Una versión de este artículo se publicó originalmente en el portal Infobae América
“Con profundo dolor, la Delegación de Paz de las FARC-EP, se une al duelo de los bolivarianos de Venezuela y del mundo ante la noticia descorazonadora, triste, del fallecimiento del Comandante Presidente, Hugo Chávez.”
Las condolencias de las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) fueron enviadas entre el maremágnum de pésames que el mundo entero dio a Venezuela: Sin embargo, no pasaron desapercibidas en el contexto político colombiano ante la innegable influencia que tuvo el fallecido líder bolivariano sobre el conflicto que azota al país hace medio siglo.
El presidente Juan Manuel Santos, quien recompuso las relaciones con Venezuela a su llegada al poder, también reconoció el papel de Hugo Chávez en el proceso de paz. “Si hemos avanzado en un proceso sólido de paz, con procesos claros y concretos, es también gracias a la dedicación y el compromiso sin límites del presidente Chávez”, dijo desde la Casa de Nariño.
Fruto de una enconada pelea diplomática, Chávez despertó más odios que amores en Colombia durante los ocho años de presidencia de Álvaro Uribe. Venezuela—país que hoy se desempeña como garante de los diálogos—fue acusado de dar albergue a las FARC y patrocinar la lucha armada de la guerrilla. Estas denuncias tuvieron su punto más álgido tras el hallazgo de las computadoras del número dos de las FARC, Raúl Reyes, quien falleció tras un bombardeo del ejército colombiano en Sucumbíos, Ecuador, en 2008.
Los mensajes encriptados de las computadoras de Reyes fueron estudiados por el Instituto Internacional de Estudios Estratégicos (IISS), el cual reveló que Chávez se reunió en el año 2000 al menos dos veces con el líder guerrillero, y que habría prometido $300 millones para ayudar a la subversión colombiana en su lucha armada. Ecuador y Venezuela siempre impugnaron la veracidad de esas pruebas. Estos hechos provocaron la ruptura de las relaciones económicas entre Colombia y Venezuela, mientras Chávez acusó al gobierno colombiano de haber violado la soberanía ecuatoriana. Consecuentemente, el presidente bolivariano ordenó el envío de tanques hacia la frontera con Colombia y solicitó el retiro de todo el personal de la embajada de Venezuela en Bogotá.
La guerra verbal entre los dos países se atizó de tal forma que la mediación que Chávez estaba ejerciendo en la liberación de rehenes fue suspendida por Uribe. Santos, entonces su Ministro de Defensa, había sido el mayor detractor de este protagonismo de Chávez al considerar que el mandatario venezolano había usado las liberaciones como” propaganda política,” aprovechándose “del drama humanitario de los rehenes”.
Durante los ocho años de uribismo Santos fue un acérrimo detractor de Chávez y fue el primero que denunció la existencia de campamentos de las FARC en la frontera venezolana. También fue crítico del fin de la relación de Caracas con la Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) al señalar que “buena parte de la droga colombiana sale por Venezuela”. Como resultado, durante la campaña electoral del 2011 en la cual Santos se fungía como el heredero legítimo de Uribe, Chávez llegó a calificarlo de “mafioso” y sostuvo que su elección significaría más guerra y menos posibilidades de reactivar el comercio bilateral.
Pero fue Santos quien le apostó a mejorar las relaciones con su vecino y le dio un lugar importante en la agenda colombiana. Escándalos como las revelaciones El Nuevo Herald sobre el conocimiento de Chávez de los vínculos su ex ministro de Defensa, Henry Rangel Silva con narcos y las FARC habrían sido un detonante para la diplomacia binacional, pero no en la era Santos: el presidente prefirió guardar silencio ante el caso.
Santos, quien sin duda prefirió la diplomacia a la confrontación, también le concedió a Venezuela la extradición del narcotraficante Walid Makled, capturado en Colombia en 2011, de quien se esperaba que de ir a Estados Unidos hablaría sobre la relación de funcionarios venezolanos con negocios ilegales como lavado de dinero y narcotráfico.
Tras la muerte del mandatario venezolano, figuras como el senador Juan Fernando Cristo, aseguró que “gústele a quien le guste, independientemente de las diferencias que pudimos tener los colombianos con muchas de las actitudes, Chávez fue clave para el proceso de paz”. Piedad Córdoba, ex legisladora cercana al fallecido presidente, lloró ante las cámaras al recordar emotivamente que Chávez fue un hombre “que amó a su gente y buscó la paz para Colombia.”
Chávez fue generoso con los colombianos en Venezuela a quienes ceduló masivamente—con propósitos electorales por supuesto. También fortaleció los programas de refugio y asilo los cuales, a pesar de no ser ideales, permiten proteger a más nacionales huyendo del conflicto.
Es improbable que su muerte desvié el curso de las conversaciones de paz, pero un cambio de timón en la política venezolana podría replantear por lo menos la política de defensa fronteriza. Lo cierto es que el líder bolivariano dejó una profunda huella tanto en Colombia, como en Latinoamérica y en el mundo.
En los primeros días de su presidencia, Carlos Salinas de Gortari dio un golpe espectacular al conseguir la encarcelación del entonces todopoderoso líder del sindicato de los trabajadores petroleros, Joaquín Hernández Galicia, conocido como “La Quina”, a quien se acusó de diversos delitos del orden federal. Al asunto se le llamó popularmente “el quinazo”. Sin embargo, por todos era sabido que el líder sindical había apoyado abiertamente a Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas en las elecciones de 1988, por lo que se comenzó a especular sobre un posible ajuste de cuentas entre el presidente emanado del Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) y la disidencia sindical, pues debe recordarse que hasta ese momento la mayor parte de los sindicatos—incluyendo al petrolero—estaban subordinados a la voluntad presidencial.
Por otro lado, era sabido que Hernández Galicia desviaba dinero del sindicato a su cuenta personal y a las de sus allegados, que había ordenado la muerte de varios trabajadores petroleros que se habían opuesto a su liderazgo y que había cometido otros delitos más, por lo que su detención se percibió como un acto de justicia y de combate a la corrupción. Buena parte de la población lo vio entonces como el comienzo del fin de la impunidad. Pero no fue así. Después de “La Quina” no se detuvo a nadie más, a pesar de los múltiples señalamientos que existían contra diversos miembros de la clase política y sindical.
Años después, en el comienzo del sexenio de Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León, se encarceló al hermano del expresidente Salinas, Raúl Salinas de Gortari, acusado de lavado de dinero y otros delitos más. Una vez más se manejó el asunto como el inicio formal del combate a la corrupción gubernamental, y como siempre, se dijo que no se iban a permitir actos delictivos de ningún tipo, sin importar quién los cometiera. Y una vez más, esto no ocurrió.
Ahora, tanto “La Quina” como Raúl Salinas están libres, exonerados por un juez. Es decir, se les declaró inocentes. Pero el 27 de febrero de 2013 nos despertamos con la noticia de que la Procuraduría General de la República había detenido a Elba Esther Gordillo, dirigente nacional de los maestros, acusada de diversos delitos como fraude y lavado de dinero. Una vez más, se habla en el ámbito gubernamental de combate directo a la corrupción, de cero tolerancia para con los funcionarios públicos y de fin de la impunidad. “El nuevo PRI no tolerará a los corruptos”, han dicho sus dirigentes.
Pero todo mundo sabe que en 2006, tras renunciar al PRI, la lideresa magisterial apoyó al entonces candidato del Partido de Acción Nacional (PAN) a la presidencia, Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, y que incluso convenció a varios gobernadores priistas de que hicieran lo mismo, por lo que una vez más nos enfrentamos a un posible ajuste de cuentas.
Nadie niega que Elba Esther Gordillo sea culpable de todo lo que se le acusa desde hace treinta años. Nadie niega que su encarcelamiento sea un acto de justicia, pero si el gobierno realmente quiere mandar una señal positiva a los mexicanos, una señal de que realmente los tiempos han cambiado, debe proseguir con el encarcelamiento de otros líderes sindicales y de muchos funcionarios y exfuncionarios del gobierno—de todos los partidos—que siguen navegando en la impunidad a pesar de los múltiples señalamientos en su contra. Así podrá conseguir Peña Nieto la legitimidad que tanto busca, pues el combate a la corrupción gubernamental es uno de los asuntos que más interesan, hoy por hoy, a los mexicanos.
Grief mixed with uncertainty over Cuba's future on Wednesday as the island mourned the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Granma, the Communist Party newspaper, changed the color of its masthead from red to black for the first time to commemorate the loss of the regime's closest ally, and dedicated six of its eight pages to Chávez' life. In a television addressed to the nation, the Cuban government pledged "resolved and unwavering support for the Bolivarian Revolution in these difficult days" and ordered an official mourning period through Friday.
The Cuba-Venezuela alliance isn't only one of aligned ideologies. Cuba receives over 100,000 barrels of oil a day from Venezuela in exchange for thousands of Cubans working in Venezuelan clinics and schools. Cubans will take some comfort in the fact that interim President Nicolás Maduro seems likely to win the election that must be organized within 30 days, despite a second challenge by Governor of Miranda Henrique Caprilles Radonski. A chavista win would guarantee continued Venezuelan patronage in the short term.
But if Venezuela's oil exports to Cuba dry up—whether due to political turnover or economic crisis—the Communist regime does not have a clear backup plan or other ideological allies that would readily step to fill the gap.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who died of cancer on Tuesday in Caracas, will be remembered by some as a tireless man, as a tireless dreamer, who led and designed a socialist project for Venezuela meant to empower the country’s poor and to deeply transform the social and moral fabric of the oil-rich nation.
He will be remembered by some as an unconventional man of epic historical import; a military man from a humble, rural household who rose to the highest political office in the country; a man who developed, in his 14 years as president, an almost sacred bond with the poor and the voiceless; a showman; a jester; an international figure of long, passionate speeches; a man who, in life, had already achieved the presence and size of a legend.
Today, Venezuela’s crime-ridden capital city of Caracas—the place that witnessed Chávez’s failed coup attempt in 1992 and gave him multiple victories at the ballot box—moves in silence.
The sudden panic that ensued in the hours following the news of the president’s passing has now subsided into a somber calm as Chávez’s supporters prepare to bury their leader.
Late Tuesday night, the Venezuelan government declared seven days of national mourning. The president’s funeral, scheduled to last until Friday, is expected to bring a countless number of Venezuelans into the streets of Caracas.
In the midst of everything that involves the passing of a recently re-elected president, many unanswered questions loom in the minds of Venezuelans—among them, those that pertain to the short-term political future of the country.
Latin Americans are mourning the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who passed away at age 58 on Tuesday. Just hours before Chávez died, Venezuelan Vice President Nicolás Maduro had accused Venezuela’s enemies of “attacking” the leader with cancer and expelled two U.S. Embassy officials for allegedly conspiring against the deceased president. The president’s body will be taken in a procession through Caracas to the Military Academy where it will lie in state until his funeral on Friday.
Despite ideological differences, the president’s death sent shockwaves of grief across the region. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff called for a moment of silence and said that although Brazil did not always agree with his actions, Chávez was a “generous man to all the people in this continent who needed him.” The Cuban government ordered all flags flown at half-staff and declared an official mourning period through Friday. Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner suspended all presidential activities after the announcement, while Chile, Ecuador and Colombia sent their condolences to the mourning nation. Bolivian President Evo Morales, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala and Uruguayan President José Mujica are expected to travel to Caracas for Chávez’ funeral.
Condolences also poured in from Venezuela’s overseas allies: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced a day of mourning and compared the fallen leader to a saint, while Russian president Vladimir Putin hailed Chávez as “an extraordinary and strong man” and Hua Chunying, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, called Chávez "a good friend to the Chinese people." Meanwhile, Henrique Capriles, Chávez’ chief opponent in last year’s presidential elections, took to Twitter to stress the need for respect and unity amongst all Venezuelans and sent his condolences to Chavez’ family and supporters, saying that while they were adversaries, they were never enemies.
The official funeral ceremony for heads of state will take place on Friday at 10:00am at the Military Academy in Caracas. Under the Venezuelan Constitution, a new election must be held in 30 days after the president dies or steps down. Venezuelan Vice President Nicolás Maduro, Chávez’ handpicked successor, will step up as the interim president and is expected to run against Capriles, who led a spirited opposition campaign in October.
Hugo Chávez died today at the age of 58. While many of his obituaries will focus on his voluminous political legacy, the day-to-day issues he leaves behind are enormously complex. Eventually, they are sure to overshadow any historical discussion about the man.
Politically, his movement is orphaned. Chávez was not only president of Venezuela, he was also president of his party, commanding every detail—from which candidates ran where to which judges had to be fired. His tenuous political coalition—made up of community leaders, the military, old-style communists and entrepreneurs looking to make a quick buck—was only held together by the sheer force of the president’s charisma, which punished dissent swiftly and mercilessly. With Chávez gone, it’s not clear who will make the decisions, or who will keep the tensions among these factions at bay.
Economically, the Chávez legacy is horrendous. The Venezuelan economy consists of a series of distortions piled upon further distortions. Price controls, labor rigidities, foreign exchange controls, clogged ports, and crumbling highways are the norm in Venezuela. Together with a rapacious public sector, a crippling budget deficit, and an underperforming banking sector, the Venezuelan economy is a veritable ticking time bomb held up only by sky-high oil prices that, amazingly, are not enough to sustain the ever-growing chavista State. And while poverty has fallen thanks to massive government spending, this cannot survive a slight dip in oil prices.
In addition, Venezuelans are suffering from one of the worst crime waves any nation not engaged in civil war has ever seen. The government seemingly has no clue on how to tackle the problem. As program after program fails, the government blames the media—or some fictional capitalist culture.
Venezuelans have been in suspended animation ever since December, when the president—in his last public appearance—announced he was going back to Cuba for treatment and named his successor. Ever since that day, life in Venezuela has been a swirl of rumors, indecision and surreal policy-making that even saw the Supreme Court decide that Chávez didn’t have to be sworn in, as the Venezuelan constitution mandates.
Now, that is in the past. A glorious funeral will ensue, and Nicolás Maduro may very well ride the public’s outpouring to an election win. But soon, he will have to come to terms with a political system that has stopped working, and with an economy in tatters.
Congratulations on your inheritance, Mr. Maduro.
I must admit, I was shocked when the e-mail a colleague had written me flashed on my desktop yesterday. “Chávez is dead.” It wasn’t like I wasn’t expecting it. But like the Chavista advisors that staged the bizarre, incoherent press conference shortly before they announced the Venezuelan President’s death, I was oddly taken aback.
In my defense, unlike them I didn’t have the responsibility—or advantage—of preparing the last near-three months. Amazingly, despite the lead time, in what was later revealed to really be their first post-Chávez press conference, Vice President Nicolás Maduro and the cabinet seemed completely out of sync—first an interminable series of introductions and then incredible allegations of U.S. intervention. And then—almost as an afterthought hours later—the announcement that Chávez was dead.
For the last decade or so, being witness to the Chávez government made me feel like I had a front-row seat to the sort of Latin American history that I had studied as an undergrad and grad student. This time, though, there were real human beings and their lives at risk. But it still—I’m embarrassed to say—felt thrilling.
I sort of came of political-analyst age in the Chávez era. Oddly, I’ll always appreciate the beret-wearing putschist for that.
I remember when I arrived in Washington DC in 1995. Many people said that the region had gotten boring; we all seemed to be marching toward free trade and democratic bliss.
And then came Hugo Chávez. I was visiting Venezuela for a trip for the National Endowment for Democracy in 1998 when he was running for president. At the time, his opponents were a motley crew: a former Ms. Universe; a Yale-educated politician who arrived at political rallies on a white horse; and a 70-year-old traditional politician of the center left. At the time I was sure I would have voted for this charismatic figure, Chávez. My cost-free support for the former coup-plotter was bolstered when a prominent businessman confided to me in hushed tones that he had met with candidate Chávez in a closed-door meeting with business leaders and that he had listened, seemed to understand and quietly supported their cause. “The thing is,” he said, “you put that Rolex on his wrist [and all the perks of power] and he’ll moderate.”
Seemed like a good strategy to me. Vote for the outsider candidate who would clean up the annoying elements of the past, but still get a moderate outsider.
Only it didn’t work out that way.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has died, Venezuelan Vice President Nicolás Maduro announced this evening. Since the president’s return home from Cuba on February 18, Venezuelan supporters have gathered to pray for the health of the president, which has been in decline for weeks. The death of the 58 year-old Chávez, who was re-elected to a fourth term as president last October, ends his fourteen years as president of Venezuela.
Over the weekend, Chávez opponents gathered to demonstrate in Caracas and demand news on the president’s health, which they said was being concealed by the Venezuelan government. Chávez had not been seen in public since a December 11 cancer surgery in Havana. Members of Venezuela’s opposition movement, including Miranda state Governor Henrique Capriles, have accused the government of lying to the public about the president’s health.
Chávez government officials denied that the government was concealing information about the president from the Venezuelan public. On Monday, Venezuelan Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas said that the president had been experiencing “highs and lows” in his health status and indicated that the president’s condition was worsening after suffering a severe respiratory infection following “a strong chemotherapy treatment.” Several weeks ago, the government revealed that Chávez, who was breathing through a tracheal tube, was unable to speak.
Guillermo Cochez, Panama’s former ambassador to the OAS, told NTN24 that Chávez had experienced brain death in late December—long before his return to Venezuela—and said that the president had been disconnected from life support machines for the last four days. Cochez’ assertions have yet to be confirmed.
It is still not clear what type of cancer Chávez suffered from. He was diagnosed with cancer in June 2011, and a “softball sized tumor” was discovered in his pelvic region. After the diagnosis, he underwent three operations as well as chemotherapy and radiation treatment—most of which were performed in Cuba.
Also unclear is what will happen in Venezuela in the wake of Chavez’ death. Under the Venezuelan Constitution, Diosdado Cabello, the president of Venezuela’s national assembly, is expected to assume interim presidency.
This week is an important moment to focus on the economic, political and social achievements of women as we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8. While countries have a long way to go in promoting gender equality, a report by the Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA) looks at where Cuba stands among them.
The report is the culmination of more than two years of research on the comparative economic, social and political standing of women in Cuba. It includes dozens of interviews on the status of gender equality which reveal, despite its global standing as a leader on certain gender issues, where Cuba falls short in achieving equality.
The study begins in the 1950s, with a synopsis of the commitments to equal rights made by Cuban revolutionaries before they came to power. We then identify six policies that produced the biggest changes: efforts to increase female workforce participation; national commitments to education and health care; adoption of a constitutional and legal architecture that protects women’s rights; the incorporation of women’s equality and rights as a core part of the revolution’s political project; creation of women’s organizations to serve as advocates for change; and a successful, early campaign to end illiteracy in Cuba.
These and other efforts enable Cuba to fulfill the Millennium Development Goals for primary education, gender equality and reducing infant mortality—and score first among developing countries in maternal mortality, live births attended by health care personnel and female life expectancy at birth, according to Save the Children.
But, the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Cuba has a long way to go when outcomes are measured against key gender equality objectives: access to higher-paying jobs; achieving a fair division of labor at work and home; and access to positions of real power in the communist party or government.
Forbes magazine released its annual ranking of the world’s billionaires on Monday, which includes 100 Latin Americans and 29 Canadians. The group of 1,426 billionaires featured this year has an aggregate wealth of $4.5 trillion, concentrated primarily in the United States (home of 442 billionaires) and followed by Asia-Pacific (386) and Europe (336).
The top-two spots on the list are the same as last year, with Mexican telecommunications magnate Carlos Slim ranked number one and Microsoft founder Bill Gates in the second spot. These two billionaires have recently partnered to perform research on agricultural productivity by donating new infrastructure for Mexico’s International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will support the Center’s Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa initiative.
Early last month, Mexico’s new government published its first report on the drug-cartel related violence that continues to affect the lives of residents in many parts of the country. The report explains that during the first two months of Enrique Peña Nieto’s presidency, Mexico experienced more than 2,000 organized crime-related murders. The country tallied 1,139 in December, including 17 mutilated bodies dumped near the Texas border in the state of Tamaulipas and 1,104 in January, including 12 machine gun carrying suspects who were killed in a stand-off with federal agents in the northern state of Zacatecas.
Under Peña Nieto’s watch, government forces have battled cartel gunmen and have pushed forward with former President Felipe Calderón’s crop eradication program, destroying 201 hectares of marijuana crops and 795 hectares of poppy seed plants. Still, in many cities and towns, residents continue to complain about criminal activity and a local absence of rule of law.
So far, the strategy inherited from Calderón has yielded mixed results. Under Calderón’s leadership, Mexico’s government succeeded in pushing drug ferrying planes off its airstrips and into airfields in Guatemala and Honduras. Calderón’s forces also captured and killed a number of high profile cartel leaders. But after more than six years of continuous anti-cartel operations, the traditional strongholds of the embattled organized crime groups have become the most violent and least stable parts of the country.
In the state of Guerrero, as cartel leaders such as the Beltran Leyva brothers and La Barbie were killed or captured, a destabilizing sequence of inter-cartel competition has led to a string of disturbing violent incidents as well as complaints about robbery and extortion. Mexico-focused security analyst Sylvia Longmire says that “there are at least two or three major TCOs [transnational criminal organizations] and several smaller criminal gangs operating there…fighting for control.”
A string of arrests has led to infighting among the criminal groups in these states, but has not deterred criminals from engaging in extortion, kidnapping, and grisly killings. Violence in Acapulco continues even after Peña Nieto sent in an additional 500 soldiers to bolster security. In February, elected officials in Guerrero state struggled to explain how, under their watch, six Spanish tourists were raped during a home invasion. The breakdown of public security in Guerrero has become even more complicated after the emergence of armed citizens groups who are taking responsibility for meting out justice to suspected cartel members and have even shot at visiting tourists.
OTTAWA- Jim Flaherty, Canada’s finance minister, stunned Canadians when he revealed in an interview about a month ago that he had a serious skin condition but that he was still up to his high-powered job.
For months, the minister had tip-toed around questions about his health. But his changing appearance gave it away. His face was puffy and red, he looked very tired, and wasn’t his pleasant self. At times, he appeared flustered at news conferences and during the daily Question Period in the House of Commons.
As it turned out, Flaherty is suffering from a “non-life threatening but serious” skin condition called Bullous Pemphigoid, his office eventually released in a statement. He was prescribed prednisone, a powerful steroid that causes “bloating, weight gain, redness in the face and bouts of sleeplessness,” the statement said, adding his condition “was clearing up.”
Flaherty has had this condition for nearly a year and by his own account, was very reluctant to talk about it openly. In an interview at the end of January with the The Globe and Mail, the minister said it was difficult for him to share his ailment with the public.
“I don’t like talking about this,” he admitted. “But it’s necessary because I am in public office. I don’t want people to think there’s something significantly wrong with my health that affects my ability to do my job.”
Should he have been forthcoming with his dermatological condition?
There’s no clear-cut answer to that question. In Canada, there’s no legal requirement for a minister of the Crown or for the prime minister, for that matter, to reveal the nature of his sickness. Public officials have a right to privacy when it comes to health issues. But to what degree?
Top stories this week are likely to include: Venezuelans continue to await news on Chávez; Bolivian soldiers are released but tensions remain; Cardinals meet to discuss possible papal candidates; Argentina offers to issue new bonds for defaulted debt; and Mexico’s PRI ends its opposition to private investment in the state oil company.
Venezuelans continue to wait for news on Chávez' health
Supporters and opponents of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez demonstrated in Caracas again this weekend after Vice President Nicolás Maduro announced on Friday that Chávez was once again undergoing chemotherapy to treat his cancer. Miranda state Governor Henrique Capriles, who lost to Chávez in the 2012 presidential election, said Friday that Maduro was lying about Chávez' true condition. Meanwhile, Venezuelan Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas denied today that the government has lied about the president’s health and said that Chávez has been experiencing “highs and lows” since returning to Venezuela on February 18.
Bolivia says Chile violated international norms
Bolivian President Evo Morales announced Sunday that he would bring Chile before international authorities for detaining three Bolivian soldiers who crossed into Chile with weapons at the end of Janaury, saying the detention violated international norms for transnational cooperation on crime. The soldiers' case in Chile was suspended Friday after they agreed not to enter the country for a year. They returned to Bolivia but tensions between the two countries are continuing to escalate. Bolivia is also mounting a renewed effort to dispute its international borders with Chile; access to the Pacific Ocean was lost in 1879.
Cardinals meet to discuss the next pope
More than 140 Catholic cardinals are convening today to discuss possible papal candidates and conduct Church business. According to the Vatican, the cardinals have not yet set a date for the conclave that will determine whom to choose as Pope Benedict XVI’s successor. Vatican journalists say that possible successors to Pope Benedict, who officially stepped down as pope last Thursday, include Brazilians João Braz de Aviz and Odilo Scherer, and Argentine Leonardo Sandri.
Argentine government agrees to compromise offer on debt standoff
Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced before Congress on Friday that the country would be willing to issue new bonds for private equity fund NML Capital Ltd., which is suing the country for $1.3 billion in defaulted debt. Fernández de Kirchner had previously refused to pay the “vulture funds,” which she has accused of profiting from Argentina’s 2002 economic crisis. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals will give Argentina until March 29 to explain the terms of a new debt swap.
PRI approves private investment in Pemex
Mexico's Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) voted unanimously on Sunday to end its opposition to constitutional changes that would permit private investment in the state oil company, Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX). Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is expected to send bills to Congress later this year that would propose constitutional changes to permit new energy and fiscal reforms. The PRI controls 241 of the 500 seats in Mexico’s lower house, but would need additional congressional support for the reforms to pass.
The Ecuadorian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Integration, Ricardo Patiño began a six-day trip on Wednesday to eight countries in the region where he is meeting with counterparts regarding proposed reforms to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
The first leg of his trip is already complete, which included visits to Venezuela and Mexico. Patiño first met with Mexican Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Meade on Wednesday agreeing that there was room for changes to the IACHR, such as improving its management and transparency and for "balanced funding for all rapporteurs and the necessary political and financial appropriation of the system.” Patiño is also visiting Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Dominican Republic, and Haiti before a March 8 meeting in Guayaquil, Ecuador where signatories to the American Convention of Human Rights will meet to discuss reforms. The meeting was convened by UNASAUR.
As detailed in an AQ Web Exclusive last week, “in mid-2011 the Organization of American States (OAS) began its initiative to ‘strengthen’ the inter-American system— with the main proponents of this process being the ALBA countries, most notably Ecuador and Venezuela. These countries have submitted proposals to weaken the independence and effectiveness of the Commission in several ways: by cutting its possibilities for financing; by denying it the power to issue reports on the countries of greatest concern; and by limiting its ability to seek urgent protective actions when serious threats of human rights violations arise.”
José Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watch’s Americas division, voiced concern that the March 8 meeting will "negotiate formulas that will weaken IACHR," and that it "seems to be rather an ambush against IACHR and freedom of expression promoted by the Ecuadorian government.”
The reforms will be voted on during an Extraordinary General Assembly of the OAS on March 22.
In October 2010, for the first time in history, voters in Lima elected a female mayor. Susana Villarán was a seasoned political figure who had long been involved in politics and human right issues—helping to establish Lima’s vaso de leche (glass of milk) program to combat child malnutrition and serving as a member of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Villarán also served as Peru’s Minister of Women’s Affairs and Human Development and as Police Ombudsman.
She is now in full campaign mode again ahead of a March 17 vote on whether to recall her as Mayor of Lima. The movement to recall her is not due to any type of negligence or misuse of funds; in fact, she has focused on cleaning up Lima. Instead, her efforts to move Lima forward have enraged certain constituencies—and they are now fighting back.
But with less than two weeks before the recall vote, it increasingly looks like Mayor Villarán may keep her job. A poll conducted by Ipsos Perú (February 20–22) reveals that 54.5 percent of limeños still intend to vote to recall her with a “yes” vote, while 45.5 percent will vote against the recall. But that 9 percentage point advantage for the “yes” campaign reveals a tendency where opinion polls increasingly show the “yes’ vote losing steam. Just one week earlier, the “yes” campaign had a 16 percentage point lead. Last November, 65 percent of voters in Lima said that they would vote to recall Villarán.
If she stays in office, the Lima Mayor will work to finish the job she started over two years ago.
Villarán came into office with three top agenda items: security, transportation, and the rights of children. She and her team worked to create new social programs and initiatives, such as the Warmi Wasi center for women fleeing domestic violence, the “Barrio Mio” (My Neighborhood) social services program, and CicloLima, which included a serious and long-term reorganization of Lima’s chaotic and overburdened public transportation system. Villarán also made a special effort to promote transparency in public management and to sanction any sort of corruption in the municipal government.
Under her tenure, the Metropolitan Municipality of Lima launched a highly-regarded web-based transparency portal in 2011 to provide public access to information. The city also launched an investigation of the Relima–Comunicore case, a corruption scandal that involved Villaran´s predecessor, Luis Castañeda Lossio.
From the beginning, Villarán did not have the full support of all sectors of Lima: she was elected mayor with a narrow 38 percent to 37 percent victory over her nearest rival, Lourdes Flores Nano. Villarán´s two-year government also has involved some mistakes, including the collapse of one of the walls of the Via Parque Rímac, a traffic-management development project, and delays in the construction of the Costa Verde coastal boardwalk project. Despite her background as a leftist political leader and her willingness to tackle the long-term problems of Lima, such as transportation and insecurity, Villarán’s crackdown on Lima’s informal economy—by relocating merchants to a new wholesale marketplace—has made her more unpopular among the middle, lower-middle and lower socioeconomic classes.
As a result of Villarán’s low approval rates, Marco Tulio Gutiérrez, the director of the Instituto Peruano de Administración Municipal (Peruvian Institute of Municipal Management), launched a signature-gathering campaign to recall Villarán at the beginning of 2012. Gutiérrez successfully gathered the 400,000 signatures needed to prompt a recall vote, and last October, the Jurado Nacional de Elecciones (National Elections Jury—JNE) scheduled a referendum for March 17, 2013, on whether to recall Villarán.
The campaign to recall Villarán is unsurprisingly backed by Solidaridad Nacional, the party of Villarán’s predecessor, Castañeda Lossio (2003–2010), who has denied any involvement in the Relima-Comunicore scandal. The two-term former mayor of Lima leads the list of mayoral candidates that voters would elect to take over if Villarán loses her job. Meanwhile, referendum leader Gutiérrez has openly expressed his interest in working with Castañeda if he runs for public office in the next election.
The confrontation between the two sides of the campaign has intensified as the referendum date approaches. The “yes” campaign has described Villarán as incapable of governing Lima, while the “no” campaign, led by Luis Favre, a famous Argentinian political advisor who directed the political campaigns of former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva and Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, argues that Villarán represents the change that Lima needs. Not a day passes without a representative of either side reinforcing the “yes” or the “no” perspective in the news.
Less than a month away from the referendum, Villarán´s campaigners have a few more weeks to keep reversing the polls. Nevertheless, the high economic, political and social costs of the referendum reveal the city’s deep social divisions and conflicting political goals. As long as limeños lack a commonly-conceived idea of what is best for the city and its future, the possible recall of Villarán will do little to create agreement among Lima’s diverse sociopolitical actors.
After a 14-hour session and with 131 votes in favor, Argentine legislators approved on Thursday a bill that authorizes a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Iran to investigate the 1994 bombing to the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina—AMIA) in Buenos Aires. The government-sponsored agreement signed in January will set up an international truth commission to question Iranian officials accused of planning and financing the attack that left 85 people dead and some 300 injured.
The truth commission will include five independent judges—each country will select two judges and the final judge will be selected by both parties—who will investigate the bombing. Under the agreement, Argentine authorities will be able to interrogate Iranian suspects, which include Defense Minister Gen. Ahmad Vahidi and potential presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaee.
For the past two decades the Iranian government has denied any involvement. The president of the Foreign Relations Committee, Guillermo Carmona, claims that the MOU is the only way by which Argentine officials can question the suspects. However, the opposition and Jewish organizations in Argentina have criticized the bill by arguing that the agreement is “vague, ambiguous and imprecise” and that any cooperation with Iran could hinder existing Argentine investigations into the attack.
The deal has also sparked some tensions between Israel and Argentina—the home to one of the largest Jewish communities in the world—as well as with the United States since the deal is based on dialogue and cooperation with Iran. The agreement will enter into effect once approved by the Iranian Parliament.
On Monday February 25, having achieved the needed support in Congress, President Enrique Peña Nieto put into effect an education reform that will transform the public education system at its core. If enacted correctly, the reform will allow the country to take important steps forward and proactively tackle one of its most relevant social issues.
The reform calls for a new autonomous government institute to be created, with the sole purpose of strengthening and professionalizing the teaching profession by establishing a talent performance system that will ensure that teaching positions are awarded based on merit and not discretional criteria. The system includes periodical evaluations for the public system teachers, a change that undoubtedly will generate resistance from teachers who have become quite comfortable in mediocrity under the protection of a backwards thinking union that is too strong and powerful for its own good.
The new institute will also be responsible for ensuring that a trustworthy database comprising numbers of schools, teachers and students is created and kept up to date. This administrative responsibility also used to be in the hands of the SNTE (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación), who kept whatever data they had away from public scrutiny.
In what can only be interpreted as a strategy to hit them while their down, one day after Peña Nieto published the reform, the country was surprised with the arrest of SNTE’s controversial and powerful leader, Elba Esther Gordillo who is facing charges for fraud, money laundering and links to organized crime.
A new Brazilian law that aims to curb cyber crime will go into effect in April, as announced on Tuesday. The law, passed last year, will make cyber crimes a criminal offense with jail sentences ranging from three months to two years.
Brazil is the world’s fourth largest source of phishing, which cost local banks $700 million in 2012. Given the growth of cyber crime, there is concern that the jail sentences will not be severe enough to deter criminals who openly trade stolen information online. Limor Kessem, an expert at the leading international security firm RSA, predicts that the law will not have an effect on the level of crime until criminals start seeing their counterparts arrested and imprisoned.
Although Brazil is still considered an emerging market, 48 percent of Brazilians connect to the Internet and use online banking at a comparable rate to more developed nations. The seventh-largest economy in the world has a growing middle class—53 percent of the total population—that has propelled online banking and commerce into the mainstream. But the growth of the middle class and the resulting spike in Internet connectivity have made the country an attractive target for phishing and malware.
As Brazilian banks and businesses strengthen security measures and the government targets the hackers behind these schemes, experts fear that offenders will simply change their focus to other countries. The lack of a regional authority will make it easier to target other emerging Latin American markets as their banks and commerce become increasingly digitized. According to a recent report by the São Paulo based security company Kaspersky Lab, the lack of intraregional cooperation and legal obstacles “means that unfortunately, cyber criminals will enjoy easy money and impunity for some time."
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez remains in a Caracas military hospital, prompting continued speculation in Venezuela and abroad about eventual succession and concerns over political stability—as well as uncertainty about who is in charge.
The president’s uncertain situation comes at a time of significant social and economic difficulty in Venezuela. The government’s announcement on February 2 of a 32 percent currency devaluation and the elimination of the bond-exchange market rate is likely to generate further inflationary pressures and shortages of essential goods. Meanwhile, the opposition is trying to build political capital over growing popular discontent against the devaluation, which will affect the purchasing capacity of Venezuelans.
If Chávez dies—whether in the first four years of his term or the last two—Venezuela’s weak political institutions will be gravely tested. Here are the guidelines set out in Venezuela’s 1999 Constitution should any of the following three scenarios take place:
If Chávez regains his health: Taking the government’s official announcements at face value, Chávez could recover his health and continue as president. Pending any new health-related developments, this would mean less in terms of political instability, but Chávez’ idiosyncratic rule and mismanagement of the economy could pose formidable problems for Venezuela in the long run.
If Chávez passes away or becomes incapacitated in the last two years of his six-year term: Under this scenario, Venezuelan Vice-President Nicolás Maduro would finish out the remainder of the presidential term before new elections are called.
If Chávez passes away or becomes incapacitated in the first four years of the six-year constitutional term: Vice-President Maduro would replace Chávez until the Consejo Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Council –CNE) calls for a new election within 30 days.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed major education reforms into law on Monday, limiting the power of the teachers’ union. By modifying two articles of the constitution, the overhaul allows the government to hire and fire teachers, and aims to gather reliable data on schools, teachers and students in Mexico’s education system, which serves an estimated 35.5 million children. Monday “begins an education transformation Mexican society longs for,” the president said during a ceremony at the National Palace in the capital.
Mexico’s 1.4 million-strong teachers’ union (SNTE)—the largest in Latin America—staged nationwide strikes to oppose some of the proposed reforms, fearing they could result in massive layoffs. The union "cannot support a measure that threatens our job security," said Elba Esther Gordillo, who has led the union for the past 23 years. Still, with Mexico ranking last on test scores among OECD countries, President Peña Nieto considered taking on the unions necessary to achieving meaningful reform.
Bipartisan support of the reform renews hope that the president commands the political capital to pursue his ambitious reform agenda, which includes overhauls of the tax and energy systems. "This reform is the first great step to transform the education of our young. We are going to get Mexico moving," Mr. Peña Nieto said in a Twitter post, shortly after the education bill passed the Congress 360-51 last December.
With the election of a pro-sovereignty party in Québec last September, the questions about Québec’s future within the Canadian federation have once again surfaced. While there is no referendum about Québec’s future on the horizon—in part because the ruling Parti Québécois made only a vague commitment in last year’s election campaign to conduct such an exercise, and in part because the Parti Québécois forms a minority government in the National Assembly—it is appropriate to look at the workings of Canadian federalism and see how Québec has accommodated itself within the system.
It is useful to remember that all three countries in North America are federations: Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. All three federalist systems operate differently. There is not a “one size fits all” brand of federalism. In the last 50 years, all three federations have had their challenges. Regional tensions, jurisdictional battles and the aspirations of federated states like Québec have contributed to changes in how these federations operate. Of the three North American federations, Canada is the most decentralized—in fact, it is one of the most decentralized countries in the world.
Canada’s federation has a defined distribution of powers, some exclusive to each order of government—either federal or provincial—and some shared between the two. Economics, culture, immigration, and the environment are shared jurisdictions. All powers not enumerated in Canada’s federal constitution are relegated to the central government through what is called the residual clause.
Despite this more decentralized federation, disputes have periodically surfaced within Canada when central government policies affect provincial jurisdictions through federal spending power or the development of new programs. Since Canada’s creation as a federation in 1867, we have undergone periods of centralizing federal policies as well as periods of greater provincial autonomy. In Canada as in other federations, the Supreme Court has often been called to adjudicate these disputes. The federated state of Québec has been at the center of these conflicts more than any other, always arguing to protect existing powers or add new jurisdictions.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Cuba prepares for political successors in 2018; Venezuela’s opposition protests lack of information on Chávez; Tensions between Chile and Bolivia rise over Bolivian soldiers’ arrest; Oscar Arias visits Paraguay for OAS elections observations; and Cerrejón strike continues after explosives destroy trucks.
Raúl Castro Says he'll Step Down in 2018: On Sunday, Cuban President Raúl Castro told the Cuban National Assembly that he will step down at the end of his upcoming five-year term as president in 2018. Revolutionary icon Fidel Castro, whose public appearances are now rare, was present when his brother made the announcement putting an official end-date on an era of Castro rule that began in 1959. Raúl Castro then named Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermúdez, 52, his first vice-president. The younger Castro had indicated on Friday that he was thinking of retiring and might name a successor from among the next generation of Cuban politicians.
Venezuelan Opposition Demands Information as Chávez' Health Remains Uncertain: Hundreds of government opponents marched in Caracas on Saturday as part of the opposition’s new political offensive to protest the current political stasis in Venezuela as President Hugo Chávez remains out of sight in a military hospital. Since returning from Cuba on February 18, the Venezuelan government has shared limited information about the president’s cancer treatment and prognosis. On Friday, Venezuelan Vice-President Nicolás Maduro said that Chávez was “energetic” and had participated in a five-hour meeting with government leaders, though he acknowledged that the president can't speak because he is breathing through a tracheal tube. Meanwhile, Chávez supports held candlelit vigils outside the presidential palace to pray for the president’s recovery.
Hearing for Bolivian soldiers in Chile begins Monday: Three Bolivian soldiers arrested in Chile for crossing the border with weapons on January 25 will face a judicial hearing today in the northern Chilean city of Iquique to determine whether they'll remain in prison. The arrest of the soldiers has increased the diplomatic strain between Bolivia and Chile after Bolivia denounced Chile's actions via a letter to the UN on February 18. On Sunday, Bolivian President Evo Morales compared Chile’s imprisonment of the soldiers with Bolivia’s lost access to the Pacific Ocean since 1879, another source of recent tension. Chilean Minister of Foreign Affairs Alfredo Moreno said that Bolivia is blocking a swift resolution to the soldiers’ cases.
Oscar Arias Visits Paraguay to Prepare for April Elections: Former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias is visiting Asunción, Paraguay, until February 27 as head of the Electoral Observation and Political Accompaniment Mission of the Organization of American States (OAS). The mission aims to facilitate and monitor Paraguay’s presidential elections on April 21 to ensure that they are free and fair. It will be setting up elections observers and meeting with members of the Paraguayan government for the next two months. A number of the country’s neighbors view Paraguayan President Federico Franco as illegitimate due to the controversial impeachment of his predecessor, former Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, in June 2012. Members of Mercosur and Unasur elected to suspend Paraguay from regional membership until the elections are held.
Explosives Destroy Trucks at Cerrejón while Mining Strike Continues: Unknown assailants detonated explosives at the Cerrejón coal mine in Colombia on Sunday as a strike that began on February 7 continued into its seventeenth day. Both Cerrejón and the leader of Sintracarbon, the coal miners' union, denounced the attack, which damaged four trucks but reportedly did not result in casualties. Cerrejón workers initially demanded a 7 percent pay raise, but they have since decreased that amount to 5.8 percent. According to the World Coal Association, Cerrejón’s coal accounted for 80 percent of Colombia’s coal exports last year. Union leader Igor Diaz said that the workers will meet with Cerrejón today to restart wage negotiations despite the attack.
Watch a recent AQ documentary on Cerrejón. http://www.americasquarterly.org/rio-rancheria-documentary
For generations, world leaders looked to the United States for consent before approaching Latin American leaders. U.S. presidents James Monroe and Teddy Roosevelt threatened to make war if external powers sought to interfere in Latin America—and European powers, for the most part, followed the script. The tradition continued after World War II and throughout the Cold War, but it changed the day Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) became president of Brazil.
Disinterest, followed by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and financial troubles everywhere, further removed the U.S. from Latin American affairs at the beginning of this century. In a few short years, Silva managed to post the Brazilian colors atop the Latin America stage. Mexico made a similar run, but its internal struggle with organized crime, corruption, dysfunctional politics and constant disputes with the U.S. over a number of political issues limited its chances.
However, today is another day, and Mexico has yet another opportunity to enter the big leagues.
Unlike his predecessor Felipe Calderón, newly-minted Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has decided to place more emphasis on the economy and cross-party negotiation. His leads on international affairs, José Antonio Meade and Eduardo Medina Mora, are experienced practitioners who understand commerce, power, diplomatic speak and international trends. More importantly, these men have the ability to leverage Mexico’s existing relationship with the U.S. and its growing commercial relationship with Asia and Europe to project Mexico’s power and prestige.
Meade was named secretary of state when Peña Nieto assumed office as president. The lawyer and Yale-trained economist has held several positions in government since 1991 in which he developed and promoted national banking and savings policies at different commissions: his most recent public posts included secretary of energy and treasury under Calderón (2006-2012). Most notably, from 2011-2012, Meade coordinated G-20 financial policy when Mexico held the group´s presidency. He has been tested by public opinion and Congress, is well-versed in the Mexican economy and is popular in international circles.
Raúl Castro’s government faces a number of critical issues, including the deteriorating health of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, the potential loss of his oil and Cubans' impatience with the government’s timid economic reforms. Who would have thought that a slight, humble woman of 37 years figured among them?
Yet the actions of the Cuban government and their sympathizers in Brazil have proved that despite looming economic and political problems, they clearly consider Yoani Sánchez one of their biggest challenges. The question is, why?
Despite the fact that Cuba has one of the lowest rates of access to the Internet in the world, Sánchez has a following of more than half a million outside Cuba. She is emblematic of a generation disaffected with the revolution and its legacy. She is not the only one. She is one of a whole group of bloggers, many of them women, who have taken to the Internet to complain about the daily indignities of living in Cuba today.
In spite of receiving awards for her journalism from Europe and the United States, the Cuban regime had consistently denied Sánchez the right to leave the island. But then this year, the Castro government instituted a new travel policy that grants to Cubans—with some exceptions—the right to travel out of the country (a right enjoyed by people in most countries). So far so good, right?
A few days ago, Yoani Sánchez arrived at her stop, Brazil. There her greeting party consisted of Cuban government-organized demonstrators that have—at almost every appearance—threatened her and tried to prevent her from speaking. It must have felt like home, since the use of government thugs to intimidate and physically threaten dissidents is a common occurrence in Cuba.
Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier snubbed a judge's order to attend a court hearing yesterday to determine if he will be indicted on human rights violations committed under his ruthless 15-year regime.
Reynold Georges, Duvalier's defense attorney and former senator, claimed that he filed an appeal of the judge's order and asserted that he was confident that the Supreme Court would overturn the decision to force Duvalier to appear in court as well as put a stop to accusations brought forth by countless victims of Duvalier's rule. Georges boasted, "We're waiting for the Supreme Court decision and we're going to win, I don't lose. I'm Haiti's Johnnie Cochran."
The victims' attorneys urged the judge to arrest the former leader for not being present in court. Judge Jean Joseph Lebrun of Haiti's Court of Appeals responded that Duvalier had no grounds to appeal to the Supreme Court at this juncture and demanded that the prosecutor bring the former leader to court "without delay." It was not clear whether there would be any consequences for not adhering to court orders.
Duvalier inherited power from his father, François "Papa Doc" Duvalier in 1971 and ruled Haiti until he was overthrown in 1986. Thousands of people were murdered or tortured in prison during this time. Duvalier made an unexpected return to his earthquake-stricken homeland in January 2011 after nearly 25 years in exile in France, opening himself up to possible prosecution. Duvalier was also charged with embezzling between $300 million and $800 million of assets during his presidency however a court dismissed the embezzlement charge, which would carry a maximum of five years in prison.
The human rights community is in an uproar. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay declared in Geneva that "the State has an obligation to ensure that there is no impunity for serious violations of human rights which occurred in the past."Pillay stressed that there are no statute of limitations of any kind in international law for grave violations of human rights which include murder, torture, extrajudicial executions, and enforced disappearances, among others.
This is not the first time Duvalier has skipped his court hearing. He has done so twice this year and continues to travel the country freely despite a court ruling placing him under house arrest.
Some version of immigration reform is almost certain to pass within the next year. President Obama, Republicans and Democrats alike are all strongly supportive of the idea and have each offered formidable, bipartisan proposals. If successful, this will be the first major change in U.S. immigration law since President Reagan’s signing of the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986.
But as we are presented with the rare opportunity to reform our system, we must ensure that we do so in a way that works for all, and that we continue our conversations after an agreement is reached. Doing so will mean accounting for the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people within comprehensive immigration reform and entering a discussion on the realities they face.
Leading up to the 2012 U.S. presidential elections, immigrant and LGBT activists made groundbreaking history. They joined forces and proved the effectiveness of intersectional advocacy. Together, they passed immigration and marriage equality measures in a number of states, and they ensured immigrant and LGBT rights remained a central focus within our national political discourse.
More importantly, they reminded us that these two groups are deeply tied to one another. Many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants residing in the United States identify as LGBT. Some of them are married to same-sex partners in states where they are legally permitted to do so, but are left “with the painful choice between staying with the person they love or staying in the country they love,” as stated by White House spokesperson Shin Inouye in a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
A delegation of U.S. lawmakers led by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) returned from Cuba on Wednesday without jailed USAID subcontractor Alan Gross. The seven-member delegation left for Cuba on Monday with the intent of freeing Gross, who was arrested in 2009 for bringing communications equipment as part of a "democracy-promotion program" and is currently serving a 15-year sentence.
The lawmakers-including Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) from Gross' district in Maryland-met with Gross in prison, though they did not comment on his condition. The delegation also met with President Raúl Castro for three hours, according to Cuban government sources. Sen. Leahy said afterward that he and Castro "discussed the continuing obstacles and the need to improve relations," adding that that a rapprochement "is in the interest of both countries." The group also met with Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla and Parliament President Ricardo Alarcón.
Other delegation members included Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA). Cuban officials have made it clear that there will be no progress on freeing Gross until the Cuban agents imprisoned in the U.S. for treason, known as the "Cuban Five," are let go. Despite the political stalemate and the unmoving embargo, engagement between high-level government officials from both countries can create opportunities for changing otherwise static policy.
Las cifras policiales oficiales indican que durante los últimos meses la cantidad de asesinatos registrados en El Salvador ha disminuido en aproximadamente 50 por ciento. Esto es especialmente significativo considerando que un informe elaborado por Naciones Unidas, publicado el año pasado, ubica a dicho país como el segundo más violento del mundo. No obstante, atrás del aparente logro se identifican elementos que pronostican una crisis en el aparato de seguridad gubernamental del país centroamericano.
La reducción en homicidios antes mencionada se deriva de una brumosa iniciativa que implicó negociar el cese de hostilidades entre las principales pandillas rivales que operan en El Salvador, pacto desarrollado bajo condiciones desconocidas y mantenidas en total secreto por el Estado. El decremento, por lo tanto, no es el resultado del fortalecimiento del sistema de justicia penal o de la ejecución de una estrategia integral implementada para controlar la criminalidad, sino que está en función de la buena voluntad de las estructuras delictuales por mantener un acuerdo ajeno a la institucionalidad estatal.
Contrario a la interpretación ordinaria que provocaría una reducción tan acentuada en la incidencia de homicidios, la fuerza policial salvadoreña está en su peor momento. El Gobierno, en medio de una crisis fiscal, mantiene al personal policial trabajando en condiciones precarias, según consta en diferentes reportajes periodísticos publicados el año pasado, con equipo e instalaciones deterioradas. La falta de liquidez del Ejecutivo también lo ha llevado a retrasar varios meses el pago de los salarios complementarios devengados por policías, quienes denunciaron públicamente la situación a finales del 2012.
The most controversial outcome of last month’s second CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) summit in Santiago, following close on the heels of the first EU-CELAC meeting, was the decision in Santiago to appoint Cuban President Raúl Castro to the chairmanship of the 33-member regional body.
Castro, who will be splitting the two-year term with his Costa Rican counterpart, Laura Chinchilla, could not resist several pointed remarks aimed at the United States. He decried the presence of multinational companies in the region and the U.S.’ continued possession of Puerto Rico. The 81-year-old leader’s message was clear, however:
“We are building the ideal of a diverse Latin American and Caribbean region united in a common space of political independence and sovereignty over our enormous natural resources to advance toward sustainable development [and] regional integration,” Castro said.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos described Cuba’s leadership of CELAC as a “very significant political development with special symbolism.” Though absent from the summit, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez wrote in a letter that the act told “the U.S., with a single voice, that all the attempts to isolate Cuba have failed and will fail.”
Every February in both Canada and the United States, we celebrate Black History Month. Originally a one-week affair in the second week of February to celebrate the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, it is now a month-long series of festivities and activities to commemorate the contribution of African Americans and Black Canadians to North American society. This year, the celebrations coincide with the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, and the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech.
While serious issues and problems affecting African American communities remain, Barack Obama has just been reelected for a second term as president of the United States—not a small accomplishment. For those of us who cringe at the subtle and not so subtle racial overtones in the attacks against Obama (the birther issue is an illustration), we should take comfort in the fact that Obama is the first president since 1956 to receive more than 51 percent of the popular vote twice, and his party received over 1 million more votes than the Republicans in the congressional elections. Moreover, no one can deny the progress made in racial equality in the past few decades, especially since the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.
Already, some historians are questioning whether the progress of African Americans remains fundamentally cosmetic with Obama in the White House. After all, unemployment within black communities is way above the national average, poverty is at record levels, and gun violence is still at epidemic proportions. Yet, Obama carried the vote among African Americans at the level of 94 percent. Are African Americans just voting for one of their own and giving Obama a pass in terms of gains for their communities?
Bolivian President Evo Morales stopped in Caracas on Tuesday to visit President Hugo Chávez on route to New York City for the inauguration of the International Year of Quinoa. President Morales was greeted at the international airport by Venezuelan Foreign Vice-Minister Temir Porras, but members of the Foreign Ministry declined to comment on his agenda while in the country. The ailing president ,who had been in Cuba since his latest cancer operation last December, returned to Venezuela early Monday morning and is continuing cancer treatment at the military hospital in the country’s capital.
President Chávez announced his return via his Twitter account—which had been inactive since the beginning of November—just three days after the government released pictures of him with his daughters at a Cuban hospital. The pictures and tweets came after 67 days of silence, in which the President was shielded from the public. Despite his return, it is unlikely that the nation will hear from him soon. While Information Minister Ernesto Villegas reports that he is “conscious, with his intellectual functions intact,” he also admits that the president is breathing through a tracheal tube which makes it difficult to speak.
Speculation surrounds Chávez’ surprise return, but many believe it was meant to silence the opposition leaders who maintain that the executive is unable to run the country due to his poor health. Because the Supreme Court ruled in favor of extending the timeline for his inauguration indefinitely, he is expected to take the oath of office for his fourth term now that he is back in Venezuela. Despite this extension, Venezuela could be facing another election soon. Although he has not personally treated Chávez, Dr. Carlos Castro, the scientific director of the Colombian League against Cancer in Bogota, believes that the president’s unspecified cancer is incurable and expects the executive to have to step down due to the severity of his condition. The Venezuelan Constitution requires that a new vote be held within 30 days of a president dying or stepping down.
El Consejo Ciudadano para la Seguridad Pública y la Justicia Penal, organización civil radicada en México, dio a conocer recientemente los resultados de su investigación “Las 50 Ciudades más Peligrosas del Mundo." El estudio calcula el promedio de homicidios entre la población total de cada ciudad, y persigue un fin mucho más que académico. De acuerdo con el Consejo Ciudadano, “lo que perseguimos es contribuir al reclamo que los diferentes pueblos del mundo hacen a sus gobernantes para que cumplan con su obligación de proteger los derechos de los individuos a la vida, la propiedad y la libertad.” Los resultados del estudio no deberían sorprendernos. Sin embargo, arrojan indicios de variables que hasta el momento, al menos en Centroamérica, no se daban a conocer.
Dentro de las 50 ciudades más violentas del mundo figuran 39 ciudades latinoamericanas—sin contar el Caribe. El resto se encuentra en Sudáfrica o Estados Unidos. San Pedro Sula, Honduras ocupa el primer lugar, llevándose el indecoroso reconocimiento como la ciudad más peligrosa del mundo. En cuarto lugar figura Tegucigalpa, Honduras, seguida de Ciudad de Guatemala, en doceavo lugar, y San Salvador en el puesto 44 detrás de ciudades como Baltimore, Nueva Orleans, Oakland y Detroit en los Estados Unidos.
Pero, ¿de qué sirven los rankings de este tipo? Los centroamericanos conocen de primera mano los retos a la seguridad ciudadana que afrontamos, pero información como ésta aporta lecciones valiosas que no podemos ignorar.
Renowned Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez began an 80-day international tour on Monday, after receiving her passport with the relaxation of travel restrictions that eliminated exit visas for Cuban citizens. Sánchez arrived in the Brazilian coastal city of Recife for a screening of Conexión Cuba Honduras (Cuba-Honduras Connection), a documentary featuring her life and work directed by filmmaker Dado Galvao who begun the fundraising campaign to fly Sánchez to Brazil.
Despite overwhelming support from bloggers and local activists, Sánchez’ visit encountered some resistance as a group of protesters backing the Cuban government blocked the screening of the film and called her a “mercenary.” Sánchez expressed her disappointment, but acknowledged that she was expecting the situation.
After her visit to Brazil, Sánchez will attend the Inter-American Press Association’s (IAPA) conference in Puebla, México, where she will present her first report as vice chair for Cuba in IAPA’s Press Freedom Committee. She will later travel to the U.S. in March to participate in “The Revolution Recodified”, a symposium on digital culture and the public sphere in Cuba that will take place in New York City between March 15-17. Sánchez is also expected to travel to Washington DC and Miami, followed by trips to the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Peru, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
After five decades of restricted travel for Cuban citizens, Sánchez’ trip is seen as a test for the new Cuban law. Still she noted that it “seems like the reform we dream of, that of freedom of association and expression is still far away.”
Earlier this week in Brazil, the price of ethanol rose above the price of sugar for the first time in nearly two years. What does this mean? Sugar mills, which dot Brazil’s landscape, will now opt to produce ethanol rather than sugar. This is a key development in a country that has been a leader in sugarcane ethanol for the past 40 years.
Since the 1970s, Brazil has led the way in producing alternative liquids as a part of the country’s energy matrix. Indeed, in 1975, Brazil initiated a gasoline substitution program called Pró-Álcool (The National Alcohol Program), which was developed in response to the world oil crisis at the time. Brazil could pivot its extensive sugar supply to produce ethanol, which could be used as an automotive fuel instead of relying on fossil fuels—which fluctuated in price—in large part due to the vagaries of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
This approach resulted in a win-win: Brazil became the world’s second-largest producer of ethanol fuel and, until 2010, was the world’s largest exporter. The Brazilian government subsidized production of ethanol, mandated that fueling stations offer ethanol in addition to gasoline, and provided incentives to build cars that ran on ethanol alone. Later, Brazilian automakers began producing “flex-fuel” automobiles that gave drivers the option to fill up their tank with either pure ethanol, or an ethanol/gasoline blend, depending on what was cheaper on that particular day.
Voters in Ecuador on Sunday will decide whether to give President Rafael Correa of the PAIS Alliance (Alianza Patria Altiva y Soberana - Alianza PAIS) another term on Sunday, with the latest opinion polls giving him a 40 percentage point lead over his opponents for the presidential election. Of his seven challengers, Correa’s closest opponent is Guillermo Lasso Mendoza from the 21 Believe (21 CREO) political party. Lasso Mendoza is a former executive of Banco de Guayaquil and has promised to lower taxes on job creation and abolish a 5 percent tax on capital that has discouraged foreign investments and weakened the banks.
Correa’s 56 percent approval rating can be attributed to policies such as low-interest rates for first-time homeowners, free school supplies and uniforms for children, medical care at public hospitals for the poor, and welfare compensation reaching nearly 1 in five Ecuadoreans—or 1.9 million people including single mothers, the elderly and low-income families. They receive $50 a month from the state, which is largely possible due to the nation’s oil wealth.
Since Correa assumed office in 2007 the unemployment rate dropped from 9.82 to 4.71 percent and the economy has had robust performance, with 5.6 percent GDP growth last year While lower-income populations have benefited from increased social programs, journalists have faced criminal charges under Correa. A number of state news media have fallen under his leadership which now includes five television stations, four radio stations, two newspapers, and four magazines--up from one radio station previously. The Indigenous community has also protested against the government’s failure to consult with native people over water rights and its insistence on paving the way for large-scale precious metals mining.
To win the Presidential election on Sunday, Correa needs at least half the valid votes cast or 40 percent of the vote, plus a 10 percentage-point lead over the second-place candidate to be elected in the first round. If no candidate receives the requisite number of votes, a second-round election will be held April 7 between the top two candidates. The National Electoral Council (Consejo Nacional Electoral) will publish partial voting results after polls close on February 17.