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  • I’m No Scientist, But It's Sure Hot in Rio

    January 21, 2015

    by Flora Charner

    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.

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    Tags: Brazil, Climate change, heat wave

  • Vanguard U.S. Congressional Delegation Amid Talks in Cuba

    January 20, 2015

    by AQ Online

    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.

    Tags: Cuba Reforms, Senator Patrick Leahy, U.S.-Cuba relations

  • Book Review: Haiti Uncovered

    January 16, 2015

    by Johanna Mendelson Forman

    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.

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    Tags: Haitian cuisine, 2010 Haiti earthquake, Cookbook

  • U.S. Treasury and Commerce Departments Publish New Regulations on Cuba

    January 16, 2015

    by AQ Online

    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.

    Tags: U.S. Department of the Treasury, Cuba Embargo, Cuba travel restrictions

  • Amid Turmoil, Evans Paul Becomes Haiti’s New Prime Minister

    January 15, 2015

    by AQ Online

    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.

    Tags: Haiti elections, Michel Martelly, Evans Paul

  • Harper, Mulcair, Trudeau: 2015 Election Showdown

    January 14, 2015

    by John Parisella

    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.

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    Tags: Canada Elections, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Thomas Mulcair, Justin Trudeau

  • Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico Sign Bilateral Agreement

    January 14, 2015

    by AQ Online

    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.

    Tags: Danilo Medina, Alejandro García Padilla, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic

  • Latin America Reacts to Charlie Hebdo Killings

    January 13, 2015

    by Flora Charner

    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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    Tags: Freedom of the press, violence against journalists, Charlie Hebdo

  • Protesters Attempt to Enter Army Base in Mexico

    January 13, 2015

    by AQ Online

    Protesters and family members of the 43 student protesters who disappeared last September in Iguala, Mexico tried to enter an army base in Iguala on Monday.

    The families of the missing students and their supporters allege that the Mexican government has failed to examine the role of the military in the tragedy. Participants in the demonstrations tried to force entry into the Mexican Army’s 27th Battalion in order to look for the missing students. They also threw beer bottles at security forces stationed outside of the base. In a statement released on Tuesday, protesters reported six injuries due to tear gas and rocks thrown by the military.

    Various witnesses claim that back in September, soldiers saw conflict between the students and the police right before the students’ disappearance, and said that the soldiers refused to intervene. Relatives and other students have called for investigations into the military and their actions on the night of the disappearance. Family members continue to reiterate that they will not rest until the authorities provide evidence of the deaths of their loved ones.

    Since the disappearance of the students, citizens across Mexico have come together in mass protests against corruption and apparent links between criminal organizations and political authorities in the country.

    Tags: Ayotzinapa, Mexican protests, Iguala

  • Monday Memo: Haiti Deadlock – Cuba Prisoners – PEMEX – U.S. Gay Marriage – China and CELAC

    January 12, 2015

    by AQ Online

    This week's likely top stories: Haiti attempts to negotiate its way out of political deadlock; Cuba frees 53 political prisoners, holding up its end of the rapprochement deal with U.S.; Mexico cuts funding to PEMEX causing major oil sector layoffs; the U.S. Supreme court declines to review a challenge to Louisiana’s gay marriage ban; China and CELAC hammer out the details of increased economic partnership.

    Haitian Lawmakers to Vote on Electoral Law to End Political Deadlock: On the eve of the five-year anniversary of Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake, Haitian President Michel Martelly reported on Sunday that he had come to an agreement with the opposition to hold long overdue elections by the end of 2015. Martelly announced that he’d reached a deal with 20 opposition politicians, although the leftist party Fanmi Lavalas (Lavalas Family), a major instigator of anti-government protests, was not involved in the deal. The agreement commits to organizing elections for two-thirds of the Senate and Chamber of Deputies by the end of the year, in addition to presidential elections. It also attempts to lend legitimacy to the political system by creating a nine-member electoral council made up of church, union and media representatives, but excluding political delegates. The current legislature’s mandate will elapse at midnight today, and if legislators do not approve the deal by then, President Martelly will rule by decree, a situation that opposition politicians claim that he has deliberately planned.

    Cuba Frees 53 Political Prisoners: Cuba upheld its promise to release 53 political prisoners this weekend as part of December’s historic agreement with the United States to restore diplomatic relations between the two countries. Working with Cuban activists and human rights groups, the U.S. presented the Cuban government last spring with a list of prisoners to be released, and the Cuban government agreed to release 53 of those prisoners. Cuban dissidents said on Sunday that they only knew of 39 people who had been freed since December 17, but the U.S. Interests Section in Havana confirmed that all of the prisoners have now been released. The White House is expected to provide the names of the freed prisoners to Congress, which will then make the prisoners’ identities public.

    Budget Cuts at PEMEX Lead to Major Layoffs: About 10,000 oil service workers were laid off at the end of last week as state-owned Petroleos Mexicanos (Mexican Petroleums—PEMEX) cancelled contracts due to budget cuts stemming from the global oil slump. Against a backdrop of a 10-year decrease in oil output at Pemex—the world’s ninth largest oil producer—and the price collapse of oil to nearly $46 per barrel, the Mexican Finance Ministry decided to withhold 50 billion pesos from Pemex in the interest of streamlining the management of public sector finances. PEMEX responded by terminating exploratory rig contracts, which may clear the way for foreign drillers to fill the gap in accordance with Mexico’s 2013 energy reform. Job losses could reach 50,000, according to Gonzalo Hernández of the Economic Development Chamber in Ciudad del Carmen, where many oil service companies are based. 

    U.S. Supreme Court Declines to Review Challenge to Gay Marriage Ban: The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a challenge to Louisiana’s gay marriage ban on Monday, and took no action on four similar cases in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee—though it may act on those cases this week. The decision was not surprising, since a challenge to the ban is still being decided in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, and that court has not yet ruled. However, lawyers for the Louisiana plaintiffs opposed to the ban sought Supreme Court review because they said there is a “pressing need” for the court to definitively review the marriage bans as soon as possible. Gay marriage is now legal in 36 U.S. states, and if the Supreme Court strikes down one or more of bans in the 14 states that still prohibit gay marriage, all remaining bans could be overturned.  

    China and Latin America Hammer Out Increased Economic Partnership: At the close of last week’s first ministerial meeting of the Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States—CELAC) and China, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged on Thursday to invest $250 billion dollars in Latin America over the next five years. The framework for cooperation on energy, infrastructure, agriculture, manufacturing, and technological innovation is expected to include an increase of two-way trade to total up to $500 billion over 10 years—about twice its current level of $275 billion. Together, China and the countries represented by CELAC—which excludes the U.S. and Canada—account for one fifth of global land area, one third of world population and one eighth of the world’s total economic aggregate. Meanwhile, China is expected to surpass the European Union by 2016 to become the second-largest trading partner of most South American countries, after the United States.

    Tags: Governance in Haiti, U.S. Cuba policy, Pemex, Gay Marriage, China and Latin America

  • U.S.-Mexico Relations: The Gifts of Three Kings?

    January 9, 2015

    by Johanna Mendelson Forman

    More than Christmas, Three Kings Day on Tuesday was the holiday to celebrate if you come from Latin America. Starting in Mexico and going south, the holiday—the Dia de los Reyes Magos—commemorates the New Testament story in Matthew that describes the visit of three wise men to Bethlehem to see the newborn baby Jesus. Each one bears a gift for the Christ child. It is also known as the Feast of the Epiphany.

    So I wondered whether Tuesday's meeting between President Obama and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto bestowed anything more than symbolic gifts during this first official visit by Mexico's leader to the United States.

    Can Peña Nieto's offer to prevent a surge of illegal immigration from Mexico actually be implemented? The Obama administration fears that with the president's recently signed executive action, many Mexicans may be falsely lured into thinking that they can now enter illegally and get a work permit. Did Obama's offer to help Mexico with a new public relations campaign to protect its southern border from migrants from El Salvador and Honduras symbolize another gift on Three Kings Day? Did both leaders promise to help finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement that presents economic opportunities for both nations? The answer to all these questions is yes. They are important steps forward in the bilateral relationship with our neighbor and third-largest trading partner.

    But the real gifts that Mexico needed on this holiday of giving were not in hand, in spite of the willingness of both countries to work together to improve economic gains and better cross-border relations. The gift of democratic governance is something that cannot be bestowed from the outside. This is something that the United States has learned the hard way, from Iraq to Afghanistan to other parts of the world where we have been generous with our assistance but more often disappointed by the results.

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    Tags: Mexico-U.S. Relations, Enrique Peña Nieto, Barack Obama

  • Mexican Police Officers Investigated Over Disappeared Journalist

    January 9, 2015

    by AQ Online

    Thirteen police officers in the Mexican city of Medellín de Bravo in the state of Veracruz were detained on Thursday as part of the investigation into the kidnapping of the journalist Moisés Sánchez Cerezo.

    Sánchez Cerezo, the director and editor of the small, local publication La Unión, was abducted last Friday, January 2 by unidentified assailants, who also took his cell phone, camera and work computer with all of his archives. Earlier this week, the full police squad of 38 officers was brought in for questioning.

    Sánchez Cerezo, who supported La Unión through money he earned as a taxi driver, had received a number of threats in the past over his publication, including some allegedly from Medellín de Bravo Mayor Omar Cruz, although Cruz denies the allegations. Currently, DNA tests are being carried out on two bodies that were found after Sánchez Cerezo’s disappearance.

    Mexico has gained a reputation for being the most violent place in the hemisphere for journalists, in large part due to drug trafficking and organized crime. Over 100 journalists have been murdered since the year 2000, and within Mexico, the state of Veracruz is considered to be the most dangerous state for journalists.

    Yesterday, a group of journalists protested the abduction of Sánchez Cerezo at the state congress in Xalapa. In addition to protests against the government for Sánchez Cerezo’s kidnapping, the Peña Nieto administration is facing ongoing protests over the disappearance of 43 students in September of last year.

    Tags: Mexico, violence against journalists, Moisés Sánchez Cerezo

  • ELN Considers Ceasefire and Formal Peace Talks

    January 8, 2015

    by AQ Online

    In a video statement released yesterday, Colombia’s Ejercito de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Army—ELN) reaffirmed its willingness to join formalized peace talks with the Colombian government and announced that it would consider a ceasefire.

    In the video, ELN leader Nicolás Rodríguez said, “The government […] has called the insurgents to the table. We will attend this dialogue to examine the will of the government and the Colombian State. If we conclude that arms are no longer necessary, we will consider quitting using them.”

    For two years, the Colombian government has been conducting formal peace talks with the country’s largest rebel movement, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia—FARC). On December 20, 2014, the FARC declared a unilateral, indefinite ceasefire, and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos recently said that he had instructed government peace negotiators to “accelerate” the talks with the FARC.

    Last June, Santos revealed that his government and the ELN had begun separate preliminary peace talks in January 2014. Until now, little was known about the progress of those talks. The two sides recently concluded a “spiritual retreat” in the Colombian city of Cartagena, after which the President Santos urged the ELN to consider a ceasefire.

    “We have given much thought to a unilateral and indefinite ceasefire, in this regard with must recognize that the FARC have delivered. We want to invite the ELN to join the initiative and to reach an agreement as soon as possible regarding the issues we have been discussing for some time,” Santos said.

    Read more about the Colombian peace negotiations here.

    Tags: Colombia, ELN, Colombia Peace Talks

  • Guatemalan Genocide Trial Suspended Indefinitely

    January 7, 2015

    by Nic Wirtz

    The resumption of the genocide trial against former Guatemalan president Efraín Ríos Montt ended as confusingly as it began, in a theatrical first day of renewed proceedings on Monday.  Following a three-judge panel’s 2-1 vote that determined that court president Irma Jeannette Valdéz was too biased to judge the case, the trial was suspended for an indefinite period.

    On May 10, 2013, Ríos Montt—the de-facto dictator of Guatemala from 1982 to 1983—was convicted and sentenced to 80 years in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity—specifically, the murder of 1771 Maya Ixil people, the forced displacement of 29,000 others, and the torture and rape that took place during the course of 15 massacres in the early 1980s centered around the municipality of Nebaj in Guatemala’s Ixil triangle.  Yet that conviction was voided on May 20, 2013 by the Corte de Constitucionalidad (Constitutional Court—CC)—which ruled that Ríos Montt’s right to a defense had been violated by the expulsion of his combative lawyer, Francisco García Gudiel, on the first day of debate—and the trial was rescheduled for January 2015.

    Valdéz, who was one of the three judges on Monday’s panel and president of Tribunal B de Mayor Riesgo (High Risk Court, which deals with high-profile cases involving crimes like corruption and genocide)  rejected an amparo (defense appeal) questioning her impartiality for having written a postgraduate thesis on genocide in Guatemala.  However, the other two judges on the panel, Sara Yoc Yoc and Maria Eugenia Castellanos, sided with the defense—effectively ending the trial the day it resumed.

    Valdéz, whose 2004 thesis was titled “Criterios para una mejor aplicación del delito por genocidio” (Criteria for a better application of the crime of genocide) said, “It is outrageous to doubt my impartiality after several hearings in which I have made decisions on this case.” She added that her thesis was “a scholarly opinion, not legal.”

    Read More

    Tags: Guatemala, Efraín Ríos Montt, genocide

  • Honduras Fights Impunity with New Investigative Body

    January 7, 2015

    by AQ Online

    Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández launched a new investigative body on Tuesday in an effort to reduce violent crime and impunity in the world’s most violent country. The Agencia Técnica de Investigación Criminal (Technical Criminal Investigation Agency—ATIC) is a new branch of the Public Ministry of Honduras charged with “investigating serious crimes with strong social impact.”

    Creation of the new, 60 million lempiras ($2.8 million) investigative branch was approved in January 2014 by the National Congress as part of reforms to the Law of the Public Ministry.  ATIC graduated the first 97 agents specialized in criminal investigations on Monday, and hopes to have 250 agents by the end of 2015. The investigative unit will operate from two of the largest cities, Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula.

    ATIC is a hybrid technical-military police force whose primary task is investigations and prosecutions, not arrests. “[We told the agents,] your main weapon is not a rifle or pistol but your mind and knowledge,” said Attorney General Óscar Fernando Chinchilla.

    The ATIC agents—39 women and 58 men—underwent three months of intensive instruction in law, criminology, forensic sciences, and investigative techniques, as well as physical and tactical training. The investigative body is divided into four units: crimes against life and sexual liberty, organized crime, public administration, and a technical-scientific department.

    According to the Alliance for Peace and Justice in Honduras, 96 percent of homicide cases between 2010 and 2013 remained unsolved.

     

    Tags: Honduras, ATIC, Crime, Impunity

  • Mario Cuomo: Poetry and Prose in Politics

    January 6, 2015

    by John Parisella

    The phrase “campaigning in poetry and governing in prose” was coined by the late and former New York governor, Mario Cuomo.  In the interests of full disclosure, I have been an admirer of Mario Cuomo ever since he gave the keynote address at the 1984 Democratic National Convention. Since he passed away on January 1, the media have been replaying this landmark speech. 

    Cuomo’s later address at the University of Notre Dame in September 1984 on the Catholic politician and pluralism was also a classic.  It has been considered a model for governance in a diverse and pluralistic society.  He was quite the orator.

    The DNC speech was meant to be the Democratic response to the so-called Reagan Revolution and the conservative vision of Republican politics back then.  While President Reagan spoke of the “shining city on the hill,” Governor Cuomo countered with his version of the “tale of two cities.”  It was a call for greater equality and more social justice.  It explored how government can help provide opportunities for jobs, fight to reduce poverty, and contribute to the overall prosperity of American society.  Above all, the Cuomo speech may have been the last hurrah of the liberal, progressive vision of America.

    To some, the speech may be an eloquent expression of another time in history, and that its message is no longer as relevant or as electorally viable today.  To those who believe this, it may be worthwhile to give it another listen.  If anything, economic inequality has risen and poverty levels remain unacceptably high in developed societies.  Cuomo spoke of America then, but he might also be speaking about America today.  As a Canadian, I believed his message transcended the U.S. border, with relevance for Canada then and now.

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    Tags: Mario Cuomo, Canada, New York

  • Chile Refuses Mediation in Bolivia Sea Access Dispute

    January 6, 2015

    by AQ Online

    Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz said yesterday in a press conference that the country rejected any possible mediation from the Pope in a dispute with Bolivia over sovereign access through Chile to the Pacific Ocean that dates back to the nineteenth century.

    Muñoz’s comments came after Bolivian President Evo Morales’ statement on Sunday that Pope Francis had requested documentation about the border dispute. On Monday, after a meeting with the advisory committee for the legal case, Muñoz said, “Chile has not accepted in the past, does not accept and will not accept any mediation in a matter that is absolutely bilateral, that concerns only Chile and Bolivia. Chile will never consider, does not accept nor will accept ceding territory under pressure or through any form of mediation. This is crystal clear for us, even more so as there is a case in The Hague.”

    Bolivia decided to bring its case before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague on April 24, 2013, with the goal of forcing Chile to negotiate a point of sovereign access to the ocean—which Bolivia lost after the War of the Pacific, when it signed a peace treaty with Chile in 1904 that Morales says was forcefully imposed on his country. On July 15, 2014, Chile filed a preliminary objection to the ICJ’s jurisdiction in the matter. In November 2014, Bolivia filed a declaration claiming that the ICJ did have jurisdiction to rule on the case.

    There have been heightened tensions recently regarding the longstanding conflict, with Morales asserting at the end of December 2014 that Bolivia would recover its access to the sea. Meanwhile, Muñoz published a piece in the Brazilian publication Folha de São Paulo entitled “What the Bolivian Lawsuit is Hiding.”

    Tags: Heraldo Munoz, Evo Morales, border dispute

  • Monday Memo: Panama Canal – Venezuela Diplomacy – 114th U.S. Congress – Guatemala Trial – Uruguay Elections

    January 5, 2015

    by AQ Online

    This week's likely top stories: the Panama Canal gears up to expand its Pacific coast facilities; Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro travels to China and OPEC countries; the 114th U.S. Congress starts its session on Tuesday with a Republican majority and plenty of hot button issues for the Americas; the trial of Guatemalan General Efraín Ríos Montt on genocide resumes; Uruguayan First Lady Lucia Topolansky confirms she will run for mayor of Montevideo in 2015.

    Panama Prepares to Expand its Pacific Canal Facilities: On Saturday, the Panama Canal Authority approved the development of a new transshipment port in the Corozal region, the canal’s entrance to the Pacific Ocean. This two-phased expansion project will improve the port’s capacity on the Pacific side from five to eight million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) by 2020 through the construction of a 2,081 linear-meter dock, a container yard, offices and warehouse facilities within a 120-hectare area. The new terminal will also include port facilities capable of accommodating mid-size cargo ships that can pass through the canal. Aware of impending competition from Nicaragua, which inaugurated the construction of its own canal megaproject on the Pacific Coast just before Christmas, Canal Administrator and CEO Jorge Luis Quijano said, “This new facility will increase inter-oceanic cargo traffic, consolidating Panama’s position as an international logistics and maritime hub.” The Panama National Assembly will review the bill for final approval this week before issuing a call for bids from construction companies for a twenty year contract.

    Maduro Packs His Bags for an Economic Relief World Tour: Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro left Caracas on Sunday night to commence an urgent diplomatic mission to China and several as-yet-unspecified Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) member nations in pursuit of assistance to lift Venezuela out of recession. China, Maduro’s first stop on his economic tour, is Venezuela’s principal foreign lender and is keeping Venezuelan state welfare projects afloat through an $8 billion oil-for-loan agreement. Maduro is expected to discuss financing options with Chinese President Xi Jinping that would help Venezuela meet its debt obligations and tamp down inflation. Since Venezuela’s economy has suffered from OPEC’s decision in November not to curtail oil output despite the price drop, Maduro will visit OPEC countries in the second leg of his trip with the hopes of establishing “a strategy for recovering the price [of oil] and strengthening the organization.” Venezuela’s oil basket has fallen nearly 50 percent, to about $47 dollars per barrel since the summer, with each dollar drop in oil prices costing the government an estimated $700 million per year in revenue.

    Republican-controlled U.S. Congress Convenes: The 114th U.S. Congress will start its session in Washington DC on Tuesday, with a Republican majority set to take over the Senate and continue control of the House of Representatives. The new Congress is expected to clash with President Barack Obama over policy on Cuba-U.S. relations, immigration, and the Keystone XL pipeline, which failed to win approval in Congress last year. In November, Obama announced executive action to provide legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants, and re-establish diplomatic ties with Cuba in mid-December after more than five decades. However, Cuban authorities’ arrest of dissidents at the end of the year has amplified concerns about the state of human rights on the island, and some members of Congress who have opposed improved relations have suggested that the Senate may refuse to confirm a U.S. ambassador to Cuba. Meanwhile, incoming Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised that a bill approving the Keystone pipeline will be an early priority for Republican lawmakers, though it could still be vetoed by Obama.

    Genocide Trial Resumes for Guatemala’s Ríos Montt: After 14 months, the trial of Guatemalan General Efraín Ríos Montt on genocide charges—for his alleged role in ordering 15 massacres of 1,771 indigenous Ixil Maya from 1982 to 1983 during Guatemala’s Civil War—resumes today. While the former president was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity and sentenced to 80 years in prison in May 2013, Guatemala’s Corte de Constitucionalidad (Constitutional Court—CC) upheld a measure that annulled the verdict and required that the trial resume where it stood on April 19, 2013, claiming that the general had been denied due process. Ríos Montt will not appear at his trial proceedings, which begin today and will presided over by Tribunal President Janeth Valdez, due to his health.  At 88, he remains under military house arrest in an upscale neighborhood of Guatemala City.

    Uruguayan First Lady to Run for Mayor of Montevideo: Uruguayan Senator and First Lady Lucia Topolansky confirmed she will run for mayor of Montevideo in the May 2015 elections. Topolansky, who is married to outgoing Uruguayan President José Mujica, is a member of the Movimiento de Participación Popular (Movement of Popular Participation—MPP) political party, the largest voting bloc within the ruling left-wing Frente Amplio coalition (Broad Front—FA). The Uruguayan first lady accepted the candidacy on some conditions, including a respectful campaign against Daniel Martínez, another FA candidate from the Uruguayan Socialist Party who is competing in the mayoral race. With Topolansky as mayor, the MPP would control Uruguay’s main electoral region and add to the FA’s absolute majority in the legislature.

    Tags: Panama Canal, Nicolás Maduro, U.S. Congress, Guatemala civil war, Lucia Topolansky

  • Former AQ Innovator Detained in Cuba

    December 31, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Americas Quarterly was saddened to hear that one of it​s former Innovators, Antonio Rodiles, was among the democratic activists detained this week in Cuba.  Antonio and others were heading to a peaceful rally organized by Cuban artist Tania Bruguera at Havana’s Revolution Square.  The event, titled #YoTambiénExijo (I Also Demand), was planned to be a series of open-mic presentations by independent activists about their view of Cuba’s future.  Other dissidents, such as Reinaldo Escobar, were also detained—and Reinaldo’s wife, Yoani Sánchez (featured in the Fall 2014 Americas Quarterly), was prevented from leaving her house to attend.   Our thoughts and prayers are with Antonio and the other dissidents who have been detained.  

    Tags: Cuban dissidents, Antonio Rodiles, Tania Bruguera

  • Happy Holidays!

    December 24, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Happy Holidays! The AQ team is on vacation until January 5. Until then, readers eager for analysis on the region can always catch up on our print issues and remember to give the gift of AQ to their loved ones for the holidays.

    Tags: happy holidays, Americas Quarterly

  • Shadows of History on the Future of U.S.-Cuban Relations

    December 23, 2014

    by Eric Gettig

    "There's a complicated history between the United States and Cuba," President Obama acknowledged in his December 17 announcement of a new opening to Cuba. He couched the new approach to relations in terms of the need to abandon the failed policy of the last 54 years.

    A longer look at the history of U.S.-Cuban relations, however, suggests that much of the newly opened debate over future engagement rests on some of the same assumptions that shaped previous relations in the decades before the Cuban Revolution (1953-1959). In jettisoning one failed policy, the U.S. government—and the people of Cuba—should be wary of resurrecting the habits of an earlier, equally dysfunctional relationship. It is a history about which Cubans are constantly reminded, but which most Americans all too easily forget.

    As Spanish control weakened throughout the nineteenth century, American policymakers assumed that Cuba would pass from the Spanish to the American orbit—a danger that José Martí, Cuba's liberation hero, warned against before perishing in the War of Independence in 1895. With nationalist insurgents poised to win independence in 1898, the U.S. intervened and occupied Cuba in a bid to dictate the island's future.

    In 1902, Cuba became a nominally independent republic, but one in which the Platt Amendment to Cuba's Constitution reserved Washington the right to intervene for "the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty." U.S. troops landed on the island three more times in the next 20 years. U.S. ambassadors mediated among Cuban political factions, whose power could rest as much on the State Department's blessing as on support among Cubans. 

    Read More

    Tags: Cuba-U.S. relations, Cuban Revolution

  • Un barril de problemas para Venezuela

    December 23, 2014

    by Paula Ramón

    Ernesto Villegas, director de propaganda del Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV), aseguró hace dos semanas que si el petróleo venezolano llegase a cotizarse a 7 dólares por barril, la “revolución bolivariana no caería, se fortalecería”. La afirmación parece aventurada, incluso para los dirigentes del chavismo, acostumbrados a permear la realidad nacional con desconexos jingles publicitarios.

    Entre noviembre y diciembre, el dólar paralelo en Venezuela pasó de 95 BsF a 165 BsF, valor que aumenta a tanta velocidad, que ha sido necesario actualizar la cifra tres veces para estas líneas. El Banco Central reportó en septiembre una inflación anual de 63,4%, y aunque no hay balances más recientes, la expectativa es que llegue a los tres dígitos en 2015. No hay números oficiales sobre la escasez de alimentos y productos durante el último trimestre, pero las filas en los mercados dan una idea de la disparidad entre oferta y demanda. 

    Es en ese contexto que Villegas opina sobre la caída del precio del barril de petróleo venezolano, que la semana pasada cerró en 51,26 dólares, casi 40 por debajo de los 90,19 dólares registrados a comienzos de septiembre, cuando comenzó un desplome en la cotización del crudo que no ocurría desde 2008. 

    La desvalorización del principal producto de exportación nacional—que costea 95% de los dólares que ingresan al país—ha venido a dificultar aún más las cosas para la comprometida gestión de Nicolás Maduro, elegido en abril de 2013 para un período de seis años. Al contrario de Villegas, el heredero político de Hugo Chávez no ha desestimado radicalmente la gravedad de la situación: “30% (de desvalorización) no es poca cosa”, llegó a reconocer el mandatario en un acto público dos semanas atrás. 

    Con el desplome petrolero, la primera medida del gobierno fue enviar al canciller—y antiguo ministro de Petróleo y Minería—Rafael Ramírez, a una gira por la Organización de Países Exportadores de Petróleo (OPEP), para convencer a sus socios de la necesidad de reducir la producción para aumentar los precios. El saldo fue negativo: a pesar del urgente pedido venezolano, prevaleció la decisión de mantener las cuotas inalterables. 

    El actual escenario ha dejado a Maduro pocas alternativas y la promesa de un 2015 difícil. Una de las decisiones que parece inevitable es el aumento de la gasolina, cuyo precio congelado hace 15 años ha creado una desigualdad tan absurda que con el costo de medio litro de agua mineral, es posible comprar el combustible para abastecer seis carros familiares. 

    Acabar con el subsidio—que le cuesta al Estado 12.500 millones de dólares por año—implica un doble desafío: por años, Chávez evitó el tema por temor a repetir el estallido social que selló la suerte de Carlos Andrés Pérez en 1989, por lo que Maduro, además de tener que tomar una medida que golpea un punto de honor para la sociedad, golpeando su ya menguada popularidad, reconocería de forma tácita que la economía venezolana enfrenta su peor momento en muchos años. 

    La reducción de ingresos también podría obligar al gobierno a realizar ajustes económicos para 2015—entre ellos una devaluación de la moneda, cuya cotización oficial—a 6,30 BsF, 12 BsF y 55 BsF—se mantiene alejada del cambio negro que determina el mercado nacional. Un estudio del Bank of America Merrill Lynch afirma que “por cada dólar de caída en los precios del petróleo, el sector público pierde 770 millones de dólares en ingresos netos”, y advierte que de continuar la tendencia, el Estado venezolano necesitaría un financiamiento adicional de 12 mil millones de dólares. 

    En 2013, cuando el precio del barril petrolero superaba los 100 dólares, el Congreso sancionó un presupuesto nacional calculado con una tasa de 60 dólares por barril. El objetivo era tener un margen de acción en caso de que los precios disminuyeran. En aquella época, el entonces ministro de finanzas sostuvo que los retos para el país eran aumentar la producción nacional y controlar el dólar paralelo, en aras de evitar un mayor incremento inflacionario. No sólo no se alcanzaron los objetivos, sino que además el país no consiguió tirar provecho de la diferencia de precios que por años le fue favorable.

    El reciente anuncio del restablecimiento de las relaciones diplomáticas entre Cuba y los Estados Unidos es una señal aún más clara de que el futuro de Venezuela es desalentador. Raúl Castro, en un gesto sin precedentes, ha dejado a la deriva a su benefactor, aislando a la “revolución bolivariana” en su momento más crítico. 

    La Habana parece haber aprendido la lección: la caída de los precios del petróleo a finales de la década de los 80 fue uno de los factores que contribuyó al fin de la Unión Soviética, entonces colaboradora de la isla. A finales de los 90, la ayuda de Hugo Chávez sirvió para minimizar los estragos ocasionados por el declive de Moscú. Durante casi una década, Venezuela ha enviado diariamente 100 mil barriles de petróleo a la isla, a cambio de asistencia médica, académica y deportiva. 

    De nuevo frente al ocaso de un gran aliado, y apenas dos meses después de la muerte de Hugo Chávez, Castro emprendió una negociación osada que salvase a su gobierno de atravesar por otro “período especial”. Las varias décadas en la senda revolucionaria parecen pesar, y es que mientras Cuba abraza a los Estados Unidos, Venezuela abraza al vacío. 

    Tags: Nicolás Maduro, President Raul Castro, oil prices

  • ACLU and HRW Call for Special Prosecutor to Investigate CIA

    December 23, 2014

    by AQ Online

    The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Monday asked the U.S. Justice Department to designate a special prosecutor to examine the CIA’s use of torture as well as other illegal measures when questioning terrorism suspects.

    Just two weeks ago, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report about the use of torture by the CIA when interrogating criminal suspects in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. In light of these new findings, the ACLU and HRW wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, requesting further investigation and denouncing the “vast criminal conspiracy, under color of law, to commit torture and other serious crimes.”

    However, officials reported that the U.S. Justice Department does not intend to reopen investigations into CIA interrogators, as investigations have already been carried out and the Justice Department did not find sufficient evidence for prosecutions.

    Various human rights workers and politicians have called for further examination of officials that were involved in the CIA’s interrogations. On Sunday, a The New York Times called for an investigation of former Vice President Dick Cheney, Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington, former CIA Director George Tenet, CIA employee Jose Rodriguez Jr., and a number of other Bush administration employees.

    Tags: CIA torture, Human Rights, September 11

  • Geothermal Energy Potential Unleashed at COP20

    December 23, 2014

    by Jeff Baum

    Debates about renewable energy rarely focus on geothermal energy, despite its impressive potential. However, this may be changing: on December 8, the Geothermal Development Facility (GDF) was launched during the UN climate change talks in Lima, Peru, mobilizing $1 billion towards geothermal development across Latin America.

    Geothermal reservoirs are located on tectonic plate boundaries or in areas of past or present volcanism—for example, the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” which includes Southeast Asia and the west coast of Latin America. Conventional geothermal harnesses energy from hot fluid and steam, obtained by drilling into the reservoir and used to spin turbines and generate power.

    Geothermal energy has numerous benefits. It is a clean, renewable and cheap source of base load power, with minute greenhouse gas emissions and a relatively low electricity cost. In seven countries—Costa Rica, El Salvador, Iceland, Kenya, New Zealand, Nicaragua, and the Philippines—geothermal represents more than 10 percent of total electricity generation. As of August 2013, 24 countries had geothermal power plants with a combined power of 11,765 MW.

    However, geothermal also requires high up-front cost. Exploration is expensive, and drilling is risky—an unsuccessful drill hole can cost millions of dollars. The World Bank notes that the total cost of drilling in a geothermal field ranges from $15 to $25 million, and revenue isn’t generated for five to eight years. Developed nations rely on the public sector to leverage risk for geothermal, but public financing is simply not enough to fund geothermal projects in developing nations: innovative financing mechanisms are necessary.

    This is where the Geothermal Development Facility could have a large impact.

    Read More

    Tags: Sustainable energy, geothermal development facility, alternative energy

  • Colombia: las esperanzas del 2015

    December 22, 2014

    by Jenny Manrique

    Los entusiastas de los diálogos recibimos con optimismo—y siempre cautela—las noticias de la última semana: la Unión Europea reconoció a Palestina como Estado, Cuba y EEUU restablecieron sus relaciones diplomáticas después de 55 años de “guerra fría,” y las Fuerzas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) declararon un cese al fuego unilateral e indefinido.

    Decisiones audaces y polémicas, que siempre necesitan veeduría, pero que envuelven ánimos de ensayar nuevos métodos a la hora de solucionar diferencias. Desde que el gobierno de Colombia se embarcó en los diálogos con las FARC hace casi dos años y medio,  muchas decisiones han sido controversiales, comenzando por el proceso de paz mismo—que tiene enconados contradictores, como el senador y ex presidente, Álvaro Uribe. Cada año que comienza—o cerca de cada elección—el presidente Juan Manuel Santos promete una firma de paz inminente. ¿Será que el 2015 le da la razón?

    El año pasado también hubo una tregua de las FARC, aunque limitada a un mes durante las fiestas de fin de año. Según la Defensoría del Pueblo, fue entonces violada en tres ocasiones con ataques a la fuerza pública. Y ese es el meollo del asunto: las concesiones de las FARC en el terreno militar se reducen al ataque, no a la posibilidad de “legítima defensa.” Una tregua no es un desarme, ni una concentración de combatientes en una zona desmilitarizada (vieja fórmula de los diálogos del Caguán durante el gobierno del presidente Andrés Pastrana). Si no es decididamente bilateral, no obliga a la otra parte a no usar las armas; y el gobierno colombiano ha sido clarísimo en que nunca renunciará a su deber de defender a los ciudadanos. Y finalmente, necesita verificación, la que también es generalmente implementada en medio de un armisticio.  

    La víspera de la tregua (19 de diciembre), las FARC mataron a cinco militares en el departamento del Cauca y todavía el Ejército sigue buscando a un soldado desaparecido. Es la vieja táctica de la guerrilla: mostrar poder militar antes de mostrar voluntad de paz. En adelante, si las fuerzas militares aprovechan esa concesión de las FARC para atacarlas, la tregua será violada en instantes, y con ello vendrá toda la crítica de sectores opuestos al diálogo. ¿Hay una fórmula exitosa? Si no hay desarme, el escenario bélico es una bomba de tiempo; un desarme es el fin último de los diálogos—aunque no sabemos qué tan cerca estamos.

    Read More

    Tags: Colombia Peace Talks, FARC, Ceasefire

  • Monday Memo: Haiti – Nicaragua Canal – Oil – Petrobras Scandal – Guantánamo

    December 22, 2014

    by AQ Online

    This week's likely top stories: Florence Duperval Guillaume is named Haiti’s interim prime minister; farmers set up blockades to protest the Nicaraguan canal; Saudis tell non-OPEC producers to reduce output; Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff says she will not replace Petrobras CEO; Four more prisoners are released from Guantánamo.

    Interim Haitian Prime Minister Named: Haitian Health Minister Florence Duperval Guillaume was named Haiti’s interim prime minister on Sunday, filling the empty post left by former Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, who resigned last week. Duperval is expected to hold the position for a month until Haitian President Michel Martelly presents a permanent candidate to Haiti’s Parliament. Protests and unrest have erupted across the country since early December, with Haitians calling for long-postponed legislative and local elections that were scheduled for 2011, and members of Haiti’s political opposition demanding that Martelly resign. Parliament could dissolve by mid-January if the elections are not held.

    OPEC Pressures Non-Members to Scale Back Production: Nearly one month after the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) decided to maintain its crude oil production ceiling of 30 million barrels per day (bpd), Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates said they would continue to meet their output targets, blaming non-OPEC producers for the oil glut of about 2 million bpd that has driven prices down by 20 percent since late November. By pressuring non-members to rebalance the oversupplied market, OPEC hopes to secure its share of market production in 2015. This could potentially soften the blow to the cash-strapped Venezuelan economy—which is almost wholly dependent on oil exports—but non-member Latin American states like Mexico, Argentina and Brazil will have to decide whether to reduce oil production or face even more devastating price shocks.

    Read More

    Tags: Haitian Prime Minister, Nicaragua Canal, OPEC Oil, Petrobras Scandal, Guantanamo Bay

  • Obama Signs Venezuela Sanctions

    December 19, 2014

    by AQ Online

    President Obama signed a bill yesterday authorizing sanctions against Venezuelan officials accused of violating the rights of protesters in the South American country earlier this year. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro blasted the measure, tweeting, “I reject the insolent measures taken against Venezuela by the Imperial Elite of the Unites States; Bolivar’s Fatherland is to be Respected.”

    Under the sanctions, Venezuelans accused of being involved in the repression of anti-government protesters in protests earlier this year could see their assets frozen or visas denied or revoked. According to an unnamed U.S. embassy official, ”These sanctions are not against the Venezuelan people, or against the Venezuelan government as a whole, but against individuals accused of violations.”

    Analysts point out that the sanctions may offer Maduro a convenient scapegoat. Invoking the U.S. embargo on Cuba, Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin America Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, said “The sanctions on Venezuela will serve the exact same function. It’s a way of deflecting attention form the failure of the government and onto the U.S.”

    Tags: Venezuela sanctions, Venezuela-U.S. relations, Nicolás Maduro

  • U.S.–Cuba Agreement: Diplomacy At Its Best

    December 18, 2014

    by John Parisella

    That there would be a thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations seemed inevitable.  After all, the Cold War ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the Castro brothers are getting on in years.

    And yet, there is a sense that a new era is beginning with the joint Barack Obama–Raúl Castro announcement, and an air of optimism and hope in the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

    The fact that Pope Francis, Obama, Castro, and the government of Canada all converged to bring an end to a relic of the Cold War is a major part of the story.  My country, Canada, never went along with the U.S. embargo, imposed in 1960.  This made Canada a facilitator, and a credible factor in bringing two mutually suspicious parties together.  Meetings in Toronto and Ottawa occurred throughout 2013 and 2014 with Canadian assistance.

    The first pope from the Americas, who seized the opportunity to make a difference, to build bridges, and to improve the lot of the Cuban people by using his good offices, may have been the closer on the deal.  If Obama is the commander-in-chief, Pope Francis is the inspirer-in-chief.

    Obama deserves much credit for his courage and his vision. Clearly, this president knows his history. Just as Nixon went to China and Truman set up the Marshall Plan for Europe in the post-World War II era, Obama knew that he had to do something different with a nation just 90 miles off the U.S. shore.  In the realm of values and legacy, setting up diplomatic relations with Cuba is far better than sending prisoners to Guantánamo.

    Read More

    Tags: Cuba, Cuba-U.S. relations, Barack Obama, Pope Francis, Raul Castro

  • FARC Declares Unilateral Ceasefire

    December 18, 2014

    by AQ Online

    In a statement published on one of its official websites Wednesday, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) declared an indefinite, unilateral cease fire and end to hostilities in Colombia, on the condition that the rebels are not attacked by government forces. The announcement was made as part of the peace talks with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ administration in Havana, and it marks the first time the guerrilla group has declared an indefinite halt to the fighting.

    However, Santos has so far refused to reciprocate the gesture, saying that a bilateral ceasefire could potentially allow the FARC to regroup and attack, as they did during the failed peace negotiations that took place from 1999-2002. The president’s wariness also stems from an incident this September that nearly foiled accords again, when the FARC took General Ruben Dario Alzate and two of his traveling companions hostage in September, along with two others in a separate incident. All the hostages were released in November in order to continue the peace negotiations.

    Currently, the Colombian government and FARC negotiators have reached agreements on three points of the original five-point peace agenda, but have stalled on the fourth point of restitution for victims. The Colombian government and FARC leaders have been engaging in peace talks in Havana since 2012. That same year, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos dismissed a temporary Christmas truce proposed by the FARC by saying, “The sooner we get to a peace agreement, the sooner we will silence the guns.”

    Over 200,000 people have been killed since the internal war began between the guerillas and the government began in 1964. The FARC ceasefire will go into effect this Saturday, December 20.

    Read more in AQ’s Fall 2014 issue on Cuba and Colombia.

    Follow ongoing developments in Cuba here.

    *Updated 12/18/2014

    Tags: Colombia, FARC, Ceasefire

  • Why Jeb Bush Is a Serious Candidate

    December 17, 2014

    by John Parisella

    With 2014 drawing to a close, speculation will soon turn to the 2016 Presidential race in the United States.  The Republicans will hold control over both houses of Congress come January, and will offer a wide array of potential candidates lining up for a White House run.  With President Barack Obama leaving the White House, Republicans see the strong possibility of winning the presidency in 2016.

    Attention has suddenly peaked towards the GOP race now that former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has announced his intention to explore a White House bid—raising the prospect of another member of the Bush family facing expected Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.  The former two-term governor has been coy about his intentions for the past year, occasionally criticizing his party as being less hospitable to candidates like his father, former Republican President George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan.

    How serious is a potential Jeb Bush candidacy?  In one word: serious.  The current prospective field includes: Florida Senator Mark Rubio, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, Kentucky Senator and libertarian Rand Paul, Tea Party favorite Texas Senator Ted Cruz, 2012 vice-presidential contender Paul Ryan, and, possibly, a third run by 2012 nominee Mitt Romney.  None of the above candidates are without liabilities, and no one is dominant.  Bush’s announcement, therefore, shakes up the current field for both Republican primary voters and potential donors—he has immediate name recognition and has a reputation as a successful governor from a swing state.

    The primary season is 13 months away and there will be a variety of forces at play in the Republican primaries. Social conservatives and Tea Party activists will not remain silent, and will play an active role on matters of policy and values.  This could radicalize some of the early primary battles, leading more polarizing figures, such as Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, to be eliminated early.  The more moderate Republicans, hungry for a White House victory after an eight-year drought, may choose a more classic conservative—Bush could emerge as the obvious choice.  And history may be on his side.

    Read More

    Tags: Jeb Bush, Republican party, U.S. presidential elections

  • Cuba Releases Alan Gross on Humanitarian Grounds

    December 17, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Cuba released 65-year-old former U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contractor Alan Gross from prison today on humanitarian grounds, paving the way for normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Gross was sentenced to 15 years in prison for alleged espionage after he was arrested in December 2009 for bringing satellite equipment to Cuba.

    This month marked the 5th anniversary of Gross’ imprisonment, and his health has been deteriorating. “Alan is resolved that he will not endure another year imprisoned in Cuba, and I am afraid that we are at the end,” his wife, Judy Gross, said. A bipartisan group of 66 senators urged Obama to “act expeditiously…to obtain [Gross’s] release” in November.

    The State Department has maintained Gross’ innocence and repeatedly demanded his release, stating that it is “an impediment to more constructive relations between the U.S. and Cuba.”

    President Obama publicly acknowledged last week that the U.S. was negotiating with Havana for Gross’ release. Obama is expected to announce Gross’ release at noon, along with a broad range of diplomatic measures expected to move towards normalizing the Cuba-U.S. relationship for the first time since the 1961 embargo.

    Cuban President Raúl Castro is also expected to speak at noon about Cuba’s relations with the United States. Gross’ release comes ahead of the April 2015 Summit of the Americas, where Cuba is to participate for the first time and Obama is expected to meet with Castro.

    Read more of AQ's Cuba coverage here.

    Tags: Cuba, Alan Gross, Cuba-U.S. relations, Barack Obama

  • Paraguayan Journalist Who Reported Abuses Faces Charges

    December 16, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Paulo López, a Paraguayan journalist who reported being mistreated by police nearly a year ago, was arrested on Sunday upon returning to his country from Argentina for the holidays. In January 2014, police arrested López in Asunción while he reported for media outlet E’a on detained citizens who had been protesting transportation price hikes. López said that he was arrested arbitrarily and tortured, and that his camera was confiscated. He later filed a complaint over the mistreatment by the police with the Prosecutor’s Office for Human Rights.

    However, a few months later, the precinct supplied a medical report showing that one of the police involved in his January arrest had a “light swelling in his cheek,” and charged López with resisting arrest and assaulting an officer in September. Santiago Ortíz of the Sindicato de Periodistas del Paraguay (Paraguayan Journalists’ Union—SPP) affirmed that neither López nor his lawyers were notified of the charge. In October, López was declared in contempt of court, though he was in Argentina studying for a master’s program at the time.

    The Coordinator for Human Rights in Paraguay (Codehupy) and the Paraguayan Union of Journalists (SPP) intervened after López was detained at the border on Sunday, ensuring that his hearing took place on Sunday night in the Palace of Justice. He was released after the hearing, but López is not allowed to leave the country or change his address, and must appear before prosecutor Emilio Fúster every month until his case is settled.

    Ortíz of the SPP asserted that the charge against López is meant to “intimidate my colleague to desist from his complaint. We qualify (the arrest) as a violation of human rights and a new outrage from the government on the exercise of journalism.” On Thursday, the SPP is planning a festival for freedom of expression in honor of López.

    Tags: Codehupy, Journalist, Freedom of expression

  • Monday Memo: Colombia FARC Amnesty— Haiti Prime Minister — Argentina Railway — Venezuela PetroCaribe — U.S. Police Brutality

    December 15, 2014

    by AQ Online

    This week's likely top stories: Colombians march against possible amnesty for FARC; Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamonthe steps down; Chinese railroad company wins $275 million in orders from Argentina; Venezuela seeks to expand PetroCaribe despite its fragile economic situation; Thousands gather across the U.S. in anti-police brutality protests.

    Uribe Leads Protest Against Possible FARC Amnesty: Former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe’s Centro Democrático party and the Colombia Quiere movement led marches across the country on Saturday to protest a possible amnesty for the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) in peace talks between the rebels and Colombian government in Havana. Currently, the government and the rebels are meeting to determine how to disarm FARC combatants and whether to prosecute them for crimes. Protesters across Colombia said that the FARC should face justice, and expressed concern that the peace talks would grant the guerrillas amnesty after 50 years of armed conflict. Further inflaming tempers, seven people—including two children—were shot to death on Friday in the department of Antioquia, in what appears to have been an execution. However, it is unclear whether the shooting involved members of the FARC, the ELN, or members of criminal gangs in the area.

    Haiti in Turmoil over Long-Postponed Elections: Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamonthe stepped down on Sunday in an effort to quell protests over government corruption and delayed elections that have roiled the Caribbean nation since December 5. Lamonthe, who began his term in 2012, is the third prime minister to resign since President Michel Martelly took office in 2011. Despite international support for Lamonthe’s efforts to attract investment to Haiti, a commission appointed by Martelly last week called for the resignation of the prime minister, the head of the Supreme Court and the current members of the Provisional Electoral Council. Meanwhile, Haiti has yet to hold legislative and local elections that were scheduled for 2011, leaving 10 out of 30 Senate seats unoccupied. Martelly has blamed the stalled elections on opposition senators who refuse to pass his election law. If Haiti fails to hold elections, the parliament will be dissolved in mid-January and President Martelly will rule by decree. The president announced that negotiations to resolve the political crisis would begin today.

    Chinese Railroad Company Brings in $275 million from Argentina: In another strong display of “railroad diplomacy,” state-owned China South Locomotive & Rolling Stock Corporation Ltd. (CSR) confirmed this morning that it received a $275 million order from Argentina for Chinese locomotive products. The 80 locomotives and more than 2,000 freight cars from China will be used to populate Argentina’s Belgrano Cargas line once a $2.1 billion railway rehabilitation project—contracted to China Machinery Engineering Corp (CMEC)—is complete. The project will be financed by a supplemental loan agreement finalized by Presidents Xi Jinping and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in July. CSR, which has been supplying trains and other railway products to Argentina since 2006, is currently considering a merger with its principal domestic rival, China CNR Corp Ltd, which would make it competitive with multinational railroad behemoths Siemens and Bombardier. 

    Venezuela to Expand PetroCaribe Despite Oil Glut: On Sunday, at a summit in Havana marking the 10th anniversary of the leftist Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas—ALBA), Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro revealed his intentions to expand the already frail PetroCaribe oil subsidy program, which has been providing Caribbean countries with oil at low interest rates and a favorable long-term payment plan since 2005. In light of the fact that PetroCaribe shipments fell 11 percent in 2013, which forced beneficiaries to diversify their energy portfolios, Maduro insisted that, “Petrocaribe, what it must do at this stage, is consolidate, strengthen, grow and deploy itself.” However, Venezuela’s capacity to deliver on its promise remains questionable, considering the impact of the severe global drop in oil prices on Venezuela’s economy, with inflation already hovering around 60 percent. In order to finance the expansion, Venezuela is considering a plan to sell billions of dollars of PetroCaribe debt to Wall Street.

    Tens of Thousands March in U.S. to Protest Police Killings: Tens of thousands of Americans marched on Saturday in the largest anti-police violence protests since Michael Brown, a black teenager, was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri this August. Marches took place in Boston, Chicago, New York City, Oakland, San Antonio, San Diego, and Washington DC in memory of victims of police shootings and to denounce the racial injustice and police impunity. No arrests were made at the Millions March in NYC—by far the largest event—which drew approximately 30,000 participants in a procession that ended at the NYC Police Department’s headquarters in Lower Manhattan. An estimated 25,000 people rallied in the nation’s capital, including the families and relatives of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, and John Crawford.

    Tags: FARC peace negotiations, Governance in Haiti, China and Latin America, Petrocaribe, police killings

  • Peña Nieto’s Plan to Tackle Economic Inequality

    December 12, 2014

    by Gilberto Garcia

    Mexican President Peña Nieto laid out his ten point plan to tackle injustice and corruption in the country last month as part of his response to the murder of 43 students in Iguala, Mexico. Although the plan has been derided for lacking true punch and political support, one less discussed, but significant, piece of the plan is the proposal to create Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in three of Mexico’s poorest states.

    Mexico is still a country of have and have-nots. With a Gini coefficient of .48, Mexico is the second most unequal country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). This inequality becomes self-evident as one drives from northern Mexico to the country’s southern border—cities give way to the rural countryside, factories turn into crop fields, and paved roads turn into gravel. 

    Guerrero, Chiapas, and Oaxaca are among Mexico’s economically worst-performing states. GDP per capita is less than a quarter than that of the capital in all three states, and they score lowest on the human development index. According to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), approximately 80 percent of the labor force in each state is employed in the informal sector, compared to the national average of 58 percent. More than twelve million people live in poverty or extreme poverty in just these three southern states.

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    Tags: Enrique Peña Nieto, Economic Inequality, Special Economic Zones

  • Ecuadorian Lawyers take Chevron to Canadian Courts

    December 12, 2014

    by AQ Online

    A group of lawyers representing Ecuadorian villagers asked Canada’s Supreme Court on Thursday to try their decades-long case against Chevron in Canadian courts. The lawyers, led by primary attorney Steven Donzinger, are seeking compensation of about $9.5 billion dollars, granted by a judge in Ecuador for environmental damages in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

    Whether or not Canadian courts will take on the case relies on a juridical technicality called “corporate veil.” Although Chevron has subsidiaries with billions of dollars in assets in Canada, the corporate veil principal distinguishes subsidiaries from their parent companies and establishes that they are not responsible for the actions of their parents, thus making it difficult for Canadian courts to have claims to the case.

    The lawsuit was originally filed against Texaco in 1993 for environmental damages caused between 1964 and 1990 by the company’s disposal of billions of gallons of oil sludge into local tributaries, in what has been called the “worst oil-related pollution problem on the planet.” After a $40 million dollar cleanup, Ecuador and Texaco signed a contract releasing the company from further charges.  Chevron acquired Texaco in 2001, and in 2003, Donzinger filed a suit against Chevron that in 2011 resulted in $19 billion dollars awarded in favor of Ecuadorian villagers. That amount was later reduced to $9.5 billion, which the oil powerhouse has refused to pay.

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    Tags: Chevron, Ecuador, Canada, Steven Donzinger

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