Venezuelan authorities recovered yesterday the body of Jose Luis Arenas, 21, who was abducted and murdered over the weekend in the Venezuelan state of Táchira, near the town of El Pinal. Mr. Arenas is the last of 12 amateur soccer players kidnapped on October 11 by unidentified perpetrators and held for several days before being slain. There was one survivor of the massacre, an 18-year-old boy, who was found alive on Sunday and hospitalized.
The incident has renewed tensions between the Venezuelan and Colombian governments. President Hugo Chávez has alluded that the men may have been spies for Colombia’s state security agency, while spokesmen for the regional government of Táchira have blamed units of the National Liberation Army (ELN), a Colombian paramilitary guerilla group. On Monday, Venezuela denied permission for a Colombian government plane to land in Venezuela to repatriate the remains of the dead and despite pleas from Colombian authorities, the Venezuelan government has refused to cooperate with its neighbor on an investigation into the murders.
Colombian officials and family members of the victims contend that they were simply playing a pick-up game of soccer. William Bello, the father of one of the dead, has said that his son was a street vendor who worked near the Colombia-Venezuela border crossing and had never had a run-in with the law. This most recent massacre raises the number of Colombians killed in recent weeks in Venezuela to at least 20 people.
Dicen que no existe el momento ideal para traer hijos al mundo, pero cuando la cronista peruana Gabriela Wiener estaba embarazada, todo parecía jugar en su contra: acababa de perder su trabajo en una revista, su situación legal en España se balanceaba en la cuerda floja, le detectaron un cáncer a su padre, se enteró del suicidio de una amiga y, para completar el cuadro, aún se estaba recuperando de una dolorosa cirugía.
Nueve Lunas, el libro que surgió de ese difícil periodo, es un retrato de la maternidad que oscila entre el periodismo gonzo y la crónica autobiográfica. Pero también se trata de una exploración sobre los tabúes que se tejen en torno a la maternidad: el aborto, el odio a la madre, el sexo con embarazadas. Nueve Lunas es un recuento fascinante y honesto sobre la soledad, las dudas y los miedos de la gestación—a perder la individualidad y la libertad, a no amar al hijo, a asumir la terrible responsabilidad de hacerse cargo de otra persona para toda la vida. Como en Sexografías, su primer libro, Gabriela Wiener consolida su reputación de escritora kamikaze y se establece como una de las voces más arriesgadas y originales de la crónica hispanoamericana.
Colanzi: ¿Cuáles fueron los autores o las lecturas que te acompañaron mientras escribías Nueve Lunas?
Wiener: Tenía sobre todo un libro en la cabeza: El año del pensamiento mágico, de Joan Didion, una crónica de esa nueva realidad que se abrió ante la autora tras la muerte repentina de su esposo por un infarto y la búsqueda de sentido a ese tiempo que desbarató todas sus antiguas seguridades que la llevan a un estado casi chamanístico. Está tan lleno de emoción como de información y se lee como un texto de investigación. Yo soñaba con hacer algo así de importante pero con el tema del embarazo. El libro La hija de la amante de AM Homes también fue una lectura de cabecera, por convertir algo tan personal como su propia adopción en una trama casi detectivesca. Tenía por ahí el libro de Oriana Fallacci, Carta a un niño que no llegó a nacer, que es muy tierno pese a que es de Fallacci y que me sirvió, a veces como tono, y a veces como antitono. Leí un libro de Elizabeth Roudinesco, La familia en desorden, que me puso en autos de las fascinantes barbaridades biotecnológicas y las nuevas configuraciones familiares. Tuve muchos libros de mis poetas favoritas a la mano, entre ellas Sharon Olds y Anne Sixton. Otro libro que tuve muy en cuenta fue uno de ensayos: Las mujeres y los niños primero. Y dos libros de crónicas muy humorísticas de la argentina María Moreno. La mayoría de mis lecturas están citadas en el libro pues fueron parte de la aventura.
From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Mujica to Face “Pink” Alliance
During the first round of Uruguay’s presidential elections on Sunday, the Broad Front coalition’s José Mujica lost the majority needed to avoid a November runoff against the National Party’s Luis Alberto Lacalle. Mujica won a large majority at the polls, pulling in 48 percent—20 points above Lacalle. However, Mujica signaled concern about the “Pink” alliance made up of the National and Colorado Parties. While the Broad Front maintains a majority in Congress, it could lose its majority control in the lower house.
Read a new Americas Quarterly web exclusive on the Uruguayan elections by Adolfo Garcé of the Institute of Political Science at the University of the Republic in Montevideo.
Colombia, Venezuela Exchange Barbs over Espionage Accusations
Caracas announced the arrest this week of two officers from the Administrative Department of Security (DAS), Colombia’s intelligence agency. Bogota denied the allegations. Colombia’s ambassador in Venezuela, María Luisa Chiappe countered that Colombia is more concerned with identifying those responsible for the recent abduction and murder of ten amateur Colombian soccer players in a Venezuelan border town.
Tensions between Colombia and Venezuela have been heightened over a bilateral U.S.-Colombian agreement to give Washington access to seven of its military bases. Colombian Defense Minister Gabriel Silva announced that the deal could be signed as early as Friday this week. He added that the deal was not a recent development, but an extension of US-Colombian cooperation against drug trafficking.
Read an AS/COA analysis of the military deal.
Released this week, an Ipsos-Reid poll reports that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative party now commands approximately 40 percent of the Canadian public’s support, with the Liberal party’s popularity dropping 4 percentage points since the beginning of the month. Liberal support is now at 25 percent. This means that if elections were held today the Conservatives, a minority party, could gain a majority of the seats in the House of Commons.
The results come as no surprise to the polling firm’s head, Darrell Bricker: “the Liberals, these days, just have no traction at all.” Under Ignatieff’s leadership, the Liberals have been losing steam and are at one of their lowest levels of support since September 2008.
The Conservatives, while performing better nationally, have not gained ground in Quebec province despite falling popularity there for the Liberals. Instead, the Bloc Québecois has gained momentum, increasing support to 42 percent.
At the same time, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff’s strategy has changed from trying to bring down the current government to accusing the Conservatives of a partisan-bias when allocating economic stimulus funds.
Canadian voters have grown weary of repeated elections in recent years, with 54 percent of respondents indicating they would blame the Liberals and Ignatieff if a fall election is held. Fifty-one percent of respondents would be motivated to vote against the party solely for that reason.
President Tabaré Vázquez signed a bill earlier this month permitting couples in any legal union, including same-sex couples in civil unions, to adopt children, but the law continues to cause confusion according to local reports. Lawyers and judges have criticized the law for lacking specifics and granting the Uruguayan Institute for the Children and Adolescents (INAU) too much power in the new adoption procedures.
Uruguay’s Senate unanimously approved the adoption law on September 9, 2009, as English-language media highlighted the move as a triumph for gay rights in Latin America. The country has passed a number of progressive laws in the past year, including legislation allowing same-sex couples to enter into civil unions. On October 12, 2009, the Senate also approved a bill that legalizes sex changes for people older than age 18 and permits citizens to change their genders on official identification documents.
There are, however, limits to Uruguay’s progressive legislation. Referring to the new adoption law, Pérez Manrique, president of the Second Session of the Court of Appeal of Family Affairs said, “On the whole, there is a conservative attitude among the legislators in not finding the final solution to all of this: that is approving same-sex marriage.”
After the Civil Registry Office warned that allowing people to officially change their names and genders would enable same-sex couples to marry, the Senate included an amendment in the sex-change law that strictly prohibits same-sex marriage. In November 2008, President Vázquez went against his political party in vetoing a law that would have decriminalized abortion.
Senator José Mujica of the Broad Front coalition received 47.5 percent of the vote and ex-President Luis Alberto Lacalle finished with 28.5 percent of ballots in Uruguay’s presidential election on Sunday. The top two candidates, with neither securing at least 50 percent support, will face off in the second round of voting on November 29. Running a distant third, Colorado Party candidate Pedro Bordaberry received 17 percent of votes.
Mujica assured his supporters of a clean sweep saying, “We have more support than the other top two parties combined…How can we not be happy about the indisputable fact that we are headed to victory.” Lacalle issued a similar message: “We will be in control of the executive branch on November 29.”
Official reports set voter turnout at 90 percent of the country’s eligible 2.6 million voters. Mujica, 74, plans to continue many of the policies from the administration of President Vázquez while Lacalle, 68, who was president from 1990 to 1995, campaigned to remove Vázquez’ income tax and downsize the government.
Mujica was a leader of the Tupamaros, a guerilla group that opposed military rule, before being imprisoned for 15 years and eventually released in a 1985 amnesty. Since then, he has helped transform the group into a legitimate political movement. Lacalle is a former lawyer and part of the Uruguayan political elite who helped found the Mercosur trading bloc.
Last month, around a thousand peasants marched and blockaded the streets of Cuenca, Ecuador, and many more came out in protests throughout the Ecuadorian Amazon, calling for the cancellation of a new water law. If passed, the law would privatize water services, limit community and neighborhood water management, relax current measures on water contamination, and (to the great frustration of the activists) prioritize water access to private companies. The demonstrations also came in reaction to a new mining measure, which would allow two Canadian companies—Corriente Resources Inc. and Kinross Gold Corp.—to resume gold explorations in contested areas of the Amazon where indigenous communities live.
The situation has only worsened since the beginning of October, leading to violent raids by police. In the community of Macas, in the Southern Upano Valley, the attack left at least one confirmed dead and almost 50 injured. President Rafael Correa has accused the leading indigenous organization, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), of trying to destabilize his government with “lies.” He claims that the protesters were acting on behalf of the country's conservatives who would like to see Correa fail.
Showdowns between the people and the government over indigenous rights and natural resources are nothing new in the
It all started in 1999, when a partnership between the American multinational, Bechtel, and the Bolivian government—at the suggestion of the World Bank—signed a deal to improve water supplies to the city of Cochabamba. The move increased the cost of the service by 35 percent, to about $20 a month. (The average salary in
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega moved a step closer to running for another term this week when six justices of the constitutional branch of the Supreme Court deemed “unenforceable” a term-limit provision contained in Nicaragua's constitution. According to opposition leaders and legal experts, a 1995 amendment to the Nicaraguan constitution allows a maximum of two non-consecutive terms.
The ruling by the six justices, who are all affiliated with Ortega’s Sandanista party, requires formal approval by the full 16 judges of the court, but the head of the constitutional branch, Francisco Rosales, has said that the ruling will likely stand and the country's electoral court has indicated that it will also comply with the decision.
Many Latin American countries are dealing with the issue of presidential term limits. Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa have all sought constitutional changes that will allow them to continue running for reelection. The same was also true for deposed Honduran President Mel Zelaya, and may soon be true for leaders in Costa Rica and Colombia.
The U.S. reacted to the news yesterday by expressing concern over the irregular governmental actions in Nicaragua with State Department spokesman Ian Kelly commenting: "The ruling appears to short-circuit, through legal maneuverings, the open and transparent consideration by the Nicaraguan people of the possibility for presidential re-election."
Desde Buenos Aires estamos viviendo con mucha intensidad los procesos electorales de nuestros vecinos. Hace un tiempo, escribí sobre algo de lo que está pasando en Chile. Ahora es el turno de Uruguay, aunque debo confesar que no me produce el mismo grado de entusiasmo. A diferencia de lo que ocurre en Chile, donde los personajes de siempre se enfrentan a opciones más novedosas, en Uruguay encontramos viejos conocidos como principales candidatos.
Este domingo (25 de octubre), Uruguay tendrá sus elecciones para definir quién reemplazará al Presidente Tabaré Vázquez. La coalición de gobierno, el Frente Amplio, lleva como candidato al viejo dirigente tupamaro José Mujica, quien seguramente recibirá la mayor cantidad de votos. El candidato del Partido Nacional, el ex-Presidente Luís Lacalle, muy crítico del gobierno del Presidente Vázquez, será el que ocupe el segundo lugar. En un tercer lugar, probablemente sin chances, llegará el candidato del Partido Colorado, Pedro Bordaberry.
El Presidente Vázquez fue un gobernante exitoso que supo administrar y liderar una coalición compleja. El ha despertado entusiasmo dentro y fuera de Uruguay porque fue un presidente moderno, que aprovechó la coyuntura local e internacional con pragmatismo y prudencia. Su figura representó el cambio y su gobierno será recordado incluso por acciones innovadoras que son ejemplos para el mundo como el Plan Ceibal. ¿Pero qué pasará después?
CNN premiered its much-hyped “Latino in America” special with Soledad O’Brien last night without allowing an anti-Lou Dobbs ad to air, as protests took place outside the network’s offices around the country. The four-hour “Latino in America” documentary discusses migration, but does not mention the network's Lou Dobbs Show—a nightly program that frequently takes a hard line against immigrants, advocating for strong border enforcement and severe punishment for undocumented immigrants.
Media Matters and America's Voice reportedly attempted to purchase ad space during the documentary, but were turned down. The ad accused CNN of airing "60 minutes of anti-immigrant hate” during Dobbs' show.
With the movement calling for CNN to terminate Dobbs gaining strength, the controversial talking head reportedly invited one of his most vocal critics, Roberto Lovato of New American Media, on the show. In four weeks, Lovato gathered more than 50,000 signatures for a petition urging CNN president Joe Klein to let go of Dobbs. The petition as well as anti-Dobbs events held this week to coincide with “Latino in America” can be found on bastadobbs.com, a website organized by presente.org and regional partners. Another website, dropdobbs.com, was launched in September with the support of organizations like the National Council de la Raza, Voto Latino and the Southern Poverty Law Center. It compiles press coverage of the anti-Dobbs forum along with reader comments and offers bloggers a “Drop Dobbs” badge to embed in their websites.
As Dobbs becomes an increasingly hot topic in the blogosphere, some websites have aired rumors that Dobbs is considering a move to Fox Business.
From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Honduran Talks Stall over Decision on Zelaya’s Future
Negotiations aimed at resolving the ongoing Honduran political impasse came to a standstill again this week. The main point of contention continues to be whether deposed leader Manuel Zelaya should be allowed to return to office. “Last week, Honduras’s World Cup qualification left the country glowing with optimism. Now, irrepressible hope and joy have again given way to a grimmer reality: political negotiations have hit a wall,” blogs Tegucigalpa-based Daniel Altschuler for Americas Quarterly, who writes about the proposals being passed back and forth between Zelaya and the interim government.
Read an AS/COA analysis on the halting steps made in the Honduran negotiations.
Protest and Media Restrictions Eased in Honduras
The Honduran interim government officially eased restrictions on protests and the opposition media earlier this week. A decree was passed after a pro-Zelaya protest in September to suspend five articles of the Honduran constitution, authorizing the closing of any media outlet deemed to disturb the peace. De facto leader Roberto Micheletti took action to repeal the decree earlier this month, but the measure did not take effect until yesterday. Coincidentally, the decree was lifted the day after the United Nations sent an OAS delegation to Honduras to begin a three-week human rights investigation.
The city of Puebla in Central Mexico launched a pilot program yesterday that includes a fleet of 35 taxis designed for women who want to avoid harassment by male taxi drivers. The pink-colored Chevrolet taxis come equipped with beauty kits, GPS systems, and alarm systems in the event of an emergency. The drivers are exclusively female and stop only to pick up women and children.
“Some of the women who have been on board recall how male taxi drivers cross the line…In the Pink Taxi they won’t have that feeling of insecurity,” said taxi driver Aida Santos . In a profession typically dominated by males, the venture is also a new source of employment for females,.
Pink Taxi de Puebla, a privately financed company, invested 5.8 million pesos ($440,000) in the project, and the state government trains and licenses the drivers.
This isn’t another confirm Tom Shannon as Ambassador to Brazil or confirm Arturo Valenzuela as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs essay—though I support both of those positions, and understand that things may be moving. This is an expression of wonder at the inability of the U.S. government to walk and chew gum at the same time when it comes to Latin America policy.
Let me be clear. I’m not one of those persistent whiners who always complain about the lack of attention paid to Latin America. The last administration of George W. Bush paid plenty of attention to the region, traveling there more frequently and receiving more Latin American heads of state in the White House than any past president, and launching a series of serious initiatives for the region: the free trade agreements with Peru, Panama and Colombia, the Merida Initiative with Mexico, and a series of genuinely exciting efforts with Brazil, Uruguay and Chile—starting with, but not limited to, trade.
Sad thing is, despite a time during the campaign when it seemed that all a potential President Obama needed to do was show up to be more effective, his administration is at real risk of losing the gains of the last eight years.
I never thought I’d say that.
Last week, Honduras’s World Cup qualification left the country glowing with optimism. Now, irrepressible hope and joy have again given way to a grimmer reality: political negotiations have hit a wall.
After finding agreement on the first seven of eight points on the agenda, the Guaymuras Dialogue negotiators have reached a predictable impasse on the most contentious point: Manuel Zelaya’s restitution. Since Friday, the two teams have been sending proposals and counter-proposals back and forth. Zelaya’s side has called for the Congress as adjudicator, while Roberto Micheletti’s side has insisted that the Supreme Court settle the issue. Now, the Micheletti negotiators have proposed getting reports from both branches of government before settling the issue, which Zelaya’s team has rejected.
Zelaya’s negotiators have now accused the other side of obstructionism, and they’re right. On first glance, it seems reasonable to ask the Supreme Court to settle a clearly constitutional issue. But, as Victor Meza expressed, the judiciary has already offered its judgment—since the coup, the Supreme Court has sided with the “constitutional succession” version of the story, supported Micheletti’s government, and roundly condemned Zelaya at every turn. Thus, appealing to the Supreme Court as the ultimate arbiter at this point would be akin to double jeopardy—with the same case and the same jury, could anyone really expect a different result?
Interestingly, it’s not clear that Zelaya’s proposal would get him the result he wants. Since the coup, the Congress has also consistently sided with Micheletti. In addition, leading members of Congress have suggested that they would have to defer to the Supreme Court on constitutional issues. So a favorable finding for Zelaya—who has already given up the possibility of amnesty—is no foregone conclusion. That said, Zelaya seems to be banking on congressional representatives’ greater stake in internationally recognized elections, even if it means accepting Zelaya’s brief return to power.
Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay are working toward a proposal that, by 2020, would completely eliminate deforestation of the Atlantic forest basin. After centuries of agricultural development 93 percent of the forest, which originally covered over 193,000 square miles, has been destroyed. The negotiations follow comments earlier this month from Luiz Alberto Figueiredo Machado, Brazil’s lead climate negotiator, that his country intends to dramatically reduce deforestation in the Amazon rain forest within the same timeframe.
Discussions in Latin America on climate change have blossomed in recent months, in preparation for December’s UN climate change conference in Copenhagen. Rodney Taylor of the World Wildlife Federation has said that a “zero deforestation” goal would require the establishment of strict limits on logging in protected areas, government support for environmentally responsible companies and efforts to educate communities throughout the region.
Despite emitting significantly less carbon than China and the United States, countries like Brazil are major contributors to global warming through deforestation. In nature, trees act as sinks, absorbing carbon and turning it into oxygen. What’s more, when certain trees are cut down, major new emissions are released. Thus, the clearing of forests not only undermines carbon absorption, but also creates new emissions. The clearing of trees is responsible for an estimated 20 percent of global carbon emissions. This has led climate change activists to back plans based on the concept of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation—known by their acronym REDD. Such proposals would cut emissions of carbon dioxide gas in Brazil alone by 4.8 billion tons annually.
Read more on the environment in the most recent issue of Americas Quarterly.
President Barack Obama appeared in New Orleans last week for his first visit since taking office in January. For locals, it was an event that spoke to both the hope and frustration that are inextricably linked to life in the city since Hurricane Katrina.
Obama’s four-hour visit, in which he toured a charter school in the city's devastated Lower 9th Ward and later spoke across town in another heavily damaged section of the city at the University of New Orleans, was both highly anticipated and heavily criticized.
New Orleanians overwhelmingly support a president who says the right thing when it comes to the city, even though he has yet to stray markedly from his predecessor in terms of making New Orleans' priorities national ones.
Others have shown consternation at the timing of the president's visit, wondering why it took him so long to touch down in the city and why, when he finally did, the visit was so brief. Many thought he should have been here on August 29 to commemorate the fourth anniversary of Katrina.
That said, this is a city that revels in a chance at the spotlight, an opportunity to tell its story. Most were excited by the president's visit and the prospect of winning the national media's focus for the day. Those hopes were largely dashed, however, by the saga of a six-year-old Colorado boy thought to have floated away in a balloon and, later, by reports of a Louisiana justice of the peace had denied an interracial couple a marriage license on the grounds that children of such couples face societal scorn.
President Tabaré Vázquez came one step closer to his goal of Uruguay becoming “one of the hemisphere’s information technology leaders” when he personally delivered a laptop to the last Uruguayan student in a state-run primary school without one. Last week, as part of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative, Uruguay joined Niue, a country in the South Pacific, in distributing laptops to every child.
In Americas Quarterly, President Vázquez wrote: “Our children must have the opportunity to compete and succeed in the IT-based economies of the new century." Miguel Brechner, director of the Technological Laboratory of Uruguay and head of Plan Ceibal (the program in charge with distributing laptops) emphasized this point: "This is not simply the handing out of laptops or an education program. It is a program which seeks to reduce the gap between the digital world and the world of knowledge."
Other countries, such as Rwanda, El Salvador and Haiti have been in contact with Uruguay about implementing the initiative. For its part, Uruguay is considering expanding the program to children in kindergarten and in secondary schools.
At a Project Syndicate climate change meeting this week, billionaire George Soros announced a $1 billion investment in clean-energy technologies and the establishment of the Climate Policy Initiative. This new organization, which Soros will donate $100 million over the next 10 years, will advise and develop climate change policy in the U.S., Brazil, China, and Europe.
The Soros announcement comes in the same week that Americas Quarterly published its new issue on the environment. In it, five experts, when asked how to best protect the environment, addressed the need for greater public knowledge of environmental policies.
Increased public understanding of the consequences of a lack of action are critical for moving forward climate change legislation in the United States and to a global consensus when countries meet in Copenhagen in December. But the prospects for significant action on climate change this year are appearing to be fading. Pre-Copenhagen talks in Bangkok, Thailand, wrapped up without much consensus and only one more round of talks (in Barcelona, Spain) are scheduled before December’s gathering.
Honduras' soccer win in San Salvador on October 14, guaranteeing a World Cup berth for the Catrachos in South Africa in 2010, has potentially muddled negotiations to resolve the political crisis that erupted on June 28. As I noted in this space last week and also in Sports Illustrated, the prospect of a Honduran berth in the World Cup would provide the de facto government with the opportunity to use the result to rally the population around the flag, potentially providing an excuse to remain intransigent in the face of immense international pressure.
Indeed, with the declaration of yesterday as a national holiday, that is exactly what the Micheletti government did. But wait, it gets even more cynical, because just as the determining game was getting underway in San Salvador, a Micheletti spokesman was walking away from an apparent agreement in principal that had been struck by the opposing parties earlier in the day to resolve the crisis. The calculation now appears to be that the Honduran win will buy additional time for the de facto government in its efforts to keep the deposed president Zelaya holed up in the Brazilian Embassy.
Micheletti’s gambit is only the latest example of a well-worn path in Latin America of attempting to transfer good feelings resulting from international sporting victories to support the government in power. One need only think of the World Cup in Argentina in 1978, for example. More broadly, former Eastern Bloc nations routinely used sport to promote the legitimacy and superiority of their systems internationally, and Cuba continues to do so to this day, though with less overt success. It may be cynical and heavy-handed, but it apparently still works.
Howie Mandel wasn’t there, but he may as well have been as yesterday the small group of dedicated Latin Americanists waited to hear if the negotiations had been successful in resolving the crisis in Honduras. The morning opened up with news that the negotiators were optimistic and that they were 90 percent there. Then came the news from the Commander of the Army, General Romeo Vásquez, that a deal to resolve the impasse was close at hand. Then the news! A deal had been struck. Then the downer. No deal, said de facto President Roberto Micheletti.
In the statement he warned the national and international media “to be cautious in their reporting about the negotiations as they have a responsibility not to interfere with the dialogue.” Before that, Micheletti clearly left his options open: “Today, the negotiating teams began discussing the most difficult issue in the negotiations—the possible reinstatement or not of former President Zelaya within the rule of law and in line with our Constitution.” (Which by the way was broken when the military sent him packing out of the country on June 28, but I guess that doesn’t matter.)
We probably all should have taken the optimism with a grain of salt. In large part because by their own admission the negotiators were saying that they had resolved everything except the status of ousted President Manuel Zelaya. Saying that you’re 90 percent there but having not resolved the critical and most polarizing issue of the crisis is akin to saying you’ve solved global warming except that messiness about countries controlling carbon emissions. You can’t get a resolution without it, and yet it’s the major sticking point.
For months, the Senate has unnecessarily held up President Obama’s appointments for the U.S. ambassador to Brazil and the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. These actions have prevented the administration from assembling its Latin America team and have held hemispheric policy hostage to a few, lone voices.
We are stuck in gear. But if some conservative Republicans get their way, we risk being thrown into reverse, back to the Cold War. This time instead of communism, it’s through the prism of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
A more conspicuous and tangible evidence of the Cold War revival has been the recent campaign by some conservative Republicans against the nomination of Tom Shannon as ambassador to Brazil. This is the same Tom Shannon who was appointed and served as assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs under George W. Bush.
The closed-door briefings and talking points that circulated in Congress are narrow and hollow criticisms of the United States’ Latin America policy over the last four years and are specifically tailored against Shannon.
Because the talking points are dangerous without context, I want to share them in full as they arrived to me. A major part of their context is this underlying partisan intent:
“In Honduras, Shannon remained silent as Manuel Zelaya attempted to subvert democratic institutions and the Honduran Constitution. But as the Congress and Supreme Court worked to remove Zelaya legally from office, the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa and Shannon worked diligently to dissuade the Honduran Congress and protect Zelaya (3 July Washington Post, columnist Carlos Alberto Montaner).”
“In Venezuela, Mr. Shannon constantly promoted narcotics cooperation with Chávez despite evidence—and objections from other U.S. agencies—that the Venezuelan government itself was facilitating narcotics trafficking. Mr. Shannon also denied support to Venezuela's civil society and sat by as Chavez dismantled the country's democratic institutions. Today, the Mayor of Caracas still cannot get into his office to perform his duties. In all this, Mr. Shannon’s rationale for shunning Venezuela's civil society has been that the U.S. and Venezuela have a strategic relationship based primarily on energy.”
Minor miracles can happen, after all. After beating El Salvador, Honduras qualified for the World Cup when the United States scored a goal to tie Costa Rica in the final minute. In seconds, Hondurans’ emotions flipped 180 degrees—from exasperation at thinking they had come up just short to jubilation at qualifying for the World Cup for the first time in 28 years. From coffee country to the Caribbean coast, Hondurans celebrated with fireworks, flags, honking cars, and screams of joy.
As one announcer remarked, one can only hope that the country’s political leaders follow the national team’s cue and make this a great week for Honduras. And, against the odds, a political resolution may be on its way. In recent days, the Guaymuras Dialogue has brought relative calm to the political crisis. Progress has remained frustratingly slow, but each team seems to have brought a welcome dose of maturity to the negotiating table. The focus on the negotiators—none of them show-stealers—has provided a refreshing change-of-pace from Micheletti and Zelaya’s tired rants and reckless stunts.
On Wednesday afternoon, the negotiators temporarily withdrew to consult with Zelaya and Micheletti. Victor Meza, one of Zelaya’s three negotiators, claimed that negotiators had reached a provisional agreement on the final point of contention—Zelaya’s possible restitution—and simply had to get final approval from Zelaya and Micheletti. Meanwhile, Micheletti’s negotiators said they had completed 90 percent of the agenda and would likely conclude matters by the week’s end, but denied that they had reached such an agreement.
Now, rumors are swirling. Some say that all that remains is for negotiators to agree on the date of Zelaya’s return. Others say that both sides have agreed to renounce the presidency and hand over power to a third party. Declarations and denials abound; the truth remains elusive.
The climate bill sponsored by U.S. Senator John F. Kerry (D-MA) gained unexpected Republican support this week. Co-authoring an op-ed in the New York Times with Kerry, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) expressed his support for the legislation. The Clean Energy Jobs and Power Act (S. 1733) calls for the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent (from 2005 levels) by 2020.
Released today, Senator Kerry, in the Fall issue of Americas Quarterly, praises several Latin American countries for progress on environmental protection and calls for the United States to help the region become a leader in combating climate change. Such hemispheric cooperation could help to make good on promises for a new, improved U.S.-Latin America relationship as well as serve as a global model going into December’s Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.
With health care discussions underway, it is uncertain as to whether a climate change bill will pass Congress prior to the Copenhagen meeting.
Supporters celebrated the group’s launch, which coincides with Hispanic National Heritage Month, as a landmark event that testifies to the recognition of the Latino community for its cultural and historical accomplishments. U.S. Representative Xavier Becerra (CA), who sponsored the House of Representatives bill in 2003 that initiated the commission, hopes the museum will encourage reform in
"This could never have happened 20 years ago. We're proud. We're going to create a legacy that will last forever," said Estefan, the husband of fellow Academy Award winner Gloria Estefan, who President Obama appointed to the commission last month.
Lead organizers predict that the museum, which may be located on the National Mall, will open its doors in 10 years. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asked the congressionally-created commission to report back to lawmakers within a year about its progress.
Tonight Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism will host the 71st annual Maria Moors Cabot Prize for outstanding reporting on Latin America and the Caribbean. New York Times veteran Anthony DePalma, O Globo columnist Merval Pereira and Christopher Hawley, Latin America correspondent for USA Today and The Arizona Republic will be present to collect their awards, which include a $5,000 honorarium. However Cuban blogger and dissident Yoani Sánchez, who was awarded a special mention from the awards committee won’t be there. Sánchez confirmed on Monday that Cuban authorities denied her request to travel to New York to accept the prize.
The Generación Y author has won international accolades for the blog she founded in 2007. In 2008 she won Spain’s prestigious Ortega y Gasset prize for digital journalism; later that year Time distinguished her as one of the year’s 100 most influential people. Her blog is translated into 15 languages and receives over 1 million visitors per month.
She is the first blogger to receive recognition from the Cabot Prize Board, which describes her writing as "...a pitch-perfect mix of personal observation and tough analysis which conveys better than anybody else what daily life ― with all its frustrations and hopes ― is like for Cubans living their lives on the island today.”
Ms. Sánchez describes her frustration at not being allowed to leave Cuba to accept the award more eloquently than anyone else could:
“All these difficulties to get permission to leave evoke for me the words of …Carlos Aldana. In an interview in 1991 for the Spanish magazine Cambio 16, the former number three in power in Cuba said: 'This year Cubans will be able to travel abroad freely.' Only it didn’t specify if we were going to do it on the wings of our imaginations and if it would be in a year containing twelve months or nearly two decades.”
Over the weekend, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner signed a government-backed bill into law that restricts the number of media outlets companies can own in a single market. The law also requires 70 percent of radio and 60 percent of television content to be produced in Argentina. It further directs cable television companies to carry channels operated by nongovernmental organizations, universities and indigenous groups and calls for select companies to sell some of their media assets within a year.
Critics say the law will give the government too much control over the press. The Vienna-based International Press Institute said the law will damage press freedom in Argentina and is specifically concerned about the power the government now has to grant licenses to radio and television stations. On Sunday, the country’s largest media company, Grupo Clarin, said it plans to challenge the law in court. Clarin’s media outlets are widely considered to be critical of the president, who in campaigning for the bill said Clarin held 73 percent of Argentina’s cable, telephone and cable licenses.
Supporters, on the other hand, celebrated the reversal of a dictatorship-era (1976–1983) law that allowed for media monopolies.
Hondurans had high hopes for two things last week: qualifying for the World Cup and settling the political crisis. Unfortunately for the catrachos (Hondurans), they came up short in both. And the country’s two failures mirrored one another.
High hopes dominated
First, high expectations. Last week, the mainstream press (which supports Roberto Micheletti) and the country’s politicians made the end of the political crisis appear all but guaranteed. Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue—this became the welcome mantra after weeks of violence. But, as in soccer, political expectations can mask reality.
President Leonel Fernández of the Dominican Republic and President René Préval of Haiti agreed on Thursday to work together to eliminate mosquito-transmitted diseases on the island. The deal was struck under the auspices of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. The 10-year, $200 million program is focused on the eradication of malaria and filariasis.
The Dominican Republic and Haiti are the only Caribbean countries still affected by malaria. According to authorities from both countries, 33,000 malaria cases with 200 deaths were reported in 2007; 90 percent of the cases were on the Haitian side of the border.
A pilot project run by the Carter Center began in 2008 with a $200,000 investment in the border towns Dajabon, Dominican Republic, and Ouanaminthe, Haiti. Hopes are high for the program’s success, with only minimal resistance by a few government officials—a good sign considering the lack of political will in the past.
Repeated emphasis has been made on the need for binational cooperation. Malaria is a threat to both economies as well as to their tourism.
Don’t adjust your set. Just when things were settling down on the Canadian election front, things are heating up again...
Under Michael Ignatieff’s leadership, the Liberal Party of Canada seems more determined than ever to defeat Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s minority Conservative government.
Three weeks ago, Harper survived a Liberal ways and means motion in the House of Commons with the pro-independence, Québec-based Bloc Québécois and the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) as unlikely allies.
The vote not only kept the Conservatives in power but it also saved the Liberals from a likely bad showing at the polls. Undaunted, they signalled last week that they would try again to topple the Conservatives, saying the government doesn’t have the confidence of the House. But a non-confidence motion introduced in the House of Commons last week failed to win enough support.
But the trump card is in NDP Leader Jack Layton’s hands. After repeatedly calling for an election to shake out the Conservatives and after opposing their every move, Layton indicated that his party will support the government—at least until a more generous benefits package for the unemployed is passed into law.
Ecuador’s President, Rafael Correa, along with 20 ministers and government officials traveled to Caracas on Wednesday for discussions with the government of President Hugo Chávez—one of three annual meetings between the two Andean countries. The leaders pledged to achieve a “political, social and economic union.”
In 10 new bilateral agreements, Venezuela and Ecuador promised further cooperation in sectors including mining, tourism, infrastructure, educational exchange, and military technology.
The leaders also reviewed existing energy agreements. Petroecuador extracts oil from Venezuela’s Faja del Orinoco reserve while Petróleos de Venezuela has an exploratory well in Ecuador’s Guayaquil Bay. Venezuela and Ecuador, the only two Latin American countries in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, will begin joint construction of an oil refinery near Aromo, Ecuador, in 2010.
President Correa also took the opportunity to respond to critics of his decision in late September to accept the donation of six Mirage combat planes from Venezuela.
Exactly 30 years ago (1979) the late Jeanne Kirkpatrick wrote a famous, though controversial, article in Commentary that for a group of conservative foreign-policy analysts guided policy toward Latin America during the administration of President Ronald Reagan. The basic thesis of the argument was that as autocratic regimes differed, so should U.S. policy toward them. On the one hand were totalitarian regimes, more encompassing in their control over society and the state and thus more oppressive and durable. On the other were traditional authoritarian regimes, less complete in their domination over politics and society, less suffocating, more temporary. (Not coincidentally the former were also often of the Left and opposed to U.S. interests; the latter often more rightwing and shared the U.S.’s anti-communist orientation.) The implication was that the U.S. should weigh human rights abuses differently under these two different dictatorial systems.
Today we’re seeing a similar cognitive and moral dissonance over Latin American democracy in the rhetoric around Venezuela and Honduras. This time, though, it comes from both the Left and the Right. Commentators, activists and writers are holding democracies to double standards based on their ideological orientation. The assumption for each is that a human rights abuse under one government is worse than under another. They aren’t. They’re the same.
The victims of this repolarization or return to Cold War discourse are the basic liberties and principles of democracy. If this continues the basic consensus that has undergirded our policy toward the hemisphere from the administration of President George H.W. Bush until the end of the administration of President Bill Clinton may soon join the dustbin of history.
This can be seen no more clearly than in the arguments marshaled to defend the shuttering of the freedom of expression in Venezuela and more recently in Honduras. In both cases, supporters of the respective governments cite the political and ideological biases of the targeted media—in the case of Venezuela a TV station and in the case of Honduras a radio station—to defend the governments’ illiberal actions. In neither case, as despicable as the positions of the stations may have been (and I’m not judging here) were the actions taken by the governments defensible.
This Saturday the eyes of much of the hemisphere will be on
In soccer terms, the game is important because a victory by the
A valid case can be made that the game should be played at a Central American venue outside Honduras (or even in the United States: to be honest, the last time Honduras played in the United States it was a virtual home game for los catrachos given the number of national supporters in the stands). Be that as it may, the key now will first and foremost be to ensure the safety of the players and spectators. It will also be to ensure that the excitement surrounding the game remains self-contained. As the brief "soccer war" between Honduras and El Salvador showed in 1969 (also in a World Cup qualifier prior to the 1970 World Cup finals held in Mexico City), soccer games have the potential to ignite passions that simmer over other issues, causing an eruption of popular emotion that could potentially get out of control if not adequately contained. Anyone seeking to stir things up in Honduras—from within or without—might-well attempt to use the passions surrounding the game as a way to provoke an over-reaction by the security forces, which will quickly be condemned by the international community and give the de facto Micheletti government yet another black eye while deepening the crisis further.
The political crisis has brought out the worst of Honduras. The media has already documented many of the country’s ills since June: the reliance on the military to address internal political problems and the sharp polarization with Cold War echoes as well as political violence, repression and censorship. One nasty phenomenon, however, has slipped under the radar: the frightening nationalist sentiment, xenophobia and racism that have been on display since June 28—the day of the coup. Hondurans on both sides of this crisis have continually failed to recognize that substantial domestic support exists for both Manuel Zelaya and Roberto Micheletti, and that these domestic forces are willing and able to mobilize themselves. They have proceeded by first defining “us”—the true Hondurans who “love their country”—and then using racial and national markers to identify a blameworthy “them.”
Since the coup, Hondurans have been crying for leadership from “people who really love their country.” Honduran politicians, media pundits and radio-show callers have repeated this banal phrase ad nauseum. They suggest that “true” Hondurans would never have gotten into this mess and that love of country is sufficient to ward off political crisis. That both Micheletti and Zelaya supporters utter this phrase reveals the patent absurdity of such arguments. People with widely divergent interests can all profess to “love their country.” Democratic politics is about aggregating and balancing interests and developing representative institutions to mediate these interests and protect citizens’ rights; it is not about who can be the loudest cheerleader for the nation.
Unfortunately, these “love of country” statements are not simply vacuous. In addition to being unhelpful, nationalist rhetoric since June 28 has gone hand-in-hand with troubling expressions of xenophobia and racism.
Xenophobia has plagued the rhetoric of both the Micheletti and the Zelaya camps. On Micheletti’s side, condemnation of outside influences and a rejection of multilateralism has become commonplace after the international community’s condemnation of the coup. This is bad news, but it’s not quite xenophobia. Instead, xenophobia has reared its ugly head in the continuous references to “outside agitators”— Cubans, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans, and Colombians (from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC)—stirring up the Zelaya supporters. The Honduran Right claims that their country has been infiltrated by Leftist, Communist and Marxist (any Cold War adjective will do, actually) rabble-rousers from all of these nations.
These phantom foreigners have taken the blame for organizing violence and funding insurrection. Some even blame them for the wave of pro-Zelaya graffiti that’s gone up throughout Tegucigalpa. As one Micheletti supporter told me, “Hondurans have never put up graffiti like this. It’s being done by people from those other countries.” Meanwhile, first-hand experience at pro-Zelaya protests reveals that it’s primarily adolescent Hondurans putting up the graffiti.
Perhaps the nastiest case of such “othering” came when the de facto government stripped Catholic priest Father Andrés Tamayo of his citizenship. Tamayo, a naturalized Honduran citizen born in El Salvador, has been an outspoken Zelaya supporter while the historically conservative church sided with Micheletti. The response from the Right: he’s Salvadoran, he’s not one of us.
The contempt for certain sectors of the Latin American Left has both long-term and short-term causes. Historically, Hondurans have always been relatively conservative for the region—the two dominant parties have been right-of-center, and leftist ideology never really took hold here. Widespread distrust remains for the leftist politics of other Latin American countries. The Right’s reaction to Zelaya’s alliance with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and the other Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) countries brought this into relief.
People may be right to condemn Chávez’ influence in Honduras and his bellicose rhetoric over these past few months. But this condemnation has fed a bilious blame game, where “true Hondurans” respect the government, while “foreign meddlers” sow instability. Those who use this language deny that Zelaya has substantial support in Honduras; instead of trying to understand and communicate with those on the other side, they simply deny their existence and blame it on foreigners.
Zelaya’s supporters are equally guilty of xenophobia and racism, though with different targets. Their first targets are Honduran Arabs, whom they identify as a crucial part of the Honduran “oligarchy,” owning major businesses and pro-Micheletti media outlets. Merchants of Arab origin have long occupied a place in Honduras; ironically, in the early- and mid-twentieth century they played a critical role in challenging the dominance of the United Fruit Company and even supporting labor organizing. As Dario Euraque’s work has shown, this sector was critical in opposing caudillo rule and modernizing the brutal enclave economy, even if these businessmen were primarily driven by self-interest to improve conditions for capital. But few people here remember (or ever knew) this part of the country’s history. Instead, Zelaya supporters have taken to blanket condemnations of the Arabs that, as the argument goes, control this country’s economy and polity. Never mind that these people are Honduran citizens whose families have been in Honduras for generations; their last names mark them as enemies of the nation.
Ironically, Zelaya supporters have unleashed equally vigorous rhetorical attacks against Israelis and Jews. This was initially motivated by Israel’s recognition of the Micheletti government (the only other country to do so was Taiwan). Things turned ugly, however, when Zelaya and his supporters started blaming Israeli commandos for chemical attacks on the Brazilian embassy. And they reached their apogee when a pro-Zelaya commentator, David Romero, shamefully denounced Israelis and Jews as “people who damage the country” and wondered aloud why the world had not “allowed Hitler to complete his historic mission.”
The U.S. ambassador, Hugo Llorens, issued a public condemnation of this unconscionable diatribe, but no one has taken on the deeper issue: the ease with which Hondurans have reached for both foreigners and domestic “others” as the cause of the crisis. The Latin American Public Opinion Project recently noted the low levels of political tolerance—namely, the low respect for the rights of those with unpopular or contrary views—among Honduran citizens. In the last few months, however, Hondurans have displayed a different type of intolerance—this time for those of different nationalities, faiths and skin colors. This second type of intolerance is always deplorable, but in this crisis it has also had the unfortunate effect of displacing blame and curtailing honest debate about the causes of this crisis and the sharp polarization within Honduran society.
As Honduras hopefully moves toward resolving this crisis, leaders on both sides should condemn the xenophobic rhetoric coming from within their ranks. Both sides must own up to the fact that substantial sectors of Honduran citizens—all of whom “love their country”—support both Zelaya and Micheletti. And when the dust settles, Honduras’ new leadership must also reflect on the roots of—and potential remedies for—the troubling xenophobic and racist sentiments that this crisis has brought to the fore.
*Daniel Altschuler is a contributing blogger to americasquarterly.org conducting research in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. He is a Rhodes Scholar and doctoral candidate in Politics at the University of Oxford, and his research focuses on civic and political participation in Honduras and Guatemala.
The initial public offering (IPO) today in the Brazilian unit of Spain’s Banco Santander raised $8.1 billion for its parent company—the world’s largest IPO this year. But shares in Santander (Brazil) fell 3.7 percent in its first day of trading due to concerns that the stock was overvalued.
“Santander is giving investors something they want, which is exposure to Brazil… there’s an element of Brazil being in fashion,” said Inigo Lecubarri of London’s Abaco Financials Fund.
With more than 2,000 branches already in Brazil, Santander plans to open 600 more branches by 2013 with some of the money raised. The IPO sale gives Santander’s Brazil division a market value equivalent to that of Deutsche Bank and Société Générale of France.
From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
OAS Sends Mission to Honduras
It’s been over two weeks since deposed Honduran leader Manuel Zelaya snuck back into his country and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy. Three months after his removal from power and with the clock ticking down to the November 29 presidential elections, a stalemate drags on between Zelaya and the de facto government headed by Roberto Micheletti. The Organization of American States (OAS) will give talks another try starting October 7, when a delegation arrives in Honduras. The OAS mission includes high-level officials from Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, Panama, Canada, Jamaica, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Brazil, the United States, and Spain. OAS Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza leads the delegation. The mission also includes Thomas Shannon, who continues to serve as U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs while awaiting his stalled confirmation to become U.S. ambassador to Brazil.
Read AS/COA analysis on the Honduran crisis, including coverage of related rifts in Washington.