February 11, 2015Tags: Internet and communication technology, UNASUR, CAF
The Unión de Naciones Suramericanas (The Union of South American Nations—UNASUR) and the Banco de Desarrollo de América Latina (Latin American Development Bank—CAF) announced plans on Tuesday to develop the first fiber optic cable exclusively financed by Latin American institutions.
The creation of the proposed Red de Conectividad Suramericana para la Integración (South American Connectivity Network for Integration) could reduce South America’s reliance on foreign businesses for the infrastructure needed to connect to the Internet, subsequently lowering costs of access as well as increasing connectivity speeds.
UNASUR Secretary-General Ernesto Samper explained in a press conference in Montevideo, Uruguay, that Internet speed in South America is significantly slower than in other countries because of the challenges of broadband connectivity in the region, causing prices to surge up to 20 times higher than in developed countries.
There are an estimated 22.3 million Internet users in Latin America, accounting for 54.7 percent of the region’s population. Samper expressed concern about the digital divide in South America, stating that “one who is not connected is lost” and that Latin America “needs to generate value added processes and create autonomous communications highways to strengthen its independence and cyber defenses.”
CAF has pledged an initial investment of 1.5 million dollars for the first phase of the project, which will involve an in-depth analysis of the current Internet technologies in each South American country to determine how they will incorporate existing cables into the future fiber optic grid. The vice president of CAF, Antonio Sosa, stated that the study would focus on demographics, technical issues and institutional framework in each country.
February 11, 2015Read More Tags: El Salvador elections, El Salvador, FMLN, ARENA
El Salvador will hold its next legislative and municipal elections in three weeks, on March 1, 2015. As the country’s electorate preps for yet another election, political parties scramble to fine tune logistics and communication strategies in the run up to the election.
The period leading up to the election has showcased El Salvador’s positive evolution in establishing democratic institutions. However, it has also shed light on pending reforms and necessary safeguards to protect the institutional framework which stemmed from the 1992 Peace Accords.
The upcoming election will be a first for the country for several reasons. In November 2014, the Supreme Court of Justice determined that citizens could not be prevented from voting for individual candidates from various political parties. An election without blocked lists would take place for the first time. This would allow voters to choose between pre-determined party lists or select individual candidates from the different political parties.
Despite the late notice of the reform (a mere four months before the election), El Salvador’s electoral institutions—including the Supreme Electoral Tribunal and political parties—responded positively and adapted to the change in voting procedures. Similarly, the forthcoming election will be the first to elect pluralist, multi-party municipal councils. Both reforms will ultimately contribute to strengthened political and democratic institutions within the legislative branch and in local municipalities.
February 10, 2015Read More Tags: Venezuelan economy, Nicolás Maduro, Venezuelan Protests
El año comenzó con eventos que conmocionaron al mundo y llamaron a reflexionar sobre seguridad, radicalismo y civilización. Venezuela no fue inmune al contexto internacional. El 31 de enero de 2015, Caracas difundió una nota de pesar por el asesinato del periodista japonés Kenji Goto. En tres párrafos, el presidente Nicolás Maduro condenaba “enérgicamente” su decapitación. En las últimas líneas ratificaba que su gobierno abogaba "por el respeto a la vida y la tolerancia”.
Esto en un país que cerró 2014 como el segundo con mayor homicidios de la región, 82 por cada 100 mil habitantes (24.980 personas), según el reporte del Observatorio de la Violencia, ONG venezolana que monitoriza el tema en el país. El único “balance” oficial del gobierno venezolano al respecto fue el dado por la ministra de Interior y Justicia, Carmen Meléndez, quien el 5 de enero se limitó a decir que la tasa de homicidio en el país “ha bajado, un poco”.
En la primera semana de enero, en la principal morgue de Caracas ya contabilizaban el ingreso de 100 cadáveres para 2015, según la prensa nacional. Una semana cualquiera en la capital nacional.
Las cifras pueden transmitir la gravedad de la situación venezolana, pero no el día a día de un país cuya cotidianidad fue transfigurada. Restaurantes y lugares nocturnos modificaron sus horarios y comenzaron a operar con detectores de metales en las puertas para evitar el ingreso de armas. Carteles prohibiendo el porte de pistolas proliferan por todas partes, como si estar armado fuese algo normal. Caminar se ha vuelto un deporte de riesgo, y el territorio nacional es una zona roja, donde estar vivo es un regalo divino o un exceso de suerte.
February 10, 2015Tags: Quirino Ernesto Paulino Castillo, President Leonel Fernandez, FUNGLODE
Former Dominican army captain and infamous drug trafficker Quirino Ernesto Paulino Castillo announced on Monday that he funded former president Leonel Fernández’ presidential campaign, alleging that Fernández was fully aware of the source of the funding.
In an interview yesterday on the TV program Hilando Filo, produced by reporter Salvador Holguín, Paulino Castillo said that he provided funds for Fernández’ presidential campaign from 2002 to 2004 (Fernández went on to serve as president from 2004 to 2012), as well as for the Fundación Global Democracia y Desarrollo (Global Democracy and Development Foundation—FUNGLODE), a non-profit founded by Fernández in 2000.
Paulino Castillo indicated that over $155,625 in narco-trafficking funds was used for FUNGLODE. He also stated that Fernández owes him approximately $500,000, money that was used in his campaign for president of the Partido de la Liberación Dominicana (Dominican Liberation Party—PLD). Paulino Castillo further affirmed that the former president was aware that it was “dirty money,” and offered to take a polygraph test to prove his claims.
While Fernández was applauded for reducing inflation and encouraging foreign investment while in office, he was also criticized for downplaying corruption in the Dominican Republic. Three of his senior advisors had their visas revoked by the U.S. in 2012 for alleged ties to possible drug-traffickers.
Administrative Minister of the Presidency José Ramón Peralta was asked today to comment on rumors circulating that his colleagues were financing a negative publicity campaign against Fernández. So far there has been no comment from Fernández on the allegations.
February 9, 2015Read More Tags: Canada, Canadian politics
To many outside our country, Canada has been characterized as a stable, durable democracy with a consistently enlightened approach to matters of public policy. The political parties that have governed the country since its inception in 1867 have usually struck a balance between ideological pursuits and the general values Canadian hold dear. Canada’s Supreme Court, meanwhile, has been devoid of the ideological splits that have characterized different periods in U.S. history.
Last week best illustrates how Canada can come to grips with some crucial and potentially divisive issues. On February 2, the Conservative government of Stephen Harper tabled new anti-terrorism legislation that went further than some (including myself), who cherish basic freedoms and favor restraints on police authority in the exercise of these freedoms, would have liked. The proposed legislation, however, does strike a chord with a majority of Canadians who are willing to give some leeway to authorities in combating the scourge of terrorism and in remembering the risks of homegrown terrorist assaults (this following two such acts last autumn on Canadian soil).
The opposition parties—the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Liberals— immediately expressed serious reservations about the new police-type powers handed to Canada’s intelligence agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, or CSIS (Canada’s version of the CIA).
The NDP has chosen to use parliamentary debate to extract amendments before indicating its decision to vote for or against the proposed bill. The Liberals decided to support the bill, but proposed stronger oversight measures for the elected representatives. This being an election year, we can expect more fireworks, with the ultimate assessment of the law being made some time after the upcoming Canadian election. But the debate in itself is healthy.
Monday Memo: Iguala Students—Cuban Internet—Nicaragua Canal—Strike in Haiti—Unasur facilitates U.S.-Venezuela dialogue
February 9, 2015Tags: Ayotzinapa, Nicaragua Canal, Cuba Internet, UNASUR, President Michele Martelly
Likely top stories this week: Independent forensic team deems Mexico’s 43 missing students case inconclusive; Cuban authorities to expand Internet centers in 2015; archaeological relics uncovered along Nicaragua Canal route; a general strike in Haiti on eve of Carnival; Unasur seeks to facilitate U.S.-Venezuela dialogue.
Independent Forensic Team Deems Mexico’s 43 Missing Students Case Inconclusive: A forensic report conducted by a team of Argentine experts was released on Saturday, questioning the Mexican government’s announcement last month that the 43 missing students in Iguala were definitively murdered. Hired by the students’ families to conduct an independent investigation, the Argentine Forensic Anthropologists concluded that Mexico’s official statement does not provide sufficient evidence to close the case. The report also issued a list of discrepancies in the Mexican attorney general’s investigation, including mistakes in the collection of 20 genetic profiles from family members that rendered them unusable, and allowing the trash dump—a key crime scene—to be unguarded for weeks. The Argentine team insists that investigations into the students’ disappearances should continue. The attorney general’s office has not responded to the statement.
Cuba to have 300 Internet Centers by Late 2015: Cuban authorities plan to create more than 300 Internet centers by the end of 2015, according to the state-run telecommunications company, Etecsa. There are currently 155 public “cyber points,” established by Etecsa in June 2013, that provide restricted access to the Internet at the steep cost of $4.50 per hour—as much as 20 percent of the minimum monthly wage. Etecsa also announced the possibility of creating Wi-Fi networks in hotels. Currently, only certain professionals have access to the internet—with government authorization. In January, the U.S. eased export restrictions on IT equipment to improve telecommunications and Internet access in Cuba, a market of 11 million people.
15,000 Pre-Columbian Artifacts Discovered along Nicaragua Canal Route: Nicaragua Canal developers have discovered 15,000 pre-Columbian artifacts—mainly shards of pottery and obsidian—along the interoceanic canal’s proposed 173-mile route. The relics were found above ground, but archaeologists expect to unearth more artifacts once digging officially begins. Environmental Resources Management (ERM), a British consulting firm, and Jorge Espinoza, a Nicaraguan archaeologist, plan to work with the Nicaraguan government and the Chinese development firm HKND to conduct a number of specific archaeological excavations along the route. “Due to the quantity, it would be impossible to preserve every last relic,” says ERM. The $50 billion project is estimated to take five years and has faced significant pushback from Nicaraguan farmers citing social and environmental concerns.
General Strike in Haiti on Eve of Carnival: The three-month-long protests against Haitian President Michel Martelly are expected to continue today, with a two-day general strike planned in the capital city of Port-au-Prince over the high cost of gasoline. While the global price of crude oil continues to fall, and is currently at about $53 per barrel, the Haitian government has emphasized that it cannot lower the price of gasoline—currently at $4.50 a gallon after a recent $0.25 reduction—due to its PetroCaribe debt. Haiti’s debt to Venezuela’s preferential fuel program is currently at about $1.5 billion. Protestors have threatened to disrupt Haiti’s Carnival, set to begin on February 15, if the prices aren’t lowered further. Haiti’s long-delayed elections originally sparked the anti-government protests in December, and President Martelly continues to rule by decree. Despite threats of violence during the strike, protests against the high cost of fuel that drew about 6,000 people over the weekend were largely peaceful.
Unasur Seeks to Facilitate U.S.-Venezuela Dialogue: As the meeting of the foreign affairs ministers of the Unión de Naciones Suramericanas (Union of South American Nations—Unasur) requested by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro drew to a close in Uruguay today, Ricardo Patiño, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ecuador, expressed Unasur’s concerns over U.S. sanctions against Venezuela. Patiño emphasized the committee’s interest in opening up direct channels of communication between the U.S. and the South American nation after receiving a report on the potential impact of recent U.S. sanctions against Venezuelan government officials, which stem from charges of corruption and human rights violations following mass protests in Venezuela last year. The U.S. sanctions have frozen assets and restricted travel visas for former and current government officials who are believed to have taken part in human rights abuses, and were expanded to include their immediate family members last week after the Venezuelan government ignored “repeated calls for change,” and “continued to demonstrate a lack of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms,” according to U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
February 6, 2015Tags: Petrobras Scandal, Lava Jato, corruption
On Thursday morning, Brazilian police questioned the treasurer of Brazil’s governing Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT), João Vaccari Neto, in connection with the deepening corruption scandal that has engulfed the state-run oil company Petroleos Brasileiros SA (Brazilian Petroleum SA—Petrobras). Vaccari’s questioning came just a day after the oil giant’s chief executive, Maria das Graças Foster, and five other executives resigned in connection to the scandal. After the interrogation, Vaccari released a statement on the PT website. “All the questions asked by the police chief were clarified,” Vaccari declared. “I answered everything transparently, and with total candor and tranquility.”
Vaccari has been under suspicion for months, since a former Petrobras director, Paulo Roberto Costa—detained last March and now cooperating with authorities—alleged that Vaccari was the intermediary between corrupt elements of Petrobras and the PT. Another informer in the case, Pedro Barusco, has alleged that Vaccari had collected 200 million Brazilian reals (about $72 million) for the PT. “[Vaccari] never received cash payments as treasurer of the PT,” Vaccari’s lawyer is reported to have said. The PT has reportedly released a statement declaring that the party has only received legal donations, and that all donations have been registered with the country’s electoral authorities.
While formal charges have not been lodged against Vaccari, his questioning represents a further challenge for Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, as opposition parties prepare to launch a congressional probe into the scandal. This morning, her government moved quickly to stanch the fallout from Wednesday’s crisis, naming Aldemir Bendine, the current president of the Banco do Brasil (Bank of Brazil), as the new chief executive of Petrobras.
February 5, 2015Tags: Nicolás Maduro, Ernesto Samper, Venezuela-U.S. relations
Ernesto Samper, Secretary-General of the Unión de Naciones Suramericanas (Union of South American Nations—UNASUR) traveled to Caracas Wednesday to meet with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and discuss efforts to reinitiate talks between Venezuela and the United States. The two met Wednesday evening in a private meeting at the Miraflores Palace.
Maduro announced the planned arrival of Samper during his weekly address to the nation on Tuesday night, during which he also accused the Obama administration of attempting to orchestrate a “bloody coup” against the Venezuelan government. The partnership with UNASUR would be aimed at building a “diplomacy of peace, dialogue, and understanding, so as to stop aggression against Venezuela,” Maduro said.
In addition to UNASUR, Maduro also broadcast his outreach to the Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States—CELAC) through its president pro-tempore, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, who Maduro said would lend support to a collaborative effort among UNASUR nations to fight the alleged U.S. conspiracy against Venezuela.
Earlier this week, the U.S. government implemented sanctions against Venezuelan officials accused of corruption, narco-trafficking and human rights violations, as part of a sanctions bill signed by U.S. President Barack Obama in December of last year. The Venezuelan government has vehemently fought back against the bill, which places travel restrictions and freezes the accounts of the alleged human rights abusers and their families.
February 4, 2015Read More Tags: Guatemala, Alfonso Portillo
Former Guatemalan president Alfonso Portillo could be set for a stunning return to the political arena in the country’s upcoming elections in September.
Portillo will be released from federal prison in the U.S. in February, having served less than 12 months of his six-year sentence for conspiracy to launder $2.5 million—money he received from the Taiwanese government.
With the elections seemingly a straight fight between Manuel Baldizón—who lost to President Otto Pérez Molina in a runoff in 2010—and Alejandro Sinibaldi, former minister of communications in Pérez Molina’s government, Portillo will add an intriguing element to the campaign if he runs. To win, he will have to break tradition; since 1996, every election has been won by the runner-up in the previous presidential run-off.
Portillo is a potential vice-presidential candidate, should Edmond Mulet—now the UN Assistant Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations—find a party to run as its presidential nominee. In September 2014, Mulet and Edgar Gutiérrez, the former foreign minister and chief of civil intelligence during Portillo’s government, met with Portillo in prison in Colorado and discussed his possible return to politics.
February 4, 2015Tags: Costa Rica, Border Crossing, San Juan River, IDB
The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) approved $100 million dollars for Costa Rica to modernize its border-crossing infrastructure, the Ministry of Finance announced on Tuesday. The plan seeks to bolster trade competitiveness at Costa Rica’s four border crossings with Nicaragua and Panama. In late 2014, Nicaragua completed the construction of a bridge at the Las Tablillas border crossing over the disputed San Juan River.
Costa Rica also requested a $200 million credit line to back renewable energy, transmission and distribution projects. The energy projects would help mitigate the impact of climate change and promote sustainable economic growth and regional integration through the Mercado Eléctrico Regional (Central Regional Electricity Market—MER).
“In close coordination with the Bank, after reviewing the progress of all running programs, we established the most important projects for 2015, which we defined in accordance with the priorities established by the government in the National Development Plan,” said Minister of Finance Helio Fallas.
The IDB will provide an additional $2.9 million in technical cooperation grants for Costa Rica’s social and fiscal growth, and will help formulate the 2015-2018 Country Strategy, a joint initiative between the IDB and the Costa Rican government that will address issues such as macroeconomic stability, public finances, competitiveness, infrastructure and poverty reduction.
The current $1.1 billion portfolio of programs between Costa Rica and the IDB includes projects in areas of transportation, energy, education, tourism and prevention of violence, among others.
February 3, 2015Read More Tags: Venezuela, Citgo Petroleum, Nicolás Maduro
Since before the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in March 2013, his successor, Nicolás Maduro, has remained paralyzed to enact reforms needed to escape the economic dysfunction Chávez left behind.
In his latest national address on the economy on January 21, Maduro finally acknowledged the recession and shortages faced by Venezuelan citizens. Yet, he failed again to clearly implement any of the pragmatic economic reforms advocated by Rafael Ramírez, the former minister of energy and former president of Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (Petroleum of Venezuela—PDVSA)— such as a de facto bolívar-to-dollar devaluation via unification of Venezuela’s multi-tier foreign exchange (FX) system, measures to attract more foreign financing for oil production, and removing internal price controls, especially for gasoline. Meanwhile, in September 2014, Ramírez was demoted to foreign minister, and then to UN ambassador several months later.
According to insiders, Maduro’s failure to implement pragmatic reforms stems principally from two sources. First, within the raging confrontation over economic policy between “pragmatic” and “ideological” factions of the ruling Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela—PSUV), Maduro has found himself both dependent on militant chavista “colectivos,” and simultaneously at risk of these groups turning against him. These often-armed, barrio-based gangs are aligned with the PSUV’s ideological faction and have no patience for pragmatic economic reforms.
Second, Maduro faces low voter approval ratings due to the continued collapse of the Venezuelan economy. As a result, he clearly fears triggering a popular backlash against the pain that reforms would bring in the near-to-medium term—and the danger that the ideological wing of his party would seize upon any such opportunity to denounce him as a “neoliberal” and push him from power.
February 3, 2015Tags: Alberto Nisman, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, AMIA bombing
On Monday, Argentine Judges Ariel Lijo and Daniel Rafecas turned down the case of late prosecutor Alberto Nisman against President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, alleging that the president participated in a cover-up plot surrounding a 1994 terrorist attack in Buenos Aires.
After investigating the case for over a decade, Prosecutor Nisman presented an indictment for the president and Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman in mid-January for their suspected involvement in attempting to hide Iran’s role in the bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires in 1994, which killed 85 people. Nisman was found dead in his apartment on January 18, just four days after the indictment. His death, which initially appeared to be a suicide, was declared a “suspicious” death upon further investigation. It is still unclear whether or not the death was a suicide (forced or not) or murder.
The case has been wrought with controversy. Yesterday, Viviana Fein, the prosecutor overseeing the investigation into Nisman’s death, denied the existence of a document that Clarín reported had been found in Nisman’s trash. The document allegedly called for the arrest of Timerman and President Fernández de Kirchner in June 2014. The government has stated that Nisman’s request to arrest the president only came in January, due to unnamed foreign pressure. However, Fein admitted Tuesday morning that her denial of the detention order’s existence was a mistake.
Yesterday, Judge Lijo declined to take on the investigation of Nisman’s allegations on technical grounds, claiming that it was not in his jurisdiction. A federal chamber will now appoint a judge to manage the investigation.
Monday Memo: Haitian Immigrants – Venezuelan Currency Losses – Abortion in Chile – Iguala Relatives in Geneva – Puerto Rico’s Economy
February 2, 2015Tags: Venezuelan economy, Dominican Republic-Haiti relations, Abortion in Latin America
Likely top stories this week: the deadline passes for children of undocumented immigrants to apply for legal status in the Dominican Republic; U.S. companies stand to lose billions of dollars in Venezuelan currency losses; Michelle Bachelet moves to end Chile’s abortion ban; relatives of Mexico’s 43 missing students meet with UN officials in Geneva; Puerto Rico’s economy continues to suffer.
Children of Immigrants to Lose Legal Status in the Dominican Republic: A deadline for the children of undocumented immigrants in the Dominican Republic to register for legal status expired on February 1 at midnight, potentially leaving some 200,000 people stateless—most of them of Haitian descent. The deadline was part of a May 2014 law designed to normalize the status of the children of undocumented immigrants in the D.R. after a September 2013 court ruling revoked the citizenship of Dominican-born children of undocumented immigrants, sparking an international outcry. Thousands of people affected by the law formed long lines to register themselves in the past weeks, but it is unclear if the government will extend the deadline. Human rights groups have harshly criticized the government’s failure to adequately publicize information about the law, and so far, only 5 percent of the estimated 110,000 people eligible to apply for legal status have been able to do so. Meanwhile, the government of the Bahamas has also introduced strict new requirements that have disproportionately affected Haitian immigrants and their children.
U.S. Companies Losing Billions in Venezuelan Currency: At least 40 U.S. member of the S&P 500, including General Motors and Merck & Co Inc., stand to lose billions of dollars in Venezuelan currency losses, a Reuters analysis shows. The American automotive and pharmaceutical giants together have at least $11 billion in assets in Venezuelan bolivars. Companies like Clorox have already exited the South American nation due to continued devaluation, insecurity and unfavorable conditions. While the official exchange rate is 6.3 bolivars to the dollar—with government-set rates SICAD 1 and SICAD 2 at 12 and 50 bolivars to the dollar, respectively—the black market rate registered at 190 bolivars to the dollar on Sunday.
Bachelet Proposes End to Total Abortion Ban in Chile: Chilean President Michelle Bachelet announced on Saturday that she would submit a bill to Congress that would end Chile’s total ban on abortions. The bill would permit abortions up to the 12th week of pregnancy in the cases of rape, a life-threatening pregnancy, or if the fetus will not survive—and abortions would be permitted until the 18th week for girls aged 14 and younger. Chile’s total ban on abortions began in 1989, a legacy of the 1973-1990 military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The anti-abortion lobby and Catholic Church remain a powerful influence in Chile, but some 15,000 to 160,000 abortions are still carried out in the country each year. “Facts have shown that the absolute criminalization of abortion has not stopped the practice,” Bachelet said. Chile, along with El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras, Haiti, and Suriname are the only countries in Latin America that outlaw abortion under any circumstance.
Relatives of Mexico’s Missing Students Rally in Geneva: Parents and relatives of the 43 Mexican students who went missing after a protest in Iguala, Mexico in September are in Geneva this week meeting with the United Nations Enforced Disappearances Committee. To date, no one has been tried in the case of the missing students. The parents reject Mexican officials’ claim that the students were killed and burned in a landfill by members of the Guerreros Unidos gang, asserting that the government is holding the students illegally. At least 23,721 people are missing in Mexico, according to official figures. The Mexican National Human Rights Commission will present a report to the UN today, requesting that the Enforced Disappearances Committee make recommendations to Mexico’s government.
Puerto Rico Enters Eighth Year of Recession: The economically battered U.S. commonwealth saw its economic activity drop 1.4 percent between December 2013 and December 2014. Puerto Rico is in its eighth straight year of recession, with over $73 billion in public debt. Puerto Rican government officials met with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in January to discuss strategies for strengthening the territory’s economy. The Puerto Rican House approved the borrowing of an additional $225 million for public works last Thursday.
January 30, 2015Tags: Martinelli, corruption, Parlacen
Panama’s Supreme Court voted unanimously on Wednesday to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate corruption claims against former president Ricardo Martinelli.
Martinelli has been accused by his erstwhile political ally and former head of the Programa de Ayuda Nacional (National Assistance Program—PAN), Giacomo Tamburelli, of ordering the inflation of government contracts worth $45 million for the purchase of dehydrated food. Tamburelli, who is under house arrest, said Martinelli had ordered him to inflate contracts while he was head of PAN.
Meanwhile, Martinelli—who was attending a session of the Parlamento Centroamericano (Central American Parliament—Parlacen) in Guatemala—denied any wrong-doing. “I have not done anything,” he said.
As a member of Parlacen, Martinelli is invested with diplomatic immunity. According to the Spanish daily El País, members of Panama’s National Assembly have called on Martinelli to renounce his immunity. The current president, Juan Carlos Varela, a former ally of Martinelli who broke with the ex-president and accused the administration of corruption before running for the presidency on a strong anti-corruption message, said, “An ex-president must face justice and be held accountable if he didn’t do things right. […] I am a person who respects democracy, human rights, freedom of expression, and everyone is responsible for their actions. I’ll answer for mine; let the ex-president answer for his.”
Martinelli has not said whether or not he will relinquish immunity or return to Panama. “I will make that decision in the future, but I am not going to go for a trial arranged by Mr. Varela,” he said.
January 29, 2015Tags: Civil Unions, Michelle Bachelet, Chile
After a four-year debate, the Chilean Senate has passed a bill allowing for same-sex unions. The law passed on Wednesday with a vote of 25 to 6, with three abstentions.
Under the new law, called the Acuerdo de Unión Civil (Civil Union Accord—AUC), same-sex couples are afforded many of the rights of married couples, including health, inheritance and pension rights. The law was originally proposed under the Sebastián Piñera administration, coined the Acuerdo de Vida en Pareja (Couple Life Agreement—AVP), and has been advocated for publically by President Michelle Bachelet, who promised to pass the AUC during her latest presidential campaign.
“We’re very happy that the State recognizes, for the first time, that same-sex couples also constitute a family and deserve protection,” said Luis Larraín, president of the LGBT rights group Fundación Iguales.
While the bill has now passed the Senate and the House of Representatives (on a vote of 78-9), it still needs to be approved by President Michelle Bachelet and then will go to the Constitutional Court. Upon its final approval, Chile will be one of three South American countries to allow same-sex civil unions, along with Colombia and Ecuador. Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay allow same-sex marriage.
Taking the next step to same-sex marriage remains unlikely in Chile, which has historically conservative laws based on Roman Catholic ideology. Divorce was illegal until 2004, and Chile is still one of the few countries in Latin America where abortion for any reason is illegal.
January 29, 2015Read More Tags: Mexico, 43 Students, Ya Me Cansé, Por Eso Propongo
Translated by Paulina Suárez-Hesketh
The Ayotzinapa case (in which 43 students were disappeared by local government forces in the city of Iguala, Mexico) has galvanized an unexpected amount of social energy in Mexico. The healthy civic agitation that followed the case, along with the countless expressions of protest and dissatisfaction, reveal the desires of a large portion of the Mexican people to become further engaged with the public sphere.
The revitalization of social consciousness and the meaning of public life have resulted in an unexpected effervescence of ideas and proposals that trace alternate routes for Mexico’s future. One such idea, Ya Me Cansé, Por Eso Propongo (I’m Fed Up, Hence I propose) offers citizens a platform through which to channel this energy.
The initiative Ya Me Cansé, Por Eso Propongo seeks to reinforce ties of solidarity between Mexican citizens through the collective re-articulation of popular political imagination. The project invites people to create a postcard that proposes how to transform the country for the better. A few of weeks from now, the postcards will be printed and exhibited at public events. Each and every one of the messages will be delivered to authorities.
Humbero Beck's postcard for #YaMeCansé, Por Eso Propongo. Image courtesy of Humberto Beck.
January 28, 2015Tags: Ayotzinapa, Iguala, 43 Students, Enrique Peña Nieto
Mexican officials confirmed on Tuesday that the 43 students who disappeared in the southern state of Guerrero on September 26 are dead. Citing confessions and forensic evidence, Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam concluded that the group of students was murdered and incinerated by a local gang who mistook the students for a rival gang.
The state’s extensive investigation—which involved 39 confessions, 386 statements, 16 raids, 487 forensic examinations, and 99 arrests—provides evidence that “allows us […] without a doubt to conclude that the students were deprived of their liberty, killed, incinerated and thrown into the San Juan River,” Murillo Karam announced at a press conference. The attorney general also denied the involvement of the federal army in the attack.
Relatives of the missing students and thousands of others marched on Monday—marking the fourth month since the students’ disappearance—demanding government action and concrete proof of what happened. Many remain skeptical of the government’s announcement, including fire experts, the lawyers representing the families, and the Argentine forensic anthropologists who were hired by parents to work with federal investigators to verify the fate of their children. The remains of only one student have been identified.
So far, authorities have arrested 99 people for suspected involvement in the students’ deaths, including the mayor and first lady of Guerrero. The Iguala mass kidnapping has sparked protests in Mexico and abroad since September, and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has been criticized for his mishandling of the case. Peña Nieto responded to protests on Tuesday by saying that “[Mexico] cannot remain trapped [in Ayotzinapa].”
January 28, 2015Read More Tags: India-Latin America relations, India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi
All eyes have been on U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent state visit to India, where he and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met amidst the excitement and pageantry of the country’s annual Republic Day. The two, who have met twice since Modi’s arrival in office in May of last year, announced a deal on civilian nuclear projects, progress on tackling climate change and cooperation in defense, as well as a $4 billion commitment from the United States in trade and investment promotion.
While the U.S.-India relationship appears to be blossoming, it is also important to look at India’s global role and positioning vis-à-vis the Western Hemisphere. Prime Minister Modi has only made one trip to Latin America and the Caribbean since entering office. He visited Brazil last summer for the 6th BRICS Summit, but unlike the leaders of China and Japan, who took multi-country whirlwind tours and promised to invest billions throughout the region, Modi did not venture outside of Brazil. Nor has one Latin American leader visited India on an official state visit over the past two years.
Modi has been working tirelessly to change India’s global image by tackling hygiene, fighting corruption, and revamping state-level systems to promote exports in order to turn around the faltering economy. India’s GDP growth has been stalled around 5 percent for the past few years, but recent projections by the World Bank estimate a GDP growth rate of 6.4 percent in 2015, possibly outpacing Chinese growth in two years.
Latin America has the ability to play an important role in this economic and political transformation for India. Trade, energy and geopolitical relations are key areas for strategic cooperation between the two regions.
January 27, 2015Read More Tags: Caribbean, green energy, Caribbean energy
On January 26, the Council of the Americas and the Atlantic Council co-hosted the Caribbean Energy Security Summit. The summit, convened by Vice President Joseph Biden, brought together Caribbean leaders, multilateral banks, private sector representatives, and U.S. government officials in order to address the critical issue of energy security in the Caribbean basin.
The summit demonstrated that there is high-level attention being given to the Caribbean in the U.S. government, which is willing to work with the region in order to take on the fiscal, energy, and environmental challenges currently present.
Caribbean nations are suffering from high energy costs and a dependence on fuel oil. They are indebted to countries such as Venezuela, through the Petrocaribe program. Because countries are receiving oil from Venezuela on preferential financing terms, there is very little incentive to diversify the energy matrix towards cleaner sources of energy such as natural gas and renewables. In a sense, the Caribbean is addicted to cheap oil—but this is not sustainable, given the declining state of the Venezuelan economy.
Furthermore, energy costs are affecting the region’s economic growth. According to the IDB, electricity rates in the Caribbean are up to four times more expensive than in Florida. The Caribbean’s economy is primarily driven by tourism, and electricity represents up to 50 percent of operating costs in hotels.
Moreover, the high dependency on imported fossil fuels is exacerbated by governance systems that are outdated. The obstacles to energy reform include high upfront costs, fiscally constrained governments, weak regulations, and lack of regional coordination.
January 27, 2015Read More Tags: Ollanta Humala, Labor Law, PeruFollowing a fifth round of student-lead protests, the Peruvian Congress voted this Monday to overturn a labor law that would have stripped young workers of many benefits and rights. The final count was an overwhelming majority of 91 votes to overturn the law against 18, with five abstentions.The bill, which passed in December, would have affected workers between 18 and 24 years of age by halving their vacation time, eliminating bonuses, and interfering with severance pay and insurance. Students lead the protests against the law, along with labor unions and cultural groups, who organized across all of Lima.President Ollanta Humala addressed the law on Friday, defending it in a national speech. According to the president, the law aimed to bring two million workers out of the informal sector and into the formal economy. However, those against the law claimed it to be discriminatory and unconstitutional.Lawmakers argue that the overturning of the law marks a significant loss of control for the Humala administration. This Sunday, Sergio Tejada, who was a member of the president’s Gana Peru political party, quit the party in protest of the labor law, resulting in Gana Peru losing its majority in Congress to the main opposition party, Fuerza Popular. Humala’s approval rating dropped five points in January to a dismal 25 percent.
January 26, 2015Tags: Venezuela Opposition, Petrocaribe, Haiti elections, Mexican telecommunications, 2016 Olympic Games
This week's likely top stories: Venezuelan opposition leaders halt protests in Caracas; Haiti swears in its nine-member Provisional Electoral Council; the U.S. hosts the first-ever Caribbean Energy Security Summit; AT&T acquires Nextel Mexico; Rio’s environment secretary announces that Guanabara Bay will not be clean in time for the 2016 Olympic Games.
Opposition Curbs Protests in Caracas: Protests in Caracas—against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, chronic consumer staple shortages and a 64 percent increase in consumer prices—were called to an abrupt end by student opposition leaders over the weekend. Coming nearly a year after the violent demonstrations that led to 40 deaths and the incarceration of opposition leader Leopoldo López, the protests were quickly disbanded after several protestors clashed with police. Former opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles canceled his speech and organizers emphasized safety, encouraging protestors to go home. A day earlier, in a nationally televised addressed, Maduro held his opponents responsible for Venezuela’s economic troubles, accusing them of organizing an “economic coup,” and criticizing an attempt by former presidents Felipe Calderón of Mexico, Andrés Pastrana of Colombia and Sebastián Piñera of Chile to visit López in prison.
Election Council Selected in Haiti: Haiti swore in a nine-member Provisional Electoral Council on Friday, in a step towards holding legislative and local elections that had been scheduled for 2011. Haitian parliament was dissolved and President Michel Martelly has been ruing by decree since January 12 due to the stalled elections. The electoral council was sworn in shortly before a United Nations Security Council arrived in Haiti, coming after nearly eight weeks of violent protests calling for Martelly’s resignation. Presidential elections are expected this year.
U.S. Hosts Summit to Discuss Alternatives to PetroCaribe: Caribbean leaders are gathering in Washington today—with the exception of Cuba—for the first-ever Caribbean Energy Security Summit to brainstorm regional alternatives to the Venezuelan PetroCaribe oil subsidy program. The program has kept cash-strapped Caribbean governments afloat with $28 billion worth of oil on favorable financing terms since 2005. Although this perennial petroleum pipeline has been a lifeline in the region, its members owe a combined $12 billion to Venezuela. As the economic situation in Venezuela continues to deteriorate with the declining price of oil, PetroCaribe’s 17 members are now seeking alternative energy sources. Capitalizing on this opportunity to wrest back regional energy influence, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is hosting today’s summit—along with the Council of the Americas and representatives from the EU, UN, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and other organizations—to advise Caribbean leaders on financing opportunities and regulatory changes that would allow them to incorporate natural gas and renewable sources into their national energy grids.
AT&T Acquires Nextel Mexico for $1.9 Billion: AT&T Inc., the second-largest U.S. mobile phone carrier, purchased NII Holdings Inc.’s (Nextel) Mexican wireless assets today for $1.9 billion. The acquisition of Nextel Mexico’s network of 76 million people, its license and its high-paying monthly subscribers will strengthen AT&T’s strategic initiative of providing its first cross-border service between the U.S. and Mexico. This is the Dallas-based company’s third major expansion south of the border in the past year, after its takeover of DirecTV Mexico and Grupo Iusacell SA.
Rio Opts for Damage Control Over Sewage Treatment: The latest chapter in Brazil’s water troubles is Rio de Janeiro’s notoriously polluted Guanabara Bay, the site of the 2016 Olympic Games’ sailing and windsurfing competitions. With just over one and a half years to go before the opening ceremony, the new state environment secretary, Andre Correa, announced on Friday that the city will not be able to deliver on its pledge to cut the flow of raw sewage and garbage into Guanabara Bay by 80 percent. Correa estimated that diverting sewage from the bay and extending it to the entire metropolitan area would require an investment overhaul of $3.8 billion, and there is no known financing timetable in place. Cleaning Guanabara Bay by cutting the flow of pollutants to the trash-lined bay was supposed to be one of the game’s enduring civic legacies. The cleanup failure could potentially endanger the health of Olympic athletes, but the real losers are the residents of the surrounding favelas.
January 23, 2015Read More Tags: Brazil, Paraguay, Itaipu Dam, Brazil Drought
On the border of Brazil and Paraguay, David Rodrigues Krug is chasing a unicorn.
That’s how he describes his work at the massive Itaipu Dam on the Paraná River, which forms a natural border between the South American neighbors. In three decades of operation, the five-mile-wide, 65-story dam has come close to generating 100 billion kilowatt hours (KWh) in a single year—but has never quite reached that goal.
“This is like our unicorn,” says Krug, chief of staff for Itaipu Binacional, the quasi-private company that owns and operates the hydropower plant. “We want to do it, but it has to be the perfect year in terms of water, in terms of the system. It would be our exceptional year.”
But the unicorn is getting more elusive amid a major drought that is depleting hydropower reservoirs across Brazil and tipping the nation into an energy crisis—underscoring its over-dependence on hydropower and the urgency to shift to other alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar. Brazil relies on hydropower for about three-fourths of its electricity, but across the southeastern and midwestern regions, dam levels are at one-fifth capacity, leading to electricity rationing and rolling blackouts across Brazil, including in the most populous state of São Paulo. This month, Brazil had to import electricity for the first time in five years.
The blackouts are due in part to Itaipu, which opened in 1984 and is now the second-largest hydropower plant in the world. Itaipu’s electricity generation fell 11 percent last year to 87.8 billion KWh— down from 98.6 billion KWh in 2013—causing it to lose its title of world’s largest hydropower generator to the Three Gorges Dam in China, which generated 98.8 billion KWh in 2014. (The Hoover Dam, by comparison, generates 4 billion KWh per year).
January 23, 2015Tags: arms sales, Guerrero, SEDENA
According to reports in German and Mexican news media, Mexico’s Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional (Secretariat of National Defense—SEDENA) has been implicated in the illegal sale of German arms in the Mexican state of Guerrero, in cooperation with a representative from German arms manufacturer Heckler & Koch.
Guerrero is one of four Mexican states to which the German government forbids the sale of arms, due to the determination that the weapons could be used to perpetrate human rights violations. Reports of illegal arms sales by Heckler & Koch to Guerrero and other embargoed Mexican states have circulated in Germany since 2010, and the company admitted in 2013 that it had illegally sold thousands of weapons in Mexico.
Heckler & Koch G36 assault rifles were reportedly among the arms seized in the aftermath of an attack on student teachers in the Mexican state of Guerrero last September. Mexican Foreign Minister José Antonio Meade neither confirmed nor denied that German arms were found in Iguala.
The accusations against SEDENA were first reported by the German daily Taz, and were later picked up by the Mexican news site sinembargo.mx. According to these reports, a letter from Germany’s Bundeswirtschaftsministeriums (Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy—BMWi) to German green party parliamentarian Hans-Christian Ströbele alleges that defense ministry officials provided false information about the final destination of arms shipments in export documents.
“Mexico has violated the political principles of the federal German government with regard to the exportation of military weaponry and equipment,” said Ströbele.
Mexican officials have yet to respond to the accusation.
January 23, 2015Read More Tags: Guatemala, Human Rights, Pedro García Arredondo
Former Guatemalan police chief Pedro García Arredondo was found guilty on Monday of murder, crimes against humanity, and attempted murder—and sentenced to 90 years in prison for his involvement in the 1980 Spanish Embassy fire in Guatemala City.
On January 31, 1980, 37 people lost their lives during the fire, set by Guatemalan police after Indigenous campesinos took refuge in the embassy after traveling to Guatemala City to protest against state repression in Quiché during the country’s civil war. Arredondo was head of Commando VI, the now defunct Special Investigations Unit (Sección de Investigaciones Especiales) of the national police. After security forces cut power and communication to the embassy, they stormed the residence, ignoring pleas from the Spanish government, ambassador and protesters. Soon after, a fire started in the ambassador’s office. Red Cross nurse Odette de Arzú heard on the police radio, “Get them out by any means!” Other witnesses testified to hearing, “Let there be no one left alive!”
In the aftermath of the massacre, one of the two known survivors of the fire, Gregorio Yuja Xuna, was kidnapped from a private hospital room. He was tortured and killed; his body was dumped outside of the rectory at Universidad de San Carlos (University of San Carlos—USAC). A note was found in one of his pockets saying, “Executed for treason. The Spanish ambassador will face the same fate.” Then, on February 2, during preparations for the mass funeral of the fire’s victims, two students were killed in a shootout at USAC’s auditorium with police.
On Monday, Arredondo was convicted of crimes for his involvement in all three incidents. In her summary, Judge Sara Yoc said, “The defendant executed orders from superiors—the order to kill everyone in the embassy. He was responsible ordering the burning of the embassy.”
January 22, 2015Tags: Venezuela, Venezuelan economy, Nicolás Maduro
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro made his annual address to the legislature on Wednesday, defending his government’s socialist economic model and accusing the Venezuelan political opposition of waging an “economic war” that has led to the country’s current financial crisis.
That crisis has worsened in recent weeks as global oil prices have plummeted and the price of Venezuelan crude, the country's chief export, fell from $98 per barrel in 2013 to just $39 per barrel this week. Venezuela’s inflation rate, which Maduro estimated at more than 64 percent last year, is currently the highest in the Americas. The IMF’s Alejandro Werner predicted on Wednesday that Venezuela’s economy will contract 7 percent in 2015, and Maduro said in his speech that the economy had contracted 2.8 percent in 2014.
Maduro was expected to announce possible cuts to social spending and a devaluation of the bolivar during his speech. However, while Maduro said he was willing to consider raising the price of gasoline and restructuring the country’s three-tiered exchange rate system, he rejected the idea of a currency devaluation and instead announced that social spending would continue, promising to wage raises and pensions by 15 percent and build more low-income housing.
Supporters of Maduro’s government are expected to rally on Friday, prior to a planned opposition protest march on Saturday.
January 21, 2015Read More Tags: Barack Obama, State of the Union
If there is one thing consistent about President Barack Obama, it’s his ability to defy the odds. His nomination over Hillary Clinton in 2008 and his eventual election as president made history. His seventh State of the Union speech, delivered on Tuesday, clearly showed his intention to resist any lame-duck status as he enters the final stretch of his presidency.
The State of the Union speech is an occasion for the president to tout his achievements and outline a path for the coming year. It is an ambitious wish list coupled with the hope—and maybe the possibility—of actually getting things done. This year’s speech was no exception.
The difference between this year’s speech and Obama’s earlier addresses was the president’s tone and passion. For many of Obama’s early supporters, the passion seemed to have dissipated since his 2012 re-election. The 2014 mid-term election drubbing to the Republicans indicated that the presidency was about to enter the predictable lame-duck status. Many referred to Obama’s last SOTU address as accomplishing very little in terms of concrete actions.
Just like his predecessor, George W. Bush, Obama is now facing a Congress led by the opposition party in his final two years in office. By the midterms, all the talk about legacy was beginning to be relegated to the verdict of the historians, with the presidential sweepstakes soon to begin. While the usual post-election platitudes were uttered by both the president and the Republican leadership about compromise and cooperation, no serious observer took them seriously. Lame-duck status had arrived.
Then a series of events in November and December occurred, and Obama began to sound like the Obama of 2008. On immigration, he chose to use an ambitious executive order to grant relief to some undocumented immigrants. He also concluded a climate change agreement with China, making it possible for the world’s two largest economies to agree on something vital. His sanctions strategy regarding Russia’s behavior in Ukraine was beginning to have an impact. Finally, Obama used skillful diplomacy to reinstate diplomatic relations with Cuba, with the hope that someday, the 50-plus-year trade embargo would come to an end.
January 21, 2015Read More Tags: democracy, Elections, Costa Rica, Uruguay
Only two countries in Latin America—Costa Rica and Uruguay—can be considered “full democracies,” according to an Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) study commissioned by BBC for Democracy Day on January 20. The report says that a majority of Latin American countries hold “free and fair” elections and are better ranked than their counterparts in the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe, but democracy in the region has stagnated. The governments of Cuba and Haiti are the lowest-ranked in Latin America and are classified as authoritarian regimes.
The study assesses a total of six factors, including access to the polls, electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, functionality of the government, political participation and political culture. Each country is evaluated on a scale of 0 to 10 and classified into one of four categories: full democracy, imperfect democracy, hybrid and authoritarian regime.
Nine countries (Chile, Brazil, Panama, Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, El Salvador, and Paraguay) are considered imperfect democracies, while six are classified as hybrids (Ecuador, Honduras, Guatemala, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Venezuela). Imperfect democracies are characterized by weaknesses in governability, low levels of political participation and an undeveloped political culture. The division between “imperfect” and “hybrid” regimes isn’t clear, says London School of Economics professor Francisco Panizza, but hybrids are generally described as having substantial irregularities in elections, oppression of opposition parties and greater weakness in governance.
January 21, 2015Read More Tags: Brazil, Climate change, heat wave
In last night's State of the Union address, U.S. President Barack Obama spoke about climate change (among many other things) and challengd climate change skeptics who "try to dodge the evidence by saying they're not scientists."
"Well, I’m not a scientist, either,” Obama said. “But you know what? I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe."
The comments come after NOAA's National Climatic Data Center released its annual State of the Climate report last week, showing 2014 was the hottest on record.
According to the report: "The December 2014 globally-averaged temperature across land and ocean surfaces was 0.77°C (1.39°F) above the 20th century average of 12.2°C (54.0°F), the highest on record for December since records began in 1880, surpassing the previous record set in 2006 by 0.02°C (0.04°F). This is the 10th consecutive month (since March 2014) with a global monthly temperature ranking among the seven highest for its respective month. December also marks the sixth month of 2014 to set a new monthly high temperature record."
Anyone who has been in southeastern Brazil for the past month can confirm that January will most likely surpass these records.
January 20, 2015Tags: Cuba Reforms, Senator Patrick Leahy, U.S.-Cuba relations
On Saturday, Senator Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vermont) led the first official congressional delegation to Cuba since the restoration of diplomatic ties with the Caribbean island nation on December 17. Leahy’s office stated that the objective of the trip is to “seek clarity from the Cubans on what they envision normalization to look like, going beyond past rote responses such as ‘end the embargo.’”
The delegation—composed of five Democrats from Capitol Hill—boarded its flight to Havana one day after the U.S. Departments of Treasury and Commerce published their new regulations on travel to and trade with Cuba.
Although no formal agreements were reached and there was no indication that the embargo will be lifted, the tone of the delegation’s visit has been friendly and marked by guarded optimism. The American legislators talked with various government officials, including Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, as well as anti-government dissidents, to hash out the details of establishing relations in trade, communications and agriculture.
While insisting that Cuba will maintain a one-party political system and centrally planned economy, Rodriguez was reportedly “open to every single issue,” welcoming the full package of new economic links. Meetings with non-governmental actors—such as Elizardo Sánchez, head of the Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission—may have prevented the delegation from sitting down with President Raúl Castro, but they yielded a list requesting the release of 24 long-term prisoners in addition to the 53 just released by the Cuban government as part of the policy reset deal.
Tonight, President Obama will deliver the annual Statue of the Union address to Congress. Foreign aid contractor and recently returned political prisoner Alan Gross will be seated beside First Lady Michelle Obama—a good indication that the president will address Cuba policy in his speech. Tomorrow, Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson will travel to Havana to negotiate the reopening of the U.S. Embassy, which was officially closed in 1961 but has remained partially active as a “special interests section” since 1977. The State Department is considering removing Cuba from the list of states that sponsor terrorism and will continue to dismantle embargo-related sanctions.
Americas Society/Council of the Americas published “Open letter to President Obama: Support for a New Course on Cuba” yesterday, cosigned by 78 stakeholders, policy experts and former U.S. officials, applauding the restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba and urging the U.S. government to continue working with Congress to update legislation.
January 16, 2015Read More Tags: Haitian cuisine, 2010 Haiti earthquake, Cookbook
When’s that last time you talked about Haitian cuisine? When people talk about Haiti, they often focus on the grim figures. It is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Three-quarters of Haitians live on less than US$2 per day, and half of the population earns less that US$1 per day. The country ranks 161st out of 187 countries in the 2012 United Nations Human Development Index. And this week marked the fifth anniversary of the devastating earthquake that leveled much of the capital, Port-au-Prince. Yet the country is home to rich culinary traditions, as varied as the Republic’s ten departments. So why is hunger the only story we tell about Haiti?
In her recently published recipe book, Haiti Uncovered: A Regional Adventure into the Art of Haitian Cuisine, Nadege Fleurimond reframes this narrative. Fleurimond showcases Haiti’s strong culinary heritage through scores of colorful photos and wonderful, kitchen-tested recipes.
January 16, 2015Tags: U.S. Department of the Treasury, Cuba Embargo, Cuba travel restrictions
Today, the U.S. Treasury and Commerce Departments published their revised regulations on travel to and trade with Cuba, following President Barack Obama’s historic December announcement of restored diplomatic relations with the island after over half a century of hostilities. Effective January 16, these changes mark the first practical steps in delivering on Obama’s executive action.
In a Fact Sheet, the U.S. Department of the Treasury spelled out each regulatory amendment to the Cuba sanctions. While U.S. tourism on the island remains illegal, travelers will no longer need to seek advanced authorization from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for their trips, so long as they can certify that they are traveling under one of the 12 existing authorized categories, including journalistic, humanitarian, religious, and educational activities. U.S. citizens will also be allowed to use their U.S. credit and debit cards and to import up to $400 worth of goods acquired on the island for personal use (limited to no more than $100 worth of alcohol or tobacco products).
Notably, telecommunications companies will be authorized provide “efficient and adequate” services necessary to connect Cuba to the world under a new general OFAC license. Additionally, U.S. airlines will be permitted to schedule regular flights to Cuba without specific OFAC licenses, pending a U.S.-Cuba agreement on aviation standards. United Airlines has already announced its intentions to begin regular service to Cuba from Newark, New Jersey and Houston, Texas. American Airlines, which already operates charter flights from Miami and Tampa, Florida, will likely look to expand its services as well.
Although these measures are intended to usher in a new era of contact between Americans and Cubans, it is unlikely that there will be an immediate boom in tourism, which continues to be restricted. The economic embargo is still in effect, and most trade remains illegal. According to Robert L. Muse, a Washington DC-based lawyer who wrote a blueprint for normalizing relations with Cuba via executive action in the Fall 2014 issue of Americas Quarterly, “A couple cannot go to Cuba to educate themselves on a subject like Cuban music. They can only go under the auspices of an organization that arranges a structured educational trip.” Moreover, travelers will still have to acquire visas from the Cuban government and will be constrained by what the island’s meager tourism infrastructure can offer.
January 15, 2015Tags: Haiti elections, Michel Martelly, Evans Paul
Evans Paul took office yesterday as Haiti’s new prime minister amid continued political uncertainty after Parliament was dissolved on Tuesday. Paul, a former journalist, former mayor of Port-au-Prince and presidential candidate, was nominated by Haitian President Michel Martelly to replace Laurent Lamothe, who stepped down as the country’s prime minister in December. Florence Duperval Guillaume had been serving as interim prime minister since Lamothe’s departure.
Paul, 59, has not been confirmed by the Haitian Senate and Chamber of Deputies. However, he was able to become prime minister automatically because legislators could not come to an agreement over a disputed electoral law before their mandates expired on Monday, leading to the dissolution of Parliament. Martelly said on Sunday that he was on the verge of reaching a deal with the political opposition, but the negotiations collapsed, and Martelly can now rule by decree until new elections take place.
On Wednesday, Paul said that he would appoint a new electoral council to organize long-delayed legislative elections in 2015. Elections were originally slated for 2011, and their postponement has led to widespread protests across Haiti, with many Haitians demanding that Martelly resign. A presidential commission that Martelly set up in December to resolve the political crisis recommended that then-Prime Minister Lamothe resign. Paul is now the fourth prime minister that Martelly has appointed since taking office as president in 2011.
January 14, 2015Read More Tags: Canada Elections, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Thomas Mulcair, Justin Trudeau
Shortly after winning his first majority government in 2011 (he won two minority governments in 2006 and 2008), Conservative Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper passed legislation to set the next election date no later than October 19, 2015. In a pre-holiday interview, Harper reiterated his commitment to holding the next general election on that date.
Unlike the United States, we in Canada have no tradition of a fixed-date national election. This has led many in political and media circles to speculate about a spring election following the government’s 2015-2016 budget. The probability that the Harper government will present some new anti-terrorism legislation could result in a wedge issue, thereby prompting an earlier election call. Clearly, the opposition partiesthe New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Liberals—are planning accordingly. One thing is certain: 2015 is an election year in Canada.
Just a year ago, the Liberals were coasting in the polls, following the election of a new leader, Justin Trudeau. In the past year, Trudeau has continued to lead the polls, and his party has performed well in by-elections and in provincial elections. It is fair to say that the Liberal brand, which was on a decline for nearly a decade, has rebounded. However, in the weeks prior to the holidays, the gap between the Liberals and the governing Conservatives narrowed substantially in the polls.
While the Conservative government has had its share of difficulties in 2013 (referred to as “annus horribilis” because of a Senate scandal), the government seems to have gained a more solid footing in 2014. The House of Commons debate in September on a resolution to support the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS (the radical Islamist terrorist group) in Iraq and Syria provided the Harper government with an opportunity to set the agenda. The two lone-wolf terrorist acts on Canadian soil (both in Ottawa and St-Jean, Québec) also presented a backdrop for Harper to show aplomb and compassion. The face-to-face confrontation with Russia’s Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit, where Harper bluntly told the Russian leader to get out of the Ukraine, only added to the perception of the government’s surefootedness.
January 14, 2015Tags: Danilo Medina, Alejandro García Padilla, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic
Dominican President Danilo Medina arrived in Puerto Rico yesterday to meet with Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro García Padilla in a series of meetings aimed at creating stronger ties between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, as well as improving relations in Latin America and the Caribbean. New agreements were also aimed specifically at expanding the job market and increasing trade through both imports and exports.
President Medina was joined by a delegation of thirteen Dominican government officials, the largest group of Dominican officials to visit the Puerto Rico on business. While the topic of the economy dominated the conversation, the two leaders also discussed other pressing topics, signing a historic agreement divided into 10 sections—three on education, two on the environment, two on trade, two on security, and one on taxes.
Although Puerto Rico remains a territory of the U.S., the accords will allow for greater strategic collaboration with other neighboring countries and territories. They will also give the Dominican Republic easier access to the U.S. market through Puerto Rico, while at the same time creating greater unity in the Caribbean.
“We firmly believe that our foreign relations should start with strengthening relationships with our neighboring [countries and territories] that will make us all successful,” said President Medina.
January 13, 2015Read More Tags: Freedom of the press, violence against journalists, Charlie Hebdo
As the sun set in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday, beachgoers dotted the sands of Ipanema beach under the sweltering heat. At the base of the Arpoador rock, the neighborhood’s famous lookout point, a group gathered with French flags and paper signs reading, “Je Suis Charlie” (“I Am Charlie”) in both Portuguese and French. In the middle of the crowd, a man held a surfboard with the same motto spray-painted in red ink.
The Brazilian city joined hundreds of others around the world that stood in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo magazine, the satirical publication where twelve people were killed last Wednesday, following an ambush by two gunmen. The victims included editor Stéphane “Charb” Charbonnier, as well as Jean “Cabu” Cabut and Georges Wolinski, two of the country’s top political cartoonists.
Nearly five hundred French nationals and Brazilians paraded down Ipanema’s Viera Souto Avenue, holding pencils in the air and singing France’s “Le Marseillaise” anthem.
“I think it is essential for us to defend freedom of speech and a free press,” Matthieu Romancant, a French architect living in Rio, said. “These are values that exist at the core of my country and that are universal.”
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