surfacing this week in Haiti about the viability of holding national elections on schedule on November 28 as the country grapples with an ongoing cholera epidemic, which has already claimed over 300 lives. While electoral officials including Pierre-Louis Opont, director general of Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council, insist that polls will open as planned, at least one presidential candidate has said that if the outbreak reaches national proportions, the polls should be postponed.
The deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization noted yesterday that 500 new cases of cholera have been confirmed in the northern part of the country and World Health Organization officials have alerted the Haitian government to brace for the possibility of the disease spreading to Port-au-Prince, in which case the country would witness a severe epidemic.
Although some observers are skeptical that the presence of the disease could affect the national elections next month, current President René Préval has also recently voiced fears that voters could potentially contract the disease at the polls. Others have warned that potential voters may stay home on election day out of fear.
The United Nations peacekeeping force in Haiti says it can guarantee security during the elections, but low levels of public confidence in the electoral process, lingering post-earthquake disarray and, now, cholera may prove insurmountable obstacles to successful national elections.
From the 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.
Former President of Argentina Dies Suddenly
Néstor Kirchner, who served as the president of Argentina from 2003 to 2007, died after suffering a heart attack on October 27. A former governor from the Patagonian State of Santa Cruz, Kirchner won high approval ratings for steering his country through troubled waters to economic growth in the wake of a 2001 financial crisis. In 2005 his government negotiated the restructuring of the country’s $81 billion in bond debts and on December 15 of that year, he announced that Argentina would pay off its remaining $9.8 billion debt to the IMF. Despite his popularity, he chose not to seek reelection, yet played an active role as an advisor to his wife and successor, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. There was broad speculation that he would run for president again in 2011. The Christian Science Monitor describes Kirchner as a “Latin American statesman” and quotes ruling party congressman Juan Carlos Dante Gullo as saying, “This will leave a huge hole in Argentine politics.” Clárin.com explores Kirchner’s life as a powerbroker and carries ongoing coverage.
Read an AS/COA Online article about Kirchner’s political career.
AQ regrets to share the news that former President of Argentina Néstor Kirchner passed away at his home in the southern Argentine town of El Calafate in Patagonia early this morning after suffering an apparent heart attack, the government reports. Kirchner, Argentina’s president from 2003-2007, and husband to current President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, had undergone two medical procedures to his heart in the past year. Reports stated that Kirchner was accompanied by his wife at the time of his death and that attempts to resuscitate him by medical personnel called to the scene failed.
Kirchner’s death marks the end of a career in which he became the name and face of the modern Peronist movement. Prior to assuming the presidency, Kirchner had served as mayor of Río Gallegos, capital of Santa Cruz Province, before becoming governor of the province from 1991 to 2003. Following his tenure as President, he was elected to be National Deputy of Argentina for the province of Buenos Aires for the term ending in 2013. He was also serving as Secretary General of the Unión de Naciones Sudamericanas (UNASUR) having been appointed to the post this past May.
Néstor Kirchner was 60 years old.
(Homepage photo taken June 15, 2010 and courtesy of Santiago Armas/Presidencia de la República, Ecuador)
The Cuban Government published a series of small business reforms in the state-run newspaper Gaceta Oficial on Monday, that allow for the recruitment of salaried employees in several key industries. The state plans to issue 250,000 self-employment licenses, and made public a list of 178 activities that qualify as legal private-sector ventures, including private restaurants and transportation, which marks a significant shift away from the 1968 legislation that nationalized small business in Cuba.
But there’s a catch. President Raúl Castro’s cabinet also introduced a personal income tax, from 25 percent to 50 percent of revenue, small-business owners and non-governmental labor’s salaries. Cubans who make less than 5,000 pesos (US$255) per year would be exempt from the new tax. Other new taxes include a 10 percent sales tax, a 10 percent real estate tax on Cubans who rent houses, garages or stores, and increased social security contribution of up to 25 percent of personal income.
Monday’s reform is the latest measure that the Cuban government has taken to revitalize an ailing economy. On September 13, the government announced that it would lay off 500,000 state employees over six months. In what is being labeled a possible break from Cuba’s government-dominant economy. The new legislation is intended to create an opportunity for the budding private sector to absorb many of the state’s newly unemployed.
When Governor Jan Brewer became vocal about and stood by Arizona Senate Bill 1070 (referred to as the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act” after its approval), she catapulted her way into the Republican candidacy for the 2010 gubernatorial election, and most likely, an incumbent landslide victory over Democratic candidate Terry Goddard.
I recently had the opportunity to discuss SB1070 and related issues with Matthew Jette, who ran against Brewer in the Republican primaries. Jette faced harsh opposition from his party members in multiple occasions when he tried to bring some sense and rationality into the undocumented workers’ rights discussion and eventually lost the primaries because he stood by what he knew was right.
Had it been implemented as it was originally drafted, the bill would have made not carrying immigration documents a criminal misdemeanor and would have given state police officials the power to detain people based only on suspicion of their immigrant status and provided them the right to demand proof of holding federal identification papers. My conversation with him presents an interesting look at what SB1070 is really about.
The 12.7 million Peruvian voters who voted for mayors and regional government officials on October 3, 2010, continue to wait for official results from the Oficina Nacional de Procesos Electorales (ONPE) on who will be Lima’s next mayor. According to the latest tally, released today, with 95.8 percent of votes counted, Susana Villarán of the Fuerza Social party has received 38.4 percent of the votes (1,685,624 votes) and her opponent, Lourdes Flores has 37.6 percent (1,650,641). That is a difference of just 34,983 votes (0.797 percent).
The delay in official results is of great concern not only to the candidates, but to the entire city government. Given current projections, the winner of the mayoral race would likely enter office only five days before the delivery of 2011 municipal budgets.
The three-week delay has also led to speculation of voter fraud. In response, Fuerza Social is leading a protest today in front of the ONPE headquarters in Lima. The party is also calling on Lourdes Flores to join calls for a transparent and fair counting process. Either way, this election will mark the first time a female candidate will become Lima’s mayor.
Health officials in Haiti today confirmed that a first-in-decades outbreak of cholera has struck in the Lower Artibonite region just north of Port-au-Prince. So far doctors report the disease has killed around 140 people, and another 1,526 people are infected.
Imogen Wall, the UN humanitarian spokeswoman in Haiti said this morning that "This is a situation that's developed very quickly. It's only been 48 hours and we've already got 138 deaths confirmed." The response to the outbreak has thus far been led by a number of international aid organizations whose primary goal is to save those stricken with the disease and prevent further infections by providing purified water.
Cholera is transmitted though contaminated water and causes violent vomiting and diarrhea. It can kill healthy adults in a matter of hours by causing severe dehydration and is particularly fatal for children.
The Haitian government has not yet issued an official statement on the outbreak.
The European Parliament has awarded Cuba’s Guillermo Fariñas—psychologist, journalist and political dissident—the 2010 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in recognition of his defense of human rights. Fariñas is well-known in the international arena for staging more than 20 hunger strikes, leading to prison sentences totaling 11 years.
In announcing the awarding of this year’s prize to Mr. Fariñas, Parliament President Jerzy Buzek explained: “Guillermo Fariñas is an independent journalist and political dissident who was ready to sacrifice and risk his own health and life as a means of pressure to achieve change in Cuba… carrying the hopes of all of those who care for freedom, human rights and democracy.”
Mr. Fariñas is not the first Cuban laureate of the Sakharov Prize. Oswaldo Payá, perhaps the county’s most prominent political dissident, won the award in 2002, followed by Damas de Blanco in 2005—a group of women whose husbands are jailed in Cuba for protesting the regime. Damas de Blanco have been consistently barred by the government from collecting their prize in person, and Mr. Fariñas is not expected to be permitted to travel to Strasbourg, France, to receive this year’s award.
In his most recent hunger strike, Fariñas fasted for 135 days from February to July 2010 to pressure the Cuban government to free dozens of imprisoned political dissidents. He ended the strike when President Raúl Castro promised the Catholic Church that he would free 52 of the prisoners.
Estabilidad. When I speak with Ecuadoreans about their opinions regarding the occurrences of September 30, 2010, I am amazed by the consistency of the responses.
From Otavalo in the northern highlands to Puyo in the
Incredibly, not only has the general gist of “we´re tired of instability” been consistent in my conversations, but so has the way in which my friends, colleagues, food servers, cab drivers, and anyone else who will talk to me explain why they´re fatigued. Without fail, they go through the 10 administrations that fell due to social pressures. Ticking off on their fingers they list: Abdalá Bucaram, Fabián Alarcón, Rosalia Arteaga, Alarcón (again), Jamil Mahuad, Lucio Gutiérrez (president of the junta), Gustavo Noboa, Gutiérrez, Alfredo Palacio, and, finally, Rafael Correa. Some actually go all the way back to the first democratic administration after the military junta in 1979, that of Jaime Roldós Aguilera, and point out that even his presidency ended before the term was up. He died in an aviation accident. There is an almost fatalistic, predetermination to the logic of these explanations; presidents here don´t finish their terms, be it by plane crash or coup.
From the 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.
Counting Numbers in Record-breaking Coverage of the Chilean Miner Rescue
More than 4 million page views per minute. Roughly 5.5 million live video streams on CNN. Approximately 412,000 social media mentions of “Chile” on October 13. Mashable Media reports on the record-breaking television and online viewership of the Chilean miner rescue.
Access an AS/COA Online resource guide to media coverage of the rescue.
In an op-ed for CNN, Americas Society’s Daniel Shapiro reflects on the fact that two of the Chilean miners rescued were identified as poets. "Chilean culture is steeped in poetry; poetry has become a life-blood of that country, ingrained in the bedrock as it were, over time," writes Shapiro.
Teodoro Penadillo Carmen, the man suspected of being a former high-level Shining Path guerilla known as “Comrade Rayo,” was arrested Monday while allegedly recruiting new members for the group in Lima. Penadillo is suspected of being the former Huallaga Regional Committee chief for the Shining Path according to Minister of the Interior Fernando Barrios. Peruvian counterterrorism police arrested Penadillo in the San Juan de Miraflores neighborhood of the capital after receiving intelligence that Penadillo was leaving the city to return to the Huallaga region, an area where the Shining Path guerillas are still active.
Penadillo’s return to the Huallaga region was anticipated as the Peruvian military captured Edgar Mejia Asencio, known as “Comrade Izula” last Wednesday. That operation left two other rebels dead in an area near the Huallaga River. Penadillo had been ordered to return to the region to assume command of the security squad for the Shining Path’s leader, Florindo Eleuterio Flores Hala, known as “Comrade Artemio,” who remains at large.
In its continuing campaigns against the Shining Path guerillas the Peruvian government has offered 1 million soles (US$385,000), while the United States has offered US$5 million each for information leading to the capture of the rebel group’s remaining leaders at-large—Comrade Artemio and Victor Quispe Palomino, known as “Comrade Jose.”
The Chilean government wants us to know that the country is on the verge of a major transformation. Just last week, President Sebastián Piñera told the press that, by the end of this decade, Chile will no longer be a developing country. He went even further: within 10 years Chile will become “the first country in Latin America to defeat poverty and to ensure justice for all of its citizens.”
Piñera made these claims last week during his government's massive, and entirely successful, rescue of 33 men who'd been trapped in the San José mine for two months. He was speaking to a huge, captive audience: there were around 2,000 journalists at the mine, dispatched from 40 different countries to cover the dramatic rescue.
The place felt like a big, awkward festival. Reporters and victims' families had set up tents among the rocks, a clown was singing songs to the miners' children and here and there people were grilling sausages over open fires. We all had name tags around our necks identifying us as press, family or rescue workers. Everyone was milling around, waiting for the rescue to start.
The president took full advantage of the situation, jumping into the limelight right away and staying there even after the last miner was hauled up from the mine shaft. He gave hourly press conferences. He spoke English to the international press. Dressed in a red windbreaker, he strode around the grounds slapping engineers on the back while his wife, in white, hugged the miners' wives.
But for all the president's brashness, the government wasn't taking any chances. This is one of the first times that Chile has been in the world's eye (many Chileans have been quoted as saying that “nobody knew what Chile was” before the accident) and the government seemed determined to make a good impression.
Of course, the international media was already impressed. From the moment that the miners were first discovered, the press seized on their story. It's not clear why, exactly, the story grew so big. After all, mining accidents in, say, China or the Democratic Republic of the Congo do not attract thousands of foreign reporters.
But as the weeks went by, more and more reporters poured into Chile. The Atacama Desert filled up with journalists, all under pressure to file daily stories while they waited for the rescue to begin. They fought bitterly among themselves for access to the miners' families, and survived on recycled scraps of gossip about life in the shaft. In this environment, it is not surprising that the Chilean government managed to impose its own narrative on the coverage.
In large part, this meant using secrecy and control. Chile's state-run television, TVN, was given the exclusive right to film the miners' rescue as it happened. They were allowed to set up cameras and reporters around the mine shaft itself, while the rest of the press corps was confined to a mountainside overlooking the operation. Too far away to see anything, we huddled in the press tent and watched TVN's feed on a big-screen TV.
Down in the mine, the government had already pressured the trapped men into signing a “secrecy pact,” a blanket non-disclosure agreement that forbids them to tell anyone about the discussions they had with the government while they were in the mine.
I spoke to Miguel Fortt, the engineer who designed the Fenix capsule and who served as a liaison between the miners' families and the government. He told me that the government had promised special, highly-paid jobs to a few of the trapped miners in return for their help in keeping order.
This is the main thing the government wants to keep secret. Piñera has been talking endlessly about Chilean unity and the lessons that the miners taught us about teamwork. In fact, it appears that the miners were quite divided at first, grouping themselves under three different leaders. Besides Luis Urzua, who became the government-recognized group leader, there was a former soldier and a contractor vying for the leadership position. Each group had its own rescue plan, most not involving outside help.
Faced with this chaos, the government imposed order from the outside, buying the loyalty of some of the miners and instructing them how to unite the rest into an orderly system. Then the world was shown image after image of the miners cooperating with each other, cleaning their cave and preparing, smoothly, for the rescue.
Piñera is using the mine rescue for two things. First, to show off Chile's economic power, and second, to show how the country has reinvented itself in the 20 years since Augusto Pinochet left power. No longer will Chile be known for dictatorship and state-sponsored torture; now it's pulling people up out of the darkness and into the day.
Piñera is trying to frame the rescue as a moment of unity for the country. We can all agree that mine accidents are horrible. But do all Chileans even agree on that? Miguel Fortt told me that in 2010 alone, there have already been 34 people killed in mining accidents, largely because of a lack of government regulation. These deaths have gone unreported; they aren't spectacular, they don't lend themselves to photo spreads. Who cares about the 34 deaths, when we have 33 survivors? Who cares, for that matter, that the Pan-American highway is littered with memorials to roadside deaths, because there are no highway police up north to stop reckless drivers from killing each other?
There continue to be two Chiles; one rich, focused on the outside world and calling for its investment; the other desperately poor and simply trying to get along. In the south, the displaced Mapuche are still trying to win back their land; their stories are also going unreported.
We can be impressed by Piñera's government and its beautifully run rescue operation. But let's not lose sight of other challenges in Chile.
*Kate Prengel is a guest blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org. She is a journalist based at the United Nations and was at the San José Mine
for the miners' rescue.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez traveled to Iran on Tuesday to meet with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and discuss energy cooperation. On the agenda: the formation of a joint oil transportation company and the possible construction of petrochemical plants. While Chávez has already traveled to Iran nine times since taking office in 1999, Tuesday’s two-day visit is part of a multinational tour to strengthen Venezuela’s relationships with Middle Eastern and Eastern European countries.
Local Iranian television covered Chávez’ arrival, where he was greeted by Minister of Industry and Mining Alí Akbar Mehrabian. In a televised statement, Chávez reiterated his support for Iran’s controversial nuclear program, and criticized the “unfair sanctions imposed on the people of Iran” by the United Nations. The UN, the United States and many of its allies have said that Iran’s nuclear proliferation program seeks to produce weapon-grade material. Ahmedinijad and other Irani officials maintain that the uranium enrichment program is solely for energy purposes.
Chávez also took the opportunity to defend his own domestic energy agenda, which includes building a nuclear power plant in Venezuela. The plan has attracted widespread criticism from the U.S. in particular. But Chávez has dismissed the remarks as “the same story of the [American] empire and all of its worldwide networks to try to impede the independence of our people.”
Former Brazilian Partido Verde (PV) presidential candidate Marina Silva, who won 19 percent of ballots cast (about 20 million votes) in Brazil’s first-round presidential election on October 3, has chosen to not formally endorse either of the two candidates ahead of the second-round vote on October 31.
The polling gap between Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) candidate Dilma Rousseff and the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB) candidate José Serra has been narrowing steadily in recent weeks as candidates seek to win over voters from Ms. Silva’s camp. An endorsement by Ms. Silva could have had an important impact on the race. Ms. Silva, a one-time environment minister in President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s government, said in a recent open letter that "not endorsing a candidate does not signify a neutral position, but an independent one, with (our) ideas and proposals reaffirmed."
Both presidential candidates faced off yesterday in the second televised debate of the election cycle. The major issue discussed was each candidate’s position on the privatization of state industries. Social issues like abortion, however, which the presidential hopefuls have recently used to draw votes from Ms. Silva’s camp, were notably absent.
I’ve never been one of those people who, in lamenting policy and politics in the U.S., builds up another country to disparage my own. Yet I must admit, this week I felt pangs of envy in hearing Québec officials talk with cool rationale about the economic calculations behind their immigration policies.
I was in Montreal on a trip organized by the Québec delegation in NYC. While I was there I had the opportunity to meet with high-level officials and community groups working on immigration and the integration of future and recent arrivals into Québec’s economy and society. The ways they described their policies and their future efforts couldn’t contrast more with what is occurring in the United States. For those in Québec, immigration is a demographic imperative: they need an influx of young workers to replace the province’s aging workforce. Getting them is critical to sustaining the province’s economic growth, competitiveness and paying for the pensions of those soon-over-the-hill French Canadians approaching retirement. As the Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil said, “We’re now in competition with Ireland and Australia for skilled labor.” (Her mention of Australia revealed the tough competitors Canada faces today in trying to attract immigrants, “Sure they have the weather and beaches, but they also have sharks,” she said trying to put the best face on Québec’s notoriously brutal winters. On this, I would also encourage the Ministry to highlight Australia’s baby-eating dingoes for the non-swimming immigrants thinking of setting up a new life in Australia.)
You would never hear the same immigration maturity just south of the Canadian border. While the problem of labor force replacement is more acute in Québec than in the U.S., we do need to worry about replacement rates for our declining fertility rates—and it is only going to become more serious. Between 2002 and 2012, 28 million jobs will be created in the U.S. requiring less than a high school education—given rising education rates in the U.S., the native-born population will not be able to fill that demand.
Like Québec, we also need a regular flow of immigrant labor too to shore up our social security system. Despite what the anti-immigrant nativists would have you believe, immigrants—even undocumented immigrants—pay more in taxes than they take out, providing a critical source of new revenue for those soon-to-be retiring baby boomers that threaten to bankrupt our social security system. According to a 2007 Social Security Administration Report just the addition of 100,000 new, net immigrants per year increases the long-range actuarial balance of our taxable payroll by .07 percent. If you multiply that with the approximately million immigrants that arrive on our shores each year, that’s a real revenue source.
Reports from Brazil this week indicate that the presidential candidates’ positions on abortion are becoming a significant factor in the country’s October 31 second-round contest between Worker’s Party candidate Dilma Rousseff and her Social Democracy Party opponent José Serra. Abortion has not historically played a prominent role in national elections in Brazil despite having the world’s largest Catholic population and a growing number of evangelical Christians.
The rise to prominence of the abortion issue is likely tied to the candidates’ efforts to woo supporters of Green Party candidate and evangelical Marina Silva, who dropped out of the race after winning an unexpectedly high 19 percent of the national vote. Analysts are now suggesting that the Workers’ Party’s traditional support for abortion and gay marriage may have cost Dilma Rousseff in the first round of voting and could play a defining role in the increasingly tight race's outcome.
In a televised debate last Sunday, Rousseff and Serra publicly clashed on the abortion issue. Serra accused Rousseff of changing her previous stance, while Rousseff responded that Serra “has a thousand faces” and accused him of slander.
Abortion is illegal in Brazil except in cases of rape or if the mother’s life is at risk. Estimates vary, but the Brazilian Ministry of Health claims one million illegal abortions are performed per year and are the fourth largest cause of maternal mortality.
Ecuadorian democracy is as strong as ever. There is freedom of information and expression. The Revolución Ciudadana (Citizens’ Revolution) is not only moving forward, but is radicalizing.
These statements, largely accepted as true both within and without
Following the police strike of September 30, President Correa has extended the estado de excepción (state of exception) for “at least” another 60 days, the constitutional limit. While the Ecuadorian assembly will continue to meet, debate and pass legislation, the president has the power to suspend the assembly at any moment and rule by decree. Correa has the full backing of the military in all of his actions.
The reasoning for the extension of the estado de excepción is vague and varied—restructuring of the police, the need for time to purge and prosecute those who participated in the “coup,” national security, etc. The great irony is that as states as dissimilar as Iran and Cuba and the United States and Chile have rushed to lend support to Correa in his strengthening of Ecuadorian democracy, an estado de excepción is inherently undemocratic; it is the suspension of the normal, democratic, constitutional order. And we’re in it through December.
De los tres poderes del Estado: Ejecutivo, Legislativo y Judicial, el gobierno de Evo Morales los tiene todos. Y quiere más. Se dice que el cuarto poder son los medios de comunicación. Y el quinto es el llamado “soberano”, el pueblo, que en la práctica se reduce a los llamados “movimientos sociales” afines al partido de gobierno.
El gobierno de Morales tiene mayoría en el Congreso, lo que le permite aprobar las leyes que crea convenientes sin ninguna dificultad, salvo el tiempo que debe invertir en el debate congresal que no es más que una puesta en escena del ejercicio democrático que por lo general sucumbe bajo el llamado “rodillo” oficialista y ante la impotencia de una oposición reducida al griterío. El poder Judicial fue poco a poco debilitado y sus componentes, uno a uno, liquidados para colocar de modo interino (es decir, indefinidamente) a nuevos miembros cercanos al partido de gobierno.
The government of Canada formally announced on Wednesday that bisephenol A (BPA), a primary chemical ingredient used to make clear, hard plastics, is a toxic substance. BPA also lines aluminum cans used for soft drinks, fruits and vegetables. According to Environment Canada, the government organization that banned the compound, BPA can negatively affect animals’ hormonal systems and thereby poses a threat to humans who consume those animals.
Six U.S. states have already banned the use of BPA in children’s products, but the U.S. federal government has not taken an official stance on the issue. Europe has taken the opposite approach and the European Food Safety Authority released a report that cited no conclusive evidence that BPA is harmful to humans or animals. France and Denmark have imposed temporary bans in the past.
Canada will begin enforcing the new legislation by limiting how much BPA can be released into air and water by factories that use the compound, to the dismay of the chemical industry. The American Chemistry Council condemned Environment Canada’s decision, claiming it will “unnecessarily confuse and alarm the public.”
From the 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.
As World Watches, Chilean Miners Rescued
After nearly 70 days trapped underground, Florencio Ávalos became the first of 33 miners rescued from a collapsed Chilean mine just after midnight Santiago time on October 13. At the time of this report, the miners were being rescued one at a time in a capsule called the “Phoenix” that takes up to 20 minutes to ascend a tunnel measuring 2,041 feet (622 meters long). The dramatic operation, compared to the first moon landing for its complexity and the global attention garnered, has been televised, livestreamed, and tweeted. La Tercera carries an interactive regarding the mine rescue, including the rescue plan and image galleries, while the Gobierno de Chile website offers biographies of the miners and official coverage of rescue efforts.
On August 2, Mexicana de Aviación wrote the first pages of its version of Gabriel García Márquez’ Crónica de una muerte anunciada (Chronicle of a Foretold Death) as it successfully filed for bankruptcy. Mexicana argued that rising energy costs and the effects of H1N1 on air travel became too much for the company to bear. However the airline’s business practices have also been questionable for a long time.
Just like in García’s novel, the end result (the death of Santiago Nasar, the main character) became apparent immediately after the bankruptcy announcement. Anyone who had access to a newspaper, TV, radio, or the Internet knew this was the beginning of the end for Mexicana. What we did not know was the amount of time, and more importantly, government resources, this operation and its fallout would require.
Pilot and staff layoffs, air travel chaos, rising prices from Aeroméxico (its main competitor and now the only truly reliable source for national air transportation) and a myriad of customer complaints characterized the weeks that followed the bankruptcy declaration. On October 12, the Senate even announced the creation of a bicameral committee to deal with the break up, acquisition and restructuring of this business mammoth. As Andrew Ross Sorkin would put it, the government decided that Mexicana de Aviación was just too big to fail.
Unfortunately, this situation comes at a time when all major events in
Colombia will serve as a rotating member of the United Nations Security Council this coming January for a two-year term following approval of its uncontested bid to represent Latin America and the Caribbean alongside Brazil. This marks Colombia’s sixth time serving as a non-permanent rotating member of the Council, replacing Mexico as the second representative of the region. Other countries elected to serve as non-permanent rotating members include South Africa, Germany, Portugal, and for the first time, India.
Colombia’s bid for a seat on the Council was made official by President Juan Manuel Santos on September 24 during his address at the UN General Assembly, voicing Colombia’s commitment to assist UN efforts in maintaining international peace and security. However, Colombia’s bid was met with some opposition from neighboring Bolivia over concerns that Colombia’s presence on the Security Council would serve to expand the influence of the United States on the Council. Despite the concern, Colombia’s appointment was approved by 186 member countries.
In addition to the five newly elected countries, the Security Council’s other non-permanent members—Brazil, Nigeria, Lebanon, Gabon, and Bosnia-Herzegovina—will join the five permanent members (China, France, Russia, Britain, and the United States) for the 2011 term.
La erosión de la confianza en una sociedad significa la apertura de una caja de Pandora con consecuencias desastrosas. El pegamento que cohesiona a una sociedad es la confianza mutua que pudiese existir entre los niveles de interacciones que un determinado individuo pueda tener.
Es decir, yo debo tener confianza en mi familia, vecinos, conciudadanos, representantes políticos, burócratas, instituciones del Estado y gobernantes de turno para convivir con el mínimo sentimiento de esperanza que las cosas mejoraran para mí y los míos. Queda claro que los niveles de confianza varían entre actores. Por ejemplo, falta de confianza en el rumbo de un país por parte del sector privado nacional e internacional puede tener efectos adversos para el crecimiento económico. Así mismo, falta de confianza entre el pueblo y sus representantes políticos puede generar una espiral de ausentismo electoral o apatía en el sistema político de una nación. Esos tipos de confianza son bastante claros y fáciles de comprender.
Sin embargo, existe la confianza intra poderes facticos que puede y debe ser prioridad para el futuro de nuestras naciones. Esta confianza va mas allá de un simple relevo generacional, implica soltar las riendas a las nuevas generaciones sin ataduras. ¿A que me refiero? La clases políticas y empresariales tradicionales urgen de una repentina realización de que sin confianza expresa y concreta hacia sus relevos generacionales las sociedades pueden ser víctimas de dogmas e ideas ancladas en el pasado.
The five Caribbean islands comprising the Netherlands Antilles—Curaçao, Sint Maarten, Bonaire, St. Eustatius, and Saba—underwent a constitutional status change over the weekend, formally gaining autonomy from the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Curaçao and Sint Maarten are now autonomous countries within the Kingdom, as opposed to their former status as island territories controlled by the Kingdom. They join Aruba and the Netherlands as the four countries that make up the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Aruba formally seceded in 1986; residents of Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten all hold Dutch citizenship but elect their own parliaments.
Similarly, the BES islands—Bonaire, St. Eustatius, and Saba—have become autonomous special municipalities of the Kingdom. The Netherlands still assumes military and diplomacy duties for these territories.
The federation’s autonomy from the Kingdom was a result of several referenda over the past few years across the five islands, with all but St. Eustatius voting to dissolve the Antilles. None voted for total independence. Curaçao and Sint Maarten complained that they were giving a disproportionate sum of money to the Kingdom on behalf of the BES islands, and thus desired financial independence. However, because of Curaçao’s debt to the Netherlands of roughly €2 billion, it has entered a long-term debt-relief arrangement with the Dutch government.
Latin America and the Caribbean are likely to grow 5.7 percent this year—twice the expected recovery for the United States—say the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in a report released this week. Regional output of goods and services is expected to continue to grow in 2011, although at the slower rate of 4 percent.
Brazil, Peru and Uruguay are expected to grow 7.5, 8.3 and 8.5 percent, respectively. The report highlighted Brazil as an emerging economic behemoth, thanks to credit growth and increased exports of iron ore, beef, soy, and sugar on the international scene, combined with strong consumption and poverty reduction at home.
Experts attribute the better-than-expected pace of Latin American growth—despite the global financial crisis—to a decade of good fiscal and debt management, strong commodity prices, growing foreign investment, and increased trade links with Asia.
The World Bank and IMF report cautioned against complacency, urging commodity-exporting countries in particular not to waste huge capital inflows on domestic financial excess, but instead set up windfall savings funds for emergencies. In addition, Luis Alberto Moreno, president of the Inter-American Development Bank, warned U.S. businesses not to miss out on the opportunity to develop ties to fast-growing economies. He said that for years, free trade in the U.S. has inaccurately been synonymous with loss of jobs. He also pointed out that, as a result of strong macroeconomic performance in the region and various free trade agreements, U.S. exports to Latin America increased 82 percent between 1998 and 2009.
Correa’s recent political maneuverings would make even Machiavelli proud. A recap of the official version of the events of September 30: a coup attempt by the police, allegedly planned by opposition politicians; the president held hostage for hours; the swift and decisive action of President Correa ensured the defeat of the opposition and the restoration of democracy.
Given that the president’s approval ratings have since jumped from around 50 percent (and falling) to over 75 percent, it would appear that at best, the populace believes him, and at worst, they don’t care. Unfortunately, the facts on the ground (without the government voiceover) tell a different story. Rather than enforcing democracy, Correa’s extension of the estado de excepción is a tragically ironic continuation of undemocratic rule.
In a region where close ties between civilian leaders and the military have historically been just as dangerous for democracy as deep divisions between the two groups, the current situation in Ecuador particularly disquieting. While Correa had (prior to the alleged coup attempt) threatened to dismiss the National Assembly if they did not pass his preferred version of various budget measures, on Saturday he vowed to not take this action. Initially, the combination of this promise, the announcement on Monday that the government would reconsider the austerity measures and likely raise police and military salaries, and the return of regularly scheduled news programming, hinted that Correa in fact had good intentions to meaningfully restore democracy.