A finales de 2002, empresarios, trabajadores y algunos medios de comunicación venezolanos unieron fuerzas e iniciaron una paralización nacional en protesta al gobierno del entonces presidente Hugo Chávez, que acababa de sobrevivir a un golpe de estado ocho meses antes. Durante 62 días, negocios, bancos y hasta puestos de gasolina permanecieron cerrados incentivando a la creatividad para garantizar el abastecimiento. La punta de lanza del paro fue la estatal petrolera Petróleos de Venuezuela (PDVSA) que aporta cerca de 80% del PIB nacional. Contra todo pronóstico, Chávez consiguió capotear el embate y, así como del golpe, salió fortalecido y esclarecido: en pocos meses reestructuró la Fuerza Armada Nacional y la directiva petrolera, creó una red estatal de distribución de alimentos, decretó un control de divisas y fijó precios por decreto para algunos productos de la cesta básica. La experiencia nunca se repetiría.
Desde entonces, conseguir es un verbo clave en la vida de los venezolanos. Conseguir dólares, medicinas, alimentos, carros, autopartes, equipos electrónicos, productos de higiene y cuidado personal. El control cambiario dificultó el acceso a las divisas, crucial en un país donde 80% de los bienes son importados, en tanto que no flexibilizar los precios de los alimentos desestructuró al aparato productivo e impulsó la escasez. Ambos procesos sirvieron para que surgiese un mercado negro que determina los absurdos de la economía venezolana.
Según los reportes del Banco Central de Venezuela, la escasez alcanzó su punto más alto en enero de 2008, cuando el índice cerró en 24,7%, sin embargo, 2013 ha estado marcado por las dificultades para completar un mercado mensual. En años previos, uno o dos rubros faltaban simultáneamente, pero en estos momentos ítems como carne, pollo, harina, leche, mantequilla, jabón de baño, crema dental y papel higiénico están ausentes o con poca distribución. Imágenes de venezolanos peleando por empaques de pollo o paquetes de harina han sido éxitos de audiencia en internet, ahora la historia alcanza se extiende a otro nivel.
Nicolás Maduro, presidente y heredero político del fallecido Hugo Chávez, ha intentado demostrar que sus críticos se equivocan al cuestionar la golpeada situación económica nacional. Medidas como adelantar la Navidad por decreto y crear un Viceministerio para la Suprema Felicidad del Pueblo van en esa dirección. En medio de una aguda crisis signada por una inflación de más de 54%, 22,4% de escasez de productos y un dólar paralelo diez veces más caro, Maduro decidió la semana pasada llevar los controles a nuevos planos y anunció una “guerra” contra los comercios que según sus informaciones, especulan y remarcan los precios. Sus anuncios de inspección a grandes cadenas comerciales, desataron una ola de saqueos que se suma a ese álbum de imágenes decadentes que retrata la Venezuela contemporánea.
Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe plans to do a tour of Silicon Valley companies and universities today in an attempt to attract investment to the Caribbean nation. Lamothe has meetings scheduled with Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, as well as executives from Google, Apple and other top executives about opportunities for technological innovation in Haiti.
A mere .02 percent of Haitians have regular access to the Internet, and limited infrastructure and frequent blackouts have hampered efforts to increase connectivity. The 2010 earthquake exacerbated these conditions, though part of the millions of dollars in recovery aid has been spent trying to get the long impoverished country wired, including a $3.9 million program launched this fall to deploy 65 miles of optical fiber in the country's southern region.
At a tech conference in San Francisco yesterday, Lamothe said the Haitian government’s top priority is lifting people out of extreme poverty, and “the best way to do it is through technology.” He went on to say that the country could overcome its infrastructural challenges by storing data in digital clouds, and that the government could partner with business on the effort. Lamothe’s trip to California comes only two days after violent anti-government demonstrations erupted Haiti, where protesters opposed corruption and the high cost of living and demanded that President Michele Martelly step down.
Guatemala has captured the attention of media and policymakers across the globe with historic proceedings against former leaders, discussions on drug decriminalization, its U.N. Security Council and OAS involvement, organized crime, and other hot topics. Despite progress on important fronts like security and an improved image abroad, the pressing issue of deportation from the U.S. remains unsolved and continues to worsen, increasing pressure on an already fragile economic and social fabric.
Guatemala’s bilateral relationship with the U.S. is its most important, reflected by the country’s 12 diplomatic posts there and plans to open others soon. In 2012, cash flows from the U.S. reached record levels, totaling over 10 percent of Guatemala's GDP at $4.78 billion. President Otto Pérez-Molina's government is encouraging migrant families and their recipients to invest these funds, aware that creating opportunities for Guatemalan citizens and influencing the U.S. Congress to provide legal status to the over 700,000 undocumented Guatemalans living in the U.S. are crucial to the economic and social sustainability of Guatemala.
Deportations from the U.S. in 2013 have already surpassed 2012 levels, with two months remaining in the year. This further exacerbates pressures on the Guatemalan government to provide those with a “stunted American dream” access to key services, sound infrastructure and, most importantly, jobs.
With activities like the Guatemala Investment Summit, the manufacturing, tourism and construction industries are providing Guatemalans with job opportunities and the chance to integrate into the country’s economy. Although many higher-skilled and English-speaking workers are able to find jobs upon returning to Guatemala, the biggest remaining challenge is to create opportunities outside of Guatemala City.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced this Monday that the Monroe Doctrine—a policy that has defined U.S.-Latin American relations for nearly two centuries—has come to an end. During his speech at the Organization of American States (OAS), Kerry emphasized that the era of U.S. interventionism in the region was a matter of the past, and that the present administration values its partnerships and cooperation with its southern neighbors.
“The relationship that we seek and that we have worked hard to foster is not about a United States declaration about how and when it will intervene in the affairs of other American states. It's about all of our countries viewing one another as equals, sharing responsibilities, cooperating on security issues and adhering not to doctrine but to the decisions that we make as partners to advance the values and the interests that we share," Kerry said.
A stronger push toward multilateral diplomacy in the region began under the Bush administration and has continued with the Obama administration. Nevertheless, the announcement was well received in Latin America, where a growing middle class and dynamic economic growth have made countries in the region into increasingly attractive economic partners for the U.S. The statement was also seen as a welcome change from moments of tension earlier this year when Bolivian President Evo Morales expelled the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) from Bolivia after Secretary Kerry referred to Latin America as U.S.’ backyard, and when Brazilian President Rousseff criticized U.S. surveillance programs during her address to the UN General Assembly.
The National Assembly of Nicaragua met last Wednesday to discuss a proposal from the ruling Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional party (Sandinista National Liberation Front—FSLN), which seeks to remove a constitutional article banning consecutive presidential terms.
The proposed amendment was submitted to the National Assembly on November 1 and will be voted on by the end of December. The reform would also eliminate the minimum simple majority needed to win a presidential election, according to The New York Times, though it remains unclear what percentage would be needed to secure a presidential victory in the future.
National Assembly Secretary Alba Palacios said that she and six other multi-partisan lawmakers would form a commission to examine the proposal and consult with union representatives, community leaders, law professors, members of the armed forces, businesses and several other groups from an array of social and economic backgrounds.
“It is the people of Nicaragua who should decide who the president will be and whether or not there should be re-election,” Palacios said in a statement last week. Once the commission collects data from the public regarding their thoughts on the proposal, the National Assembly will vote and decide. Palacios’ statement follows a perception that the measure is likely to pass the National Assembly—where FSLN representatives hold a large majority—regardless of public opinion.
Although the proposition’s impact, if approved by the National Assembly, would not come into play until Nicaragua’s presidential election in 2016, many foreign media outlets and conservative Nicaraguan newspapers have distorted coverage of the FSLN’s bid and have approached the story from a perspective of perceived political superiority.
Likely top stories this week: Venezuela’s National Assembly is increasing presidential powers for President Nicolás Maduro; Demand for U.S. oil grows in Latin America; Michelle Bachelet enters second round of presidential elections in Chile; Arrest warrants are issued for bankers and politicians involved in Brazil’s biggest corruption trial; Cristina Fernández de Kirchner returns to office.
Presidential Powers in Venezuela: Venezuela’s National Assembly gave initial approval to a bill last week that would grant President Nicolás Maduro decree powers for 12 months. Maduro says he plans to use the new authorities to combat corruption and the country’s ongoing economic crisis, yet critics fear it will be used to suppress the opposition. The bill still requires final approval from a special commission, but is unlikely to undergo substantial changes.
Demand for U.S. oil grows in Latin America: Demand for U.S. fuels has doubled in Latin America during the past five years and continues to grow. The increased demand is due to economic growth and outdated Latin American refineries that have been unable to sustain production at levels comparable with market demands.
Bachelet Enters Second Round Presidential Elections in Chile: Michelle Bachelet won nearly twice as many votes as her second-place opponent, Evelyn Matthei, in the first round presidential elections in Chile. Bachelet won 47 percent of votes and Matthei won 25 percent, leading the two into a final and second round which will be Chile’s first in which both candidates were women. Bachelet’s center-left Nueva Mayoría (New Majority) coalition failed to win a super-majority in Congress, posing a challenge to the candidate’s proposed social and economic reforms.
Supreme Court Issues Arrest Warrants in Brazil Corruption Trial: Brazil’s Supremo Tribunal Federal (Supreme Federal Tribunal—STF) issued arrest warrants on Friday for 12 of the 25 convicted politicians, businessmen and bankers involved in the country’s Mensalão (monthly allowance) corruption scandal. Several prominent politicians—including José Genoino, the former president of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT), and José Dirceu, former chief-of-staff to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva—immediately turned themselves into federal authorities.
Cristina Fernández de Kirchner Returns to Office: Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner returned to office Monday after taking a six-week medical leave and undergoing surgery to stop internal bleeding caused by head trauma. Following her doctors’ recommendation, Kirchner remained on leave for a week longer than she had originally planned.
Es cierto que Colombia está viviendo lo impensable hace solo una década atrás: un grupo de guerrilleros negociadores sentados con sus pares del gobierno en La Habana, con un grupo de países amigos como garantes, alcanzando acuerdos para la resolución de un conflicto armado que ha durado casi 60 años.
El encuentro de negociaciones más reciente, que se trató de la participación política de las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), logró al mismo tiempo que unos estallaran en júbilo, y otros, de la corriente política encabezada por el expresidente Álvaro Uribe, mostraran, como siempre, su férrea indignación. A pocos días del anuncio, el ejército colombiano reveló un supuesto atentado que las FARC planeaban contra el exmandatario en una alianza con narcotraficantes en Cali.
La espectacularidad del hallazgo tapó el debate de días anteriores, en los que la pregunta de millón era el rol electoral que las FARC podrían jugar como posible actor político en las elecciones del 2014. ¿Cómo evitar que corran con la desgraciada suerte de la Unión Patriótica (UP), el partido de guerrilleros desmovilizados que quiso llegar al Congreso por allá en 1985 y cuyos 3.000 militantes fueron asesinados? A pesar de lograr unos sorprendentes resultados electorales—5 senadores, 9 representantes entre los que estuvo el hoy negociador de las FARC, Iván Marquez, 23 alcaldes, 14 diputados y 351 concejales—no pudieron ejercer la política.
¿El Estatuto de Oposición, piedra angular del acuerdo alcanzado, garantizaría sus vidas? ¿Es suficiente la creación de circunscripciones fuera de conflicto para promover esta inclusión democrática? ¿Qué hacer para que la posible carrera de los miembros de las FARC hacia el Congreso se parezca más a la que caminaron los exguerrilleros del M-19 como Gustavo Petro (hoy alcalde de Bogotá) o Antonio Navarro Wolf (ex-alcalde de Pasto y precandidato presidencial), que a la de la UP?
Una gran tarea de comunicación tiene el gobierno para explicarle los alcances de este acuerdo a una sociedad herida por la violencia de las FARC, y a la que le han hecho creer por muchos años que es la única piedra que impide que no seamos un país en paz. A una sociedad conservadora que cada vez que una encuesta le pregunta si quiere la paz, dice que sí, pero no, y mesura con cuidado su tolerancia a los costos para llegar a ella. Una reciente encuesta de la Universidad de los Andes dice que los encuestados reconocen que una desmovilización beneficiaría la economía, la seguridad y la democracia, pero más de un 70 por ciento rechaza que las FARC participen en política, mientras que alrededor del 50 por ciento dice que no aceptaría el resultado de las elecciones locales si las gana un desmovilizado.
Bipartisan opposition grew to the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty on Thursday as members of U.S. Congress who oppose the talks sent numerous letters to President Barack Obama and a secret 95-page draft chapter on intellectual property rights was published by WikiLeaks. TPP negotiations have included representatives from the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Mexico, Malaysia, Chile, Singapore, Peru, Vietnam, and Brunei, but have been closed to the public. According to The Guardian, the document dated on August 30 includes provisions on patentability, online privacy and copyright protections that would be included in a final TPP treaty.
Opponents of the treaty have been critical of the potential damages it may cause to online privacy and intellectual property standards. The Electronic Frontier Foundation—a lead proponent of digital freedoms and government transparency—said that the provisions leaked this week would have “extensive negative ramifications for users' freedom of speech, right to privacy and due process, and hinder peoples' abilities to innovate.” Critics also warn of the effects the treaty would hold on medicine, noting that its wide-reaching protections for pharmaceutical companies and surgical patents could lead to a rise in drug prices and related medical expenses.
TPP supporters remain optimistic and note that, upon approval, the treaty would create the world’s largest free-trade area. In a 2011 speech, Obama said, “The TPP will boost our economies, lowering barriers to trade and investment, increasing exports and creating more jobs for our people, which is my number-one priority.” Enactment of the treaty would dramatically reduce transaction costs between key trade partners in Asia and the Americas, while also serving to create a formidable trading bloc to compete with the growing economic influence of China.
Read more about the TPP in “The Next Big Thing” by Barbara Kotschwar and Jeffrey Schott from the Spring 2013 issue of Americas Quarterly.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner announced Wednesday that the Republican-led House of Representatives would not vote on comprehensive immigration reform before next year. Specifically, Speaker Boehner said that the House would not vote on the bipartisan Senate bill passed earlier this year, saying: “I'll make clear we have no intention ever of going to conference on the Senate bill.” The announcement follows a statement last week from House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to immigration reform proponents that there would not be enough time for a House vote to take place this year.
Political analysts believe Boehner’s decision to call off the vote was meant to signal that he would not be willing to consider the issue of citizenship. The Senate bill proposed offering a pathway to citizenship to the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., to be acquired through a multi-year legal application process and payment of fees and back taxes. The pathway would only be made available following implementation of new security measures along the U.S.-Mexico border. Boehner has said repeatedly that he will attempt to pass reforms “in a common sense way,” referring to committee deliberations that have focused on specific aspects of legislation, but that have not been scheduled for a full House vote. Only three Republican representatives have come out in support of H.R. 15, the House version of the comprehensive Senate bill.
The decision poses a considerable challenge to Republicans’ efforts to reach out to Latino voters since their loss in the 2012 U.S. presidential elections. Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney trailed behind President Obama by 44 percent among Latino voters. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus noted his concerns regarding the effects of immigration reform on the Republican Party, stating, “Hispanic voters tell us our Party’s position on immigration has become a litmus test, measuring whether we are meeting them with a welcome mat or a closed door.”
Last week, Guatemala’s Court of High Risk “B” (Tribunal de Mayor Riesgo “B”) announced that the genocide trial of Guatemala’s former president, General Efraín Ríos Montt, will not resume until January 2015. The trial was pushed back from an earlier date of April 2014, and by the time proceedings continue, Ríos Montt will be 88 years old.
Ríos Montt had been tried and convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity committed against the Mayan Ixil people during one of the most violent periods of Guatemala’s civil war. On May 10, he was sentenced to 80 years in prison, but served just two days before being transferred to a military hospital.
A day later, one of the defense team’s 100-plus amparos—measures designed to provide constitutional protection of individuals—was upheld by Guatemala’s Corte de Constitucionalidad (Constitutional Court—CC). The result of the successful amparo was to move the trial back to its middle, where there was a judicial battle over who was to hear the case—Judge Yasmin Barrios or Judge Carol Patricia Flores.
The ruling backtracked on previous declarations that the trial would not return to a previous date. It also contradicted Guatemalan law, which states once a verdict is delivered, the defendant must continue their legal fight in the Appeals Court.
Since then, the original trial judges have recused themselves on the grounds that they have already issued a judgment. Dozens of judges have avoided hearing the case for fear of repercussions, and in October, the CC reopened the possibility that Ríos Montt may be granted amnesty, based on a 1986 presidential decree by former President Óscar Humberto Mejía Víctores that barred prosecutions for political crimes committed during Mejía and Ríos Montt’s administrations.
The Colombian Government on Tuesday accused the leftist Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) of plotting to kill former President Álvaro Uribe. Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón said he had met with Uribe to inform him of “the detection of a plan by the FARC's Teofilo Forero Mobile Column to make an attempt on his life."
The plot was revealed amid tense peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC that have been taking place in Havana since last November. Uribe, who waged a fierce war against the FARC during his presidency from 2002 to 2010 and reduced the rebel group’s ranks by half, has been an outspoken critic of the talks. Minister Pinzón said that Uribe and his family would receive whatever security they needed in addition to their standard 300-person detail.
The news comes less than a week after the government and the FARC reached a key point in peace negotiations by agreeing on a framework for the creation of new political parties to represent disarmed rebel groups. The other four items to be on the agenda include disarmament, illicit drugs, rights of the victims and peace deal implementation. The president of the Colombian Congress, Juan Fernando Cristo, said that if the plot is confirmed, “we have to demand that the [FARC] negotiators in Havana explain it to the country.”
Not every election sparks debate on issues which define individual lives nor offers voters the chance to fundamentally shape the direction of a nation.
This Sunday Chileans will vote for 120 deputies, 20 senators and one president, bringing an end—to the first chapter at least—of a campaign race which has witnessed both the best and worst of the democratic process and vacillated from enthralling to infuriatingly dull to down-right bizarre.
A historic nine presidential candidates and campaign issues ranging from a new constitution to the right of rape victims to abort have made for an engaging spectacle and led to public discussions on topics which, for more than 20 years, have either been considered too divisive or too inconvenient to consider.
Symptomatic of a country at last free of the fear of dictatorship, whose emerging middle class has found its voice or whose historic struggle against exploitation has once again resurfaced—depending on which analysis one ascribes to, and which according to opinion polls, no longer trusts the political establishment——the 2013 school of presidential hopefuls are a motley crew. Among the nine is vegan, spiritual leader and former World Bank economist Alfredo Sfeir; seamstress-turned-activist Roxana Miranda; porsche-driving professor and celebrity economist Franco Parisi, and the combative intellectual who seeks to unite student, labor and environmental movements, Marcel Claude.
On Monday, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro redoubled his efforts to lobby the National Assembly for special powers to govern by decree under the Ley Habilitante (Enabling Law). Just days before the legislature is expected to vote on the measure, President Maduro vowed to extend Venezuela’s ineffective price controls to all consumer goods.
In an act reminiscent of his predecessor, the late President Hugo Chávez, President Maduro ordered the National Guard to seize several popular electronic shops on Saturday for allegedly selling goods at inflated prices. Despite an inflation rate of 54.3 percent and an artificially low exchange rate, the Maduro blamed increased prices for goods on corporate greed and now five managers from Daka, JVG and Krash stores face prosecution for price hikes.
President Maduro first petitioned the National Assembly for expanded powers at the beginning of October in order to fight corruption and “capitalist logic.” Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who narrowly lost the general election in April, has accused the government of scaring “away investments that would create employment,” and of worsening the economic crisis in the OPEC country.
While hundreds of customers lined up outside the retailers for the reduced priced goods, many Venezuelans saw the tactic as a way of ensuring votes in the upcoming December 8 municipal elections in light of the president’s decreased popularity.
Fifty years ago, I was entering university when a tragic event with worldwide repercussions occurred: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. Many who lived through that day and the following three days can recall where they were, what they were doing and how they felt.
Besides the United States, Canadians probably felt the pain most vividly. JFK had visited us earlier in his presidency and described us as neighbors, allies, partners, and friends. No relationship was closer and more interdependent. He had effectively seduced us on that visit.
Since his death, numerous historical accounts have focused on the theories about his assassination, the myths about the Kennedy years in the White House—the so-called “Camelot” era—and the successes and failures of his presidency. Even after all these years, the JFK mystique still captivates our imagination.
JFK was, above all, a modern man. Elected president in 1960 at age 43, he was the first U.S. president to be born in the 20th century. Young, handsome and charismatic, he was the first president to do regular televised press conferences. With his natural charm, he was able to display vision, firmness and humor. By all accounts, he was a natural for the television age.
Above all, JFK knew how to use the power of words to inspire and to give direction. His words still resonate after all these years: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country”; “Never fear to negotiate, but never negotiate out of fear”; “Wherever we may be, all free men are citizens of Berlin—Ich bin ein Berliner”; We choose to go to the moon in this decade not because it is easy, but because it is hard.”
Likely top stories this week: Chilean voters go to the polls; El Salvador and Honduras face off over Isla Conejo; the Venezuelan government seizes the electronic chain Daka; Chilean forensic experts conclude that Pablo Neruda was not poisoned; the Argentine president is cleared to start working.
Chilean Presidential Elections: Chilean voters will go to the polls on Sunday to elect their next president, with former President Michelle Bachelet heavily favored to win. Bachelet may forgo a presidential runoff with the second-place candidate if she is able to win more than 50 percent of the vote; polls thus far predict she will do so by winning a first-round majority. However, this is the first presidential election in Chile in which voting is no longer compulsory but in which all eligible voters are automatically registered; the new system may have some impact on the vote.
El Salvador Appeals to UN Over Isla Conejo: Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes announced on Sunday that his government would send a letter to the UN and OAS regarding its diplomatic dispute with Honduras over Isla Conejo, which is claimed by both countries. The Honduran military has occupied Isla Conejo since the 1980s, but El Salvador's recent purchase of ten A-37 fighter planes from Chile has made the Honduran government uneasy, with the Honduran government calling the purchase "an open threat." Funes denied the claims on Sunday and said that El Salvador was a peaceful nation and was not planning to go to war.
Government Seizes Venezuelan Electronics Chain: As the Christmas season and Venezuela's December 8 municipal elections approach, the Venezuelan government on Friday ordered the seizure of the electronics chain Daka, saying that prices of goods like plasma TVs were overpriced by as much as 1000 percent. After the government instituted a rapid price reduction of Daka's goods, Venezuelan customers lined up for hours to take advantage of the new prices. Shortages of basic goods have plagued the Venezuelan economy and inflation is estimated at 54 percent. Maduro says he is cracking down on unscrupulous businesspeople and has instituted a number of strategies—including kicking off Christmas celebrations in the first week of November—to shore up support ahead of the elections.
Neruda Not Poisoned, Experts Say: Experts from the Chilean Forensic Service said on Friday that no evidence of poison was found in the remains of Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda, who was exhumed earlier this year and whose body underwent six months of test by a team comprised of 15 Chilean and foreign forensic scientists. Neruda apparently died of prostate cancer just days before the coup of General Augusto Pinochet in September 1973. Neruda's driver, Manuel Araya, maintained for decades that the poet was poisoned after entering the hospital. Chile's Communist Party, of which Neruda was a member, has called for further studies.
Fernández de Kirchner to Resume Duties: A month after undergoing emergency surgery due to a blood clot in her brain, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has been given medical clearance to resume presidential duties starting on Monday. She will undergo more tests next month and is not allowed to fly for another 30 days. Argentine Vice President Amado Boudou was formally in charge of the government during Fernández de Kirchner’s recovery.
President Barack Obama and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) met at the White House on Thursday afternoon to discuss “a broad range of issues,” including strategies for moving immigration reform forward in Congress. While a bipartisan reform bill passed the Senate in June, the House of Representatives has yet to schedule a vote on its comprehensive reform bill, H.R 15.
Senator McCain, a long-time advocate for an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws, was a member of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” that crafted, and ultimately ensured the passage of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act in the senate. Once political opponents, the President and Sen. McCain have become unlikely allies on issues ranging from immigration to gun control. The two were expected to discuss how to garner more support from conservatives in the House, after three Republican representatives pledged their support for H.R. 15 last week.
With increasing pressure from conservative groups including businesses, evangelical Christians, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, there is renewed optimism that the House may take up immigration reform before the end of the year. While five piecemeal bills on issues such as boarder security and mandatory use of the E-Verify system have passed their committees, none have been brought to the floor for a vote. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has not set a timetable for a full House vote. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have both endorsed the House’s piecemeal approach as the most likely to yield passable reform legislation this year.
Speaking before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) last week, petitioning organizations from Peru formally highlighted problems within Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)—an agency established in 2001 to address human rights abuses committed during the internal conflict of the 1980s and 1990s.
The TRC was created after the fall of President Alberto Fujimori in order to investigate crimes committed by both the guerrilla groups Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) and the Movimiento Revolucionario Túpac Amaru (Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement—MRTA), as well as by government forces. The TRC focuses on massacres, terrorism, forced disappearances, violence, and human rights abuses committed during the armed conflict.
While petitioners and members of the Commission recognized last week that concrete advances have been made since the TRC’s inception, they agreed that significant challenges remain and hope to generate a set of specific actions to be taken in four main areas: the judicial process, missing and disappeared persons, the current state of reparations for victims, and historic memory.
Representatives from the Instituto de Defensa Legal (Institute of Legal Defense—IDL) and the Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos (National Human Rights Coordinator—CNDDHH) described problems within the TRC budget, inadequate reparations for victims and the sluggish speed of human rights court cases in Peru.
The Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) reached a key point in peace negotiations this Wednesday, as the two parties agreed upon a framework for the creation of new political parties to represent disarmed rebel groups. The issue of political integration was previously highlighted by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos as a primary goal for the negotiations, which he hopes to conclude by the end of this year.
The talks began in Havana last November, and have stalled numerous times as the parties have sought to reach an agreement to end the country’s fifty-year-old armed conflict. According to the Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica (National Center for Historical Memory), the conflict has killed 220,000 people and has displaced hundreds of thousands more. Political experts believe the integration agreement will boost public support for the negotiations, which has declined in recent months due to increasing criticisms from opposition parties ahead of the 2014 presidential elections.
Humberto de la Calle, chief negotiator for the Colombian government, said the talks will lead to a “new democratic opening,” adding, “Never again politics and weapons together.” Chief FARC negotiator Iván Márquez also voiced his support for Wednesday’s development, saying it was “an important step in the right direction to end the conflict and to achieve a real democracy in Colombia.” In addition to agreements on land reform and political integration, the parties hope to conclude negotiations by the end of 2013 on the remaining issues of disarmament, drug reform, reparations for victims, and peace plan implementation.
“Nations be spyin’, yo!”
That’s how Jon Stewart of The Daily Show recently summed up the ongoing-and-ever-expanding allegations that the U.S. National Security Agency spied on Brazil and other nations, a story to which Wikipedia now devotes more than 33,000 words and nearly 600 source references.
“All nations act in their own self-interest,” Stewart said on October 24, addressing those such as Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff who have responded with outrage to the allegations. “Don’t act like your s*** don’t stink, it does, and we know, because we have a super-secret program that goes through your s***.”
Stewart was more right than he knew.
This week in Brazil, local media revealed that the Agência Brasileira de Inteligência (Brazilian Intelligence Agency—ABIN) has spied on diplomatic allies including the United States—an embarrassing revelation for Rousseff, who in recent months has positioned herself as a champion of privacy rights and even canceled an official state visit this fall to the White House because she said the U.S. refused to swiftly end its spying program.
Awkward. But now, the revelations about Brazil’s spy program have sparked a reaction similar to Stewart’s.
“Brazil has an intelligence agency, so it is not big news that Brazil spies,” Rafael Alcadipani da Silveira, of the Rio de Janeiro think tank Fundação Getúlio Vargas, told me.
“Everybody spies,” agreed Christian Lohbauer, a political scientist at the Universidade de São Paulo (University of São Paulo—USP). If anything, he is now more annoyed at Brazil’s government for having used the issue to gain political points at home.
The Rio de Janeiro state government announced on Tuesday night that it would cancel this year’s Soccerex Global Convention, the premier business event for the international soccer community, citing a financial dispute over the use of public funds. But Soccerex CEO Duncan Revie rebuffed the government’s claim, saying instead that “ongoing civil unrest” in Rio is to blame for the convention’s cancellation.
The decision to cancel Soccerex is a blow to World Cup organizers, who are trying to demonstrate that Brazil is ready to host the global tournament and the 2016 Olympics following widespread protests in the Spring against World Cup-related investment.
Soccerex was scheduled to take place in Rio’s newly refurbished Maracanã stadium from November 30 to December 5. It would have been attended by 4,500 of "football's leading decision-makers," including many of the executives, coaches and functionaries—FIFA President Sepp Blatter among them—who then planned to travel on to the World Cup draw on December 6.
The news was announced as the Brazil 2014 organizing committee was in London to visit a tourism trade fair. Speaking to reporters in London, FIFA's marketing director, Thierry Weil, said, "We are as surprised as anybody at this change of plans but we do not believe it will have any influence on the hosting of the World Cup.”
Next year, Soccerex moves its convention to Manchester in the United Kingdom, which has been the host of Soccerex Europe since 2010.
El estado mexicano de Michoacán es famoso por sus bellezas naturales y sus hermosas ciudades. Cuna de la antigua civilización purépecha, posee importantes sitios arqueológicos y pueblos coloniales declarados como Patrimonio de la Humanidad por la UNESCO, así como fiestas declaradas también Patrimonio Intangible de la Humanidad. Sus artesanos están considerados como grandes maestros en el mundo entero, y año a año llegan a Michoacán millones de mariposas monarca provenientes de Canadá en busca de un clima más moderado para pasar el invierno.
Sin embargo, nada de esto le ha permitido a esta región sustraerse del clima de violencia provocada por el narcotráfico en su lucha con las autoridades. Buena parte de su geografía está en poder del grupo de narcotraficantes conocido como “Los Templarios,” que pelean el territorio con Los Zetas y el Cartel del Golfo. Ni el ejército ni la policía han podido impedir esto y, de hecho, la corrupción en este último cuerpo de seguridad ha propiciado que, más que defender a los ciudadanos del estado, muchos policías participen en labores de protección de los grupos delictivos.
La ausencia de un gobierno estatal estable ha contribuido significativamente al caos que reina en la entidad. El gobernador anterior, Leonel Godoy, del Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD), dejó el cargo en medio de serias acusaciones de corrupción. El nuevo gobernador, Fausto Vallejo, del Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), ha ejercido de manera intermitente el poder por motivo de una salud muy deteriorada, dejando las riendas del mismo durante sus constantes ausencias en manos de Jesús Reyna, su secretario de gobierno. Este vacío de poder ha provocado un aumento en la fuerza de los grupos delictivos y ha propiciado que algunos grupos pidan que el Congreso de la Unión declare la desaparición de poderes en el estado.
Clarín Group, Argentina’s largest media conglomerate, announced plans Monday to divide its operations into six subsidiary companies, in compliance with the country’s Ley de Medios (Media Law). The anti-monopoly law was upheld by the Argentine Supreme Court last week after four years of legal disputes between Clarín and the federal government. Clarín representatives said the company had only agreed to implement the changes after the decision was “forced upon" them, but they did not rule out the possibility of appealing the decision to international tribunals.
Martín Sabbatella, president of the Autoridad Federal de Comunicación Audiovisual (Federal Audiovisual Communications Authority—AFSCA) and Argentina’s top broadcast regulator, welcomed the company’s decision to comply with the law and said his agency would review Clarín’s breakup proposal within 120 days. In the first meeting held between government representatives and Clarín executives since last week’s Supreme Court decision, Sabatella said he would ensure that the reform process causes the company “as little damage as possible.”
The Supreme Court said it found “no evidence in the case that there is a violation of freedom of expression derived from the law." Nevertheless, the Court also informed the government that companies surrendering licenses under the new law must be duly compensated, with oversight from an independent regulatory authority and equal distribution of government subsidies. The law will reduce the number of radio and television licenses that a single company can hold, and pending government review of the company’s proposal, may require Clarín to sell one or more of its newly created subsidiaries.
Read about Argentina's 2009 media reforms in the Fall 2013 issue of AQ, which focuses on freedom of expression.
Likely top stories this week: Brazil will reduce lending by 20 percent next year; Argentina wins a stay on its $1.33 billion payment; Tropical Storm Sonia Hits Mexico; Honduras’ police chief denies abuses; Brazilian delegation opposes Uruguayan marijuana legalization.
Brazil to Reduce Lending Due to Budget Deficit: Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega said Friday that Brazilian development bank BNDES will reduce lending by 20 percent next year, down to about 150 billion reais ($66.6 billion) from this year's estimated 190 billion reais. The announcement came after an Oct. 31 report showed Brazil’s budget deficit widened to 3.3 percent of gross domestic product, the most since November 2009. Some experts speculate that Brazil's credit rating could be cut.
U.S. Court Upholds Stay on Argentine Debt Payment: The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Argentina on Friday by denying a motion that would have forced the country to start paying $1.33 billion to holdout bondholders. Friday’s decision will permit Argentina to make a second appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court before it is forced to pay the $1.33 billion to NML Capital Ltd and other holdout bondholders who did not accept a debt swap in 2005 and 2010.
Tropical Storm Sonia Hits Mexican Coast: Tropical Storm Sonia hit Mexico's Pacific Coast on Monday morning near the city of El Dorado in Sinaloa. By the time the storm made landfall, it was downgraded to a tropical depression and winds had decreased to about 35 mph. Though the storm is weakening, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said it could still cause floods and landslides in the region. Mexican authorities issued storm warnings from Mazatlan north to Altata on Sunday, and the government of Sinaloa state canceled classes on Monday in five municipalities.
Honduran General Denies Role in Police Abuses: In an interview, Honduran general and police chief Juan Carlos Bonilla denied knowledge or involvement in a wave of police abuses this year in which at least seven detainees have gone missing or been killed in police custody. He also said that he was not involved in setting up death squads starting in 1998, as reported by the police department's internal affairs section in 2002.
Brazilian Delegation Concerned About Uruguayan Marijuana: Brazilian political leaders from the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul will travel to neighboring Uruguay this Tuesday to oppose Uruguayan legislation that will legalize marijuana sale and consumption in the country. The Brazilian delegation will testify before the Uruguayan Senate's health committee in an attempt to prevent the country from moving ahead with legalization.
On October 21, Indian oil and gas firm ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL) was among 11 foreign companies in Rio de Janiero to bid for Brazil’s latest oil find, the Libra oil field.
The winning consortium was made up of a Sino-European mix of four companies, with Brazil’s Petrobras holding the majority stake. Although OVL didn’t make the final cut, its presence in the bidding process points to India’s growing energy equation with Latin America, as does the recent success of Indian oil majors in acquiring large contracts in Latin America.
Eight Indian companies—OVL, Reliance Industries, Essar Oil, BPCL, Oil India, Videocon Industries, Assam Company, and Indian Oil Corporation—are part of 12 joint ventures in Venezuela, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Cuba, and Peru. Their approach is pragmatic: invest substantial capital with state-run oil companies and use local expertise.
In Venezuela and Brazil, the national oil companies—PDVSA and Petrobras, respectively—get their governments’ support in procuring funding and project clearances, which further facilitates the joint ventures. As a result of the enhanced trade in oil from these countries to refineries at home, India’s total oil imports from Latin America increased from 4.5 percent in 2003 to 11 percent in 2012-13.
Barrick Gold Corporation, a Canadian mining company and the world’s largest gold producer, announced Thursday that it has temporarily halted operations at its Pascua-Lama gold mine in the Andean border region between Argentina and Chile. Production was scheduled to begin by early 2014, but environmental regulations, depreciating gold prices and declining company profits led to a decision to indefinitely suspend construction at the mine. Barrick said it has already spent over $5 billion of the total estimated project cost of $8.5 billion. The company told investors in a quarterly earnings statement that the postponement would provide capital savings of up to $1 billion in 2014.
Barrick’s stock prices fell 8.65 percent in April when a Chilean appeals court announced that it would block operations at Pascua-Lama due to “environmental irregularities.” The announcement came after members of Diaguita Indigenous communities filed a complaint that the mine had polluted glacial deposits and contaminated scarce water resources in the Atacama Desert. Chilean Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick welcomed the April announcement and said he hoped the company would be able to address the court’s concerns and conduct environmentally sound operations. The Chilean government has not announced plans to revise or lift the restrictions.
Officials voiced greater concern in Argentina, where operations were not discontinued until the company’s recent announcement. On the Argentine side of the mine, Barrick operations provide thousands of jobs and accounts for a third of San Juan province’s economy. Officials there have advocated repeatedly for the project, and it remains unclear how the closure will affect the region’s economy. Nevertheless, Guillermo Calo, Barrick’s top official in Argentina, said the company still plans to invest $400 million there next year.
“Women are not doing well because they want to do it all. They want to study, go out and get a job and be housewives as well. Well, that is really difficult to achieve.”
These were recent and controversial words spoken by Ricardo Salinas Pliego, president of Grupo Salinas and owner of TV Azteca, one of the two television media conglomerates in the country. Salinas made the remarks during the Mexico Cumbre de Negocios (Mexico Business Summit) on October 20-22.
Salinas went on to say that women should receive a salary from their husbands “so that their work at home as caretakers […] is monetized and better valued.”
Unfortunately, his ignorant point of view on gender equality is not as unusual in Mexico as some may think. Even in this day and age, many talented Mexican women face such myopic views as an obstacle to their professional development.
Given the growing number of women with advanced graduate degrees in Mexico—currently 50.4 percent, according to a recent study by the Asociación Nacional de Universidades e Instituciones de Educación Superior (National Association of Universities and Higher Educational Institutions—ANUIES)—forward-thinking companies have begun to understand the need to tap into a talent pool they didn’t used to, given prejudices in hiring and professional development processes.
A Representative from California became the third Republican in the House of Representatives to pledge support for comprehensive immigration reform legislation proposed by House Democrats. Rep. David Valdadao of California’s twenty-first congressional district joins Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) in publicly supporting H.R. 15 this week, the House version of the bipartisan bill that passed the Senate in June.
Similar to the Senate version, H.R. 15 includes a 13-year pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, but includes a distinct border security measure approved by the House Homeland Security Committee in May. "By supporting H.R. 15 I am strengthening my message: addressing immigration reform in the House cannot wait," said Rep. Valadao, who represents a largely Latino district and was targeted in an online ad campaign last week highlighting that public opinion in his district overwhelming favors comprehensive reform. The bill currently has 190 cosponsors, short of the 218 needed to get a majority in the House. So far, Speaker of the House John Boehner has declined to allow a vote on the Senate bill or H.R. 15, unless a majority of his Republicans colleagues support it.
Rep. Valadao’s announcement comes on the heels of a “fly-in” on Capitol Hill on Tuesday by 600 advocates, including conservatives, evangelicals, and business leaders who lobbied their representatives in support of immigration reform. While the chances of comprehensive reform passing the House this year still appear slim, the fallout from the government shutdown may make it more politically difficult for House Republicans to opt for inaction on the issue.
When masked men burst into the tiny hamlet of San José Nacahuil on a peaceful Sunday evening last month, what followed was all too familiar to Guatemalans.
Eleven people were killed and numerous injured as armed assailants moved from house to house. Children safe in their beds were awoken by shots fired into their bedrooms. They tumbled out of bed terrified and in pain, checking to see if their relatives were alive or dead, then, confused and crying, waited for help.
Over 50 firefighters and 20 ambulances arrived at the scene according to Sergio Vásquez, the Bomberos Voluntarios (Volunteer Firefighters) spokesman. “We got a call and a calm voice said several people had been injured. We found victims in hiding places, in the bathrooms of bars and in the streets surrounding the scene,” Vásquez said.
A burnt-out car stolen from the streets of San José Nacahuil was all that remained of the attackers, who fled quickly into the dusk, leaving behind another broken neighborhood.
Guatemalan Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla arrived quickly on the scene, and presented three possible theories to the press corps: the attackers were either extortionists, one of three maras clicas (organized crime groups) in the area, or bandits that had been refused liquor and returned to seek revenge.
Quietly, locals pointed to a fourth theory—that members of the government’s Policía Nacional Civil (National Civil Police—PNC) had perpetrated the crime. It turns out that San José Nacahuil has had a difficult relationship with the police. In 2005, residents burned down the PNC substation and two motorbikes to protest alleged corruption, lack of public services and rising inter-city bus charges. There had been no police presence in the area since then.
Voters in Argentina’s October 27 midterm elections delivered a clear message to the country’s politicians on Sunday: they are ready for change. The incumbent, Peronist-affiliated Frente Para La Victoria (Front for Victory—FPV), led by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, suffered key losses as the country voted on available seats in one-third of the Senate and half of the Chamber of Deputies.
The results may reflect voters’ concern with issues such as rising inflation, corruption, and crime, which have become increasingly severe in recent years under the Fernández de Kirchner government. They also suggest that the 2015 elections may feature a divided Peronist movement—as well as a plausible non-Peronist alternative for the first time in 12 years.
Though the FPV maintains a majority in both houses of Congress—40 of 72 seats in the Senate and 132 of 257 seats in the Chamber of Deputies—their losses in 12 of 24 districts in Sunday’s elections indicate that the party’s popularity is slipping. Perhaps the most important loss took place in the province of Buenos Aires, a traditionally Peronist region with over 11 million registered voters.
As predicted in the August primaries, Sergio Massa, an ex-FPV candidate and mayor of the populous city of Tigre, secured a seat in the Chamber of Deputies. His new Peronist-inspired party, Frente Renovador (Renewing Front), provides traditional Peronist voters with an alternative to the FPV. On Sunday, Massa soundly defeated his FPV competitor, Martín Insaurralde, who trailed by over twelve points. Whereas the FPV considers itself a leftist party, Massa’s Frente Renovador appears to represent more centrist, business-friendly interests.
Clarín Group, Argentina’s largest media conglomerate, will have to sell off part of its holdings due to a Supreme Court ruling handed down on Tuesday. The high court declared constitutional the four articles of the Ley de Medios (Media Law), Argentina’s anti-monopoly broadcast law that congress passed four years ago but has stalled in the courts since.
The 2009 law reduces the number of radio and television licenses that a single owner could hold from 24 to 10, which the government has said is necessary to reduce market concentration. But Clarín Group sees it as an attempt by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to stifle opposition voices, saying in a statement that it “laments the ruling, which doesn't take into account the value of journalistic independence as a precursor for freedom of speech.” In its ruling, the Supreme Court found “no evidence in the case that there is a violation of freedom of expression derived from the law."
As a result, in addition to reducing the number of licenses it holds, the Clarín Group will likely have to break up its Cablevisión-Fibertel holding, the largest cable and internet operator in Argentina, and sell off its Canal 13 television network. The ruling was seen as a victory for the embattled administration of President Kirchner whose party suffered a setback in Sunday’s midterm elections. Clarín Group has not ruled out appealing the law in international courts.
On Friday, October 25, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani spoke at Montreal’s Board of Trade on the eve of the Montreal mayoral election.
The Board of Trade, anticipating the fervor of the final stretch of the campaign for a new mayor, chose to invite Giuliani for his take on how to revive Canada’s second largest city after a year of upheaval in which two mayors were forced out of office and a new election is scheduled for November 3.
Against a backdrop of corruption investigations, crumbling infrastructure and a general feeling of decline, Giuliani’s presence was most welcome. While the former mayor was careful not to appear smug or condescending, he did outline what he considered to have been the formula for his success in reviving the fortunes of New York City.
Having a vision and a sense of direction for your city is the first major ingredient for success, Giuliani said. When he took over in the early 90s in New York, the crime rate was high and people were leaving the city. When he left office shortly after 9-11, crime was down 80 percent and people were coming back to the city.
To measure the progress of a city, Giuliani emphasized the need for both accountability and measurable goals. He recognized that there were risks in this approach, but said that one should govern as if it is a single mandate and that the population will respect the efforts even if the results are inconclusive. Transformational governance, says Rudy, requires taking risks even at the prospect of failure and ultimate electoral defeat.
Uruguayan President José Mujica announced at the Council of Ministers on Monday his decision to withdraw Uruguayan troops from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). The Mission was installed by the UN Security Council in 2004 following the coup d’état against former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and was reinforced in early 2010 when a devastating earthquake resulted in more than 220,000 deaths, according to government figures.
The UN has encouraged a progressive reduction of MINUSTAH’s troops as the peacekeeping mission’s mandate is coming to an end in June 2014. The latest Security Council resolution established that troops must be reduced to 5,021 soldiers and 2,601 police agents—down from the 8,690 officials who are currently on the island.
According to Uruguayan Defense Minister Eleuterio Fernández Huidobro, Mujica ordered the early withdrawal of the Uruguayan troops, which must be done in coordination with the Security Council and other countries from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). The president stated that the process should not be postponed any further, since other countries like Brazil have already decided to leave.
With 950 officials in Haiti, Uruguay is second only to Brazil as the country that provides the greatest number of military officials to MINUSTAH. Besides Uruguay, other nations with peacekeeping troops in Haiti include Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Guatemala, El Salvador and Peru.
The presence of peacekeepers has been the target of popular protests and a source of controversy in Haiti because of the peacekeepers’ role in re-introducing cholera to the country, numerous cases of sexual exploitation and abuse involving MINUSTAH personnel—including the sexual assault of a young Haitian man by Uruguayan troops—and other abuses.
Honduras will hold its presidential elections on November 24, and voters—for the first time in this Central American country’s history—might elect a female and openly socialist president, signaling the nation’s growing frustration with its male-dominated conservative leadership.
Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, representing the Partido Libertad y Refundación (Liberty and Refoundation Party—LIBRE), was slated as the frontrunner in several preliminary polls conducted in September that monitored intended votes in the upcoming election. She earned 29 percent of votes in a CID-Gallup survey, followed by Juan Orlando Hernández of the National Party in second place with 27 percent; and she earned 22.8 percent of votes in an Encuestadora Paradigma study, followed by Hernández with 21.9 percent, according to the Huffington Post.
The political novice has captured the attention of Hondurans around the world with calls for the establishment of a constituent assembly and nationalization programs aimed at redistributing the country’s highly concentrated wealth. She is the wife of former President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, who was forcibly removed from office in a 2009 coup d’état after being accused of violating the constitution by scheduling a referendum on proposed constitutional reforms.
The military coup, which was orchestrated by members of both the Partido Nacional (National Party) and the Partido Liberal (Liberal Party)—the two dominant political parties in the country—was followed by the interim de facto rule of Partido Liberal member Roberto Micheletti and the subsequent election of President Porfirio Lobo Sosa, who belongs to the Partido Nacional.
Honduras has been plagued for decades by economic inequality, violent crime and the political persecution of journalists who criticize the government, but these problems have intensified since 2009.
Likely top stories this week: Argentine opposition gains influence in midterms; Brazil and Germany lead a UN anti-spying initiative; lobbyists push for U.S. immigration reform; Paraguay to represent Mercosur in negotiations with EU; hostage Kevin Scott Sutay is released by the FARC.
Argentines Vote in Midterm Elections: With 72 percent of the votes counted in Argentina's Sunday midterm elections, the governing party of Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner retains a narrow majority in Congress, but Fernández de Kirchner’s chance of running for a third presidential term appears to be gone. In the face of rising consumer prices and a weakening currency, the opposition has won a key House of Deputies race in Buenos Aires province, with a convincing victory by opposition leader Sergio Massa, the former mayor of Tigre. Massa is seen as a potential presidential contender in 2015. Sunday’s elections also marked the first time that 16 and 17 year-old Argentines were allowed to vote.
21 Countries On Board for UN Anti-Spying Resolution: Twenty-one countries, led by Brazil and Germany, have agreed to meet for talks to draft a UN resolution that would condemn and monitor electronic surveillance. Brazil and Germany proposed the resolution last week after leaked reports that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) was spying on heads of state, including Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. According to the Wall Street Journal, the White House ordered an end to the eavesdropping on foreign leaders this summer after a wiretapping program targeting about 35 leaders was disclosed to the White House. The NSA said Sunday that its director never notified Obama about the program. On Monday, El Mundo reported that the NSA monitored 60 million Spanish phone calls in one month.
Immigration Lobbying Intensifies in Washington DC: A major lobbying effort is expected to intensify in Washington DC this week, targeting Republican members of Congress to take action on immigration reform. Approximately 600 business, religious and agricultural leaders—most of them conservative—are expected to put added pressure on 80 Republicans from the House of Representatives to pass one of four immigration reform measures approved by the House Judiciary Committee. The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill in June.
Paraguay to Represent Mercosur in Brussels: Paraguay appears to have made progress in its quest to rejoin Mercosur after a meeting between Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes and Uruguayan President José Mujica on Friday in Montevideo. Upon returning to Asunción this weekend, Cartes said that Paraguay was prepared to represent Mercosur in negotiations with the European Union in December, though the country has not yet officially rejoined the trade bloc after being suspended in June 2012 following the controversial impeachment of former Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo.
FARC Releases U.S. Citizen: The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) released former U.S. soldier Kevin Scott Sutay on Sunday after he was kidnapped by the rebels in late June. Scott appeared to be in good health after he was released to the International Committee of the Red Cross and representatives from Colombia, Cuba and Norway.
El sueño de que en unas elecciones se vote por ideas y no por personas ha cabalgado por las sociedades latinoamericanas comicios tras comicios. En Argentina, que elige el próximo domingo un tercio del Senado (24 bancas), la mitad de la Cámara de Diputados (127), así como legisladores de todas las provincias del país—incluida la Ciudad de Buenos Aires—, el sueño persiste. Pero la regla en campaña fue la misma: los partidos aceitaron sus maquinarias y militantes con el ánimo de conservar a los fieles y atraer a los novatos, promoviendo las personas y olvidando la discusión de las ideas.
Por esta razón, varias iniciativas de los ciudadanos y la sociedad civil han querido poner en jaque esa regla. Una de ellas—de la cual soy partícipe—llamada Elegibien.com es una plataforma digital inspirada en el portal Votebien.com Colombia que permite que los ciudadanos respondan a preguntas sobre la situación del país, bajo la premisa de que las redes sociales nos ofrecen la posibilidad de participar todos en igualdad de condiciones en la discusión de los problemas del país.
ElegíBien busca concentrar en un solo lugar a todos los candidatos y generar nuevas formas de debate interactivo. El objetivo es demostrar que—a pesar de la polarización en Argentina que ve la política con los lentes K y Anti K (por kirchnerismo y antikirchnerismo)—no hay una única lectura, ni protagonismos más grandes ni más chicos. En esta oportunidad, se invitó a los candidatos a responder 5 preguntas en el formato video-minuto sobre los problemas que más preocupan a los argentinos: #seguridad #inflación #desempleo #educación y #corrupción. Aunque terminen las elecciones, la iniciativa ve más allá del voto y el día electoral como formas de expresión y participación ciudadana para construir democracia.