A little more than a year after Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner seized control of Argentine oil company YPF from Spain’s Grupo Repsol, Argentina has enlisted Chevron to develop its massive Vaca Muerta shale oil and gas field. The deal, inked Tuesday evening in Buenos Aires, confirms the California-based Chevron Corporation will invest an initial $1.5 billion over the next 12 months, drilling more than 100 wells to develop the country's shale oil deposits.
Oil companies and investors who have been waiting to tap into Argentina’s huge reserves are cheering the deal. But many who remember Fernández de Kirchner’s 2012 promise to return Argentina “to energy sovereignty” are left scratching their heads, and environmental activists say extraction of these unconventional hydrocarbons is a dangerous move.
The deal is the first major foreign oil investment in the country since the seizure of Repsol’s majority stake in YPF after the country’s energy deficit hit a record low in 2011. Last year, the Argentine government was forced to import energy for the first time in 17 years. Already this year, Argentina has imported $4.6 billion of fuel.
Now, officials say developing Vaca Muerta is the solution the country needs to fix its energy deficit. Vaca Muerta (“Dead Cow”), discovered in 2011, is said to be the world’s second-largest shale gas reserve and fourth-largest shale oil deposit.
Shale gas is found between rocks composed of mud and other minerals, far below the Earth’s surface (up to 10,000 feet underground). Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” uses millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals at high pressure to break through the shale to free natural gas and oil.
On Monday, Fernández de Kirchner also initiated an incentives plan for foreign investment, answering the cries of analysts and industry executives who have said the production of the fields will require billions of dollars of investment. According to a presidential decree, companies will receive incentives—such as the ability to export 20 percent of production tax-free—if they invest $1 billion or more over a five-year period.
"Vaca Muerta is a world-class share and fits perfectly within our solid portfolio of non-conventional resources," said Chevron CEO John Watson, who signed the decree on Tuesday with YPF CEO Miguel Galuccio.
Yet there has been fierce opposition to the deal among environmentalists, local leaders and Indigenous groups. On Tuesday, hundreds of leftist activists protested outside YPF’s headquarters in Buenos Aires.
The Vaca Muerta region is widely uninhabited, but is home to the largest concentration of Indigenous Mapuche people in Argentina.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel spoke out in opposition, and criticized the Argentine Supreme Court for overturning a November decision to embargo Chevron's assets in Argentina. A judge had declared the embargo because of a $19 billion judgment against the company in Ecuador for environmental damage and injuries to the health of Indigenous residents in the Amazon rainforest.
“Through this agreement with Chevron, Argentines are handing over our resources to the U.S.,” Pérez Esquivel said, “and turning YPF into a contamination-producing fracking company.”
On Tuesday, Mapuche groups protested in Neuquén issuing an online statement that declared: “We are tired of you failing to consult us about what is happening inside our own communities, when we will be the most affected.”
But the reality is that the world is in search of new energy sources in the never-ending quest to satisfy our insatiable energy demand. As Shefa Siegel points out in a recent AQ article, “extraction is inevitable.” But he also raises another important question around the Canadian oil sands that also pertains to the Vaca Muerta region. While extraction is going to happen, what can be done to control how we extract?
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos traveled to Cali on Tuesday for the largest demobilization of members of the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional—ELN) in Colombian history. A 30-member unit of the guerilla group, which included three pregnant women, surrendered in the southwestern city.
The ELN, with its estimated 3,000 members, has shown interest in convening peace negotiations with the government, but has thus far been rebuffed by officials who insist that they must demobilize and release all of their hostages before beginning negotiations. President Santos welcomed the unit’s surrender and encouraged all of Colombia’s guerrillas to fight for their ideals, “but without violence and without arms.” Integration into the political system has been a key point in the ongoing negotiations between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—FARC) in Cuba.
While the 30-member unit’s demobilization is seen as a positive step toward the end of armed conflict in the region, it remains to be seen whether the ELN, which has been operating in Colombia for nearly 50 years, will agree to the conditions for negotiations set forward by government officials.
The Argentine government announced on Monday that it would allow oil companies that invest at least $1 billion over five years to explore the Vaca Muerta oil field and to export, tax free, up to 20 percent of the crude and natural gas they produce in the country.
The move is part of a growing effort by the Argentine government to attract foreign investment in Argentina’s shale formations in Patagonia, which, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, may hold more than 770 trillion cubic feet of recoverable shale gas.
The Vaca Muerta oil field, located in southern Patagonia, is of special importance as it holds 22.8 billion barrels of unconventional oil and gas, considered the second largest reservoir in the world by U.S. oil giant Chevron. However, Chevron has thus far been the only major international firm to pledge a significant amount ($1.5 billion) to develop the basin since it was discovered in 2011. The company is expected to sign an exploration deal with the government today.
Despite Argentina’s vast energy resources, foreign investment firms have been deterred by Argentina’s runaway inflation, stringent regulations and the threat of nationalization. In mid-2012, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner forcibly nationalized YPF, the country’s largest oil producer, and left the prior owner, Spanish oil company Repsol, without compensation. Ever since, the government has been struggling to find companies that are willing to invest in the country.
The Argentine government also announced that companies that operate in Vaca Muerta will be allowed to renew their concessions for a 25-year period, with a possible 10-year renovation. Oil companies will also be exempt from foreign exchange and price controls, currently established in all other industries to prevent capital flight.
Likely top stories this week: Mercosur leaders pledge to withdraw envoys from Europe; Mexican opposition demands electoral reforms; some Guantánamo prisoners break their hunger strike; Peruvian legislator Nancy Obregón to be investigated for Shining Path ties; four are arrested after Guatemalan police station massacre.
Mercosur Countries to Withdraw European Ambassadors: At the Mercosur summit in Montevideo on Friday, leaders from Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Venezuela pledged to withdraw their envoys from France, Italy, Portugal, and Spain after a plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales was grounded in Austria on July 2. European authorities suspected that the plane was carrying U.S. National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden from Russia. The governments of Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela have all offered asylum to Snowden. Morales withdrew his ambassadors in protest to his plane being grounded last week.
Mexican Opposition Threatens to Walk Away from Pact for Mexico: Members of Mexico's political opposition said Sunday that they will withdraw their support for the Pacto por Mexico (Pact for Mexico)—through which Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto hopes to promote a series of energy and tax reforms—unless the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) supports an overhaul of the country's electoral system. Leaders of the PAN and PRD asked for the administration to investigate charges of electoral fraud during the July 7 elections in the states of Aguascalientes, Coahuila, Durango, Quintana Roo, Veracruz, Tlaxcala, and Zacatecas. The opposition parties also propose reforms that would permit direct run-offs between presidential candidates, consecutive re-election, and tougher penalties for electoral crimes. A special session of Mexico’s lower house of Congress is expected to meet this week to discuss the potential reforms.
Some Hunger Strikers in Guantánamo Resume Eating: The U.S. military said Sunday that a number of hunger-striking prisoners at the Guantánamo detention center in Cuba recently resumed eating to mark the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, which began on July 8. The military said that 25 of the 106 striking prisoners had eaten an evening meal since Thursday, though it was unclear whether they would resume their strike at a later date. Prison authorities said that they have instituted a new policy that will permit prisoners to eat and pray in groups if they break their hunger strike, but forty-five of the prisoners are still being force-fed through nasal tubes. Many of the prisoners have been hunger-striking since March.
Former Peruvian Legislator Detained for Alleged Ties to Shining Path: Former Peruvian congresswoman Nancy Obregón and 29 other people were arrested by Peruvian authorities on Sunday for alleged ties to drug trafficking and the Shining Path rebels. Obregón, a legislator from Peruvian President Ollanta Humala's Partido Nacionalista (Nationalist Party), was a leader of peasant coca farmers in Peru's northeast and gave testimony during the trial of Shining Path guerrilla leader "Comrade Artemio," who was sentenced to life in prison in June. Police entered Obregón’s home in the early hours of the morning and inspected her house in search of arms and drugs, which they apparently did not find. Peruvian authorities will conduct a 15-day investigation of Obregón and the other people arrested.
Four Arrested in Guatemalan Police Station Massacre: On Sunday, Guatemalan security forces arrested four men—including two police officers—who are suspected of carrying out an attack on June 13 against a remote police station in Salcajá in Guatemala's Quetzaltenango department. Heavily-armed assailants shot and killed eight police officers on duty and kidnapped the commander, who is presumed dead. The Guatemalan government has sent 100 troops to make further arrests near the Mexican border, where police are seeking at least another ten people for involvement in the attack.
Yes, you read that title correctly. The small municipality of San Agustín Amatengo in the Mexican state of Oaxaca has recently attracted national attention due to what is likely the strangest story in electoral politics in the country.
On July 7, Lenin Carballido, the candidate from a Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN)-Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution—PRD)-Partido del Trabajo (Labor Party—PT) coalition, raised his arms in victory after winning the race for municipal president (mayor).
But this should have been impossible: an official death certificate announced Carballido’s demise in 2010 from a diabetic coma.
As national newspaper REFORMA reports, the story is even more complex because investigations suggest that Carballido faked his own death to avoid facing charges of gang-raping a 30-year-old woman in the capital city of Oaxaca in March 2004.
On October 12, 2010, a judge issued a warrant for Carballido’s arrest based on “unequivocal proof that the subject at hand [Carballido], using physical violence, assisted by others and against her will, raped [the woman, whose name was withdrawn].” However, the charges were dropped when a public defender informed the judge that Carballido had died that September and thus, could not be apprehended.
Less than three years later, Carballido was healthy enough to run an effective political campaign and narrowly beat his opponent, Alfredo Jiménez Ordaz, a candidate supported by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) and Partido Verde Ecologista de México (Green Ecologist Party of Mexico—PVEM). Granted, Carballido only beat Jiménez by 11 votes—but it was an impressive result for a guy who had supposedly died three years earlier.
Paraguay has just 6.5 million inhabitants who consume 27,000 barrels per day of refined petroleum products. To put that into perspective, Argentina consumes 698,000 barrels per day, Chile 347,000 and Bolivia 62,000. This makes Paraguay’s needs for hydrocarbons very small when compared to its neighbors.
Yet Paraguay is currently importing all of its oil, as it does not have any domestic production. In recent years, the country depended on Venezuela for a good portion of its energy needs, importing close to 8,500 barrels per day in 2011, through a preferential payment program called the Acuerdo de Cooperación Energética de Caracas (Caracas Energy Agreement—ACEC). The program was interrupted by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in 2012 after Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo was deposed, leaving Paraguay reeling and awash in $260 million in debt.
Oil in Paraguay has a complex history. The Chaco region is believed to have massive oil reserves, with estimates of some 4 billion barrels—just less than half of the estimated reserves of Brazil’s famed Libra pre-salt field. Because of these resources, Paraguay and Bolivia went to war in 1928 over claims to part of the region, where oil had been discovered by Standard Oil of New Jersey. The Chaco War, which raged until 1935, resulted in 100,000 casualties and, despite winning the war, Paraguay was never able to develop the region’s potential, while Bolivia went on to become a major producer.
Subsequent to the end of the war, numerous exploration and production companies came to Paraguay, but there were never any significant finds. Between 1947 and 2005, 49 wells were drilled without major production. A hydrocarbons law attractive to foreign investors was passed after the end of the Alfred Stroessner dictatorship (1954-1989), which provided favorable terms for companies wishing to develop projects in the country. Yet nothing to date has yielded tangible results.
Thousands of protestors—with estimates as high as 150,000 people—marched through the streets of Santiago yesterday to voice their frustrations over social inequality, living wages and the country’s pension system. The demonstration was part of a nationwide strike organized by Chile’s largest labor union, the Central Union of Workers (Central Sindical Unitaria de Trabajadores - CUT) demanding a raise in the monthly minimum wage from $380 to $490, improved labor conditions, tax reform, and a replacement of the privately managed pension system with a state-run one.
The protestors halted traffic during the morning rush hour, causing major delays in Santiago, and set a public bus on fire after the bus driver and passengers disembarked. Sixty-seven people were arrested. Miners also joined in the protests, and blocked the entrance to the world’s largest copper mine, National Copper Corporation of Chile (Corporación Nacional del Cobre de Chile – Codelco). Approximately 15,000 plant workers and another 30,000 contractors were called to participate in the strike. The company estimated a $41 million loss as a result.
The president of the National Association of Public Employees (Asociación Nacional de Empleados Fiscales - ANEF), Raúl de la Puente, asserted that 90 percent of the 100,000 public-sector employees took to the streets, in contrast to the government’s figures that only 6.4 percent (10,200) of public sector workers joined the strike.
These labor strikes took place amid ongoing and escalating social tensions surrounding Chile’s education system, with students demanding free, quality higher education.
A summit of Mercosur countries—a regional bloc that includes Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Venezuela as full members with Paraguay suspended from the group—will convene tomorrow in Montevideo to discuss Paraguay’s possible re-admission to the group as Venezuela takes the helm of the South American trade bloc.
Venezuela, which became a full member of Mercosur in July 2012, will assume pro tempore presidency of the bloc for the first time on Friday, taking over from Uruguay. Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay admitted Venezuela to the group last year, despite vehement opposition from Paraguay—an obstacle that disappeared when Paraguay was suspended from Mercosur after the controversial impeachment of former Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo in June 2012.
The Paraguayan government’s relationship with Venezuela cooled further when Nicolás Maduro, the Venezuelan president who was foreign minister at the time, reportedly called for troops to enter the streets of Asunción to prevent Lugo’s impeachment.
Last week, Maduro said that his country would make every effort to re-admit Paraguay to Mercosur once his country had assumed leadership of the trade bloc. However, Paraguayan Foreign Minister José Félix Fernández said on Tuesday that Paraguay was not interested in rejoining Mercosur if Venezuela took over as chair of the group. “If international law is not complied [with], if the rule of law and Paraguay’s institutions and dignity are not recognized and respected, we can’t continue in Mercosur,” said Fernández.
For his part, Paraguayan President-elect Horacio Cartes said on June 25 that he would not accept Venezuela’s leadership of Mercosur. Cartes will be sworn in as president of Paraguay on August 15. At that point, Paraguay will be eligible to return to the group.
Other matters to be discussed at the summit include Bolivia’s possible incorporation into Mercosur, Ecuador’s request to join the bloc, and the expected entry of Guyana and Suriname as associate members.
The Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—FARC) concluded their eleventh, and shortest, round of peace negotiations in Havana, Cuba, on Tuesday. This round of talks focused on whether to allow the guerillas to hold political office—one of the most contentious points in the five-point peace agenda.
This round of negotiations lasted only eight days and focused on guaranteeing the right of political opposition, particularly after a peace agreement is ultimately signed. And while the talks, which were launched in Oslo in October 2012, have yet to reach a consensus on the FARC’s participation in the political system, both sides did reach a partial agreement on the critical issue of agrarian reform in May.
President Juan Manuel Santos hopes to wrap up peace talks by November. Negotiators will also tackle the illicit drug trade, demilitarization and reparations for the victims of the nearly half-century armed conflict, which has claimed over 600,000 lives and displaced millions of civilians since the 1960s. The Colombian government and FARC will return to the table for the twelfth round of negotiations on July 22.
The spectacle of certain Latin American countries lining up to offer asylum to National Security Administration (NSA) contractor and leaker Edward Snowden has become a sad reminder of the lack of diplomatic maturity of those countries and a red herring to the whole issue that they want to highlight.
Whatever you may think of the man’s motives (and believe his future should be), Snowden’s revelations that the U.S. NSA was surreptitiously collecting data on U.S. and foreign phone calls and Internet communications should give us all pause and are a legitimate point for domestic and diplomatic debate.
But that’s not what we’re getting when the presidents of Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Nicaragua line up to offer the 29-year-old asylum and the president of Argentina calls a poorly-attended summit to denounce the unfortunate detention of Bolivian President Evo Morales’ plane in Austria after he glibly offered Snowden asylum when he was in Russia. Those reactions have been a sharp reminder of the divisions in the hemisphere, between the rhetorically/ideologically oriented countries of the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America—ALBA) and the rest.
Leaving aside the issue of how Snowden—without a passport—could leave the Moscow transit lounge, set foot on an airplane whose company will surely be banned from landing in U.S. airports in the future, and cross the airspace of countries opposed to seeing him leave, there is the question of “Why make the offer?” What is the practical benefit of giving the guy safe haven?
In the past few days, U.S. media networks have been reporting on the tragic events in Lac Mégantic, Québec, where a runaway, unmanned train carrying crude oil from North Dakota (73 wagons) barreled through a quiet tourist village of 6,000 inhabitants, derailed and exploded, leaving devastation in its trail. At the time of this writing, the entire downtown area had been decimated—15 people are reported dead and close to 40 missing. This will surely rank among the most heartbreaking tragedies in Canadian history. The events have since galvanized Canadians from coast to coast to offer heartfelt encouragement to the tiny village of Lac Mégantic and its inhabitants who are coping with this unspeakable horror.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited the site over the weekend and described it as a “war zone.” The Québec government under Premier Pauline Marois is on the scene and has pledged its full government support in providing assistance to the local population. Other politicians from across the political spectrum have visited the village and the Red Cross shelter to offer comfort and to demonstrate support. What led to the derailment will now be the subject of extensive investigations by authorities, and will surely continue over the coming months. There remain many unanswered questions about why this tragedy occurred.
Only a couple of weeks earlier, the city of Calgary, Alberta, also suffered tragic events, as extensive flooding—some of the most serious in Canadian history—resulted in tens of thousands being left homeless, with irreparable damage to property, personal belongings and infrastructure. Again, politicians and other dignitaries were quick to respond with offers of assistance and support. Canadians across the country have also reacted with the proper mix of compassion and assistance.
Both tragedies are still playing out and the affected communities will feel their impact for years to come. There is not much of a silver lining when tragedy hits so suddenly and affects so many lives. This is why, as Canadians observe the resilience of the citizens affected, it is encouraging to see how some local leaders can rise to the occasion, confront adversity, and become a source of comfort and inspiration in facing the ordeal. This is the case of Lac Mégantic Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi.
Former President Michelle Bachelet, the Nueva Mayoría pact’s candidate for Chile’s November presidential election, expressed her support on Monday for legalizing abortion in cases of medical emergency and rape. Her opponent, former Economy Minister Pablo Longueira and candidate for the incumbent Alianza por Chile coalition, has vowed to maintain the current policy of prohibition.
Reproductive rights has risen to national attention in the midst of outrage following news last week that a pregnant 11-year old Chilean girl—raped by her mother’s partner in the southern city of Puerto Montt—faces life-threatening complications from her pregnancy. The girl, identified only as Belén, has few legal options since abortion is banned in Chile under all circumstances.
Chile is one of the most socially-conservative countries in Latin America and has one of the most restrictive abortion policies in the world. Abortions for medical reasons were allowed until 1973, but then outlawed under Augusto Pinochet’s military rule. Despite the restriction, reports from the Ministry of Health estimate that around 150,000 abortions take place in Chile each year. However, President Sebastián Piñera has opposed loosening the prohibition. In 2012, the Senate rejected three bills that would have ended the absolute ban.
A novel political endeavor took place earlier last month in Lima, as just over 17,000 citizens participated in the city’s first consulta ciudadana virtual (virtual citizen consultation) as part of the municipality’s participatory budgeting (PB) process. Across the city, residents used a new online system to vote in the consulta. Although those who participated represent a tiny proportion of the sprawling capital’s population, the consulta is still an impressive innovation with the potential to strengthen public accountability.
Last month’s exercise also highlights the progress achieved by the administration of center-left Mayor Susana Villarán as well as the patchy state of public participation across the country.
Peru has an extensive legal framework for participatory budgeting. The country saw a wave of decentralization reforms enacted in 2002 and 2003, including a mandate that all subnational governments develop their capital investment budget in consultation with civil society. Representatives of NGOs and civic associations are invited to take part in planning meetings as “participating agents” to propose and vote on capital investment projects of social interest.
By inviting individual citizens to vote, Lima’s consulta virtual represents a bold step toward expanding participation beyond the relatively closed sphere of participating agents. The process encourages even greater participation than the legal mandate specifies, leveraging information technologies to reach individual “vecinos desorganizados,” and considering their votes (along with technical evaluations and the votes of participating agents) in determining which projects to fund.
“Lima is much more advanced than anywhere else in the country,” said Stephanie McNulty, a political scientist who has studied participatory reforms in Peru. “The mayor’s office has really embraced this process.”
Outside the capital, however, PB is not moving forward so swiftly. Low administrative capacity at the subnational level means that many proposals approved by the PB process have yet to be executed. If this gap between participatory process and concrete accomplishments persists, it will significantly undercut participatory budgeting. Already, policy analysts in Lima are already warning of “participation fatigue.”
Likely top stories this week: results in the race for governor of Baja California; protests over legislation in Peru; Costa Rica approves same-sex civil unions; Brazil responds to surveillance reports; and UNASUR divided over Evo Morales’ flight interruptions.
Baja California’s Next Governor
On Sunday, nearly half of Mexico's 31 states held elections for mayors and local legislatures, but the most watched contest is the unfolding results in the governor’s race in the state of Baja California—the only gubernatorial election on Sunday—where the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN) has held the governorship for the last 24 years. Significantly, in 1989, the PAN’s electoral win in Baja California was the first state loss for the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI), and a victory that is often seen as eventually leading to the PAN winning the presidency in 2000.
On Sunday, shortly after polls closed, both Francisco "Kiko" Vega de Lamadrid of the Unidos por Baja California alliance (which includes the PAN and Partido de la Revolución Democrática, PRD) and Fernando Castro Trenti of the Compromiso por Baja California alliance (which includes the PRI) claimed victory. With 92.5 percent of the votes counted as part of the Preliminary Electoral Results Program (PREP), Kiko Vega held a slight advantage (47.19 percent versus 44.09 percent) over Castro Trenti.
A dispute in the electoral results could result in new tension in the Pact for Mexico—an agreement of 95 loosely defined proposals signed by the three main political parties and unveiled on President Enrique Peña Nieto’s first day in office last December.
Peruvian Students and Civil Servants Protest Reforms
On Thursday and Friday, Peruvian police clashed violently with protesters, when hundreds of students and civil servants in Lima marched toward Congress to protest reforms that would impose tougher standards on universities and public employees. According to the protesters the reforms would force many students from their jobs and would compromise the autonomy of the country’s universities. President Ollanta Humala, who proposed the law, says it aims to improve the quality of government services and bolster a higher education system that lags behind many in the region. Humala signed the Civil Service Law, which imposes strict annual evaluations for government employees, on Thursday. A separate bill to reform universities and tighten standards for professors is pending in Congress.
Costa Rica’s Congress Inadvertently Approves Same-Sex Civil Unions
On Friday, Costa Rica’s Congress was shocked to learn that it had inadvertently legalized same-sex civil unions after President Laura Chinchilla signed a bill late Thursday governing social services and marriage regulations for young people. Earlier versions of the bill had defined marriage as the union between a man and a woman, but the bill that the mostly conservative Congress approved included revised language that "confers social rights and benefits of a civil union, free from discrimination." Jose Villalta of the Broad Front Party had inserted the new language that was unanimously approved.
When lawmakers noticed the new language—after having approved the bill—they asked Chinchilla to veto the new law, but she refused. A group of conservative congressman from the Christian Costa Rican Renovation Party has pledged to launch a legal challenge to the new law.
Brazil Demands Explanations about Reports of U.S. Surveillance
On Sunday, Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota expressed deep concern over a report that the United States has collected data on billions of telephone and email conversations in Brazil. Over the weekend, O Globo newspaper reported that information released by National Security Agency (NSA) leaker Edward Snowden shows that the NSA had logged nearly the same number of telephone and email messages in Brazil as it had in the United States. The article was written by Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian reporter who originally broke the Snowden leak story. The Brazilian government demanded clarifications from the U.S. embassy in Brasilia and pledged to approach the UN to set ground rules for international espionage to protect citizens’ privacy and to preserve national sovereignty.
UNASUR Holds Emergency Meeting
On Thursday, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) held an emergency meeting in Cochabamba, Bolivia, to discuss the bloc’s response after several European countries closed their airspace to Bolivian President Evo Morales on Wednesday over concerns that his plane, which left from Moscow, was carrying Edward Snowden. President Rafael Correa of Ecuador called for the meeting, which was attended by Morales, President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina, and José Mujica of Uruguay. The Colombian, Chilean and Peruvian presidents—all of whom maintain strong relationships with the United States—did not attend. During the meeting, regional leaders called for apologies from Italy, Portugal, France, and Spain for violating Bolivia’s sovereignty and condemned the U.S. for violating human rights through their surveillance programs. The lack of participation among key UNASUR members highlights the bloc’s divide on the issue.
On Wednesday, Guatemalan Vice President Roxanna Baldetti submitted a petition to Petrocaribe, an oil trading alliance among Caribbean nations and Venezuela, threatening that her country will leave the block unless the Venezuelan government agrees to maintain originally established interest rates.
Former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez created Petrocaribe in 2005 to sell crude oil to neighboring countries at preferential prices and low interest rates—below 2 percent.The idea was to bolster regional cooperation, to supply oil cheaply to Venezuela’s’ neighbors and to help finance Venezuela’s oil infrastructure.
In May, Guatemala officially joined Petrocaribe, and Honduras was re-incorporated into the group, which now includes 18 Caribbean and Central American nation. Honduras joined Petrocaribe in 2008, under then-President Manuel Zelaya, but Chávez revoked the country’s membership in 2009, when the military ousted Zelaya.
However, potential interest rate hikes have raised concern in Guatemala.
In June, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, Petrocaribe’s leader, suggested that interest rates might more than double to 4 percent to account for a global increases in oil prices. In response, Guatemala submitted to Maduro a petition to cap interest rates, noting that it joined the block to avoid the effects of rising world oil prices.
During the block’s VII annual summit in June, member nations drew up a framework to make membership more attractive by expanding economic cooperation among members, including preferential prices for other goods such as sugar and rice, as well as cooperation on tourism, communications and transport. Still, Baldetti claims that higher interest rates would render the agreement unattractive to Guatemala.
Correction: This post was originally worded so that it appeared as if Manuel Zelaya was the president of Guatemala in 2008. He was president of Honduras.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s plan to reform state-owned Petroléos Mexicanos (PEMEX) has attracted the attention of many analysts. Since President Lázaro Cárdenas nationalized the oil sector in 1938, no president has been able to push for reform to allow for foreign ownership of petroleum assets.
Peña Nieto sees allowing foreign investment to be critical to turning around PEMEX, which has suffered from declining production in recent years. PEMEX was producing 3.4 million barrels per day in 2003 and production slipped to 2.5 million barrels per day in 2012.
While the debate for energy reform continues, an oil auction for six blocks in the Chicontepec basin is set to take place on July 11, with multinational oil companies such as Repsol, Schlumberger and Halliburton set to make bids.
This is possible due to a 2008 reform that allows for limited private investment in the sector through incentive-based contracts. When it passed, then-President Felipé Calderón was quick to accompany the reform with a firm disclaimer: “I want to make clear that oil is and will continue to be exclusively Mexican property. PEMEX is not being privatized. Oil is a symbol of the nation’s sovereignty.”
Protesters blocked off a highway lane in Rio de Janeiro’s North Zone yesterday to hear speeches, three eulogies and a funk music performance, just days after the end of the Confederations Cup—nicknamed the “Demonstrations Cup” —on Sunday. Over 2,000 demonstrators from across the city showed that the spirit of protest is still strong in Rio, and that protesters’ grievances go beyond irresponsible public spending.
The crowds gathered yesterday mourned the deaths of 10 people—including a police officer—killed last week in a police operation in the favela of Maré.
Even as Rio presents a safer image to the outside world—heralded by the much-publicized arrival of Unidades de Polícia Pacificadora (Pacifying Police Units—UPPs) in Rio's favelas—violence between police and favela residents is still common. In the last decade, over 9,500 people in the state of Rio have been killed by police in shootouts labeled "resistance killings," according to the Instituto de Segurança Pública (Public Security Institute). These numbers have gone down in recent years, but they remain high.
Maré resident Timo, 35, said that deadly police encounters are “not extraordinary” in his neighborhood, but the events of June 24 caused particular terror, with an almost 24-hour police chase through the community that caused a power outage and involved police entering private homes.
The events in Maré, which is about to be pacified, throw into question how committed to peace the pacification process is and brings the issue of police violence to the forefront of Brazilian protesters’ concerns. The night after the killings, the story of the dragnet caused particular outrage when Maré resident and newspaper editor Gizele Martins, 27, related the events at a planning meeting for the next citywide protest.
“I just came from Maré,” she announced shakily to a crowd of thousands—mostly students—sitting in front of the downtown campus of the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro—UFRJ). Martins said that a group of 500 residents marching through the streets of the community had just been able to pressure the last police tank to leave.
After chants of “Maré, Maré,” the group voted to add a new demand to their message for the next protest: the demilitarization of Rio’s police force. Coalitions from Maré and various favelas marched in the citywide protests in the following few days.
Not since Mexico’s transition to democracy in the late 1980s has the country witnessed the high levels of political violence that have characterized the build-up to the July 7 local elections.
Local politicians across the country have been the target of death threats, arson attacks and shootings. Although organized crime and drug-related violence in Mexico and the government’s efforts to curb it have garnered recent global headlines, political violence is nothing new in the Mexican political arena. The intimidation of rival party candidates and their retinues has been a feature of the electoral process in Mexico for time immemorial. What is new is the increasingly influential role organized crime groups are playing and the potential for them to undermine the democratic process.
Organized criminal groups across the 14 states where the elections are taking place are bribing, threatening and attacking candidates, whether because they do not want them to run—presumably because they have already successfully co-opted a rival—or to intimidate them into turning a blind eye should they get elected.
Those who ignore such threats are often kidnapped or—in the worst case—killed. This was more than likely the case with Jaime Orozco, the national ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional—PRI ) candidate for the mayoral elections in the remote municipality of Guadalupe y Calvo (Chihuahua), whose body was found dumped on the side of the road on June 12. Orozco had allegedly been kidnapped by a group of armed men two days earlier.
Candidates from across the political spectrum have withdrawn from mayoral elections in droves, citing alleged death threats and a lack of guarantees of their safety. The majority have hailed from the so-called “Golden Triangle,” an important region for drug cultivation and trafficking, which spans the states of Chihuahua, Sinaloa and Durango.
It’s now been nearly a month since the HKND Group (HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co.) and the Nicaraguan government signed an agreement to build an inter-oceanic canal that would cut through the Nicaraguan heartland.
The megaproject, with a tentative price tag of $40 billion, is set to include an oil pipeline, two deep-water ports, two airports, a railroad through Nicaragua, and two free-trade zones.
According to HKND’s website, the canal would measure 286 kilometers long, by 20 meters wide and 24 meters deep—twice as long as the Panama Canal and possibly the largest infrastructure project in Latin American history.
If the project goes through, Nicaraguan Public Policy Secretary Paul Oquist said that it could double Nicaragua’s GDP and triple employment by 2018, significantly reducing poverty and improving a number of economic and health-related indicators in which Nicaragua consistently ranks toward the bottom.
But at what cost? Each of the proposed inter-oceanic canal routes impacts Lake Nicaragua (or Lago Cocibolca, as it is referred to by Nicaraguans), essentially destroying the nation’s access to clean freshwater. This factor alone could have devastating environmental impacts for generations to come.
Further, this megaproject assumes that Nicaragua’s canal can compete with Panama’s existing canal and actually return a profit. Thirty percent of the Western Hemisphere’s cargo passes through the Panama Canal, which is undergoing a $5 billion expansion project. The remaining cargo travels through U.S.-based ports. Economically and environmentally speaking, the Nicaraguan canal faces great challenges.
Responding to weeks of protests in over 100 Brazilian cities against corruption and government spending, President Dilma Rousseff sent Congress a proposal package on Tuesday, which included a referendum to make the country’s political system more representative.
Even if it passes Congress, the non-binding plebiscite is not expected to take place before September. It would determine Brazilians’ opinions on the current structure of political party funding, the practice of using unelected Senate substitutes, the legislature’s current practice of anonymous voting, and the possibility of moving from a proportional to a representative system in the legislature.
Opposition leaders have cast the move as an attempt to regain popular support ahead of President Rousseff’s re-election campaign, given that her approval rating has dropped 27 percentage points since the protests began in June. Still, 68 percent of Brazilians support holding a plebiscite according to a Datafolha poll released on July 1 that was conducted from June 27 to June 28.
While the protests have ebbed following the end of the Confederations Cup on Sunday, dissatisfaction with health care, education and public transportation systems, as well as high inflation and a stagnated economy, could bring Brazilians back out into the streets.
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said Monday that Ecuador will not grant asylum to Edward Snowden, the former contractor wanted by the United States for leaking National Security Agency information, unless he reaches Ecuadorian territory.
Correa maintained his support for Snowden, whose actions he said were a brave act against tyranny—in defense of universal freedoms and human rights. Yet, without dismissing the dangers that the U.S. government’s surveillance program poses to freedom worldwide, the Snowden affair has only cast a light again on Correa’s own failure to promote freedom of expression in Ecuador.
Indeed, Rafael Correa may have been recently re-elected with over 57 percent of the vote, but Ecuador is an increasingly repressive society. The republican principle that the majority should consent to and abide by its obligations to protect the rights of minorities is evermore elusive.
Dissent is not tolerated and political decisions, big or small, rest in the hands of the very few. Since Correa came to power in 2007, Ecuador’s political parties have disappeared. Correa successfully dissolved an opposition Congress and instituted a plebiscite to draft a new constitution that greatly expanded executive powers. Members of Correa’s political movement, Alianza PAIS (Alliance of the Proud and Sovereign Fatherland), now hold 100 of the 137 seats in the National Assembly. Municipalities, ministries and the judiciary exhibit a similar homogeneity.
This homogeneity, itself a product of Ecuadorian democracy, would not be so alarming if the state responded well to criticism. But, as evidenced by the new communications law enacted in June, the state is dangerously close to having a monopoly on criticism.
The Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—FARC) began their tenth round of peace negotiations in Havana, Cuba on Monday. This round of talks will address the second point in the five-point peace agenda: integration of the rebel group into Colombian politics.
The FARC’s post-conflict participation in Colombian politics is one of the most controversial points in the agenda, and the guerrillas have made a number of demands to ensure their participation. FARC Commander Luciano Marín Arango, known by the nom-de-guerre “Iván Márquez,” asked the government to postpone Colombia’s May 2014 presidential election to allow the talks to continue uninterrupted under the current administration. The group claims that political campaigning could get in the way of the talks, and wants to call a Constitutional Assembly to enact the political and institutional changes now under discussion.
The FARC also claimed that it is pursuing a “unification process” with the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional—ELN), Colombia’s second-largest rebel group. Though the ELN is not part of the peace talks in Cuba, its leaders have expressed their willingness to participate in the negotiations.
The Colombian government’s chief negotiator, Humberto de La Calle, has rejected the guerrilla group’s proposal. While he recognized that one of the key objectives of the negotiations is to enable the FARC to become a political party and have broader participation in local and national politics, he refused to consider any proposal that lies outside of the previously agreed-upon peace agenda. “This [agenda] is what the government is ready to discuss and nothing else," he said. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos also rejected the rebel group’s proposal and ruled out the possibility of extending the electoral terms.
Despite these differences, some progress has been made in the negotiations. The parties achieved a partial agreement on land reform in May, which includes a consensus on the use and distribution of the land—a key issue that led to the FARC’s emergence in the 1960s. Other topics on the agenda include the fight against drug trafficking and the compensation of the victims of the armed conflict.
The peace talks began in November 2012, and aim to end half a century of armed conflict that has led to more than 600,000 deaths and millions of displaced people.
The spring session in Canada’s parliament was anything but dull. But while much of the attention was on senators’ unauthorized expenses, an important bill passed under the radar.
The so-called Antiterrorism Bill, which revives controversial sections of the Combating Terrorism Act, was passed into law during session. Two sections of the bill deserve a fuller look: investigative hearings and preventative arrests.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and police forces lauded the bill, presenting it as a necessary tool to prevent the loss of life in extreme circumstances where a terrorist attack is imminent. Prominent experts also backed these measures, saying they are warranted in extreme times.
Ray Boisvert, a former assistant director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, says it’s important to have “a tool box,” especially “when events happen very fast.” He points to the very effective and quick arrest of one of the alleged masterminds of the Boston Marathon attack.
That’s all fine, critics say. But they argue that civil liberties were sacrificed in the name of the War Against Terror. They feel there was no need to bring back investigative hearings and preventative arrests—which have never been used—even in the face of imminent attacks. For example, an investigative hearing intended to force a hostile witness to implicate one of the masterminds behind the Air India Flight 182 explosion in 1985 (all 329 passengers were killed, including many Canadian) was dropped halfway through the trial. One year earlier, the Supreme Court of Canada had deemed the investigative hearing constitutional.
As we wait to hear Ecuador’s decision on whether to grant asylum to Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old contractor who leaked the details of the U.S. National Security Agency surveillance program, two questions loom large: Why would Ecuador do it? And will it?
First the why. Snowden’s request was based on Ecuador’s offering of asylum to the founder and director of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, who had been accused of rape in Sweden and is now holed up in the Ecuadoran embassy in London. Leaving aside the question of why Ecuador would offer asylum to an accused rapist just because he had posted secret U.S. documents and cables leaked to the web based NGO dedicated to transparency, the thinking among the Snowden supporters was that Ecuador loved to stick it to the United States, and would welcome the opportunity to do it again for Snowden.
Clearly, Ecuador’s voluble, erratic, populist president, Rafael Correa, delights in standing up to the 'gringos.' Shortly after he was elected in 2006, he terminated a U.S. airbase in Ecuador that monitored and interdicted drug traffickers, kicked out the then-U.S. ambassador for information revealed in the Wikileaks, and claimed that the U.S.’s development program is seeking to undermine him politically.
In reality there’s little domestic political benefit to these anti-U.S. actions. According to public opinion surveys, close to 80 percent of Ecuadoreans have positive views of the United States. Where it does play well is internationally. Like his now-deceased mentor, former President of Venezuela Hugo Chávez, President Correa has ambitions that extend far beyond his country’s borders to become a world leader of the progressive, anti-imperialist left. When it offered Assange asylum, Correa presented the offer as motivated by his defense of freedom of expression.
The irony couldn’t be richer. In Ecuador, Assange and Snowden would have been quickly arrested and packed off to jail for their activities. Just two weeks before Snowden asked for asylum the Ecuadoran National Assembly approved a law—proposed by the president—that will chill freedom of expression and limit what journalists can say and write. According to Correa, the law will “guarantee for the people that information which is published by the media is true.”
Likely top stories this week: Michelle Bachelet wins Chile’s opposition primaries; Cuban state-run produce markets go private; President Rousseff’s popularity dips; U.S. immigration reform moves to the House of Representatives; Edward Snowden stuck in Moscow.
Bachelet Wins Chilean Opposition Primaries: Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet won a landslide victory on Sunday in Chile’s primary elections, paving her way to run as the Concertación candidate in the November presidential election. Bachelet received 73.8 percent of the vote, while her nearest rival, Andrés Velasco, earned only 12.5 percent of voter support. The ruling coalition's candidates were much closer, with Pablo Longueira getting 51.1 percent of the vote to Andrés Allemand's 48.9 percent. Longueira will face Bachelet on November 17.
Cuban State-Run Co-ops Go Private: One hundred state-run produce markets in Cuba are scheduled to become private cooperatives on Monday as the country moves ahead with economic reforms. The private co-ops will create an alternative to small and medium-sized state-run businesses, and will be able to set prices and divide profit as they see fit. The co-ops can also purchase produce from individual farmers as well as state farms and wholesale markets. According to the Cuban government, more than 430,000 people now work in the non-state sector, not counting agricultural cooperatives and small farmers.
Protests at Brazil's Confederations Cup Final: Several thousand Brazilian protesters marched outside Rio de Janeiro's iconic Maracanã stadium on Sunday as Brazil's national soccer team won the Confederations Cup 3-0 over Spain. The protests for improved public transport and services that started over a month ago show no sign of abating, while President Dilma Rousseff's approval rating has plummeted from 57 percent to 30 percent during the month of June. More than 80 percent of the 4,717 respondents in the poll by Datafolha, conducted on the June 27 and 28, said that they supported the protests in Brazil.
Immigration Reform Moves to the U.S. House: U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer predicted on Sunday that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will pass the comprehensive immigration reform bill approved by the Senate last Thursday, despite resistance from House Republicans. Schumer said he believed the House would pass the bill "by the end of this year," due to concerns about the party's future in an increasingly diverse country. However, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte said that the preference is to “examine each of these issues separately,” rather than take up the Senate legislation.
Edward Snowden Still Stuck in Moscow: Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said that former U.S. contractor Edward Snowden "is in the care of Russian authorities" and reprimanded an Ecuadorian government official who provided Snowden with a travel document that Correa said had been issued without consulting officials in Quito. Correa spoke to U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on the phone on Saturday about Snowden, whose U.S. passport has been revoked. Correa said that Snowden’s asylum request would only be considered if he enters Ecuador or an Ecuadorian embassy.
Twenty-three years after the fall of Augusto Pinochet, on the surface at least, Chile’s democratic institutions appear strong. However, less than five months out from presidential elections, many Chileans feel more disillusioned with the political process now than at any point since the return to democracy.
In the lead up to the November 17 vote, the country will hold historic primary elections on Sunday. Accompanying them, over the last two weeks, were televised debates—the first to include candidates from the two major political coalitions.
Both the primaries and debates are being touted as a marked change from the vieja politica—“old school” politics which, for 23 years, has seen remarkably little policy difference between politicians who held positions under the dictatorship and those who took up arms against it, or in some cases were victims of its repression.
For those within the established political system and mainstream media, the changes herald a new era of inclusive politics and represent a response to the demands for profound change from social movements sweeping the country.
La Tercera—one of the country’s two largest newspapers—published an opinion piece on June 21 titled, “Primaries, an Important Political Step for Chile.”
Written by Juan Emilio Cheyre—commander-in-chief of the Chilean Army from 2002 to 2006, academic and member of Servicio Electoral (Electoral Service—Servel) board of directors—the article concluded:
“The primaries are important in and of themselves. However, we [Sevel] believe that, in addition, they represent a great step forward in areas as relevant as: trust, public confidence, transparency, depoliticization, autonomy and participation[…] All of these are factors have a direct impact on strengthening our democracy, a task to which, as a country, we have been called upon to undertake.”
But to read the polls, the nation’s political class has never been more distant from the general public since Chile famously voted “No” to military rule in 1989.
It’s not uncommon for the Castro regime to accuse dissidents of being CIA agents or puppets of the U.S. government. Viral media attacks on Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez are not unique. However, the manner in which they attack Sánchez and other female dissidents, compared to their male counterparts, does seem unique.
Initially, the Cuban government didn’t pay much attention to Sánchez and her blogging. Not really understanding the medium, the government wrote her off as a non-threat because of her gender and ultimately gave Sánchez the space to become the international figure she is today.
Once the regime had become aware of blogging’s influence, it initiated an online civil war between independent Cuban bloggers and the government. The government blocked all of the unauthorized blogs and began a defamation campaign against the independent bloggers—who are officially referred to as “cyber mercenaries” and enemies of the revolution. Cuba’s version of Wikipedia, EcuRed, describes Sánchez as “Cibermercenaria y bloguera cubana” next to a menacing-looking photo of her.
Numerous websites exist solely to insult and question Sánchez’s legitimacy as a renowned journalist, writer and blogger. These insults and accusations are mostly gender-based. Male bloggers’ accomplishments and awards are rarely questioned. Instead, they are labeled (if at all) with epithets associated with a dominant form of masculinity, such as “terrorist” and “traitor.” Meanwhile, the language used to attack Sánchez focuses mainly on her appearance and stereotypes associated with being female.
Governments across the hemisphere responded to U.S. Senate passage, in a 68 –32 vote, of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744).
The Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs lauded passage on its website, saying that the Senate’s approval of immigration reform “has the potential to improve the lives of millions of Mexicans living in the U.S. today. It creates a more favorable environment for their development and respect for their rights, and enables their significant contributions to the communities where they reside.”
Honduran President Porfirio Lobo posted on his Twitter account, “Thank you, on behalf of Honduran families, for the passage of the immigration reform bill by the U.S. Senate.” He later added, "The entire American continent hopes that the discussion of the bill in the House of Representatives of the United States will be successful."
Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina said the move was, “historical.” A statement from the foreign ministry was also released: "Guatemala considers this a very positive, hopeful step for immigrants in an an irregular situation from Guatemala and other countries.”
Many Republicans have acknowledged the importance of reforming the immigration system as Latinos have become an increasingly important voter bloc in the United States. However, Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner claimed yesterday that he won't consider any new immigration legislation unless it has the support of a majority of his party. Republican House leaders will hold a conference on July 10 to discuss their next steps.
¿Cómo quitar los ojos de Brasil que en las últimas semanas ha sido objeto de la toma de sus calles por parte de jóvenes apartidarios, indignados, cansados de las políticas del gobierno de Dilma Rousseff?
¿Cómo no asistir casi estupefacto al crecimiento de un movimiento que espontáneamente apareció en vísperas de la Copa Mundial en un país que no solo se enorgullece de tener uno de los mejores niveles futbolísticos, sino que hasta hace poco sólo aparecía en las noticias como el milagro económico, la potencia emergente, el gigante latinoamericano y otros calificativos bastante generosos que indicaban que por lo menos en términos de políticas financieras, seguía la senda correcta?
No es que los indignados brasileños en las calles estén puntualmente protestando por el modelo económico, pero no es poca cosa que los indicadores por los que se alzaron tengan nada menos que ver con las inversiones en salud y educación y que los índices de reducción de la pobreza y desigualdad no sean tan alentadores.
La salida de Dilma fue darle a eso que significa en griego la palabra democracia, y resume todo su valor: el poder del pueblo. En pocas semanas los indignados consiguieron que no se aumentara el precio del tiquete de autobús—demanda original del movimiento Passe Livre que busca reducir a cero la tarifa de transporte público—y que sus demandas alcanzaran esferas insospechadas. Esta semana, los congresistas brasileños aprobaron un proyecto de ley que define la corrupción como un "crimen atroz", otro que destina el 75 por ciento de las regalías petroleras a la educación y el 25 por ciento a la salud, y rechazaron uno más que le retiraba facultades investigativas a la fiscalía, una propuesta de enmienda constitucional conocida popularmente como PEC 37.
To some, former CIA and National Security Administration (NSA) employee Edward Snowden is seen as a classic whistleblower, who divulged government secrets that contradict the U.S. Constitution and its 4th amendment. Many who espouse his view—on both the left and right—have applauded his courage and regard him as a hero.
To others—especially within the U.S. political class—he is now considered a charged felon, who has willingly pursued a plan to embarrass his government, and in so doing, has breached matters of national security and made the United States less safe. His weekend flight from Hong Kong to Russia may lead some to go as far as to label him a “traitor”.
Which is it—hero, felon or traitor? It is too early to answer this. But the longer the situation drags on, the more damage it will inflict on the reputation of the United States on the world stage.
The 4th amendment of the U.S. Constitution sets guidelines to protect individual privacy. Even in matters of national security, we are told that due process must be followed. NSA programs, including the ones covering telephone records as well as internet activity that Snowden denounced, must be subjected to safeguards that protect the right to privacy. President Barack Obama has since justified these NSA programs as the necessary balance between privacy and security in this post-9-11 world. While his administration has been careful in its choice of vocabulary, it has decided to charge Snowden with contravening the Espionage Act.
The spectacle of the strongest power on earth chasing Snowden around the globe is not reassuring to those who believe in the value of U.S. diplomacy, U.S. intelligence capacity or U.S. military might. The ease with which Snowden accessed sensitive material and subjected his government to this embarrassing game of “cat and mouse” is also not comforting to those who count on U.S. intelligence forces to keep them safe.
Clearly, at the outset, the initial effect of Snowden’s action was to spark a legitimate debate about privacy, security and the importance of the 4th amendment. Libertarian politicians like Rand Paul did not condemn Snowden outright. Snowden also has significant support in progressive circles.
On Wednesday, Brazil’s Supreme Court upheld a corruption conviction against a former congressman and sentenced him to prison—the first time a congressman has been imprisoned since the 1988 constitution was put in place.
Natan Donadon will spend 13 years in jail for conspiracy and embezzlement of government funds from the State of Rondônia’s Legislative Assembly in July 1995 and January 1998.
The court’s decision comes in the wake of several other recent government actions to combat corruption in response to continued protests throughout the country.
On Tuesday, Brazil's congress dropped legislation that protesters worried would hamper corruption investigations. The Chamber of Deputies voted 403-9 to halt the measure—known as PEC 37—that would have stripped federal prosecutors of the ability to investigate cases—a role that has proven important in revealing corruption in the past.
Federal prosecutors played a crucial role in unveiling the 2005 "mensalão" scandal, in which aides of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva bought votes from congressmen for certain pieces of legislation. Critics feared that PEC 37 would prevent prosecutors from making similar discoveries in the future.
The government has also responded to protesters’ grievances by lowering transportation costs in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and over the weekend, President Dilma Rousseff called for constitutional reform to improve the nation’s transport, healthcare and education systems.
Still, protesters continued to gather throughout the country on Wednesday. The largest demonstration in Belo Horizonte—where the Brazilian national football team played against Uruguay in a semifinal of the Confederations Cup—amassed some 50,000 people.
Edited by Mable Ivory
Six months ago, if someone were to ask any Brazilian about the possibility of a massive protest happening in 100 cities in Brazil, the idea would most certainly have been met with laughter.
After all, the country—set to host two major sporting events in the coming years and profiled internationally because of its economic growth—has not seen mass demonstrations on its streets since the 1990s, when citizens forced the impeachment of then-President Fernando Collor. President Dilma Rousseff, already prepared for her re-election campaign in 2014, certainly didn't expect these demonstrations.
However, Brazil has reached a turning point. The 20 centavos increase in bus fare in São Paulo was the catalyst for a series of demonstrations that soon spread throughout the nation—a clear indication that Brazil’s economic boom has not reached all the people and that citizens feel that they deserve more from their government. The demonstrations reached a climax on June 20, with more than 1 million people protesting in all of Brazil’s major cities.
Thus far, analysts, journalists and even activists are trying to define the nature of these protests, their true agenda and how long they will continue. There are still many undecided factors. However, several things remain clear: the so called "Brazilian Autumn" is a movement that has its main base in social media and it is a movement of mostly young and middle-class people, with a broad agenda. However, many Afro-Brazilians and working poor people are also joining the protests because their economic situation is even worse.
Unlike the Arab Spring and protests in Turkey, which have a very specific agenda, the protests in Brazil encompass many issues—a risk for their long-term sustainability—much like the Occupy Movement.
It is natural to draw parallels between the protests in Brazil and other global movements—in India, the Arab world and most recently Turkey—which preceded them. Some comparisons may be relevant, like the use of technology to congregate mass protests. But in most other ways, Brazil’s protests are unique.
Did the protests really begin with the demand to rescind the 20 centavo increase in the minimum bus fare in São Paulo? No, and this is why.
It has been widely acknowledged that a non-partisan group, the Movimento Passe Livre (Free Fare Movement), initiated the June 2013 protest with the objective of rolling back the bus fare hike. The movement took inspiration from a decade-old mass protest movement in Salvador, Brazil—also triggered by an increase in the minimum bus fare, where nine of ten of the protesters’ demands were met.
More recently, in September 2012, a group of students appealed to city hall in Natal, Brazil, winning an endorsement from a city councilman who declared the 20 centavo fare increase both “illegal and without foundation.” In less than two weeks, the ordinance was repealed by a unanimous vote.
So, by the time the fare increase was announced in São Paulo, citizens and members of the Free Fare Movement were prepared. Subsequently, after more than 10 cities in the State of São Paulo and other parts of the country reversed the bus fares last week, the Free Fare Movement leaders announced that they would no longer protest the bus fares because their “initial objectives were met.”
Desde que comenzó el gobierno de Enrique Peña Nieto en diciembre de 2012, un curioso fenómeno se ha presentado en el mundo de la política mexicana. Al parecer, nuestros dirigentes no han comprendido el enorme poder de la tecnología y la impresionante capacidad de difusión que tienen las redes sociales, mismas que escapan completamente de su poder de control. La clase política puede pactar con los dueños de las televisoras, de la radio y de los periódicos sobre la información que se puede o no se puede transmitir, pero son incapaces de imponer el mismo control sobre Facebook, Twitter o YouTube.
Gracias a eso, en los últimos meses hemos podido presenciar una serie de escándalos que desnudan a la clase política en general. Los videos subidos a YouTube que muestran a políticos mexicanos de todos los partidos en situaciones comprometedoras se han vuelto algo común en los últimos meses. La sabiduría popular los ha bautizado como las “ladies” y los “gentlemen”.
Todo comenzó cuando la hija del Procurador Federal del Consumidor se enojó porque en un restaurante no le dieron la mesa que quería. De inmediato se fue a la oficina de papi y regresó con algunos inspectores que procedieron a clausurar el restaurante en cuestión, alegando diversas violaciones en el sistema de reservaciones. Los testigos que presenciaron el acto lo comentaron en Twitter y Facebook y de inmediato se le bautizó como la “lady Profeco”. Aunque el incidente le costó el trabajo a su padre, ninguna autoridad decidió investigar el hecho de que los inspectores hayan obedecido a esta señorita si ella no era ninguna autoridad. ¿Tan sólo por ser la hija del jefe?
Después supimos de la “lady del Senado”, una senadora del Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) que insultó a una trabajadora de una aerolínea después de que no le permitiera subir al avión por llegar tarde. La senadora aseguraba que ella era una autoridad y que por ello tenían que permitirle subir al avión. Poco después tuvo el descaro de pedir que se creara una “Fiscalía Especializada en la Protección de los Políticos,” pues éstos sufren del acoso de los medios de comunicación y de la ciudadanía.
A finales de los ochenta, la prosperidad venezolana se desintegraba dejando en evidencia la ilusión que era. Parafraseando a José Ignacio Cabrujas, uno de los mejores analistas políticos que tuvo el país, sólo un mago podía ser llamado para devolverle la esperanza a una nación cada vez más frustrada. Pero a Carlos Andrés Pérez—quien resultó electo como presidente—se le acabaron los conejos del sombrero, y a falta de trucos ofreció realidades, entre ellas el aumento de la gasolina, y por consecuencia, del pasaje del transporte público.
Nadie lo vio venir, pero en la primera mañana en que el aumento de 25 centavos comenzó a regir, una revuelta popular iniciaría en los terminales de autobús de la periferia capitalina. Durante dos días, miles de personas dejaron correr su ira por las calles del centro político de Venezuela, y El Caracazo—nombre que recibió la protesta espontánea—se convertiría en un estigma político que marcó un hito en la historia nacional. Desde 1989, cuando ocurrió la manifestación, los precios de la gasolina sólo fueron aumentados una vez. Ni Hugo Chávez, con su inigualable carisma y conexión popular, se atrevió a tocar el desfasado valor del combustible.
Dos semanas atrás, en otros tiempos, otro país y otro contexto, un aumento en la tarifa del pasaje urbano también desataría la ira nacional. “La gota que derramó el vaso” repetían decenas de brasileños que salieron a las calles para rechazar el incremento—que en ciudades como São Paulo equivalía a USD 10 centavos. El himno del momento fue “no son sólo los 20 centavos” en alusión al precio en moneda local que los usuarios del transporte público debían pagar a más en cada viaje. Las frustraciones se mezclaron con las insatisfacciones, y lo que comenzó con una manifestación de calle derivó en un proceso de reclamos, tan complejo, que requirió de creatividad periodística para dar cobertura a las decenas de movilizaciones que, espontáneamente se siguen desplazando por las calles del país de la samba.
Acostumbrado a captar los titulares internacionales con fútbol, novelas y música, Brasil entró en la escena extranjera con notas sobre reclamos contra corrupción, malos servicios públicos, salud y educación deficiente. Economistas, sociólogos, analistas políticos y periodistas han intentado explicar cómo la población saboteó su propio pre estreno en la Copa Mundial—el desarrollo de la Copa de Confederaciones—reclamando menos estadios y más hospitales.