No longer can policymakers ignore the grim reality of the level of violence in the seven countries that comprise the Central American isthmus. The situation today evoke comparisons of the homicide rates that many countries experienced at the height of their armed conflicts—a time of violence that all had hoped would remain in the past.
The numbers are staggering. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Central America’s homicide rate tops 33 murders per 100,000 people, making it the most violent area of not just Latin America, but also the world. In fact, the region’s homicide rate is more than four times the global average. The situation is particularly troubling when it comes to the region’s youth; 39 of every 100,000 young people age 15 to 24 years old will fall victim to murder each year.
Increasing international attention and assistance to the region is certainly a very welcome development. Last week, Central America's heads of state along with the presidents of Mexico and Colombia and other international observers decamped to Guatemala City for the International Conference in Support of the Central American Security Strategy organized by the Central American Integration System (SICA). In a region where divisions often bubble to the surface, the leaders’ resolve to jointly tackle insecurity was perhaps one of the conference’s biggest achievements.
The White House announced yesterday that a major hurdle had been cleared for bringing the free-trade agreements (FTAs) signed with Colombia, Panama and South Korea more than five years ago to Congress for a vote. This happened after the administration reached an agreement with House Republicans about Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA)—the program that helps American workers who have lost their jobs to overseas trade and increased competition return to work.
TAA was last in the spotlight in February of this year when amendments enacted in 2009 to expand the program expired. A vote to extend those changes was postponed in February because Republicans questioned the cost of the bill, arguing that the program would cost $620 million for the remainder of 2011 and $6.5 billion over the next 10 years. On the other hand, Democrats insist that trade agreements cannot be discussed before there is a decision on the benefits program. Last year $975,320,800 in federal funds was allocated to states under the TAA program, and 227,882 U.S. workers received TAA benefits and services.
A sign that the FTAs may be on their way to approval is the decision by Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Finance Committee, to hold a “mock” markup of the draft implementing bills of the three FTAs tomorrow. In addition to the FTAs and TAA, the session will cover the extension of the Generalized System of Preferences and Andean Trade Preference and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA). As the Finance Committee explained in a press release yesterday, “these programs lower costs for U.S. manufacturers importing from developing countries and give developing countries duty-free access to the U.S. market for certain products.”
Given that the FTAs were submitted under fast-track procedures—which at the time allowed former President George W. Bush to negotiate agreements that Congress could merely approve or disapprove—mock markups are the only opportunity legislators have to suggest amendments to the administration’s proposals.
Despite evidence demonstrating the positive economic impact the FTAs with Colombia and Panama would have on the U.S. economy, a difficult political environment has hindered their passage. Before TAA expired, debate over the FTAs was stalled on the basis of unionists’ rights in Colombia—a powerful argument at the time of the 2008 presidential elections.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s management of Canada’s foreign policy has been widely criticized in recent months—particularly after the embarrassing loss of its seat on the UN Security Council in October 2010. Yet, having recently secured a comfortable parliamentary majority in Canada’s May 2 elections, Mr. Harper and his Conservative Party colleagues appear poised to take a more assertive stance on global affairs.
The first substantial indicator of this departure from its foreign policy status-quo was Canada’s June 14 announcement that the Harper administration had formally decided to side with the Libyan rebel forces instead of the embattled Qadhafi government.
As part of an “enhanced engagement strategy,” Canada has chosen to recognize the National Transitional Council of Libya (NTC) as the “legitimate representative of the Libyan people going forward,” said newly appointed Foreign Minister John Baird in an announcement to the House of Commons. Baird also promised that he would meet NTC representatives in their stronghold city of Benghazi (a promise he fulfilled on Monday) and that Canada’s response against Colonel Muammar Qadhafi’s regime would be robust.
“After three months of energetic diplomatic, military and humanitarian engagement, the world’s resolve to protect the civilians of Libya against attacks and threats of attacks from the Qadhafi regime has not faded,” Baird continued in his address. “It is gaining momentum. But our work is far from over. And so we must look at doing more in terms of humanitarian aid. We must continue our military assault on Qadhafi’s command and control centers.”
Calling for a “full and impartial investigation,” Baird also said he was disgusted by reports that the Libyan regime was using torture and sexual violence against the Libyan population.
Mr. Baird’s nomination to lead the foreign ministry came as a surprise when it was announced. Known as the “pit bull” of Parliament due to his scrappy and aggressive tone, Baird replaced then-Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon, who was defeated in the Conservative Party’s parliamentary sweep in May. Thus far, Baird has been deft in addressing difficult questions during the daily question-and-answer sessions in Parliament and appears to be sticking to his promise to “fight hard for what I believe in.”
Canada’s recognition of the NTC certainly reflects Baird’s position, as has his endorsement of a 90-day extension of Canada’s participation in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)-led military campaign in Libya. And Parliament appears to agree with the Harper administration position—with the only dissenting voice coming from Member of Parliament Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party.
With Canadian forces retreating from Afghanistan in July, the Libyan conflict now tops Canada’s foreign affairs agenda. Last year’s humiliating defeat at the United Nations Security Council was a blow to Canada’s international standing. It now seems Harper is taking steps to turn things around.
*Huguette Young is an AQ Online contributing blogger based in Ottawa, Canada.
The U.S. Department of State yesterday released its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, which evaluates states’ actions to combat human trafficking around the world. The 2011 report shows an increase over 2010 in the number of countries that fail to take adequate steps to prevent human trafficking. In Latin America, Venezuela joined Cuba on a list of Tier 3 violators—a status given to countries that do not make sufficient efforts to address the problem.
Of 13 states cited for insufficient action in last year’s report, the Dominican Republic is the only country to be reclassified due to progress. In April, 2011 Dominican President Leonel Fernandez met with leaders of the U.S. armed services’ Southern Command to develop a plan for an Antinarcotics War Coordination Center—to be headquartered in the Dominican Republic—which will also combat human trafficking in the Caribbean.
The report also honors ten individuals for their extraordinary efforts in the fight against human trafficking. Two TIP Report “Heroes” hailed from Latin America: Leonel Dubon, founder of El Refugio de la Niñez (Children’s Refuge House), a Guatemalan NGO that provides shelter to underage sex-trafficking victims and human trafficking specialist Dilcya Garcia, a former deputy prosecutor in Mexico City’s Attorney General Office.
The TIP Report was first published in 2001 following the passage in the United States of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000. Its classification system also includes Tier 2 countries, which do not currently meet TVPA standards but are making significant progress, and Tier 1 countries—like the U.S.—that are fully compliant with anti-human trafficking standards. Of the 184 countries evaluated in 2010, 23 were given the lowest, Tier 3, designation.
Three days after announcing her re-election bid, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (CFK) revealed the selection of Amado Boudou, the current economy minister, as her running mate in the October 23 election. Boudou, 47, is one of the cabinet’s most charismatic members and observers believe that his age will help court young voters.
Boudou is also popular among the electorate for his accomplishments in public office. Prior to his current post, he was in charge of Argentina’s pension funds. During this period—the nadir of the global recession—Boudou was instrumental in advocating for the nationalization of privatized pension funds. He remains adamant that Argentina’s inflation rate, hovering near 25 percent, is not an issue—instead pointing to the economy’s growth rate of 9.1 percent during the first four months of 2011.
The selection of Boudou was welcomed by kirchneristas as he belongs to CFK’s Peronist Frente para la Victoria (Front for Victory—FPV)—unlike incumbent Vice President Julio Cobos, who belongs to the opposition Unión Cívica Radical (Radical Civic Union—UCR). CFK and Cobos have frequently clashed and barely speak to each other.
In a poll taken last week, CFK led the field of candidates with 47 percent support. If a candidate receives at least 45 percent of the vote in October, s/he wins the presidency and a runoff is avoided.
Last week, about 2,500 people—spanning all genders and ages—participated in La Marcha de las Putas (Slutwalk) along Mexico City’s Paseo de la Reforma to demonstrate against sexual harassment and violence.
One of the protestors, Adela Muñiz, stood in the middle of the promenade dressed in a short skirt, high heels and a red blouse. Muñiz was holding a wooden cross with slogans in Spanish such as “Enough,” “No more aggressions,” and “#Marchadelasputas”—the latter denoting the hashtag on Twitter. Other demonstrators were chanting “Ni putas, ni santas—sólo mujeres” (Not sluts nor saints—just women).
The wooden cross, according to Muñiz, symbolizes women’s victimhood of verbal and physical aggression, and how that aggression has led to many dead and missing women. Events like La Marcha de las Putas are intended to convey that these assault victims should never be blamed for any act of sexual violence.
“[The pejorative word] ‘whore’ is the pretext that sexual harassers use [to commit their crimes],” said Minerva Valenzuela, a cabaret actress and organizer of the Slutwalk. “We [women] got used to thinking that we are being harassed because it is our fault. We think for example: ‘It’s my fault, I shouldn’t have worn this skirt.’”
The first Slutwalk began in Toronto, Canada, after a police representative said that—in order to avoid victimization—women should refrain from dressing like “sluts.” Valenzuela heard about the Canadian demonstration from a friend, asked that friend to blog about the topic and looked into organizing a similar event in Mexico. After registering initial support through her network of friends, an open Facebook invitation that Valenzuela initiated soon ballooned to over 10,000 participants.
Haitian President Michel Martelly on Thursday announced that he intends to ratify the Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoption, which sets forth guidelines and procedures governing international adoptions and mandates that all adoptions be processed by government-recognized agencies.
The announcement was made after a summit in Port-au-Prince that brought together representatives from ten adoption-destination countries to discuss efforts to revamp Haiti’s adoption laws. Problems with Haiti’s adoption laws entered the international spotlight following numerous incidents in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, including one occasion in which a group of U.S. missionaries were accused of kidnapping 33 children from Haiti under the guise of adoption.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Guatemala yesterday for a meeting of regional leaders as part of an International Conference of Support for the Central American Security Strategy. Also attending are numerous heads of state from the region and other officials, such as Luis Alberto Moreno, president of the Inter-American Development Bank.
During an announcement earlier today, Secretary Clinton pledged U.S. support totaling $300 million (up 10 percent from 2010) to combat drug trafficking, crime and associated violence. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos—speaking from vast experience in dealing with insecurity issues—told his Central American counterparts, “Drug trafficking brought our country to its knees…But we stood back up.”
Clinton’s visit comes on the heels of President Obama’s March trip to El Salvador, during which he reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to stability in the region. Total cost estimates for regional security measures are estimated to be nearly $900 million but, as Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom said, “for us, it is the difference between life and death.”
It’s a common challenge in all of Latin America: run-down public school systems are insufficient, inadequate and outdated. Specifically in Mexico, negligence regarding education has widened the divide between the nation’s poorest and richest, leaving little hope for children graduating from public schools actually making a name for themselves and growing out of poverty. Mexico spends a larger portion of its GDP (about 5 percent) than countries like Uruguay, Chile and China, but it’s not about the amount of money spent. It’s the quality of education provided.
Unfortunately, the Ministry of Education (SEP) continues taking one step forward and two steps back in this regard, mainly hindered by its inability to negotiate with the ever-combatant teacher’s union (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación, or SNTE) which has become a mob of ramblers who’ve taken education hostage.
The most recent news regarding the eroding quality of our school system is an agreement reached by the SEP and SNTE on filling new teaching positions. This year the Ministry of Education and the SNTE (led by Elba Esther Gordillo) declared that candidates will be eligible to become teachers if they pass a meager 30 percent of questions on the Examen Nacional de Habilidades y Conocimientos Docentes (National Test on Teaching Skills and Knowledge).
Ironically students in Mexico need to get 70 percent or higher to pass each subject. This, however, does not seem to bother José García, a member of the Comisión Rectora de la Alianza por la Calidad de la Educación (Guiding Commission of the Alliance for the Quality of Education) of the SNTE, who blatantly defends the policies. “It’s the students who need to show they know to subject matter, not the teachers,” he says. Crazy as this may sound.
From 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.
Argentine President Announces Reelection Bid
Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced Tuesday she will run for reelection in October. Fernández, who has led Argentina since 2007, stated her decision was based on “a strong sense of political and personal responsibility.” Given her current high popularity, many analysts see her as well placed to win reelection.
Sec. Clinton Joins CentralAm Leaders at Guatemalan Security Summit
In a trip aimed at supporting Central American efforts to rein in drug cartels, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will head the U.S. delegation to Guatemala City for the Central American Integration System’s summit on security, kicking off June 22. Assistant Secretary of State for Hemispheric Affairs Arturo Valenzuela and Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield will also attend and will meet with seven regional presidents, including heads of state from Central America, Colombia, and Mexico. The United States has already pledged $200 million to support security initiatives in Central America and is not expected to pledge additional funds at the summit.
In a related story, The Washington Post takes an in-depth look at security challenges faced at the porous Guatemalan-Mexican border.
Putting an end to doubts about her intentions to stay in power, Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, announced yesterday that she will run for re-election on October 23. Although only a month ago Fernández de Kirchner said she was not “dying to be president again,” in a nationally televised address on Tuesday evening, she said she has a “personal, historical and political responsibility” to fulfill. Backed by ministers, governors and other public figures in the room, Fernández de Kirchner promised to keep working for the nation’s reconstruction, saying “my commitment is irrevocable.”
Speaking from Argentina’s presidential palace, the Casa Rosada, the 58-year old center-left president did not name a running mate. Fernández de Kirchner, representing the Peronist Frente para la Victoria (FPV) party, will run against Ricardo Alfonsín (Unión Cívica Radical party)—son of ex-president Raúl Alfonsín—and former President Eduardo Duhalde (dissident Peronist). According to the most recent poll of the Center of Public Opinion Studies, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, if elections were held today, Fernández de Kirchner would lead with 47 percent of the votes, followed by Alfonsín (15 percent) and Duhalde (7 percent).
If Fernández de Kirchner wins, she would keep her party in power for 12 years—a hold that began in 2003 when her late husband, Néstor Kirchner, took office following the country’s 2001-2002 economic crisis. The 2007 victory was attributed to her husband’s popularity, and she has capitalized on the public’s sympathy following his death last October; at the same time, supporters also acknowledge her pro-poor policies and a growing economy.
In addition to popular support, Law 26.571, Ley de Democratización de la Representación Política, la Transparencia y la Equidad Electoral (Law of Democratization of Political Representation, Transparency and Electoral Equity)—signed December 2009—will facilitate the FPV’s aspirations, as it undermines the formation of party alliances and limits new candidates from running for the presidency.
Opponents accuse her administration of unsustainable populist measures, corruption scandals, manipulation of official statistics, and doubtful management of public resources, though consultants doubt these factors pose a significant threat to the President’s candidacy.
Meeting Monday in Mexico City, President Mauricio Funes of El Salvador and President Felipe Calderón of Mexico promised to work closely to protect the human rights of migrants and combat organized crime in their countries.
In a joint press statement with President Funes after a private meeting at the presidential residence of Los Pinos, President Calderón said that Mexican and Salvadoran citizens travel north to the U.S. in conditions of secrecy that make them vulnerable to situations of violence and abuse “that worry and anger all of us, and that must be eliminated.” Both presidents also recalled that the last time Funes traveled to Mexico was in September 2010, following the killing of 72 migrants—among them 13 Salvadorans–in San Fernando in Mexico’s northeastern Tamaulipas state.
President Calderón said that, since that August massacre, Mexico had stepped up its efforts to protect the security and rights of migrants, including the recently approved Ley de Migración, which seeks to punish those who violate migrants’ rights, root out corruption among public authorities and decriminalize migrants’ status, granting them the possibility of a temporarily legal stay in Mexico.
Presidents Funes and Calderón also announced they will both attend this Wednesday’s meeting in Guatemala of the Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana (SICA), a regional body. At the meeting, which U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will also attend, they will put forth their plan for regional security—the first time in history that Central American states are proposing a common plan of action against security challenges. Funes emphasized that the battle to combat organized crime cannot be won by any single country, but rather, demands solidarity and coordination among multiple states.
More than 60 years after a U.S.-backed coup against pro-poor, pro-indigenous President Jacobo Arbenz, the Guatemalan government has committed to publicly honor the ousted president. The Guatemalan government will issue an official apology to Arbenz’ surviving family members, construct an exhibit in the country’s National History Museum and revise its school curricula to treat him as a hero, according to a recent New York Times article.
The Guatemalan government’s decision to include Arbenz in its school curricula is a significant move that institutionalizes the honoring of a powerful indigenous rights advocate. It also formally incorporates the indigenous perspective in a system that has a profound effect on social climate.
Education and social cohesion are inseparably intertwined. An education system has the power to either mitigate or exacerbate societal problems and even civil conflict through both its structure and content. Levels of accessibility to education can indicate inclusiveness, while curricula determine values and meanings in a society. Scholars on this subject go as far as to suggest education systems as a gauge for the relationship between the state and civil society. A recent study on public-private partnerships in education published by Americas Society is underpinned by the notion that inclusive societies are built upon inclusive education systems.
Guatemalan society is still marked by inequality and social fragmentation after the 36-year civil war and genocide that ensued after Arbenz was overthrown. Access to schooling, quality of education, and measured performance levels are drastically varied between indigenous and non-indigenous, rural and urban populations. Among the factors that contribute to this inequality are failures to address the specific needs and challenges of these marginalized populations, and methodologies and content that fail to reflect indigenous and rural perspectives. While certain state programs and private schools do address multicultural and bilingual education—there is a department devoted to this in the Ministry of Education—the system-wide inclusion of Arbenz and his legacy could incorporate the indigenous perspective in state and societal agenda in a new and profound way.
Although he won’t assume Peru’s presidency until July 28, a poll released yesterday by Peruvian firm Ipsos Apoyo reveals that President-elect Ollanta Humala enjoys a 70 percent approval rating with five weeks to go before his inauguration. Sixty-one percent of the electorate also believes he will govern moderately, similar to former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Investors’ fears that he would drift toward Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’ style of leadership temporarily crashed Peru’s stock exchange two weeks ago today.
Political observers in Peru warn that Humala will have to juggle several demands to satisfy the population. First, he will have to maintain the calm in the business sector to ensure steady commercial growth and foreign direct investment—one of the highest rates in South America. Second, Humala will also have to address the social concerns of the Peruvian people, such as a staunch fight against corruption.
The latter is an issue that Humala advocated for strongly in the presidential campaign, particularly in the runoff against Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of corruption-tainted ex-President Alberto Fujimori. Seventeen percent of the electorate disapproves of Humala while 13 percent remain undecided.
El Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes yesterday announced a major series of media reforms that will transform state-owned radio and television by granting them unprecedented legal autonomy to broadcast independent content. The reforms, which were developed in collaboration with the World Bank, is designed to put an end to the historic role of state media as a campaign tool of incumbent governments and a mouthpiece for ruling administrations.
Salvadoran Minister of Communications of the Presidency, David Rivas, explained that "for many years state radio and television were subject to political whims or subjected to the interests of particular groups, but not the interests of society as a whole." Critics of state media in El Salvador say the state-owned Radio Nacional and Canal 10 were often used during the country’s brutal 1980s civil war to disseminate disinformation and distract Salvadorans from accurate war coverage.
World Bank representative Alberto Leyton lauded the announced reforms and emphasized that state media should further the “public good” by refraining from simply broadcasting the “situational interests” of a particular government.
The conversation on the need to tackle the U.S. deficit and debt issues as well as the debate on same-sex marriage that is recognized by some individual states, brings to the forefront the way the American federal system is functioning. Looking at how the model works here and elsewhere may actually help in finding solutions to current problems.
Federalism is the common trait within North American nations. While defined as the establishment of two or three levels of government—a central entity and subnational (or federated) state—the application of federalism differs from country to country.
The principal rationale for adopting the federal form of government is to reconcile diversity and identity with a desire for unity within a nation-state. While no one can claim that a federation is a superior form of government, it has shown in many instances to be flexible and innovative when associated with a strong democratic political culture. Some of the most prominent federal countries outside North America—Australia, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, India, and Brazil—have demonstrated a capacity for stability and growth.
This being said, many federations have had to undergo transformations to accommodate new realities. While some have been of the constitutional variety, most changes are of the administrative kind. The creative tensions inherent in a federal structure can best be dealt with when combined with healthy and intense political discourse and debate. A study of the Canada and Quebec model, while still very much perfectible, is a good case in point.
Early on June 14, the FARC attacked again, this time near the village of Puerto Rico in the Colombian department of Caquetá. Puerto Rico is very close to San Vicente del Caguán—one of the five municipalities that were demilitarized by President Pastrana in 1998 under peace talks with the FARC. Caquetá, a region of vast plains, located several hundred miles south of Bogotá, has been a FARC stronghold since the late 1960s. The FARC prospered there over four decades, under the cover of the jungle, and exploiting the lucrative business of cocaine that flourished in the region. Nonetheless, these types of guerrilla attacks had almost been eradicated during the administration of Álvaro Uribe. He had listed the FARC structures in Caquetá as main targets in his counteroffensive.
In principle, this single attack on June 14 would not justify wondering whether the FARC have successfully reactivated. But the FARC had executed more than five attacks in the past week alone, including the kidnapping of a number of Chinese oil workers in Caquetá and the virtual siege of the village of Caloto, in the department of Cauca. More attacks to police headquarters have taken place in villages of Cauca such as Argelia and Morales. Three weeks ago, in the coastal region of Chocó, the FARC kept a number of civilians under hostage for two days.
In the past seven years, after Uribe’s military offensive began to show results, guerrilla attacks occurred seldom; whenever they happened, reaction by the military was quick and effective. But reaction by the current government under Juan Manuel Santos has been slow, confusing, and often politically charged. For example, some observers perceive the minister of defense, Rodrigo Rivera, as being more concerned with image matters than actual results. Rivera has often downplayed the magnitude and the seriousness of the FARC facts.
Is the FARC undergoing a successful reactivation process? At this point, two things can be asserted. First, the FARC has decided to circle back to a guerilla-warfare model. Second, it has carefully chosen several areas of the country where such model can have a greater efficacy. Caquetá and Cauca are clearly two of them.
Guatemala’s first-ever public buses reserved exclusively for use by women began covering routes in Guatemala City yesterday during the peak rush hour times of 6:00 a.m.–7:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.–7:00 p.m. The special fleet, which exempts male conductors and children under 12 from the restrictions, can be easily identified by pink ribbons or pink-colored signs bearing the explicit instructions: “For Women Only.”
Of greater metropolitan Guatemala City’s 3.5 million inhabitants, about half use the public bus system on a daily basis. According to the local Association of Urban Buses, an average of a dozen vehicles per day are attacked by armed assailants who rob passengers and regularly assault female riders. Congresswoman Zury Ríos Sosa, who spearheaded the gender-segregated bus initiative, says the new system will protect women and enhance their safety on public transportation. Ríos has said she would also like to create a women-only taxi system similar to those already established in Mexico City and other Latin American cities.
The first day of service was met with a mix of enthusiasm and confusion. Hundreds of women lined up to board the pink-ribboned buses, but some were made visibly nervous by male riders in nearby lines who appeared to mock the new routine. The system also created difficulties for riders unaccustomed to traveling without their husbands or older sons. Some men, who mistakenly boarded the new buses, were ordered off.
Yet, the system seemed to win the approval of its primary beneficiaries. One female passenger remarked, “It’s much better on these buses, because one is more relaxed, without the filth” or fear of unwanted advances by men.
The election guessing game in Peru has ended and now the Humala guessing game has begun: Will Ollanta Humala be the Peruvian equivalent of Venezuela’s Chávez or Brazil’s Lula? The answer, on which may hang Peru’s torrid rates of economic growth—among the highest in the region—and web of free-trade agreements with everyone from China to the United States, has become a parlor game for investors and observers, as we all watch whom Humala nominates to his cabinet. More than the people he chooses to populate his first round of appointments, the answer may actually lie in his formation as a military officer.
When he first ran for president in 2006, Humala professed his admiration for Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez; he even campaigned in the trademark-Bolivarian red tee shirt. Only five years later, the one-time lieutenant colonel who led an uprising against former elected autocrat President Alberto Fujimori, claimed he was a moderate leftist in the mold of former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who embraced markets and foreign investors and reduced poverty.
It’s not hard to understand why he shifted role models. In the intervening five years, President Chávez has gone from the leader of an anti-American bloc of countries during the years of President George W. Bush to the head of the most dysfunctional economy in the region, with rates of inflation this year likely topping 25 percent and an economy that, even with the spike in oil prices, will be one of the last to rise out of the region’s post-recession torpor. In contrast, President Lula, by hewing to a course of fiscal stability, appointing confidence-instilling technocrats and supporting both foreign investors and Brazilian companies, has both kept Brazil on a path of stable economic growth and—combined with innovative social policies—reduced the number of the Brazilian poor by up to 38 million. No mean feat.
The first round of elections in Peru shocked the country and the world. After what appeared to be enviable rates of economic growth and stability, a slim majority of voters rejected the center, aided in part by a three-way split between former Lima Mayor Luis Castañeda Lossio, former President Alejandro Toledo and former Prime Minister Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. In a vitiated party system, the center lost to two candidates on either side of the spectrum—Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of Alberto Fujimori who governed from 1990 to 2000 and is now jailed for corruption and human rights violations, and Humala.
The Colombian stock exchange (BVC) and Lima stock exchange (BVL) announced yesterday in a joint press release that they will delay their ownership merger until Peruvian President-elect Ollanta Humala has an opportunity to revise the agreement. Under the current proposal, announced in January, Colombia’s exchange would own 64 percent of the new company and Peru’s 36 percent.
The announcement does not affect the trading integration of the Colombian, Chilean and Peruvian stock markets that began under the framework of the Integrated Latin American Market (MILA) on May 30.
The statement released yesterday said that the decision referred only to a postponement of the merger and not a modification of any of its terms. Nonetheless, Kurt Buneo, Humala’s economic advisor, said that the integration of stock trading had been done “too quickly,” and the new government would need to renegotiate if “there is asymmetry in the distribution of benefits.”
Following the announcement, the BVL fell 11 percent and and the BVC dropped 2 percent.
In spite of the delay, officials from the two exchanges reiterated their support for the agreement, saying it would contribute to both countries’ economic growth, and a final deal could happen later this year. The merger would continue the process of diversification, expansion and improvement of the Colombian, Peruvian and Chilean exchange markets begun with the launch of MILA—the second-largest stock market in Latin America after Brazil’s—earlier this year. There is also the possibility that Mexico and Panama may join MILA.
President Barack Obama arrived in Puerto Rico today, marking the first time in 50 years that a current U.S. president has visited the island. The five-hour trip kicked off with a brief speech in San Juan where the president supported a referendum for Puerto Rico residents to decide their political status—the options being statehood, independence or remaining a commonwealth. He will deliver a longer address during a visit with Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño at the governor’s mansion where he is expected to discuss the $7 billion stimulus package granted to Puerto Rico and its effect on the island’s 16 percent unemployment rate.
According to the Cecilia Muñoz, White House director of intergovernmental affairs, the visit demonstrates that the Obama administration has prioritized Puerto Rico’s economic and political affairs. Shortly after taking office, Obama expanded a presidential task force on Puerto Rico’s political status created by former President Clinton in 2000 and chaired by Ms. Muñoz.
Following trips to North Carolina and Florida where jobs and the economy were the topics of interest, today’s trip to Puerto Rico is also a sign that the President is gearing up for the 2012 campaign. Though Puerto Ricans who live on the island cannot vote in the presidential election, frequent migration and strong ties between Puerto Rico and U.S. cities like New York and Florida give the president an audience that extends far beyond the residents of San Juan. 4.5 million Puerto Ricans live in the mainland United States.
Today’s visit is a chance for the president to address the booming Latino electorate on the mainland. He will no doubt remind his audience that he has appointed more Latinos to his presidential cabinet than any other president in American history, along with Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor.
As part of a four-country, seven-day official visit through South America, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon made his first stop in Colombia over the weekend. He joined Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to visit sites in the north of the country, near the Caribbean Sea, that have been subject to floods and mudslides. Altogether these natural disasters have killed 469 people since last year.
Ban ended his visit yesterday in the town of Soacha by visiting populations displaced by ongoing internal violence. He praised Colombia’s recently-ratified Victims’ Law, which awards territory and compensation to over four million internally-displaced Colombians. The secretary-general visited a school in the large settlement for uprooted civilians of Altos de la Florida, which was constructed with UN funds. Ban, the former South Korean foreign minister, recalled his own personal childhood—having been displaced as a result of the Korean War that bifurcated the Korean Peninsula.
Ban’s tour comes one week after he announced his intention to seek a second term as secretary-general. Colombia occupies one of the non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council, and Ban received Santos’ endorsement over the weekend.
The secretary-general continues to Argentina today, where he will be received by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. He will also travel to Uruguay and Brazil, wrapping up his Latin American tour on Friday, June 17.
Mexican President Felipe Calderón yesterday signed into law 11 articles that will reform the Mexican constitution to increase protections for human rights and bring Mexico into conformity with international human rights agreements. According to reports, the reform is designed to grant greater power to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) by broadening its authority to investigate reports of human rights violations. It will also allow any Mexican to challenge the constitutionality of federal and local laws that might violate the rights of any citizen. The signing ceremony included Juan Silva, president of the Supreme Court of Justice, Manlio Fabio Beltrones, president of the Senate and Raúl Plascencia, president of the National Commission on Human Rights.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay lauded Calderón’s decision in a press release saying, “This tangible and positive reform ought to take Mexico towards better and stronger recognition and implementation of the human rights contained in the constitution and international treaties.”
Reactions by human rights groups have been mixed. Some question whether the Calderón administration, whose security policies have led to an upsurge in drug-related violence in recent years, will permit stronger scrutiny of its actions. Other groups claim that ambiguities in the new law will make enforcement difficult.
The situation of widespread violence in our border states stemming from drug cartel wars and the federal government’s attempt to combat them is well known. But I would like to share a story of success that truly symbolizes the strength we can find in social unity when coping with the present state of instability.
The people of Monterrey (located in the northeastern part of Mexico) used to consider the southern part of Texas both their playground and their place for shopping. Even after NAFTA made most consumer products readily available within Mexico, the custom of taking a weekend trip to the Rio Grande Valley or destinations such as San Antonio, Austin or Corpus Christi remained.
That is, until people became too afraid to travel on the Mexican highways near the border. The past couple of years have seen a sharp decline in tourists willing to risk their lives to pass through towns like Reynosa, Nuevo Laredo, Río Bravo, and Matamoros—all overrun by the cartels. In Monterrey, too, people are less willing to be out on the town after hours. They are afraid of being caught in the middle of a fight between rivaling cartels or criminals and authorities.
However, due to the proliferation of new social media (specifically Twitter) people are now better equipped to cope with their fears. Local anonymous heroes have emerged and created accounts such as @TrackMty, @SPSeguro and @MAGS_SP that are used to warn people about risk zones and specific attacks in real time. Each citizen who follows these users becomes a non-official reporter. And with the widespread popular response to these new accounts, the result is eyes and ears everywhere of people willing to invest a couple of minutes to warn others of danger and lessen the possibilities of innocent people being caught in the crossfire.
Thousands of fervent fans will converge in Charlotte, North Carolina today for two games of the much anticipated CONCACAF Gold Cup soccer tournament, which gives national teams from North America, Central America and the Caribbean an early chance to further their World Cup ambitions. Although Charlotte is not widely known as a Hispanic soccer hub and the city has never hosted such an important tournament, millions of viewers from across the hemisphere will tune in tonight as Costa Rica battles El Salvador, and Cuba takes on the Mexico’s national team.
Charlotte first attracted the attention of Gold Cup organizers in 2010 when nearly 65,000 fans packed Bank of America Stadium to watch an exhibition match between Mexico and Iceland. Although soccer has struggled to take hold in much of the United States, support for the sport in Charlotte has been buoyed by Latino immigrants. North Carolina is home to an estimated 410,000 Mexicans, and more than 50,000 Cubans, Costa Ricans and Salvadorans, according to the 2010 census.
Charlotte residents are optimistic that the Gold Cup will boost the local economy. According to the Charlotte Regional Visitor’s Authority, last year’s exhibition brought in $11.6 million, largely from tourists travelling from other states. For today’s games, local Spanish-language radio stations La Voz de Charlotte and La Raza have helped generate hype by giving away free tickets and jerseys and by taking countless calls from soccer enthusiasts.
Since the Gold Cup’s creation in 1991, Mexico has won the tournament five times and the United States, four. But history doesn’t temper the support of fans for underdogs like Costa Rica, El Salvador and Cuba, who have never won. This year’s champion will earn a place in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup, a crucial stop on the long road to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2014.
From 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.
Victorious Humala Plans SouthAm Travels
The latest numbers from Peru’s electoral authority confirm that Ollanta Humala maintains his lead over Keiko Fujimori, who conceded defeat on Monday. Humala won 51.465 percent of the votes against Fujimori’s 48.535 percent, with 98 percent of the ballots counted. Several Latin American leaders congratulated Humala on his victory and invited him to visit their countries. Humala begins a tour of South America next Wednesday that will take him to Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile, and then the rest of South America. The goal of the trip will be to strengthen bilateral relations with Peru’s regional neighbors and to push agreements aimed at promoting Peru’s development. Humala also says he hopes to visit the United States.
Humala gave his first sit-down interview since the election to CNN en Español on June 6, in which he proposed allowing recall elections for the president and legislators, as well as reforming the Peruvian Constitution to allow the state to invest public money. He also said that under his administration military figures will only occupy military positions and there will be “zero tolerance for drugs.” He noted that ex-President Alberto Fujimori, currently serving time for corruption and human rights abuses, will only be transferred to an ordinary jail cell if the courts decide to move him. “We don’t want more divergence. We want unity.”
Peru’s Stock Market Rebounds after Monday’s Steep Drop
The Peruvian stock market continued to recover Wednesday, after ratings agencies said that President-elect Ollanta Humala’s election would not affect the country’s investment-grade status. The Lima General Index plummeted 12.5 percent on Monday—the largest drop since it was created in 1981—and closed early, after conservative Keiko Fujimori conceded defeat to Humala. The Economist Intelligence Unit explores the meaning of the election for Peru’s economy.
Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about Humala’s electoral victory.
Ecuador, Venezuela Oppose OPEC Production Increase
The presidents of Ecuador and Venezuela met this week and released a statement arguing against an increase in oil production by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), of which both countries are members. Their statement came a day before a June 8 summit in Vienna, where OPEC failed to ratify a proposal by Saudi Arabia and three other Persian Gulf countries to raise output.
In a sign of tightening economic cooperation, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and his Ecuadorian counterpart Rafael Correa signed 12 bilateral agreements yesterday in the Ecuadorian resort town of Salinas. Some of the agreements focused on creating joint ventures for housing and the production and sale of cocoa. Others covered the sectors of tourism, health, social security, and technology.
Furthermore, despite calls among Gulf Arab states of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to escalate daily outputs by its members, both presidents rejected such demands while in Salinas. Correa claimed that OPEC quotas should not increase given current global demand levels, noting that “production will have to increase when demand grows.” Ecuador and Venezuela are OPEC member nations.
The two leaders also celebrated the victory earlier this week of Peruvian President-elect Ollanta Humala. They noted that Humala’s victory and yesterday’s bilateral agreements are further signs of regional integration. Chávez added that this integration is intended to turn Latin America into “a zone of peace and democracy.”
As U.S. trade policy has returned to the headlines in 2011, much of the discussion is focused on packaging the three pending pacts (Colombia, Panama and South Korea) into one large bill or sequencing the consideration of each individual free-trade agreement (FTA). And more recently talk is centered on the impasse over Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA). But less attention is on other components of the broader trade agenda awaiting congressional action, namely extension of trade preference programs.
Back in February, Republicans scrapped a House of Representatives vote on extension of the Andean Trade Preferences Act (ATPA) to protest the lack of a firm timetable for moving the Colombia and Panama FTAs. The result: duty-free treatment expired for Colombian and Ecuadorian imports. Since then, the Obama administration has pressed for renewal, even as the future of this 20-year-old program remains in doubt. Could the next renewal of ATPA be its last?
Initial ATPA participants included Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador. The goal was a noble one: to encourage a shift away from illegal drug production by expanding alternative export sectors and promoting economic growth. In 2008, Bolivia was suspended from the program when the Bush Administration deemed it incompliant with eligibility criteria related to counter-narcotics cooperation, and in 2010, Peru was dropped from the list of beneficiaries following approval of its FTA with the United States.
Now, only Colombia and Ecuador are left. In Colombia’s case, the argument for one more renewal is sound. Exporters are counting on a retroactive extension that will cover tariff costs since February, and they’ll continue to need the preferences until the FTA enters into force, assuming all goes well in Congress this summer. The bigger picture is that Colombia is a key U.S. ally that deserves better than the uncertainty created by short-term extensions. The most recent ATPA renewal, in December 2010, lasted only six weeks.
The Supreme Court ordered a federal appeals court on Monday to review a ban against anti-immigrant legislation in Hazelton, PA. Hazelton’s infamous Illegal Immigration Relief Act of 2006 was deemed unconstitutional by Federal Judge James Munley in 2007. Last September, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld most clauses of Judge Munley’s injunction, effectively shutting down the law.
The Supreme Court can order lower courts to reconsider a decision in light of a more recent high court decision. In this case, the higher court ruling to uphold key provisions of Arizona’s SB 1070—namely that employers would lose their business license if they knowingly employed undocumented immigrants—has led to a revision of the Hazelton law with similar penalties for employers. Ironically, the Illegal Immigration Relief Act is considered the impetus for punitive immigration laws in Arizona, Georgia and across the U.S. since 2006.
But local reaction in Hazleton is mixed. In the wake of this news, one resident commented: “elected officials should bury it [Hazleton's law] , be done with it and get to work on fixing real problems.” The law has also had far-reaching social and economic consequences. Roughly half of Hazelton’s 10,000 Latinos—including its documented population—reportedly left the city due to its immigration law. The town also saw an estimated 20 percent to 50 percent drop in business in the months following its implementation, even though it was eventually blocked.
The Supreme Court decision on Hazelton’s law in many ways exemplifies the current tension at the federal and state levels over progressive versus regressive immigration policy. On the one hand, the Supreme Court decided yesterday to allow California to grant in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants. But last Thursday, the Alabama Legislature passed an Arizona-style immigration bill with a wide margin, and Georgia’s punitive immigration law goes into effect on July 1. The inconsistency of immigration law presents newfound urgency for, as well as clear challenges to, a comprehensive federal immigration policy.
With 89.2 percent of the ballots counted from yesterday’s presidential runoff election in Peru, first-round winner and Gana Perú candidate Ollanta Humala leads first-round runner-up and Fuerza 2011 candidate Keiko Fujimori by a less than 3 percent margin.
Shortly after midnight yesterday, Humala declared victory in downtown Lima and delivered a speech to supporters in which he pledged to fulfill his commitments to the Peruvian people. Fujimori has vowed not to concede until Peru’s official electoral body, Oficina Nacional de Procesos Electorales (ONPE), declares a winner. An ONPE interactive map shows Keiko winning in the capital Lima and surrounding areas as well as in northern coastal regions. Humala won by large margins in rural areas and in highland cities. Currently, Humala leads by nearly 375,000 votes out of roughly 14 million ballots counted.
If Humala’s lead holds, his victory would signify a rebuke of outgoing President Alan García’s economic policies, which are credited with sustaining high growth levels, but also criticized for doing little to combat poverty and economic inequality. A survey last month revealed that only 22 percent of Peruvians believed that the García model should be replicated by his successor.
Analysts say Humala’s success at the polls in some of Peru’s closest-ever elections is due to the excitement his campaign generated as opposed to Fujimori’s candidacy which some say “lacked feeling.” Also, Humala largely avoided talking last week about his controversial economic policies, choosing instead to focus on combatting poverty and corruption.
This morning, the Bolsa de Valores de Lima (Lima Stock Exchange) temporarily suspended operations after its value declined by 8.7 percent mere moments after opening for morning trades.
El Salvador President Mauricio Funes started his third year in office last week with a series of policy announcements primarily dealing with citizen security.
The proposed security policies would first institute compulsory military service for 5,000 at-risk youth between the ages of 14 and 16. These young men and women will be recruited if they reside in high-risk areas prone to gang violence as a deterrent and preventive measure but also as a mechanism for rehabilitation. The caveat is that these youth wouldn’t be trained in weapons use and military tactics. Instead, they would be exposed to military discipline and trained in civil protection measures at times of natural disaster. Recruited men and women would be paid for their service and would later constitute a sort of civil protection reserve—not a bad idea in a country frequently exposed to natural disasters. Other new security measures include the creation of a special committee composed of high-level security cabinet members that would closely follow-up on investigations of serious criminal investigations along with the addition of 1,000 new police officers.
How effective will these new policies be in a context of what seems like a spiraling plague of crime? This has yet to be seen. However, what’s true is that the compulsory military recruitment initiative is the first and perhaps most radical policy initiative made in the region since the Mano Dura programs in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras in the late 1990s and 2000s. Boosting the police force may seem like more of the same, but some experts suggest that increased levels of crime are a result of a lack of state presence. The presence of the police force, at the very least, represents state control of currently gang-ridden territories.
The next obvious question is how soon these measures will be taken. First, Funes has to overcome some legal limitations to the youth military service initiative, and reforms to the Military Career Law must go through the legislative assembly. Some government officials are already criticizing the measure, including the Human Rights Ombudsman, the National Institute for Children and Adolescents and a juvenile judge.
Peru will elect a new President on Sunday in a second-round election pitting Fuerza 2011 candidate Keiko Fujimori against Gana Perú candidate Ollanta Humala. Both candidates yesterday delivered their closing campaign speeches in which Humala focused on the fight against poverty and inequality, while Fujimori stressed pro-growth policies and pledged to honor all of Peru’s free trade agreements. The rallies took place less than 1 kilometer apart in downtown Lima. Fujimori, who has worked hard to win the support of centrist voters, also expressed her concerns about Humala’s formerly close ties to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez saying, “I would never allow another country to interfere with the affairs of our country."
The latest polls by polling firm Ipsos Apoyo show the candidates nearly neck and neck with Fujimori slightly ahead of Humala 51.1 percent to 48.9 percent.
For many, it seems, economic concerns will trump fears that a Fujimori administration could jeopardize Peru’s recent progress in protecting human rights and combatting corruption. ''The higher-income groups will vote for Fujimori because of her economic policies…they are worried about corruption and human rights abuses, but in the end they'll vote to protect their wallets,” said Andrea Stiglich, a Latin America specialist at the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit.
In the final weeks of a bruising presidential campaign, human rights activists and democracy defenders in Peru have rallied around left-wing nationalist candidate Ollanta Humala—not because they are overly confident in his candidacy, but because they fear a return to the past.
“From Humala we have doubts, but with Keiko we have proof,” they say, referring to the candidacy of Congresswoman Keiko Fujimori, daughter of former president Alberto Fujimori, who is in jail on charges of corruption and human rights abuse.
Keiko has said she will not free her father if she is elected president, and that she suffered as a young woman watching the collapse of his regime—something she does not want her own two daughters to experience.
While most voters accept that Keiko, 36, is not her father—a fact of which she reminded them daily during the four weeks leading up to the run-off vote—they question why the young Fujimori has included many of her father’s advisors in his campaign, and why she has said he was the best president ever.
Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Congress, yesterday approved nationwide public smoking bans and strict advertising regulations for tobacco companies—by a vote of 181-0 with one abstention. The vote echoes a bill already ratified by the Argentine Senate in August 2010, and a similar law in the Buenos Aires municipality in effect since October 2006.
Going forward, smoking will be prohibited in enclosed public spaces such as bars, restaurants, theaters, nightclubs, and covered stadiums. Smoking, however, will still be permitted in parks, public squares and open-air stadiums. In addition, tobacco companies must include warning labels on their product packaging. They will also be banned from using deceptive marketing terms for their cigarettes such as “light” and “soft.”
The new law is expected to yield significant public health benefits. Government statistics indicate that 15 to 20 percent of Argentine pregnant women smoke throughout their pregnancy—one of the highest nationwide rates in the world. Roughly one-third of adults in Argentina smoke tobacco; Argentine government data shows that tobacco-related diseases lead to roughly 40,000 deaths annually.
Health minister Juan Manzur lauded the breakthrough, saying that “at last Argentina has a national law controlling tobacco, which puts limits on a habit that sadly many citizens have, and which is highly toxic.” Uruguay and Brazil passed similar nationwide bans, which Manzur claims have “shown excellent results.”
From 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.
Peru Runoff: Fujimori and Humala in a Tight Race to the Finish
Peru’s second-round vote is slated for Sunday, but who the winner will be is far from clear. The two candidates—conservative Keiko Fujimori and left-leaning Ollanta Humala—are running neck and neck, while polls show many voters remain undecided. Reuters Factbox summarizes a large portion of the last major polls from last week (Pollsters cannot publish surveys in Peru during the last week before the election). All list Fujimori leading, but, in some cases, her lead is less than 1 percent. An Imasen poll published May 29 shows Humala ahead by 1.3 percent. An Ipsos Apoyo survey measuring voter intention and published by El Comercio on May 29 shows Fujimori ahead by 2 percent. But the incidence of blank votes hit 12 percent while undecided votes hit 8 percent.
Access an AS/COA Online election guide to the Peruvian second-round vote, including links to coverage, candidate plans, and Sunday’s presidential debate.
IMF Candidates Seek Support from Brazil
Christine Lagarde arrived in Brazil Sunday to field support for her candidacy for the IMF director position left vacant after Dominique Strauss-Kahn resigned over a sexual assault scandal. Mexican Central Bank Director Agustín Carstens followed Lagarde to Brazil on Wednesday, where he pitched his candidacy to Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega. Brazil has yet to throw its support behind either candidate.
Read an AS/COA Online analysis about Latin America and the call for a non-European IMF director.
Where Do Brazilian Taxes Go?
Though the average Brazilian must spend six months working just to pay taxes, says A Folha de São Paulo, few know where their money goes due to poor transparency laws. Greg Michener blogs in The Christian Science Monitor about a long-delayed proposal to make Brazilian taxation more transparent.
Brazil’s Enviro Agency Grants Dam-construction Licenses
The Brazilian environmental agency (known as Ibama) kicked off June by giving the green light to and issuing licenses for construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam. The project, which has drawn criticism and legal action from environmentalists, will be built on a tributary of the Amazon River.
Read an AS/COA Online analysis of the legislative debate on reform of Brazil’s Forest Code.