December 18, 2014Tags: Colombia, FARC, Ceasefire
In a statement published on one of its official websites Wednesday, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) declared an indefinite, unilateral cease fire and end to hostilities in Colombia, on the condition that the rebels are not attacked by government forces. The announcement was made as part of the peace talks with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ administration in Havana, and it marks the first time the guerrilla group has declared an indefinite halt to the fighting.
However, Santos has so far refused to reciprocate the gesture, saying that a bilateral ceasefire could potentially allow the FARC to regroup and attack, as they did during the failed peace negotiations that took place from 1999-2002. The president’s wariness also stems from an incident this September that nearly foiled accords again, when the FARC took General Ruben Dario Alzate and two of his traveling companions hostage in September, along with two others in a separate incident. All the hostages were released in November in order to continue the peace negotiations.
Currently, the Colombian government and FARC negotiators have reached agreements on three points of the original five-point peace agenda, but have stalled on the fourth point of restitution for victims. The Colombian government and FARC leaders have been engaging in peace talks in Havana since 2012. That same year, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos dismissed a temporary Christmas truce proposed by the FARC by saying, “The sooner we get to a peace agreement, the sooner we will silence the guns.”
Over 200,000 people have been killed since the internal war began between the guerillas and the government began in 1964. The FARC ceasefire will go into effect this Saturday, December 20.
Read more in AQ’s Fall 2014 issue on Cuba and Colombia.
Follow ongoing developments in Cuba here.
December 17, 2014Read More Tags: Jeb Bush, Republican party, U.S. presidential elections
With 2014 drawing to a close, speculation will soon turn to the 2016 Presidential race in the United States. The Republicans will hold control over both houses of Congress come January, and will offer a wide array of potential candidates lining up for a White House run. With President Barack Obama leaving the White House, Republicans see the strong possibility of winning the presidency in 2016.
Attention has suddenly peaked towards the GOP race now that former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has announced his intention to explore a White House bid—raising the prospect of another member of the Bush family facing expected Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. The former two-term governor has been coy about his intentions for the past year, occasionally criticizing his party as being less hospitable to candidates like his father, former Republican President George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan.
How serious is a potential Jeb Bush candidacy? In one word: serious. The current prospective field includes: Florida Senator Mark Rubio, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, Kentucky Senator and libertarian Rand Paul, Tea Party favorite Texas Senator Ted Cruz, 2012 vice-presidential contender Paul Ryan, and, possibly, a third run by 2012 nominee Mitt Romney. None of the above candidates are without liabilities, and no one is dominant. Bush’s announcement, therefore, shakes up the current field for both Republican primary voters and potential donors—he has immediate name recognition and has a reputation as a successful governor from a swing state.
The primary season is 13 months away and there will be a variety of forces at play in the Republican primaries. Social conservatives and Tea Party activists will not remain silent, and will play an active role on matters of policy and values. This could radicalize some of the early primary battles, leading more polarizing figures, such as Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, to be eliminated early. The more moderate Republicans, hungry for a White House victory after an eight-year drought, may choose a more classic conservative—Bush could emerge as the obvious choice. And history may be on his side.
December 17, 2014Tags: Cuba, Alan Gross, Cuba-U.S. relations, Barack Obama
Cuba released 65-year-old former U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contractor Alan Gross from prison today on humanitarian grounds, paving the way for normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Gross was sentenced to 15 years in prison for alleged espionage after he was arrested in December 2009 for bringing satellite equipment to Cuba.
This month marked the 5th anniversary of Gross’ imprisonment, and his health has been deteriorating. “Alan is resolved that he will not endure another year imprisoned in Cuba, and I am afraid that we are at the end,” his wife, Judy Gross, said. A bipartisan group of 66 senators urged Obama to “act expeditiously…to obtain [Gross’s] release” in November.
The State Department has maintained Gross’ innocence and repeatedly demanded his release, stating that it is “an impediment to more constructive relations between the U.S. and Cuba.”
President Obama publicly acknowledged last week that the U.S. was negotiating with Havana for Gross’ release. Obama is expected to announce Gross’ release at noon, along with a broad range of diplomatic measures expected to move towards normalizing the Cuba-U.S. relationship for the first time since the 1961 embargo.
Cuban President Raúl Castro is also expected to speak at noon about Cuba’s relations with the United States. Gross’ release comes ahead of the April 2015 Summit of the Americas, where Cuba is to participate for the first time and Obama is expected to meet with Castro.
December 16, 2014Tags: Codehupy, Journalist, Freedom of expression
Paulo López, a Paraguayan journalist who reported being mistreated by police nearly a year ago, was arrested on Sunday upon returning to his country from Argentina for the holidays. In January 2014, police arrested López in Asunción while he reported for media outlet E’a on detained citizens who had been protesting transportation price hikes. López said that he was arrested arbitrarily and tortured, and that his camera was confiscated. He later filed a complaint over the mistreatment by the police with the Prosecutor’s Office for Human Rights.
However, a few months later, the precinct supplied a medical report showing that one of the police involved in his January arrest had a “light swelling in his cheek,” and charged López with resisting arrest and assaulting an officer in September. Santiago Ortíz of the Sindicato de Periodistas del Paraguay (Paraguayan Journalists’ Union—SPP) affirmed that neither López nor his lawyers were notified of the charge. In October, López was declared in contempt of court, though he was in Argentina studying for a master’s program at the time.
The Coordinator for Human Rights in Paraguay (Codehupy) and the Paraguayan Union of Journalists (SPP) intervened after López was detained at the border on Sunday, ensuring that his hearing took place on Sunday night in the Palace of Justice. He was released after the hearing, but López is not allowed to leave the country or change his address, and must appear before prosecutor Emilio Fúster every month until his case is settled.
Ortíz of the SPP asserted that the charge against López is meant to “intimidate my colleague to desist from his complaint. We qualify (the arrest) as a violation of human rights and a new outrage from the government on the exercise of journalism.” On Thursday, the SPP is planning a festival for freedom of expression in honor of López.
Monday Memo: Colombia FARC Amnesty— Haiti Prime Minister — Argentina Railway — Venezuela PetroCaribe — U.S. Police Brutality
December 15, 2014Tags: FARC peace negotiations, Governance in Haiti, China and Latin America, Petrocaribe, police killings
This week's likely top stories: Colombians march against possible amnesty for FARC; Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamonthe steps down; Chinese railroad company wins $275 million in orders from Argentina; Venezuela seeks to expand PetroCaribe despite its fragile economic situation; Thousands gather across the U.S. in anti-police brutality protests.
Uribe Leads Protest Against Possible FARC Amnesty: Former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe’s Centro Democrático party and the Colombia Quiere movement led marches across the country on Saturday to protest a possible amnesty for the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) in peace talks between the rebels and Colombian government in Havana. Currently, the government and the rebels are meeting to determine how to disarm FARC combatants and whether to prosecute them for crimes. Protesters across Colombia said that the FARC should face justice, and expressed concern that the peace talks would grant the guerrillas amnesty after 50 years of armed conflict. Further inflaming tempers, seven people—including two children—were shot to death on Friday in the department of Antioquia, in what appears to have been an execution. However, it is unclear whether the shooting involved members of the FARC, the ELN, or members of criminal gangs in the area.
Haiti in Turmoil over Long-Postponed Elections: Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamonthe stepped down on Sunday in an effort to quell protests over government corruption and delayed elections that have roiled the Caribbean nation since December 5. Lamonthe, who began his term in 2012, is the third prime minister to resign since President Michel Martelly took office in 2011. Despite international support for Lamonthe’s efforts to attract investment to Haiti, a commission appointed by Martelly last week called for the resignation of the prime minister, the head of the Supreme Court and the current members of the Provisional Electoral Council. Meanwhile, Haiti has yet to hold legislative and local elections that were scheduled for 2011, leaving 10 out of 30 Senate seats unoccupied. Martelly has blamed the stalled elections on opposition senators who refuse to pass his election law. If Haiti fails to hold elections, the parliament will be dissolved in mid-January and President Martelly will rule by decree. The president announced that negotiations to resolve the political crisis would begin today.
Chinese Railroad Company Brings in $275 million from Argentina: In another strong display of “railroad diplomacy,” state-owned China South Locomotive & Rolling Stock Corporation Ltd. (CSR) confirmed this morning that it received a $275 million order from Argentina for Chinese locomotive products. The 80 locomotives and more than 2,000 freight cars from China will be used to populate Argentina’s Belgrano Cargas line once a $2.1 billion railway rehabilitation project—contracted to China Machinery Engineering Corp (CMEC)—is complete. The project will be financed by a supplemental loan agreement finalized by Presidents Xi Jinping and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in July. CSR, which has been supplying trains and other railway products to Argentina since 2006, is currently considering a merger with its principal domestic rival, China CNR Corp Ltd, which would make it competitive with multinational railroad behemoths Siemens and Bombardier.
Venezuela to Expand PetroCaribe Despite Oil Glut: On Sunday, at a summit in Havana marking the 10th anniversary of the leftist Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas—ALBA), Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro revealed his intentions to expand the already frail PetroCaribe oil subsidy program, which has been providing Caribbean countries with oil at low interest rates and a favorable long-term payment plan since 2005. In light of the fact that PetroCaribe shipments fell 11 percent in 2013, which forced beneficiaries to diversify their energy portfolios, Maduro insisted that, “Petrocaribe, what it must do at this stage, is consolidate, strengthen, grow and deploy itself.” However, Venezuela’s capacity to deliver on its promise remains questionable, considering the impact of the severe global drop in oil prices on Venezuela’s economy, with inflation already hovering around 60 percent. In order to finance the expansion, Venezuela is considering a plan to sell billions of dollars of PetroCaribe debt to Wall Street.
Tens of Thousands March in U.S. to Protest Police Killings: Tens of thousands of Americans marched on Saturday in the largest anti-police violence protests since Michael Brown, a black teenager, was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri this August. Marches took place in Boston, Chicago, New York City, Oakland, San Antonio, San Diego, and Washington DC in memory of victims of police shootings and to denounce the racial injustice and police impunity. No arrests were made at the Millions March in NYC—by far the largest event—which drew approximately 30,000 participants in a procession that ended at the NYC Police Department’s headquarters in Lower Manhattan. An estimated 25,000 people rallied in the nation’s capital, including the families and relatives of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, and John Crawford.
December 12, 2014Read More Tags: Enrique Peña Nieto, Economic Inequality, Special Economic Zones
Mexican President Peña Nieto laid out his ten point plan to tackle injustice and corruption in the country last month as part of his response to the murder of 43 students in Iguala, Mexico. Although the plan has been derided for lacking true punch and political support, one less discussed, but significant, piece of the plan is the proposal to create Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in three of Mexico’s poorest states.
Mexico is still a country of have and have-nots. With a Gini coefficient of .48, Mexico is the second most unequal country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). This inequality becomes self-evident as one drives from northern Mexico to the country’s southern border—cities give way to the rural countryside, factories turn into crop fields, and paved roads turn into gravel.
Guerrero, Chiapas, and Oaxaca are among Mexico’s economically worst-performing states. GDP per capita is less than a quarter than that of the capital in all three states, and they score lowest on the human development index. According to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), approximately 80 percent of the labor force in each state is employed in the informal sector, compared to the national average of 58 percent. More than twelve million people live in poverty or extreme poverty in just these three southern states.
December 12, 2014Read More Tags: Chevron, Ecuador, Canada, Steven Donzinger
A group of lawyers representing Ecuadorian villagers asked Canada’s Supreme Court on Thursday to try their decades-long case against Chevron in Canadian courts. The lawyers, led by primary attorney Steven Donzinger, are seeking compensation of about $9.5 billion dollars, granted by a judge in Ecuador for environmental damages in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Whether or not Canadian courts will take on the case relies on a juridical technicality called “corporate veil.” Although Chevron has subsidiaries with billions of dollars in assets in Canada, the corporate veil principal distinguishes subsidiaries from their parent companies and establishes that they are not responsible for the actions of their parents, thus making it difficult for Canadian courts to have claims to the case.
The lawsuit was originally filed against Texaco in 1993 for environmental damages caused between 1964 and 1990 by the company’s disposal of billions of gallons of oil sludge into local tributaries, in what has been called the “worst oil-related pollution problem on the planet.” After a $40 million dollar cleanup, Ecuador and Texaco signed a contract releasing the company from further charges. Chevron acquired Texaco in 2001, and in 2003, Donzinger filed a suit against Chevron that in 2011 resulted in $19 billion dollars awarded in favor of Ecuadorian villagers. That amount was later reduced to $9.5 billion, which the oil powerhouse has refused to pay.
December 11, 2014Read More Tags: CIA, Torture, September 11
It has been said that the United States is capable of the best and the worst. The Senate Intelligence Committee report, with its content on CIA detention and interrogation practices after the September 11, 2001 attacks, can be construed as an expression of the dark side of the world’s oldest and most durable democracy.
Making the report public, and thus subject to the world’s scrutiny—despite opposition from most Republicans and concerns by White House and administration officials—is a manifestation of what is best about America. As President Barack Obama has said, the U.S. is not a perfect country, but it should not be afraid to face the truth if it has erred.
While there has been some pushback about the report’s findings, some of what was divulged has already been documented in other publications. What the report now shows with its mountains of evidence is that the enhanced interrogation methods used by the CIA were actually more brutal and inhuman than we knew. The report describes, in vivid detail, the horrors of the torture practices in CIA detention centers with the help of hired outside contractors at a cost of $80 million.
The CIA is said to have lied and given false information to Congress and the Bush-Cheney administration at the time. The report adds that the torture practices employed were ineffective and failed to provide useful information to capture Osama Bin Laden or prevent future terrorist attacks. Finally, it points the finger at CIA upper management and criticizes the program’s ineffectiveness and deception. The word “cover-up” is used.
December 11, 2014Tags: Truth Commission, Human Rights, Brazilian dictatorship
After more than two years of research, Brazil’s Comissão Nacional de Verdade (National Truth Comission—CNV) delivered its official report yesterday on human rights violations committed in Brazil between 1946 and 1988—with a focus on the country’s 1964 to 1985 military dictatorship.
According to the report, “Under the military dictatorship, repression and the elimination of political opposition became the policy of the state, conceived and implemented based on decisions by the president of the republic and military ministers.” The report increased to 434 the proven number of the dead or disappeared during the period of military rule, and calls for a revision of the country’s controversial 1979 amnesty law, which shields those accused of dictatorship-era human rights abuses from prosecution.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff—who was herself a victim of torture—broke into tears while delivering a statement on the report. “We who believe in the truth, hope that this report helps make it so the ghosts of a sad and painful past can no longer find shelter in the shadows of silence and omission,” she said.
In addition to documenting cases of human rights violations, the report names 377 perpetrators responsible for deaths and disappearances during the country’s dictatorship. According to the Spanish daily El País, 191 of these alleged perpetrators are still alive.
The CNV has no prosecutorial power, but the report’s non-binding recommendations posit that the amnesty law does not apply in cases of crimes against humanity. Despite President Rousseff’s pledge to “consider the commission’s recommendations” and take all necessary actions based on the proposals, it is not yet clear whether she will push for any change in the amnesty law.
December 10, 2014Tags: Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, Human Rights
The U.S. Senate approved a bill on Monday that would impose sanctions on Venezuelan officials found responsible for violating demonstrators’ rights during anti-government protests that left more than 40 dead and 800 injured since February. The Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act authorizes sanctions that would freeze assets and ban visas of individuals that authorized, directed or otherwise assisted the government in infringing on “the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression or assembly” of protesters.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) introduced the bill, which was passed by a voice vote. “For too long, Venezuelans have faced state-sponsored violence at the hands of government security forces and watched their country’s judiciary become a tool of political repression,” said Menendez. The House passed a similar bill in May with a broader number of targets, but the Obama administration insisted sanctions would interfere with negotiations between the Venezuelan government and the opposition. Earlier this month, White House officials signaled they would be willing to move forward with additional sanctions.
On Tuesday, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro blasted the “insolent imperialist sanctions” and accused the U.S. of meddling in his country’s affairs. The Maduro government has already faced international criticism for its heavy-handed response to the mostly peaceful demonstrations. In May, the United Nations condemned the violence and called for the government to adhere to its human rights obligations.
The new U.S. Senate bill comes as Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez continues to be held in prison, while Congresswoman Maria Corina Machado was recently accused of plotting to overthrow the Maduro administration. The Senate’s version of the bill must now be passed in the House, and signed by President Obama for it to become law.
December 10, 2014Read More Tags: Michael Brown, Ferguson, Eric Garner, Race relations
There is little left to say about Ferguson. Protests continue across the nation and abroad, now heightened following the decision to not to indict the police officer responsible for Eric Garner’s death, but the expression of grievance appears to have reached its peak. It seems futile for me to add to the long list of thought pieces on the issue. But this feeling of futility and the silence it engenders can be a useful response, because it precipitates reflection—a glaringly absent component of the emotional recovery and social reconstruction needed to cultivate a sustainable society.
Silence, however, can also serve as a powerful weapon. Its reach is far more capacious and insidious than the violence of militarized police forces—whose acts disproportionately affect marginalized peoples from the United States to Mexico to Brazil—which we can more readily condemn. In response to tragedy, silence is lethal; if we do not fight against it, we are all its victims.
The response to racialized police violence in this country conforms to a disappointingly predictable script. Many react by employing respectability politics, blaming the victim or his or her community for being harmed. This diverts attention from those who committed the act of violence and places the victim on trial. There is a knee-jerk second-guessing, caused and reinforced by the belief that marginalized groups have no authority to express their own experiences. And worse, still, there are those whose lives have never depended on a revolution, but who insist on telling others how to conduct themselves in the midst of one. They want to school them on how to speak, behave and feel—a response akin to crashing a funeral and telling the bereaved family to cease their tears because “I TOO HAVE FELT LOSS.”
But it is always the silence that hurts the most. The silence of which I speak is the deafening silence of legislative officials, who less than a month ago lamented with little irony that black and Latin@ voters had not shown their support at the polls. Or those who, upon surfacing for comment, do not make the connection between the use of weapons of war on America’s streets and those we use at our borders and throughout the world.
December 9, 2014Read More Tags: Ferguson, Iguala, police killings, police impunity
It has been almost half a century since the world last thought of American cities as conflict zones. But starting this past August, events in Ferguson, Missouri, changed that rapidly.
The appearance of armed personnel carriers, Humvees and other military equipment reveal to Americans—and the world—that U.S. cities are indeed the new war zones.
A key part of the problem is the pervasive access to heavy weaponry by local law enforcement after 9/11. Instead of focusing on community policing—getting closer to the people—law enforcement has actually distanced itself and “tooled up.”
It is scant comfort that local law enforcement agencies sell this as their approach to “homeland security.” The weaponization of law enforcement— and indeed, the militarization of civilian security, as actions to “defend” oneself against protestors show—is a bridge too far.
December 9, 2014Tags: Ibero-American Summit, Cumbre Iberoamericana, Evo Morales
The leaders of Latin American and Iberian countries were on hand for the opening of the 24th Cumbre Iberoamericana (Ibero-American Summit) in Veracruz, Mexico yesterday. Just as notable as who was present, however, was the long list of absences. A block of six presidents—representing Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Cuba—snubbed the two-day summit, which Bolivian President Evo Morales dismissed as a platform for “Spain’s monarchs [to discuss] their own interests.” The president of El Salvador, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, reportedly had to withdraw from the summit to due health issues.
The summit’s focus—“Education, Culture and Innovation”—was reportedly calculated to avoid ideologically charged territory. Yet the summit has faced flagging interest in the face of newer regional fora such as the Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States—CELAC) and the Unión de Naciones Suramericanas (Union of South American Nations—UNASUR). As a result, after this year, the summit will transition towards a biyearly schedule.
Nonetheless, Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation José Manuel García-Margallo qualified the summit as a success. “We are reflecting on a renewed relationship between Latin American and the Ibero-American countries […] we are achieving concrete results, and we are creating important synergies,” he said.
By the end of the first session, the attendees had reportedly reached five agreements due to be included in summit’s concluding declaration. Among them are an agreement to share information and present a more united front in international fora such as the G20 or the OECD, an agreement on arbitration practices for small and medium-sized enterprises, and an agreement to foster increased talent mobility among the participating nations.
Monday Memo: Brazil Petrobras — Haiti Protests — LatAm Currencies — Guantánamo Prisoners —Mexico Missing Students
December 8, 2014Tags: Petrobras Scandal, Governance in Haiti, Currency, Guantanamo Bay, Ayotzinapa
This week's likely top stories: Brazilian prosecutor plans to indict at least 11 in the Petrobras scandal; Haitian protestors in Port-au-Prince demand long-overdue elections; Latin American currencies drop as U.S. job growth surges in November; U.S. releases six Guantánamo prisoners to Uruguay; Meixcan government identifies the remains of one of 43 missing students.
Brazilian Prosecutor to Indict 11 in Petrobras Scandal: On Saturday night, Brazilian Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot announced his plans to indict at least 11 construction company executives arrested in mid-November on charges of bribery and money laundering in connection with the Petrobras graft scandal. “We are following the money and we will reach all of these perpetrators,” Janot said. The historic scandal has rocked the nation since former Petrobras executive Paulo Roberto Costa exposed the wrongdoing in a plea bargain after his arrest in March. An opinion survey released on Sunday by Datafolha showed that 68 percent of Brazilians hold President Dilma Rousseff, the former energy minister and Petrobras board chairwoman, responsible to some degree for the bribery scandal. In a country plagued by political corruption and impunity, Janot will be arguing at the helm of a landmark case that has the potential to inject much-needed accountability into Brazilian governance.
Haitians Turn Out in Strong Numbers to Demand Elections: On Friday, thousands of anti-government protesters took to the streets in Port-au-Prince to demand that President Michel Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe resign from office. Haitians are enraged by President Martelly’s continuous postponement of midterm and senatorial and municipal elections since 2011—a stalemate allegedly caused by political differences between the ruling party and a group of opposition senators. Protestors called for the long-overdue elections to be held without delay as they clashed with police in Haiti’s capital. The last major demonstration took place in late October, when the National Assembly failed to pass an electoral law in time for the scheduled election date.
Latin American Currencies Remain Weak after November U.S. Job Surge: The United States’ surprisingly robust addition of 321,000 jobs in November has set the U.S. economy on its fastest pace of job creation since the Clinton administration. However, this positive job growth in the U.S. has had a decidedly negative impact on Latin American currencies, since the Federal Reserve is likely to respond to November’s labor boost by raising interest rates sooner than expected. As a result of this possibility, the Mexican, Chilean, Argentine and Colombian pesos and Brazilian real stagnated at the week’s end, and are likely to remain weak against the U.S. dollar for the visible future. Analysts will not be able to fully assess the scale of short-term losses for Latin American economies until a scheduled release of a report on Friday that will evaluate the United States’ 2014 Producer Price Index for the 2014 fiscal year.
Guantánamo Prisoners Granted Refugee Status: Six prisoners—four Syrians, one Tunisian and one Palestinian—were released this weekend from the U.S. Guantánamo Bay detention center after 12 years, bringing the total number of detainees transferred from the prison in 2014 up to 16. The six arrived in Uruguay after President José Mujuica agreed to patriate the prisoners on humanitarian grounds in March, calling their detention for their alleged ties to Al Qaeda “an atrocious kidnapping.” There are currently 126 inmates eligible for transfer at the Cuban-based detention center who have not been released, due to instability in their home countries. The six detainees, now considered refugees in Uruguay, were never charged with a crime. Uruguay is the second Latin American country to receive former detainees from Guantánamo; El Salvador accepted two Chinese Muslim refugees in 2012.
DNA Links Charred Remains to One of Mexico’s Missing Students: Despite calls for caution from forensic experts, the Mexican government on Friday hailed the identification of the charred remains of Alexander Mora Venancio as confirmation that the 43 students abducted on September 26 after clashing with municipal police in Iguala were incinerated in a Cocula landfill by the Guerreros Unidos gang. The Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team insisted that the search for the missing students continue, stating that the evidence linking the site of the massacre with the site where the remains were found was largely based on witness testimony. The parents of the remaining missing students pledged to continue protesting until all of their sons have been found. Meanwhile, embattled Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto unveiled a plan to disband municipal police forces, putting them under federal control through constitutional reforms late last month.
December 8, 2014Read More Tags: João Goulart, Brazil dictatorship, Truth Commission
Os resultados de uma perícia com o ex-presidente do Brasil, João Goulart, deposto em um golpe militar em 31 de março de 1964, foram divulgados no dia 1 de dezembro pela Comissão Nacional da Verdade. A comissão é uma iniciativa do governo brasileiro que tem como objetivo investigar possíveis violações de direitos humanos ocorridas entre 1946 e 1988.
Não foram encontradas substâncias que poderiam indicar envenenamento—hipótese levantada recentemente pela família de Goulart. Os exames, por outro lado, não revelararam sintomas de morte natural. A versão oficial diz que o ex-presidente sofreu um ataque cardíaco em 1976 durante seu exílio em Mercedes, Argentina.
Os peritos responsáveis pelos exames disseram em entrevista coletiva que ambas as possibilidades são factíveis, mas como a perícia foi realizada quatro décadas após a morte do ex-presidente, o corpo teria sofrido mudanças que inviabilizariam conclusões sobre a causa da morte.
"Um infarto agudo [...] pode ter sido a causa de morte […] assim como está registrado no certificado de óbito? Sim. Como poderia ter sido causada por outras patologias cardíacas ou até mesmo por patologias cerebrovasculares […] Inobstante a negativa dos resultados, não é possível negar […] um envenenamento," afirmou o perito da Polícia Federal Jeferson Evangelista Corrêa.
Os exames foram realizados por três laboratórios: um no Brasil, outro na Espanha e um terceiro em Portugal com base na exumação realizada no corpo de Gourlart, em 2013. Foram testadas aproximadamente 700 mil substâncias.
December 5, 2014Tags: Michael Brown, Eric Garner, United Nations, police impunity, Human Rights
Human rights experts from the United Nations on Friday called for a review of U.S. laws permitting police to use lethal force, in light of the failure of grand juries to indict two police officers for killing unarmed black citizens in separate cases.
The failure of a grand jury to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who fatally shot unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, stirred mass protests on November 24. Just days later, on December 3, a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer that put Eric Garner, another unarmed black man, in a fatal chokehold in July 2014.
This second case set off another wave of protests across the country, with thousands of angry citizens demanding an end to impunity. On Thursday in New York City, the Holland Tunnel, Manhattan Bridge and the Westside Highway were temporarily closed, and police reported arresting over 200 protesters during a second night of demonstrations.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has begun a civil rights investigation into the Michael Brown case, but human rights experts are still concerned over the decisions not to bring the officers to trial. UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues Rita Izsak said on Friday, "the decisions [of the grand juries] leave many with legitimate concerns relating to a pattern of impunity when the victims of excessive use of force come from African-American or other minority communities." UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary executions Christof Heyns criticized the lenient state laws governing the use of lethal force by law enforcement in the United States.
Experts not only urged a complete review of police procedures, but also demanded an end to racial profiling by U.S. police. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon pressed the U.S. to do “anything possible to respond to demands of greater accountability.”
December 5, 2014Read More Tags: COP20, Peru, PlanCC
Peruvian Minister of the Environment Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, who is presiding over this year’s United Nations summit on climate change in Lima, said on Tuesday that building a national carbon inventory will be his country’s first step for reducing emissions and formulating an “intended nationally determined contribution” (INDC), which countries will submit March 2015.
INDCs, developed at last year’s climate summit in Warsaw, are publicly presented national commitments to reduce carbon emissions. They provide an initial understanding of how limiting global temperature increases to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Farenheit) can be achieved collectively, prior to the Paris Climate Summit next December.
The minister, speaking this week at a session at the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP20), said, “if INDCs are relative to mitigation, then we have to know what to mitigate and how quickly.”
December 4, 2014Tags: Maria Corina Machado, Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro
The Venezuelan state prosecutor’s office formally charged former Congresswoman Maria Corina Machado with treason and conspiracy for allegedly plotting to kill President Nicolas Maduro this Wednesday.
The indictment comes after a chain of emails plotting to start a coup to overthrow the Maduro administration surfaced in May, allegedly between U.S. officials and Machado, an opposition leader who was kicked out of the National Assembly in March after she publically supported the protests against the government earlier this year. In one email Machado reportedly wrote, “I believe the time has come to join forces, make the necessary calls, and obtain the financing to annihilate Maduro […] and the rest will come falling down.”
Venezuela’s most publically known opposition leader, Leopoldo López, has been in jail since February, despite pleas for his release from international organizations, including The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD), who declared his detention illegal and ordered his immediate release. Arrest orders for conspiracy against the government were also ordered for opposition figures Henrique Salas Romer, Diego Arria, Ricardo Emilio Koesling, Gustavo Tarre Briceño, Pedro Mario Burelli, and Robert Alonso.
The public prosecutor’s office released a statement threatening to punish anyone “from inside or outside national territory” with jail time should they seek to “conspire to destroy the nation’s republican political style.” If Machado is found guilty, she could face eight to 16 years in jail.
December 4, 2014Read More Tags: Ayotzinapa, Mexican protests, Enrique Peña Nieto
Two years ago, Enrique Peña Nieto took office as Mexico’s president, under the banner of a renovated Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) and with a promise of a brighter economic, social and political future.
Only two months after he took office, Thomas L. Friedman remarked on that promise in an article titled “How Mexico Got Back in the Game.” And who can forget Time magazine’s February 2014 cover, featuring Peña Nieto with the headline “Saving Mexico”? In that feature, author Michael Crowley said that on the security issues, “alarms are being replaced with applause” and that the social, political and economic reforms package steamrolled through a PRI-dominant Congress were preview of great things to come.
The media prematurely started calling this era “Mexico’s moment.” Granted, we are living quite an interesting moment in Mexico’s history, but not for the reasons the 2012 optimists foresaw.
A recent series of events and decisions stemming from the political elite at local, state and federal levels has detonated into what could evolve into a Mexican version of the Arab Spring. In Friedman’s piece, he quoted the president of Monterrey’s Center for Citizen Integration saying that “Once a citizen feels he is not powerless, he can aspire for more change. [...] First, the Web democratized commerce, and then it democratized media, and now it is democratizing democracy.”
This is exactly what’s happening. A newly empowered Mexican civil society is reacting and saying enough is enough.
December 3, 2014Read More Tags: COP20, Climate change, UN Conference on Climate Change
On assuming the presidency of the 20th Conference of Parties (COP20) annual climate change conference in Lima on Monday, Peruvian Minister of the Environment Manuel Pulgar-Vidal reminded delegates from 194 countries that they should seize the opportunity to reach a global consensus to reduce emissions ahead of next year’s Paris agreement.
“Never has it been so clear that a window of opportunity will soon close,” he said, citing a recent report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC, told COP20 delegates that preventing global temperatures from rising no more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) would require a 40 to 70 percent reduction in global carbon emissions by 2050.
The IPCC’s recent synthesis report shows that human activity has been “extremely likely” to contribute to global warming since the mid-twentieth century.
Last week, IPCC spokesman Michael Wadleigh told Peru’s foreign press association that global temperatures will soon rise by1.5 degrees Celsius unless people stop emissions immediately. Additionally, billions of tons of carbon would need to be removed from the atmosphere to stop the temperature rising by two degrees Celsius.
For Allioaiga Feturi Elisaia, ambassador to the United Nations for Samoa—which is considered, along with other Pacific Islands, to be one of the places most vulnerable to climate change—“the reality for us is that we are not trying to philosophize about something that is going to happen in a few years. People have seen it happen, and it is going to be very difficult.”
Christiana Figueres, secretary general of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said that global emissions should peak in the next few years. Figueres stressed the importance of decreasing emissions, rather than increasing them, to become “climate neutral” by the end of the century. “Achieving that balance, which we had prior to the Industrial revolution, is ultimately our goal,” she said.
December 3, 2014Tags: Haiti, Prison, Crime and Security
Haitian national police confirmed on Monday that nearly three dozen detainees escaped from a prison in the provincial city of Saint-Marc, 100 km (60 miles) north of Port-au-Prince. According to reports, the detainees sawed through a cell window and jumped out. The five guards on duty at the time have been detained on suspicion of aiding the escape, and one guard has been arrested.
Police Commissioner Berson Soljour said four of the escapees had been recaptured and security measures around the city have been put in place in efforts to find the others. Authorities in the Dominican Republic have been working with Haitian police to prevent the fugitives from crossing the border.
Similar prison breaks have occurred across Haiti in recent years. In August, 329 inmates escaped from a prison in Croix-des-Bouquets using weapons allegedly smuggled in by guards. Following the devastation of the 2010 earthquake, nearly all 4,000 inmates held in the National Penitentiary escaped. Many remain on the run.
Prisons in Haiti, like most in Latin America and the Caribbean, are notoriously overcrowded. The Saint-Marc prison held nearly 500 prisoners, with 36 prisoners occupying a cell designed to hold eight. Many inmates, including those that escaped, spend years in jail awaiting trial. In Haiti, 67.7 percent of the total prison population is pre-trial detainees, one of the highest percentages in the Americas.
December 2, 2014Tags: Illegal Mining, Cauca, Colombia protests
The Colombian government announced on Monday initial agreements to combat illegal mining in Cauca province, four days after Afro-Colombian women from the region took over the Interior Ministry to protest illegal mining operations in their communities.
In recent years, there has been an increase in illegal gold mining in Cauca, which is controlled by gangs and guerrilla fighters. Protester Marilyn Mancilla said that she and other demonstrators were protesting the “over 200 backhoe excavators that are damaging our land, the mines that are contaminating our rivers with cyanide and mercury, and the death threats against leaders that denounce this.”
Last week, over 100 women walked from Cauca province in southwestern Colombia to the Interior Ministry in Bogotá, a distance of approximately 400 kilometers (about 250 miles). On November 27, 22 women locked themselves in a room in the Interior Ministry and refused to leave until the government addressed their concerns about illegal mining and guaranteed their protection.
Yesterday, the government announced that it will “take actions” to end illegal mining, including the creation of a subcommittee to evaluate immediate measures that can be put in place. The national ombudsman’s office, the Catholic Church and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will act as guarantors, along with various senators and representatives from Indigenous groups.
December 2, 2014Read More Tags: Uruguay, Frente Amplio, Tabare Vazquez
For the third election in a row, Uruguayan voters flooded into the streets Sunday night to celebrate the win of the Frente Amplio (Broad Front—FA) party, a leftist coalition that has now extended its control of Uruguay’s parliament and presidential office to 15 years.
But as President-elect Tabaré Vázquez delivered his victory speech on a stage in downtown Montevideo before thousands of supporters holding giant flags, supporter Isabella Antonaccio had to admit that this was the smallest victory party that she’d seen in the past three elections.
“Ten years ago, the Frente Amplio’s win was a huge achievement,” she said Sunday night, celebrating despite being eight months pregnant. “It was so emotional, many people were crying.”
For a younger generation of Uruguayans, the Frente Amplio has dominated politics for as long as they could vote. The leftist party’s mix of financial and social policies strengthened the economy, reduced poverty, and won international applause with schemes like the world’s first-ever legal marijuana market.
But cracks are emerging. Vázquez, 74, and outgoing President José Mujica, age 79, are both unlikely to run again, meaning the party must groom a new leader over the next five years while also addressing education scores that are falling, petty crimes that are rising, and an economy that is slowing from 4.5 percent growth last year to 3.5 percent growth this year and on course for 2.5 percent in 2015, according to Gabriel Oddone of accounting and consultancy services firm CPA Ferrere. Scotiabank, in its November outlook, forecasts GDP growth of 3.1 percent this year followed by 2.9 percent in 2015.
December 1, 2014Read More Tags: United States, Ferguson, Race relations
Like so many around the world, Canadians witnessed the coverage before, during and after the Grand Jury verdict in Ferguson, Missouri regarding the shooting death of a young African-American teenager by a white police officer. To the outside observer, there was no middle ground—either police officer Darren Wilson should be indicted for the death of the young African-American victim Michael Brown, or he should not. The Grand Jury decided against an indictment.
The reaction was immediate and impassioned. Demonstrations, some accompanied by rioting, looting and destruction of property, followed. More fallout is expected in the days ahead. Even in Canada, there were demonstration in Montreal and Toronto opposing the verdict of no indictment.
The narrative of Ferguson, however, went beyond the jury outcome. The question of racism in America, excessive police force in communities of color, and the overriding issues of poverty within these communities dominated news analyses and debates. Unwarranted police behavior—including excessive force and poor judgment—in addition to the effects of poverty within communities, however, does not stop at the borders of Missouri.
December 1, 2014Tags: UN Conference on Climate Change, Tabaré Vásquez, OPEC, Cuban economy, Colombia Peace Talks
This week's likely top stories: Global leaders gather in Lima for the COP20 Climate Summit; Tabaré Vázquez wins the runoff presidential election in Uruguay; With FARC hostages released, Colombian peace talks are set to resume in Havana; Venezuela braces for impact as oil prices hit rock bottom; Cuba misses the mark on economic growth in 2014.
Global Leaders Gather for COP20 Climate Summit in Lima: Thousands of government officials and environmental advocates will gather in Lima this week and next for the annual UN Climate Change Conference. The 20th annual session of the Conference of the Parties, or COP20, opens today and will conclude on December 12, bringing together delegates from 195 countries to draft an international agreement on reducing carbon emissions and global warming. Last month in Beijing, both China and the U.S. agreed to cut emissions by 2030, which could help advance the talks. If the talks in Lima succeed, a climate change agreement could be signed in Paris in late 2015.
Tabaré Vázquez Wins Uruguayan Election: Former Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez will return to the presidency after he easily defeated challenger Luis Lacalle Pou of the Partido Nacional (National Party—PN) in Sunday’s runoff election. Vázquez, of the governing Frente Amplio (Broad Front—FA) earned 52.8 percent of the vote to Lacalle Pou’s 41 percent. Vázquez pledged to continue outgoing President José Mujica’s controversial marijuana legalization policy, and to focus on education reform and crime reduction, two major concerns of Uruguayan voters. The Frente Amplio has been in power since 2005, when Vázquez was elected to his first presidency; it won a narrow majority in Congress in October’s elections.
Hostages Safely Home and Delegation Returns to Havana: With three FARC hostages released on Sunday, the Colombian government delegation will return to Havana, Cuba to meet with delegates from the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) to discuss the resumption of peace talks. Pastor Alape, a FARC negotiator, traveled from Cuba to personally coordinate the release of General Ruben Dario Alzate Mora, as well as his two companions, who were kidnapped in mid-November. The release “contributed to restoring a climate conducive to continuing the talks” said Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos. A two-day meeting in Havana to evaluate recent events will begin Tuesday. Santos ordered the suspension of the peace talks on November 17, shortly after the kidnappings took place.
Oil Plummets to $65 Per Barrel, Rocking Caracas: The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ (OPEC) decision last week to maintain its current production ceiling of 30 million barrels per day caused oil prices to plummet to $65 per barrel—the lowest level since the global recession in 2008. Venezuela will be among those hit hardest by the recent price drop: according to an International Monetary Fund assessment, the country can only hope to break even with oil priced at about $120 per barrel. Already plagued by failing political and economic policies, Venezuela might be forced to avoid a default by pursuing any number of difficult choices: devaluing its currency, seeking a bailout from the Chinese, cutting imports, raising domestic energy prices, scaling back petroleum subsidies to PetroCaribe member nations, or even cutting the popular chavista social welfare programs. The decline in oil prices also dragged down other commodities, which sank to a five-year low as China’s demand for fuel and metals slows. The larger trend of stagnating commodity prices will cause stress on many national economies in Latin America which remain dependent on commodity exports.
Cuban Economy Hoping for Substantial Growth in 2015: In spite of the economic reforms instituted by President Raul Castro in 2014, the Cuban economy failed to reach its projected levels of growth this fiscal year. Before presenting Cuba’s budget and economic plan for 2015 at a cabinet meeting on Friday, Vice President and Minister of Economy Marino Murillo Jorge announced that the Cuban economy will grow by 1.3 percent instead of the state’s initial estimate of 2.2 percent. According to Murillo, the nation’s underperforming sugar and manufacturing sectors are responsible for the reduction in projected growth. By increasing capital investment in renewable energy production, infrastructure projects and food imports, and continuing to pave the way for expansion of its burgeoning non-state sector, the Cuban government is maintaining its optimistic estimate that GDP will grow 4 percent in 2015.
November 28, 2014Read More Tags: Uruguay, José Mujica
It seems everyone in Montevideo has a personal story of crossing paths with Uruguay’s folksy sandal-wearing president, José “Pepe” Mujica.
Romina Tortorella recalled the time she looked out her Montevideo house window to see Mujica’s light-blue 1987 Volkswagen Beetle, which he recently refused to sell for $1 million to a wealthy sheik. Mujica was eating at a corner deli, so Tortorella, not wanting to disturb the presidential lunch, wrote him a small invitation to see her husband’s home construction work.
Soon the 79-year-old was standing in her parlor and saying he knew her father, who was also a former member of the left-wing urban guerrilla group, the Tupamaros.
“He has six bullets in his body,” Tortorella said of Mujica, who was shot six times while resisting arrest by Uruguay’s old military government, which would imprison him for 13 years. “He has no reason to fear. He is close to the people.”
Even the homeless now have tales of meeting Uruguay’s president. Just this week, during a television interview, Mujica was confronted by a panhandler. When Mujica gave the man a 100 peso bill ($4.25), the panhandler yelled: “I want you to be president forever!”
Mujica is constitutionally barred from seeking a second consecutive term in Uruguay’s presidential runoff election on Sunday (November 30). As Uruguayans go to the polls to elect a new leader, there’s already a sense of nostalgia for this portly flower-farmer who has become a global symbol of modesty and tolerance—even if he is criticized at home for failing to reform a flagging education system, reverse the rise of petty crime, or invest in much-needed infrastructure projects such as harbors and roads.
November 27, 2014Tags: Thanksgiving, happy holidays
Happy Thanksgiving! The AQ team is on vacation for Thanksgiving and will return on Monday, December 1. Until then, readers eager for analysis on the region can always catch up on our recent Fall 2014 issue.
November 27, 2014Read More Tags: Mexico, childhood obesity, Children's Health
I grew up in Manzanillo and Monterrey, two Mexican cities that are opposites in many ways. Manzanillo is on the southwest coast of Mexico; Monterrey is in the dry northeastern desert. Manzanillo is a small town; Monterrey is one of the country’s most important urban industrial centers. In Manzanillo, people are laid back and relaxed, whereas Monterrey’s citizens are famous for being laborious, high-strung and dynamic.
When I was growing up, Monterrey and Manzanillo did have one thing in common, though: the general rule was that children played outside. Without even asking for permission, we would leave the house (which was always unlocked), and the world was our playground.
We did have some rules: don’t talk to strangers, don’t go farther than two blocks from home—but that was about it. We rode bikes and skateboards, played soccer in the street, set up a lemonade stand, and played tag and hide-and-seek. We also had videogames and TV, but they were limited to a couple of hours a day, and we really didn’t complain about it (mostly because TV programming and videogames were so limited back then).
In 2013, Mexico surpassed the United States as the most obese nation in the Americas. Because I was born with asthma, I wasn’t the most active kid. Yet I still grew up extra-skinny, and so did most of my friends.
What happened to Mexico’s children in the last 30 years? Based on my personal experience and observations, here are a few of the multiple causes of child obesity in Mexico today.
November 26, 2014Tags: United Nations (UN), Violence Against Women
The United Nations kicked off its 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign on Tuesday with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The campaign—which includes a marathon in Mexico City and the “Orange Your Neighborhood” initiative, asking supporters to wear and display the color orange to raise awareness of violence against women—culminates on December 10 with Human Rights Day.
According to UN Women, approximately one in three women will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, and in Latin America, the numbers are stark. The World Health Organization found that between 17 and 53 percent of women in 12 Latin American countries have been the victims of physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner.
Guatemala registered 4,104 cases of gender-based violence in 2014 alone, 532 of which were homicides. In Colombia, 74 percent of women reported experiencing some type of violence, with 37 percent reporting physical violence in the 2010 Census. “Together, we must end this global disgrace,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women was established in 1999 to commemorate Patria, Minerva and María Teresa Mirabal, three activist sisters who were assassinated on November 25, 1960 for opposing the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic.
November 26, 2014Read More Tags: Uruguay, Soccer, 2014 World Cup, Luis Suarez
On November 13, as Uruguay’s national soccer team, La Celeste (The Sky Blue), ran onto the pitch at Montevideo’s Estadio Centenario, the biggest cheer came for the most scandalous of soccer heroes.
Luis Suárez, who has earned the enmity of players, fans, and at least one prime minister for his race-tinged language and taste for opponents’ flesh—gave a wave and a big, toothy grin as tens of thousands of fans applauded his first match at home since being suspended from competitive international soccer for biting an Italian opponent at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
I was in the bleachers for the Nov. 13 match against Costa Rica, which Suárez could join because it was a non-competitive “friendly,” and I was taken aback by the popularity of the No. 9 jersey and the unwavering conviction of Uruguayans to stand by their man—even after his bizarre behavior crippled the national team’s quest for the Cup. Without its star scorer, La Celeste was subsequently knocked out of World Cup play, and now its ability to defend the Copa América championship title next year has also been compromised.
Surely Suárez had bitten off more than he could chew on stage at the world’s largest sporting event, but in Uruguay, Suárez is loved more than ever.
“His popularity increased after the World Cup,” Ignacio Zuasnabar, the Director of Public Opinion at the Montevideo-based consulting firm Equipos Mori, told me in his office not too far from Estadio Centenario itself. “Suárez made goals against England and Italy; it was impressive. When he came back, all the people were waiting for him the airport. He was a national hero.”
November 25, 2014Read More Tags: Cuba-U.S. relations, Alan Gross, Bob Pastor
At the beginning of President Barack Obama’s first term, moves toward normalization between the United States and Cuba briefly seemed possible. Restrictions on travel and remittances were loosened, and Obama hinted at bigger changes during the April 2009 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.
However, the political space in the United States quickly closed after USAID contractor Alan Gross was detained by Cuban authorities in late 2009. Meanwhile, the continued detention of three members of the “Cuban Five” since 1998 by the United States remained a major irritant for Cuba.
This is not the first time that the fate of prisoners has played a significant role in U.S.-Cuban relations. During the 1960s, Cuban authorities detained four CIA agents who were engaged in covert activities on the island. Their status was a sticking point during discussions between the two countries about repairing relations. Carter administration officials met with Cuban counterparts, including Fidel Castro. When the administration inquired about the release of the CIA agents at the end of the 1970s, Castro pressed the United States to release Puerto Rican nationalists imprisoned for violent attacks during the 1950s. [Editor’s note: This is not to imply that Alan Gross was a CIA agent or that he was engaged in espionage. The blog is simply drawing a parallel between to roughly similar moments in U.S.-Cuba relations and history and their relationship to the late Bob Pastor, who had been a contributor to Americas Quarterly.]
A new, 27-minute documentary entitled “The Non-Trade Trade,” explores the similarities between the prisoner releases of the late 1970s and the status of the prisoners being held today. Produced by Soraya Castro, a professor at the University of Havana, the film draws heavily on an oral history with the late Robert A. Pastor. Early in his career, Pastor served as the senior director for Latin America on President Carter’s National Security Council. [Disclosure: While I was not involved in the making of the documentary, Pastor was my dissertation supervisor at American University.] Both Pastor and the documentary argue for releasing the prisoners and improving U.S.-Cuban relations.
November 25, 2014Tags: FARC, Red Cross, Peace Talks, General Rubén Darío Alzate
FARC delegates in Havana released two hostages today in an apparent effort to revive peace talks suspended since last week. The two soldiers, Paulo César Rivera and Jonathan Andrés Díaz, were captured on November 9 in Arauca department and were released to the Colombian army this morning.
The FARC has said that it plans to release General Rubén Darío Alzate and two other hostages on Thursday, although the rebels warned earlier this week that the release could be cancelled due to the significant military presence in the region where the hostages are being held. General Alzate was captured along with corporal Jorge Rodríguez and lawyer Gloria Urrego on November 16 while travelling unarmed and without bodyguards in Chocó. Alzate and his companions are allegedly still there.
The November 16 kidnapping led President Juan Manuel Santos to suspend peace talks in Havana, ongoing since 2012. There is some controversy as to how a general could have stumbled on to FARC territory without any security, but the talks will remain suspended until Alzate, Rodríguez and Urrego are released.
On Sunday, the defense ministry announced the temporary cessation of operations in part of the northeast of Colombia in order to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross access to the area where Rivera and Díaz were being held to assist with the process.
As of yet, President Santos has denied the FARC’s offers for a ceasefire.
November 24, 2014Read More Tags: Colombia Peace Talks, FARC, Juan Manuel Santos
Aunque los cálculos políticos y militares anunciaban una pronta liberación del general del Ejército Rubén Darío Alzate Mora, secuestrado por las FARC en el Chocó, el hecho que provocó la suspensión del proceso de paz entre el gobierno colombiano y esa guerrilla por primera vez en dos años de diálogo, todavía lo tiene en vilo.
Las operaciones de rescate de la Cruz Roja Internacional, lideradas por los países garantes Cuba y Noruega e iniciadas el pasado 19 noviembre, podrían tomar más tiempo de lo esperado por la necesidad de cesar operaciones militares en el Chocó. Una versión del plagio habla de que el General y sus acompañantes, el cabo Jorge Rodríguez y la abogada Gloria Urrego, se subieron de manera voluntaria en una chalupa en el corregimiento de las Mercedes con dos guerrilleros vestidos de civil, y se fueron río abajo. Otra dice que los sujetos iban armados hasta los dientes y los obligaron a hacerlo.
Cuando se de la esperada entrega del general, vendrá por primera vez la rendición de cuentas de un ex secuestrado: al militar le espera una citación al Senado para que explique qué hacía vestido de civil y desarmado, en una zona roja de alta presencia guerrillera, que él mismo conoce como la palma de su mano. No en vano estaba allí al mando de una fuerza de Tarea Conjunta antiguerrilla, en uno de los departamentos más golpeados por la violencia de las FARC.
Las misteriosas circunstancias del histórico plagio de un General de la República, el hecho de que el ex-presidente Álvaro Uribe fue el primero en dar la noticia en su Twitter y el debate que el Congreso está dando sobre el proyecto del fuero militar, no son hechos aislados. Al contrario, ponen sobre el tapete la fuerte voz que quieren tener los militares y los sectores de ultraderecha en el proceso de paz, y la necesidad del gobierno—en particular a través de su ministro de defensa, Juan Carlos Pinzón—de hacerles sentir que nadie está claudicando en el terreno de la guerra. Que la moral de las tropas debe estar siempre en alto. Que las fuerzas militares, entregadas ellas mismas por 50 años a combatir al terrorismo, jamás serán equiparadas con los guerrilleros en términos de juzgamiento y condena—no importa cuántos excesos hayan podido cometer o con quién se hayan aliado para lograr la derrota de ese gran y único enemigo llamado FARC.
Monday Memo: Colombia Peace Talks — Mercosur and Pacific Alliance — Uruguay Elections — Walmart in Panama — Goldcorp in Argentina
November 24, 2014Tags: Mercosur, Pacific Alliance, Colombia Peace Talks, Argentina
This week's likely top stories: Colombia to resume peace talks with FARC once hostages are released; Mercosur and Pacific Alliance convene to discuss regional cooperation; Uruguayans return to polls on Sunday to elect president; Panama courts Walmart for its regional distribution center; Goldcorp to inaugurate Cerro Negro mine in Argentina.
Hostages Released and Peace Talks to be Resumed: Peace talks between the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia- FARC) will resume after the two parties reached an agreement to free hostages kidnapped by the FARC over a week ago. The FARC will release a total of five hostages, including General Ruben Dario Alzate Mora, the highest-ranking military captive ever taken by the FARC. The Colombian delegation will return to Havana and resume peace talks as soon as the captives are liberated and the humanitarian operations by the Red Cross to return the captives home are underway. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos ordered the suspension of the peace talks on November 17, just after the kidnappings took place.
MERCOSUR and Pacific Alliance Meet in Santiago: Chilean President Michelle Bachelet inaugurated a meeting today in Santiago between Latin America’s prominent regional integration blocs, the Alianza del Pacífico (Pacific Alliance)—comprising Chile, Mexico, Colombia, and Peru—and the Mercado Común del Sur (Southern Common Market—Mercosur)—which represents Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Venezuela. The meeting, a follow up to Chilean Foreign Relations Minister Heraldo Muñoz’s proposal last February to design a formal trade alliance between the entities, brings together representatives from both sides, including trade officials, academics, union members, and business leaders, in order to dialogue about opportunities for cooperation on climate change, infrastructural development, public health, tourism, and the export of manufactured goods. In her opening statement, Bachelet said, “We are hoping that this historic meeting sets us on our first steps down the shared path of developing our Latin America and each one of our countries.”
Uruguayans Vote for President on Sunday: Uruguayan voters will return to the polls this Sunday, November 30, to elect the country’s next president in a runoff vote. Former president and Frente Amplio (Broad Front—FA) candidate Tabaré Vázquez is almost assured a victory after a November 12 Cifra poll showed that 52 percent of eligible voters plan to elect Vázquez, compared with the 35 percent of voters who plan to vote for challenger Luis Lacalle Pou of the Partido Nacional (National Party—PN). Other polls have made similar predictions, and Lacalle Pou recently said that he fully expects to be defeated by Vázquez in the second round. Vázquez just missed an outright victory after he won 47.8 percent of votes during Uruguay’s first round election on October 26, falling short of the 50 percent plus one required to avoid a runoff. Vázquez served as Uruguay’s president from 2005 to 2010.
Panama Courts Walmart to Host Distribution Center: Panamanian business leaders have asked U.S. multinational Walmart to build a Latin American distribution center in Panama’s free trade zone, the Zona Libre de Colón (ZLC). ZLC Manager Surse Pierpoint said that Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela has sent a letter to Walmart executives asking them to consider the proposal, which Pierpoint said will “elevate the status and image of the ZLC” and attract additional companies to Panama. Pierpoint and other business leaders, including the head of the Consejo Empresarial Logístico (Business Logistics Council) and the Cámara Marítima (Maritime Chamber) are seeking a meeting with Walmart executives, expected to take place in December or January, to pitch the proposal.
Goldcorp to Open New Mines in Argentina: Today, the Argentinian Secretary of Mining, Jorge Mayoral, announced in a memo following an on-site meeting with Goldcorp’s Vice President and COO of Central and South America, Eduardo Villacorta, that the company’s Cerro Negro mine will be inaugurated in February 2015. In 2010, Canadian gold giant Goldcorp acquired the Cerro Negro mine, located in the Santa Cruz province of Argentina, and invested $1.67 million in its reconstruction. Cerro Negro is expected to forge between 130,000 and 180,000 ounces of gold before the end of 2014, and once fully operational, the mine will maintain a production capacity of 4,000 tons per day of concerted gold and silver throughout its 23 year lifespan. Cerro Negro marks the Vancouver-based miner’s second Argentinian venture, after its 37.5 percent share of the Alumbrera copper mine in Catamarca.
November 21, 2014Read More Tags: Keystone XL pipeline, Canada-U.S. relations, President Barack Obama
U.S. Republicans did not wait long after their midterm gains to provoke a congressional vote on the approval of the Keystone Pipeline project.
It was not the first such try. Getting a strong and unequivocal vote in favor of Keystone in the House of Representatives, where the GOP has a strong majority, was easy. The Senate, on other hand, was another matter. The project narrowly failed to reach the needed 60 votes needed to make it to the president’s desk, with 59 votes in favor and41 opposed. So once again, the Republicans failed.
Obviously, this was a failed political ploy meant to embarrass the president. Republicans knew that President Obama would likely have vetoed Keystone, and would have had the votes to resist an override by Congress (two-thirds of both Houses are required to override a presidential veto). The new Senate, with 54 Republican senators (nine more than in the current Senate) will not be sworn in until early January 2015.
So it was all about politics—and the president expected as much, even in the current lame-duck Congress.
However, Obama is not beyond playing politics himself. He has essentially given up the Louisiana Senate seat currently held by Democrat Mary Landrieu (who faces a runoff election on December 6) to her Republican adversary. He repeated that he will not decide whether to approve Keystone until a Nebraska Appeals court rules on the pipeline’s route through the state.