This week, two mayors in the state of Michoacán were arrested by the Procuraduría General de Justicia del Estado de Michoacán (Attorney General of the State of Michoacán—PGJE ). Uriel Chávez, the mayor of Apatzingan and a member of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI), and Noé Aburto Inclán, mayor of Tacámbaro and a member of the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN), were detained on suspicion of extortion and embezzlement, respectively.
As if Mexicans needed more reasons to distrust their elected officials, two other cases this month, coming from the PRI, show just how low some publicly elected officials are willing to stoop in a country plagued by impunity.
Cuauhtémoc Gutiérrez was the president of the PRI in Mexico City until April 2, 2014. Gutiérrez is the son of the late Rafael Gutiérrez—a former council member for the PRI in Mexico City known as the “The King of Trash” because he led the capital city’s trash collectors’ union for more than 20 years. Rafael Gutiérrez’s wife, Martha García, confessed to having the “The King of Trash” murdered in 1987. She justified the murder by saying she had endured 11 years of physical abuse from her husband, and also said that Gutiérrez had sexually abused his underage niece.
Apparently Cuauhtémoc has followed in his father’s footsteps. A recent investigation by Noticias MVS radio journalist Carmen Aristegui reported that Gutiérrez’ office ran ads to hire 18 to 32-year-old women as hostesses that were also expected to provide Gutiérrez sexual favors in exchange for higher pay. In recorded testimonies, four victims mention performing sexual favors for Gutiérrez inside Mexico City’s PRI offices, as well as accompanying him on business trips and to nighttime events. The Procuraduría de Justicia (Justice Department) in Mexico City is now investigating the case.
In anticipation of the 2014 World Cup, the Brazilian government enacted a policy to have special units of police occupy favelas in Rio de Janeiro. As of last week, one of Rio’s most dangerous shanty towns, Complexo da Maré, was taken over by close to 3,000 Brazilian troops. The shift—from using the elite Unidade de Policia Pacificadora (Police Pacifying Unit—UPP) forces to bringing in the military—marks a new stage of Brazil’s “pacification” policy. Up until now, the UPP had been responsible for sweeping and occupying the favelas.
Many of Rio’s 1,000 favelas are controlled by criminal groups like the Comando Vermelho (Red Command) and the Terceiro Comando Puro (Third Command), which are embroiled in a battle to control more of the city. Turf wars between rival gangs have consistently led to high levels of violence and crime. Brazil is fraught with crack cocaine use, and ranks second in consumer use of the drug and its derivatives. The country also has one of the highest homicide rates in the world.
To add to this, criminal gangs in Brazilian cities do not have a problem attacking law enforcement. For example, in 2009, a police helicopter was riddled with bullets by gangs from the Morro de Macaco favela. In order to control such aggressions, the government has increased the firepower of armed forces.
Before, when police were attacked, the UPP would be sent in. Now, when the UPP is attacked, the military is sent in. Consequently, Brazil’s policy toward its favelas has become increasingly militarized.
The mayors of the Mexican cities of Apatzingan and Tacámbaro, in the state of Michoacán, were arrested last night by the Procuraduría General de Justicia del Estado de Michoacán (Attorney General of the State of Michoacán—PGJE ) on suspicion of extortion and embezzlement, respectively.
Uriel Chávez, the mayor of Apatzingan and a member of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI), is accused of pressuring city council members to pay $1,500 out of their salaries to the Knights Templar cartel, which has a strong presence in the city. The prosecutors said they received a number of complaints by council members who allege that in January of 2012, Chávez took them to a rural area where armed men demanded money for weapons. Chávez denies the claims.
Meanwhile, Noé Aburto Inclán, mayor of Tacámbaro and a member of the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN), was also arrested last night for reportedly embezzling money from city coffers.
Michoacán has become a stronghold for the Knights Templar cartel. Last year, a number of civilians began organizing themselves into fuerzas autodefensas (self-defense forces) to combat the cartel’s infleucne. The Mexican government initially tried to integrate the groups into formalized units called the Rural Defense Corps under control of the military. But few of the self-defense forces obliged, causing the interior minister to set a May 10 deadline for autofedensas to register their guns and join the Corps or face arrest.
Since 2000, the Havana Film Festival in New York has been bringing Latin American cinema to New Yorkers—and after 15 years, it is still going strong.
Despite its name, the festival doesn’t limit itself to showing Cuban films. Its goal, said creative director Diana Vargas, is to place Cuba within a larger Latin American context and generate a better understanding of the region. This year’s festival includes 45 Latin American films—of which 26 are Cuban productions from the past 55 years. While the festival hasn’t always featured a majority of Cuban films, this year’s selection centered on films from the island as part of the festival’s 15th anniversary celebration.
Cuban and migrant-themed films dominated the closing night awards presentation at the NYC Directors Guild Theater on Friday. They competed for the Havana Star Prize in the categories of "Best Feature," “Best Director,” “Best Documentary,” “Best Screenplay,” “Best Actor,” “Best Actress,” and “Special Jury Mention.” No one seemed surprised when Conducta (Behavior), the newly released Cuban box office hit about a young boy and his sixth grade teacher, won the “Best Feature” award. Conducta filled the NYC Directors Guild Theater during the opening of the festival on April 3, as well as the Quad Cinema in its second showing the following Saturday evening.
Cuban director Jorge Perugorría's latest film, Se Vende (For Sale), also packed the Quad Cinema on Tuesday night. The audience laughed at the dark comedy’s morbid humor and social commentary. Se Vende tells the story of a young Cuban woman who is forced to sell her deceased parents’ bones for some extra cash. “It is a metaphor for Cuba’s recent economic changes taken to the extreme,” said Perugorría. “As Cubans, we have developed a great capacity for survival. Since we were born, we were in crisis [...] but that hasn’t taken away our will to live.”
Peace talks between President Maduro’s government and the Venezuelan opposition are scheduled to continue today, while the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática’s (Democratic Unity Roundtable—MUD) opposition coalition calls for the Central Bank to release March’s official inflation data. The bank generally releases the datain the first 10 days of the month.
The MUD claims that country’s inflation is 60 percent, an increase of 2.7 percent since February. Opposition leader and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles announced via Twitter that inflation increased more than 4 percent in March—higher than the annual inflation for several other Latin American countries. While no agenda has been set, financial transparency is expected to be a one of the topics in the peace negotiations that will continue today.
The country’s high inflation was one of the factors that sparked the deadly protests that erupted across the country in February killing at least 41 people. Venezuela’s military strategic command chief, Vladmir Padrino, recently admitted to “excesses” in policing, but maintains that less than one percent of security forces were responsible for the “cruelty and torture.”
A finales de 2002, después de meses de conflicto y de un golpe de estado que dejó al entonces presidente Hugo Chávez fuera del poder por dos días, Venezuela decidió apostar por el diálogo. César Gaviria, quien estaba al frente de la Organización de Estados Americanos (OEA), abrió el debate entre gobierno y oposición, representado por la Coordinadora Democrática, una coalición de partidos, ONGs y agremiaciones adversas al "proceso revolucionario."
En medio de las negociaciones se inició un paro nacional que buscaba presionar la renuncia del Presidente. Dos meses de inactividad comercial asestaron duros golpes a la economía nacional, especialmente a la industria petrolera, pero Chávez salió victorioso. Con la derrota de la oposición, el diálogo adquirió mayor fuerza y condujo a un acuerdo que se cristalizó con un referendo revocatorio presidencial que dejo a Chávez en el poder. Una vez más, Chávez ganó la batalla.
Desde entonces, la oposición y el gobierno han participado en una danza política que ha hecho imposible el consenso nacional. Ambos bandos se han negado a reconocer al otro lado y, ensimismados, parecen ignorar que el país colapsa. Ahora, después de un año de intenso enfrentamiento político, y después de dos meses de protestas con un saldo de 41 muertos y más de 2 mil detenidos, el gobierno, encabezado por Nicolás Maduro, y la Mesa de la Unidad Democrática—coalición opositora que defiende la vía institucional para resolver la crisis—aceptaron exponer sus puntos de vista, frente a frente, en la sede presidencial. La reunión fue obligatoriamente transmitida en cadenas de radio y televisión.
This week's likely top stories: a deadly fire ravages Valparaíso, Chile; French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius visits Cuba; Glencore sells Las Bambas mine to Chinese consortium; Venezuela investigates abuses during protests; a shipwreck spills fuel off the coast of Colombia.
Fire in Valparaiso, Chile: At least 12 people have died in a disastrous fire in Valparaíso, Chile that has forced some 10,000 people from their homes. The fire started on Saturday and rapidly engulfed the historic seaside city, whose town center is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many of Valparaíso’s buildings are perched on hillsides and susceptible to fire, posing a great challenge to the 1,200 firefighters that have been dispatched to the city. High winds fanned the blaze on Saturday night and the fires could still spread. The Chilean Red Cross has appealed for donations, and President Michelle Bachelet is in Valparaíso to oversee the emergency response. Meanwhile, a forest fire in the Colombian department of Boyaca has consumed at least 250 acres of land in the last three days, also due to high winds.
France’s Fabius Meets with Raúl Castro: French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius met with Cuban President Raúl Castro on Saturday to discuss politics, human rights and economic reforms in Cuba, just weeks after the European Union agreed to begin negotiations with Cuba. Fabius’ meeting with Castro was the first visit to Cuba by a high-ranking French official in 31 years. Talks between the EU and the Cuban government are expected to begin on April 29 in Havana.
Glencore Sells Las Bambas Mine to Chinese Consortium: A consortium of Chinese companies announced Monday that it will purchase Peru’s Las Bambas copper mine from Glencore Xstrata for approximately $6 billion. The deal is expected to be complete by the end of September, but the consortium has agreed to cover costs of developing the mine from the beginning of 2014 until the transaction closes. The open-pit mine is currently being constructed and is expected to initially produce two million tons of copper a year.
Venezuela Investigates Abuses During Protests: Venezuela’s strategic command chief, Vladimir Padrino, said that 97 members of the country’s security forces are being investigated for abuses committed during the country’s two months of protest. So far, at least 41 people have been killed since the protests began on February 12, and some 2,000 people have been detained. Padrino said that the Venezuelan military has committed “some excesses,” but added that the officers being investigated represent less than 1 percent of the force.
Drummond Says Diesel Spilled in Shipwreck: A barge carrying construction materials off the Northern coast of Colombia for Drummond Co. Inc—a U.S. based mining company and Colombia’s second biggest coal miner—was shipwrecked on Friday, causing diesel fuel to leak into the sea. Drummond said that the cause of the accident is being investigated, but did not provide an estimate of the amount of fuel that was spilled. The company was fined nearly $3.6 million in December for spilling tons of coal into the ocean in a prior accident off the coast of Santa Marta, and its port was shut down between January and April. The company is still working to comply with new infrastructure requirements designed to lessen spillage.
A delegation of foreign ministers from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) returned to Caracas on April 7 and 8, securing an agreement to hold peace talks to calm political polarization and protests in Venezuela. The talks are being mediated by the foreign ministers of Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador, plus a Vatican representative.
The UNASUR delegation first visited in late March, recommending that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and leaders of the opposition’s Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD) enter into a dialogue. The U.S. State Department had expressed support , as had Organization of American States (OAS) General Secretary José Miguel Insulza.
However, UNASUR’s plan will be complicated by Maduro’s reliance on paramilitaries within his Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela—PSUV), whose loyalty requires his polarizing words and deeds. This conundrum already wrecked a previous dialogue.
In early February, before protests broke out, a highly placed government official explained to me, on the condition of anonymity, that Maduro was pursuing dialogue and cooperation with the opposition. This was because Maduro had realized that citizen insecurity could sink his administration—and that chavismo could not solve this problem alone. “The opposition controls many of the largest states and municipalities," the official said, and "without the help of these governors and mayors, we cannot solve this problem. […] They are the ones that control the police and bureaucracy in these areas; we don’t.”
Maduro’s decision to approach Henry Falcón, a former chavista and governor of Lara state, as well as elected opposition officials in Caracas, appeared to be paying off. Successful meetings had also begun with Henrique Capriles, leader of the MUD and governor of Miranda state, Antonio Ledezma, the metropolitan mayor of Caracas, and opposition mayors of Caracas’ local municipalities.
Demonstrating Maduro’s seriousness, I was told that PSUV Federal District Mayor Jorge Rodríguez was "fully onboard” with the meetings, despite his reputation as a strident chavista. The “big problem,” according to the Maduro administration official, was Leopoldo López, the leader of the Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) party, who did not have any interest in talks.
Indeed, a section of the opposition was strenuously arguing that it was political suicide to cooperate with Maduro if his polarizing rhetoric and restriction of democratic opposition activity continued unabated.
This sparked "#LaSalida"—a call for protests against the Maduro administration. A bitter confrontation ensued between the pro-dialogue opposition and #LaSalida’s authors—López and María Corina Machado, a national assembly member. When #LaSalida led to protests on February 12, Maduro had Lopez thrown in prison, only reinforcing López’ warnings.
Why couldn’t Maduro restrain his seemingly counterproductive words and deeds? A major reason is that some members of the PSUV feel such antagonism to the opposition that Maduro dared not enter into a dialogue without continuing to vilify and restrict the opposition. Although he had good reasons to seek cooperation, Maduro’s base has been nurtured on highly polarized, class-antagonistic, black-and-white, good-and-evil rhetoric.
Sustaining polarizing rhetoric especially caters to the PSUV paramilitaries Maduro needs to stay in power. Chavismo was never very effective organizing on its own in barrios, and Chávez didn’t even launch the PSUV until 2008, so he turned to groups that already had control in the barrios before chavismo arrived. Today, chavismo’s very effective get-out-the-vote and loyalty-enforcement machine in Venezuela’s barrios relies on allied “ultra-Left” groups, local criminal groupings and motorcycle gangs that have become armed paramilitary groups, euphemistically called “colectivos”—a slander against most colectivos, which are non-violent barrio community groups.
But these paramilitary gangs could turn against Maduro without receiving the clientalist largesse and rhetoric that reifies their sense of solidarity with his administration. Chávez—who began enlisting them following the failed 2002 anti-Chávez coup as future street fighters to protect his government— occasionally spoke sharply to regulate these groups’ excesses, something Maduro lacks a similar authority to do. And, their effectiveness as extra-legal enforcers has been recently demonstrated as they’ve marauded in opposition middle-class neighborhoods, attacked demonstrations and barricades, invaded universities to beat students, and—most importantly for Maduro—prevented open protests in their home-turf barrios.
Maduro’s contradictory dependence on—and fear of—paramilitaries explains why he has called opposition protesters “fascists” and “coup plotters.” This deliberately evokes the romantic logic for paramilitaries, whom Chávez declared would “descend from the barrios” to defend the presidential palace against any future coup.
These PSUV dynamics clearly threaten UNASUR’s new peace dialogue. Especially if the government’s recent economic response to protests fails to produce timely reductions in food shortages and inflation, protests could spread into barrios—the Maduro administration’s worst nightmare—and further cement Maduro’s reliance on paramilitaries there.
Even though Maduro’s allies in UNASUR publically advised him in March to abandon inflammatory rhetoric, and former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva himself earlier advised Maduro to “… dialogue with all the democrats,” such steps could directly undermine the loyalty of the PSUV’s core get-out-the-vote, barrio-pacification and street-fighting apparatus. A difficult conundrum, indeed.
Upcoming presidential elections and ongoing peace negotiations demonstrate Colombia’s consolidation of rule and law and democracy.
President Juan Manuel Santos is seeking re-election, and free and fair elections have been a mainstay in the country since 1957—one of the longest stretches in Latin America. Moreover, the peace process, underway since October 2012, is a notable program which has attracted the attention and support of the international community.
Yet while the exercise of democracy and the progress towards a lasting peace are clearly some of the main stories in Colombia, they have overshadowed the country’s economic performance during the past decade. According to Capital Economics, a London-based economic research group, Colombia has surpassed Argentina to become the third-largest economy in Latin America, after Brazil and Mexico.
Colombia has enjoyed stable GDP growth (estimated at between 4 and 5 percent in 2014), diversification of exports, strong fiscal position, and lower unemployment. Poverty has declined with it, and a strong middle class has emerged. Colombia’s economic growth is notable in a country that is climbing out of an internal armed conflict.
Parts of Argentina were paralyzed on Thursday after the country's biggest unions shut down transportation and blocked entrances to Buenos Aires. The unions are staging a 24-hour strike to protest rising inflation and cuts to government subsidies, and are currently negotiating wage increases. Industrial unions—including metal and oil workers allied with President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner—did not participate in the strike.
Hugo Moyano, leader of the Confederación General del Trabajo de la República Argentina (General Confederation of Labor of Argentina—CGT) led the 24-hour strike, which included bringing transportation to a near stop in the capital city, and shutting down many businesses and public schools.
This is the second strike Moyano has organized against President Kirchner since she disregarded his union's demands for higher salaries and better representation in 2011. The first strike Moyano staged against President Kirchner took place in November 2012 and called for tax cuts and pay increases.
After years of spending on social programs and subsidies, Kirchner's government is facing high inflation, forcing the administration to devalue the Argentine peso and reduce subsidies for gas and water by 20 percent. In February, economists estimated that Argentina's inflation rate had risen to 34.9 percent from the same period last year. According to a March 29-April 3 Management & Fit survey, President Kirchner's approval rating fell to 25.9 percent in April of this year.
After just 18 months at the head of a minority government, Québec Premier Pauline Marois went down to a stunning defeat in Québec's April 7 elections. The governing Parti Québécois (PQ), hoping to form a majority government and leading in the polls in early March, dropped from 54 seats to 30, and saw its popular vote numbers decrease from 32 percent to 25 percent. Premier Marois also lost her seat and immediately resigned on election night. The Québec Liberal party will now form a majority government, and its mandate extends until October 2018.
While subscribing to the adage that “campaigns matter,” I must acknowledge that this is the most spectacular turnaround in Québec election campaign history. This marks the fifth consecutive election that the pro- independence PQ receives less than 35 percent of the popular vote, and it has suffered four defeats in the last five contests. With a leadership race now in the offing, the often fractious PQ is in for some trying times.
Ten individuals suspected of the kidnapping and sexual exploitation of Maria de los Ángeles “Marita” Verón were sentenced to prison in Tucumán, Argentina on Tuesday.
While walking to a doctor’s appointment in 2002, Verón, 23, disappeared, and was suspected to have been forced into a sex trafficking ring. All 13 individuals accused of being involved were cleared of charges in 2012. However, the ruling was overturned in December of 2013 and now 10 of the 13 originally accused have been found guilty.
Brothers Jose and Gonzalo Gomez were sentenced to 22 years in prison each, seven others received between 10 and 17 years sentences, and the last suspect will server 15 days of house arrest. Of the original 13 accused, two were acquitted and one passed away.
Marita’s mother, Susana Trimarco, is still searching for her daughter and is seeking new litigation on human trafficking in Argentina. Over the past twelve years, she has helped rescue 6,400 victims of sex trafficking, including establishing the foundation Fundación María de los Ángeles in 2007 and leading an initiative to have an anti-trafficking bill signed into law in 2008.
A 2013 report showed that Argentina is a trafficking hub and that 70 percent of human trafficking cases have some connection to drug trafficking. Most victims are between 15 and 17 years old, and while about half of the victims are from Argentina, 33 percent come from Paraguay.
After weeks of unrest, the Venezuelan government and the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Democratic Unity Roundtable—MUD) opposition coalition agreed on Tuesday to “formal talks” to end the anti-government protests.
The two sides have tentatively planned to meet on Thursday for a discussion mediated by the Vatican and the Unión de Naciones Suramericanas (Union of South American Nations—UNASUR). The foreign ministers of Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador are also expected to attend Thursday’s meeting.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro praised the preliminary talk on Tuesday, but said his government is not willing veer away from the Bolivarian Revolution. “Neither will we try and convert them [the opposition] to Bolivarian socialism, nor will they convert us to capitalism,” Maduro said.
Leopoldo López, the recently-imprisoned leader of the Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) party and member of the MUD, expressed skepticism about the talks, saying in a message published by his wife on Twitter, “I believe deeply in dialogue, but in a dialogue of equals, not [with one side] on its knees.” A new round of protests erupted on Friday after Venezuela’s attorney general charged López with inciting violence, arson, damage to property and conspiracy.
The announcement of formal talks comes two weeks after Venezuelan government troops cleared the western city of San Cristobál, where the countrywide protests began in February. Since then, 39 people have died and over 600 have been injured in the unrest.
Brazil’s Minister of Ports, Antônio Henrique Pinheiro Silveira stopped in Washington, D.C. last week on his hemispheric road-show to present the details of Brazil’s latest port modernization efforts. In June of 2013, the Brazilian government passed new regulatory reform laws for ports, in hopes of modernizing current infrastructure, increasing efficiencies and driving competition.
Since 2005, Brazil has experienced a boom in commodity exports such as soy, sugar, meat, coffee, tobacco, orange juice, and minerals. Much of this demand stems from China, who became Brazil’s largest trading partner in 2012. But the outdated ports and other trade infrastructure in Brazil has become a hindrance to economic growth.
The private sector is concerned about the bottlenecks in Brazil’s trade infrastructure as well as the costs in getting products to the global markets. One of the biggest problems facing exporters in Brazil is the country’s reliance on trucks and poor highway systems to connect goods to ports. In 2013, a truck gridlock stretched for 31 miles outside of Santos, a major port in São Paulo that accounts for 25 percent of all agricultural exports. A lack of railway and waterway infrastructure forces companies to rely on a limited number of roads to transport goods from farms and mines to the ships at port.
Another obstacle for the private sector is port capacity. There is rising demand for additional ports and terminal capacity in states like Pará, home of the Amazon River basin. As the Panama Canal upgrades are completed, Pará is will be a key port for increased trade in the north.
Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli publicly defended his decision to declare a year-long state of emergency, on Monday. The decree was announced Saturday in response to a wave of violence, including attempted lynching, sweeping across Argentina that is seen as a result of a perceived absence of the state.
In a move that has been criticized by human rights groups, Buenos Aires province, which represents 35 percent of Argentina’s electorate, immediately recalled retired police officers to increase the law enforcement forces to 5,000 agents. The state of emergency also calls for the establishment of eight new detention centers and four new prisons and a 600 million-peso investment in police equipment. It also requires that the provinces’ Security Council to be in permanent session.
According to a new poll by Management & Fit, nine out of 10 Argentines feels that insecurity is the main problem facing the country, ahead of inflation, unemployment and corruption. Moreover, 38.7 percent of those interviewed blame President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner for crime wave.
Unchallenged Costa Rican Candidate Wins Presidency: Luis Guillermo Solís of the Partido Acción Ciudadana (Citizen Action Party—PAC) won Sunday’s presidential election in Costa Rica, claiming 78 percent of the vote. The challenging candidate, Johnny Araya of the Partido Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Party—PLN), dropped out of the running after a March 5 opinion poll ranked his support at 22 percent, compared to Solís’s 64 percent, but remained on the ballot due to constitutional law. The monumental vote marks the first time in 44 years that a third-party candidate has been elected. Solís has vowed to strengthen small businesses and social and environmental programs through an activist government, however passing new legislation may prove difficult as PAC holds just 13 of the 57 seats in the National Assembly. Solís will be sworn into office on May 8.
Pressure Increases on Obama Administration over Deportations: A New York Times report has shown that two-thirds of the nearly two million undocumented immigrants deported under the Obama Administration—a record number of deportations—had either committed minor infractions or had no criminal record at the time of their removal. Only 20 percent of those deported had been convicted of serious offenses, the demographic the Obama Administration has purported to target for removal. The President has typically side-stepped executive authority to act on this issue—with the exception of the 2012 passage of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which temporarily suspends deportation and authorizes approved applicants to work in the U.S. legally—in order to allow Congress time to move forward with comprehensive immigration reform. Yet pressure is mounting on his administration to halt deportations and fix the country’s broken immigration system.
Venezuela Slams Spain for Halting Export of Riot Gear: The administration of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro questioned the “moral authority” of the Spanish government after it halted the export of anti-riot and police equipment to Venezuela. Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Garcia Margallo said on Saturday that his government suspended sales in order to stop adding “fuel to the fire when there is a conflict.” The decision comes after weeks of violence between protesters, police and armed militia that have killed 39 people and injured over 600. A new round of protests erupted on Friday after Venezuela’s attorney general charged opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez with inciting violence, arson, damage to property and conspiracy.
FIFA Admits Brazil Is Still Behind Schedule: With less than 70 days before the 2014 World Cup kicks off in Brazil, FIFA’s Secretary General Jerome Valcke said that preparations are still behind schedule. During a press conference in South Africa on Wednesday, Valcke said, "If you want me to summarize... we are not ready.” Two stadiums, the Itaquerão in São Paulo and the Estadio Beira Rio in Porto Alegre, remain unfinished. Construction at Itaquerão, the venue for the opening match on June 12, has been delayed due to the death of a worker two weeks ago—the third to die while working on that stadium and the seventh preparing for the tournament countrywide. Still, Valcke guaranteed that Brazil would be ready for the start of the tournament, insisting that “there is no Plan B.”
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) covertly created “ZunZuneo”—a Cuban version of the online messaging network Twitter—to cause civil unrest in Cuba, the Associate Press reported on Thursday. The program functioned through cell phone messaging to avoid the Cuban government’s controls over internet use, and planned to build a network that could mobilize quickly and potentially “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society."
The program was activated in 2010 shortly after USAID subcontractor Alan Gross was arrested for distributing communications equipment in Cuba. It ended in 2012 and, at its peak, drew more than 40,000 Cuban subscribers. According to the Cuban press, ZunZuneo disappeared suddenly in 2012 when its funding ran out, and its users were unaware that the network had any ties to the U.S. government.
White House spokesman Jay Carney has denied that the program was covert, stating that it was “discrete” in order to ensure long-term success of the mission and that it was debated in Congress. According to Carney’s statement, the White House supports "efforts to help Cuban citizens communicate more easily with one another and with the outside world."
With production rates continuing at their current level Colombia will run out of oil within 6.9 years unless new, major oil fields are found. As of 2013, the country had 2.3 billion barrels of proven crude oil reserves, ranking fifth after Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, and Argentina in total reserves in South America.
Most of these reserves are allocated to the export market, which is currently the fourth most significant in Latin America. Export growth has been nothing short of staggering in the last nine years and since 2004 Colombia has fed its oil exports by increasing production by 79 percent (equivalent to 400 thousand barrels per day).
This year’s target is 1.2 million barrels per day and will again predominately feed into the export market–a fact supported by the production-to-(national) consumption ratio published by The Oil & Gas Journal last year, which indicates that for every 3.31 barrels produced, only one stays in Colombia.
Unlike Venezuela—which, even at a production rate of 2.7 million barrels per day, has enough oil to last for more than 250 years, according to the June 2013 BP Statistical Review of World Energy - Colombia’s current level of export surplus means that its oil wells will run dry in only six years. If daily production increases to the target of 1.2 million barrels with current reserves—as predicted by Ecopetrol, the largest oil company in Colombia—then six years will be more like five and half. Furthermore, the Colombian government’s mining and energy planning unit, the Unidad de Planeamiento Minero Energético (Mining Energy Planning Unit—UPME), states that Colombia will be a net oil importer within two election campaigns.
In 2013, Morris, the Candigato (Cat Candidate) gained notoriety in Mexico’s social networks and news outlets after launching a successful online campaign via Facebook and Twitter, in a mock run for the position of Mayor of the city of Xalapa, Veracruz. The Candigato’s comedic slogans, such as “Tired of voting for rats? Vote for a Cat,” became popular among the online community and almost instantly his account on Facebook gained close to 250,000 followers. Morris, the Candigato, is a perfect reflection of Mexico’s idiosyncrasy: many Mexicans will laugh at their tragedies.
The online campaign lasted for two months and only cost as much as the registry for the web domain. Yet after the votes were counted, CNN reported that Morris had bested at least 3 of the 8 actual candidates running for office. The creators the Candigato were recognized by the Victory Awards, winning the “Best Political Innovator” during the 2014 Marketing Político en la Red (Political Online Marketing) Conference—an unusual selection for an award usually won by political consultants.
Unfortunately, while the Candigato’s online success may be amusing, it is also points to Mexican society’s apathy and callousness for its political leaders. Now Morris is back with a different mission.
Argentina celebrated the thirty-second anniversary of the Guerra de las Malvinas (Falklands War) on Wednesday with a rally lead by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and the release of a new 50 peso bill picturing the islands.
The commemoration the 74-day conflict between Argentine and British forces took place at the Malvinas Argentinas Hall at the Casa Rosada, with government officials, union leaders and war veterans in attendance, among others. The new banknote pictures a map of the Malvinas Islands in the national colors of Argentina—blue and white.
On April 2, 1982, in the final years of the Argentine military dictatorship, Argentina launched a failed invasion to repossess the islands, resulting in a bloody war where 649 Argentine and 255 British soldiers were killed. Argentina surrendered on June 14 of the same year.
The United Kingdom has maintained control of the territory since then, and a clear majority of island residents supported British rule in a March 2013 referendum vote. Still, disputes have resurfaced in recent years, as Argentina continues to claim the territory as its own, with Fernández de Kirchner saying at the rally “I have endless confidence that we will recover these islands.”
UK Prime Minister David Cameron has attested that the he will not negotiate over the sovereignty of the islands.
Since Hillary Clinton’s visit to Montreal on March 18, Montrealers are convinced that we were in the presence of the next President of the United States. She was her usual, poised self, inspiring with her thoughts, and reassuring with her experience and knowledge. Most polls that make it to Canadian media indicate strong support for Hillary against all potential Republican challengers. So, what can stop her from becoming the first female President of the United States?
For one thing, it is likely that she will face a heavily funded Republican Party and also endure a barrage of attacks ranging from the scandals associated with Bill Clinton’s presidency to the events in Benghazi. Considering the criticisms by more hawkish GOP members like Senator John McCain on Obama’s foreign policies, it will not be long before Hillary’s tenure as Secretary of State is associated with such criticisms.
It is clear that the Republicans expect to win both Houses in the 2014 midterm elections, leaving the 2016 victory over the White House as their next target. While factions such as the Tea Party and Libertarians get most of the media’s attention, it is likely that the GOP is already planning to support a more moderate standard bearer to challenge Mrs. Clinton in 2016. With New Jersey Governor Chris Christie embroiled in the Bridgegate scandal, the name of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is already beginning to surface.
The Republican brand has taken a beating in recent years—the Bush Presidency ended poorly and the party seems out of the mainstream on issues such as gay marriage, abortion and immigration reform—and was also decisively beaten by Obama in 2008 and 2012. However, in recent months Republicans in congress have reached deals with their Democratic colleagues and compromised on a budget to avoid another government shutdown. This illustrates a willingness to adopt more moderate positions, which can only help the Republican presidential nominee of 2016.
An 8.2-magnitude earthquake hit 62 miles northwest of Iquique, the capital of the Tarapacá region of Chile, on Tuesday night. The earthquake trigged a tsunami and small landslides, killing five people, evacuating tens of thousands and cutting power to some areas of Iquique and Arica.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said on Tuesday night that the government was unsure of the extent damage, but that “the country has faced these first emergency hours very well.” The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issues several warnings for other pacific coastal cities in Chile, Peru and Ecuador on Tuesday night, but cancelled all of them by Wednesday morning.
In the hours after the earthquake, 300 female prisoners escaped during an evacuation of an Iquique prison, but more than a dozen of the inmates were recaptured shortly thereafter.
Chile occupies one of the most earthquake-prone zones in the world known as the “Ring of Fire." The country has experienced about 300 of varying magnitudes in recent weeks. And in 2010, a 9.5-magnitude quake—the sixth-largest ever recorded—killed 525 people and trigged a massive tsunami that devastated several coastal towns in central and south Chile.
Uruguayan opposition lawmakers denounced what they called threats to ousted Venezuelan Congresswoman María Corina Machado’s “liberty and security” on Monday. Machado, an opposition lawmaker representing Miranda, Venezuela was stripped of her seat in the National Assembly as well as her parliamentary immunity for testifying before the Organization of American States (OAS) about the unrest in Venezuela as a guest of Panama.
In a letter released yesterday, Uruguayan senators and congressmen called Machado’s expulsion a violation of “fundamental legal guarantees” accusing Venezuelan authorities of ignoring “basic democratic and republican rules.” The Uruguayan lawmakers pledged to support Machado and ensure her safety and freedom. Influential signers included former president and current Senator Luis Alberto Lacalle.
Machado has been accused of violating the Venezuelan constitution by addressing the OAS as well as “acting as a Panamanian ambassador” and inciting violence by National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello. The majority Socialist Party legislators have requested that the state prosecutor investigate Machado for treason and inciting a civil war for her role in the nearly two-month-long street protests.
Con Rafael Pardo como alcalde interino, el ex-alcalde Gustavo Petro destituido y en campaña por una Asamblea Constituyente, y unas elecciones atípicas en ciernes pero sin fecha definida, Bogotá—la ciudad más importante de Colombia—padece un viacrucis como consecuencia de una serie de malas decisiones administrativas, políticas y de abuso de poder nunca antes vistas.
El 19 de marzo, Bogotá fue protagonista del fin de una larga batalla judicial que comenzó cuando el Procurador General, Alejandro Ordoñez—un católico empedernido que gobierna con crucifijo y creencias anticomunistas de antaño—declaró la muerte política para Gustavo Petro, el único ex-guerrillero que había logrado llegar a la jefatura de gobierno de la capital del país por voto popular. Es cierto que fueron 730 mil votos, una mayoría simple por los volúmenes de abstención en Colombia, pero fue elegido por voluntad popular al fin y al cabo.
El procurador destituyó a Petro de la Alcaldía y le decretó inhabilidad para ocupar cargos públicos por 15 años, como sanción por el caos y la improvisación en el esquema de recolección de basuras de Bogotá implementado por el ahora ex-mandatario. En Colombia el Procurador emite fallos de esta envergadura porque la procuraduría se encarga de castigar faltas disciplinarias y la Constitución así se lo permite. El asunto es que durante el mandato de Ordoñez, sus resoluciones parecen más una cacería de brujas contra opositores políticos—como en los casos de la ex-senadora Piedad Córdoba y el ex-alcalde de Medellín Alonso Salazar—que sanciones contra malos gobernantes por mal ejercicio del poder.
Cuba Approves New Foreign Investment Law: The Cuban government on Saturday unanimously approved a law that provides new incentives for foreign investment in the island. The law will reduce taxes on profits from 30 to 15 percent in most areas, will speed up the approval process for foreign investment, and will exempt new investors from paying taxes for eight years, among other incentives. The government hopes that the new law, which will come into force in three months, will help triple the country’s economic growth. However, the law will not become official until the full text is published in the Gazeta Oficial, which is expected to happen sometime this week.
Troops Clear Venezuelan Protest City: Venezuelan troops retook control of the western city of San Cristóbal this weekend, according to a top military commander. General Vladimir Padrino said that troops cleared barricades throughout the city and reported that no one was hurt in the operation. Meanwhile, San Cristóbal’s mayor, opposition member Daniel Ceballos, has been removed from office and sentenced to 12 months in prison for failing to order the removal of the barricades himself. The countrywide protests began in San Cristóbal nearly two months ago, and since then, at least 39 people have been killed. Last Friday, the Vatican said that it was willing to help facilitate a dialogue between the Venezuelan government and the opposition to resolve the crisis.
Solís Lacks Opponent in Costa Rican Presidential Runoff: Costa Rican presidential candidate Luis Guillermo Solís still has no opponent in Sunday’s presidential runoff between the ruling Partido de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Party—PLN) and Solis’ Partido de Acción Ciudadana (Citizen Action Party—PAC). PLN candidate Johnny Araya dropped out of the race on March 5 due to financial troubles and a poor showing in the polls, where PAC candidate Solís enjoyed a 44 percent lead. However, Araya’s name will still remain on the ballot, and he said he would accept the presidency if voters gave him a majority—though Solís’ victory seems assured.
Brazilian Troops Occupy Maré Favela: Brazilian security forces raided the Maré favela in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday in an effort to take control of the neighborhood, which is home to 130,000 people. More than 1,000 troops entered with tanks and reportedly took control of the area in 15 minutes, seizing guns and drugs. But later that day, more violence erupted between rival gangs, a 15-year-old boy died, and three other people were taken to a hospital. Maré is located near Galeão/ Antônio Carlos Jobim International Airport, a major transit hub that will bring thousands of tourists into the country for the FIFA World Cup in June.
Chinese Mining Company Halts Toromocho Project in Peru: Chinalco Mining Corp. International has halted its operations at the Toromocho copper project after the national environmental agency said on March 28 that the company had failed to adhere to environmental standards. Inspections carried out by the Organismo de Evaluación y Fiscalización Ambiental (Environmental Evaluation and Fiscalization Organism—OEFA) earlier this month detected contaminants in Lake Huacrococha and Lake Huascacocha, which are located near the mine. Mining work, which began in December 2013, will be suspended until the issues are resolved.
Recuerdo que, hace algunas décadas, las palabras más temidas por alumnos de secundaria eran: “preparen papel y lápiz para una prueba sorpresa.” Confieso que en alguna ocasión, en silencio elevé una plegaria para pedir una intervención divina que no dejara al profesor enunciar esas palabras.
Jamás me pasó por la mente que existiese la posibilidad de que otro docente, por ejemplo, ante los potencialmente devastadores resultados de las “pruebas sorpresa,” pusiese a alumnos dispuestos a hacer trampa en contacto con un conserje corruptible (con llave maestra de las instalaciones), con la finalidad que negociasen un intercambio de beneficios a través del cual se accedería a las preguntas de los exámenes con anticipación.
El que una figura de autoridad facilite el contacto y la coordinación entre dos actores “malos” para hacer algo indebido, implica una dosis de inmoralidad que hace que la situación antes planteada sea poco relacionable para la mayoría de personas y, por lo tanto, inimaginable. Esta torcida dinámica es la realidad que opera detrás de la iniciativa central de seguridad pública instaurada por el gobierno de El Salvador durante los últimos años.
In December 2013, Bogotá’s Secretaría Distrital de Movilidad (District Mobility Secretariat) reported that there were 1,447,335 private vehicles registered in the city, representing a 76 percent increase in vehicles in only seven years.
Yet the number of vehicles operating in the public service is predicted to decline from 18,482 in 2007 to just 12,333 in 2018, due to urban transport policies that will put older public vehicles out of service in order to promote the TransMilenio integrated public transport system, which was inaugurated in 2000.
As Bogotá’s 7.6 million residents await the introduction of new public transportation, they will still have to deal with the big, black plumes of smoke funneling out of the traditional, independent and disorganized buses. Since, under the new transport policy, operators must legally surrender their bus to the public system by the end of this year, there is now no incentive to make repairs or even undertake basic maintenance checks on old buses.
Opting to travel on foot may be one way of escaping the serpentine lineup of bumper-to-bumper vehicles on just about every major road, but there is really nowhere to hide from Bogotá’s air pollution.
A UN report that was released on Thursday criticizes the United States for a poor performance on 25 human rights issues, ranging from torture and National Security Agency spying, to life sentences for juvenile offenders and the death penalty.
The report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was critical of the U.S. policy both at home and abroad. The report cited the use of torture by the U.S. armed forces and other government agents and called on the U.S. to “take all feasible measures to ensure the protection of civilians” in drone strikes. It also said that the U.S. must close its detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. President Barack Obama has made it a goal to shut down the detention facility by the end of his term, but 154 detainees remain imprisoned there.
At home, the report argued that the U.S. must reduce racial disparities in the prison system and end racial profiling, solitary confinement and the death penalty. It also expresses concerns about the deportation of undocumented immigrants “without regard to…the seriousness of crimes and misdemeanors committed, the length of lawful stay in the U.S., health status, family ties…or the humanitarian situation in the country of destination.”
However, the report also praised the U.S. in some areas, such as executive orders to ensure “lawful interrogations,” review detention policy options, and eventually close Guantánamo Bay, as well as support for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
José Luis Díaz, the Amnesty International representative at the UN, said that the U.S. must implement the recommendations of the Human Rights Committee “without delay.” The country has one year to provide information on how it is implementing several key recommendations, and until 2019 to provide specific information on all the recommendations made in the report. The last such report was published in 2006.
Monday marked the conclusion of “Round Zero,” a yardstick in a process initiated as part of the Mexican energy reforms. During Round Zero, Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), the Mexican state oil company, sent regulators a list of which fields it wants to keep for its own development.
Pemex currently owns and operates all oil and gas assets in Mexico. After the reform, private companies will theoretically be able to partner with Pemex after the fields are auctioned to private investors.
While Pemex’s exact wish list was not released publically, the company proposed to keep 83 percent of proven and probable reserves (known as “2P”), and 31 percent of proven, probable and possible reserves (known as “3P”). The 3P fields are potential hydrocarbon resources. Much of the acreage that Pemex left aside contained deepwater and shale resources, where it does not have as much expertise and experience.
In declaring that it would like to hold on to most operating fields, Pemex is showing that it will keep its most profitable onshore and shallow-water fields, as well as the few deepwater fields where it has already drilled. As it will now operate as a profit-seeking business, it makes sense that Pemex would aim to hold on to its most productive assets.
After six days of mining protests the Peruvian government finally announced an agreement with mining representatives on Tuesday, only to have it turned down by protesters.
Over the past week over 20,000 unlicensed gold miners in Arequipa and Lima protested through marches, road blocks and sit-ins, denouncing a 2012 regulation that would require informal miners to register their work with the government by April 19, 2014. According to the regulation, those that fail to register would face charges, which could include jail time. However, since the registration process began, less than half of the estimated 70,000 informal miners in the country have been documented.
Officials, including deputy environment minister Mariano Castro, mining commissioner Daniel Urresti and deputy mines minister Guillermo Shino met with mining representatives from different regions of Peru for eight hours on Tuesday to discuss new terms on the registration process. A new phase in the regulation was established; however mining representatives’ demand for an extended deadline was refused. President Ollanta Humala, who attended the meetings, affirmed that the deadline for the formalization of miners would not change. “We will support those that are in the process (of registering)… We believe in dialogue. We will not accept blackmail from anyone,” he said.
Informal and industrial mining is an ongoing source of tension in Peru, and the practices are often blamed for increased damage done to the environmental, including almost 45,000 acres of the Amazon rainforest. However, mining is the livelihood of many Peruvian families, accounting for at least 100,000 jobs nationally. The Secretary General of the National Federation of Peru’s Artisanal Miners has accused the government of terminating informal mining in favor of foreign mining corporations.
Stay tuned for Americas Quarterly’s Spring 2013 issue for in-depth analysis of mining, land rights International Labour Organization Convention No. 169.
Thirty executives from a dozen international companies were charged on Tuesday with price-fixing during the construction and maintenance of subway and train systems in São Paulo, Brasilia, Belo Horizonte, Porto Alegre and Rio de Janeiro. The companies named by the São Paulo State Prosecutor's Office include Siemens of Germany, CAF of Spain, and Alstom of France, among others.
Investigations into the allegations began last week, when Brazil's Conselho Administrativo de Defesa Econômica (Administrative Council for Economic Defense—CADE) accused the companies of forming a cartel to fix the prices of the construction projects. According to CADE, the 18 companies were involved in 15 projects valued at $4 billion from 1998 to 2013, with contracts in the Brazilian Federal District and the states of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Minas Gerais and Rio Grande do Sul. According to CADE’s investigations, the companies allegedly prearranged prices through bidding and bribing officials to secure the contracts.
Bombardier and Siemens have said they will cooperate with the investigations. Brazilian judges still have to decide if they will accept the charges and bring the executives to trial. The companies named in the investigation will present their defense at an undisclosed date.
The Venezuelan bolivar was devalued on Monday to be sold for 55 bolivars per U.S. dollar after currency controls were loosened, representing a weakening of 89 percent for the Venezuelan currency. The move was billed as a tactic to alleviate the shortage of staple goods including medicine and toilet paper, countering the black market rate of 58.6 bolivars to the dollar.
For the first time in over 10 years, Venezuela decreased regulations by creating a new currency exchange called Sicad II. Despite the positive step, only 20 percent of the oil-rich nation’s dollars will be offered at the new exchange rate, with the remaining currency traded at the official exchange rate of 6.3 bolivars per dollar.
Venezuela’s shortages and severe inflation have led to a month-long protest from students and opposition parties. In a broadcast on Monday, Luisa Ortega, the country’s state prosecutor, admitted to wide-spread abuse on the part of security forces sent in to control the demonstrations. At least 34 people have been killed since the protests began in February.
Likely top stories this week: Chileans protest in Santiago; Brazil sends the military into Rio’s favelas; Uruguay will receive five Guantánamo prisoners; Venezuela will investigate abuses during protests; Colombia sends troops to Buenaventura.
Chilean Protests: Newly-elected Chilean President Michelle Bachelet faced the first major protest of her new administration on Saturday, which was organized to remind the president of her commitment to constitutional reforms and to protecting Indigenous and LGBT rights and the environment. The demonstration, which convened anywhere between 25,000 to 150,000 people, depending on the source, was dubbed “the march of all marches” and was largely peaceful, though isolated clashes led police to deploy tear gas and water cannons. At least 50 people were arrested and three policemen injured, according to authorities.
Brazil to Deploy Military in Rio de Janeiro Favelas: Rio de Janeiro’s state governor, Sérgio Cabral, has requested military reinforcements to contain the recent upswing in violence in sections of Rio de Janeiro, six years after the city launched a campaign to reduce crime in the city ahead of the World Cup and Olympic Games. On Thursday, three police pacification units (Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora—UPP) were set on fire in apparently coordinated attacks. Human rights abuses by police have also added to the recent tension and eroded public trust in the police forces.
Uruguay Will Take in Guantánamo Prisoners: Uruguayan President José Mujica said that there are various job leads for the five Guantánamo prisoners from Syria that Uruguay said it would take in last week. Mujica, a former political prisoner, last week accepted a request from U.S. President Barack Obama to allow the five prisoners to live in Uruguay, since they cannot return to their country of origin. Currently, there are 154 detainees still in Guantánamo. Mujica also said he would likely cancel a May 12 meeting he had scheduled with Obama, in order to focus on Uruguay’s October elections.
Venezuela to Investigate Abuses: a 28 year-old pregnant Venezuelan woman was shot and killed this Sunday in Miranda state, adding to the list of casualties in the country’s recent protests. The woman, Adriana Urquiola, was not actually protesting, but was reportedly near a protest barricade when she was shot by gunmen in a dark car. Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz said that Venezuela will investigate 60 cases of human rights abuses. According to Díaz, 31 people have died since the protests began, and at least 15 officials have been imprisoned for links to the violence.
Gang Violence in Buenaventura, Colombia: Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón deployed an additional 700 troops to the port city of Buenaventura on Friday, a day after Human Rights Watch issued a report condemning the death and disappearance of hundreds of residents in the last three years. The crimes are attributed to powerful criminal groups with paramilitary backgrounds, such as the Urabeños and La Empresa. More than 19,000 people fled Buenaventura in 2013, according to official numbers.
On Tuesday former Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo plead guilty to a money-laundering case in New York City federal court and will be sentenced to four to six years in federal prison on June 23.
In exchange, prosecutor Preet Bharara has agreed to drop additional charges against Portillo that could result in a life-long sentence behind bars in the United States.
Portillo was extradited in a surprise morning operation in May 2013, one that he was unaware of until an hour before he was flown out of the country. Since then, he has been held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in New York.
U.S. District Judge Robert P. Patterson will officially announce the sentence later this year, but Portillo’s lawyers are hopeful that his sentence will account for time served, given that he has spent the last 50 months in jail. However, as the majority of his jail time was spent in the Guatemalan system, the final outcome rests in the hands of Judge Patterson.
A far cry from the initial charges of misappropriating an excess of $70 million dollars, current charges indict Portillo for receiving five checks from the Taiwanese Embassy in Guatemala, totaling $2.5 million dollars.
“I am guilty. I knew at the time that what I was doing was wrong, and I apologize for my crimes, take responsibility for them, and accept the consequences of my actions,” Portillo told the court through an interpreter.
"I understood that, in exchange for these payments, I would use my influence to have Guatemala continue to recognize Taiwan diplomatically," the former president said.
Speaking in defense of his client, David Rosenfield told the court, “He is a good and decent person, with an abiding love for the people and country of Guatemala. [This is] an aberration in an otherwise unblemished life.”
However, Rosenfield’s statement will be highly suspect to biographers of Portillo’s life, given that he remains the lead suspect of a double murder case in Mexico that took place in 1982. During the fiesta de la Reina de Independencia, a homecoming party in Zumpango del Rio, Portillo was involved in a disagreement during a late night trip to buy alcohol. The confrontation left two students dead, another injured and the future Guatemalan president on the lam, back to his native country. A Mexican judge declared the case “inactive” in 1995 but Portillo’s claims of innocence by virtue of self-defense are difficult to uphold given that the case never went to trial.
Astonishingly, Portillo went on to make political capital out of the situation in his 1999 presidential campaign, claiming that strong, no-nonsense leaders are able to make tough decisions, such as fleeing from country to country to avoid capture.
A month after Portillo’s presidency finished in January 2004, he made his second escape from prosecution. With the Ministerio Publico (MP) looking to pick him up on corruption charges, he fled to Mexico with four passports in his possession.
He was eventually captured in Puerto Barrios in 2010, hiding in a boat about to set sail for Belize. Since then he has been in military prison, from where he successfully beat the 2011 case of embezzlement of the Ministry of Defense brought against him.
The scandal has placed Guatemala’s relationship with Taiwan in question. Foreign minister Fernando Carrera has admitted that there is a $1 million annual rolling fund from the Taiwanese financing the redecoration of the ministry and the purchase of new vehicles. However, there have been calls to ditch ties with Taiwan and attempt to open diplomacy with mainland China, a relationship that currently does not exist.
Journalist Oscar Clemente Marroquín revealed that Portillo had been receiving gifts from the Taiwanese since the 1970s, including luxuries such as all-expenses-paid trips to five star hotels in Taiwan. “Almost all (Guatemalan) ambassadors told me to accept the offers. I never accepted these invitations because I always thought it was stupid for our country to allow itself to be used as a pawn in Taiwan’s political struggles with China,” said Marroquín.
Although Portillo was the one eventually caught, the question of the day is: how many other Guatemalan presidents have taken similar bribes over the past 40 years?
The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) condemned the removal of leftist Mayor of Bogotá Gustavo Petro from office Thursday, saying it will have a negative impact on the peace negotiations.
Last December, Petro, a former member of the demobilized guerrilla group Movimiento 19 de Abril (19th of April Movement—M-19), was removed as mayor and banned from holding office for 15 years by Colombian Attorney General Alejandro Ordoñez, for alleged mismanagement of the garbage collection system. A backlash of protests and lawsuits filed by Petro's supporters suspended his removal until Wednesday, when the Council of State reviewed and rejected the lawsuits and President Juan Manuel Santos approved Petro’s removal.
Iván Márquez, the FARC’s second in command, said that the decision to oust Petro affects the trust that has been built between the FARC and the government throughout the peace talks, and casts doubt on the promise of political participation for demobilized guerrillas.
Petro accused Santos of staging a coup on the city and showing his inability to achieve peace. Márquez stated that it will be impossible to achieve an agreement with the Colombian government if it continues to make decisions that undermine Colombian democracy, like the forced removal of a popularly elected official. “We can very respectfully say that the mafia of the right has taken the power,” Márquez added.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.