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  • Guatemala’s Election and Looking Toward the Second Round

    September 16, 2011

    by Nic Wirtz and Kara Andrade

    On the day that the United States reflected over the 10-year anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Guatemala went to the polls to elect its next president. The contest pitted three leading candidates against each other: Otto Pérez Molina, a former army general, of Partido Patriota (Patriotic Party, or PP); Manuel Baldizón, business tycoon, of Libertad Democrática Renovada (Renewed Democratic Freedom, or LIDER); and academic Eduardo Suger, of Compromiso, Renovación y Orden (Commitment, Renewal and Order, or CREO).

    Pérez Molina had a comfortable lead in the polls in the lead-up to the election; if he had earned more than half the vote he would have made history by being the first national candidate since the 1980s to avoid a runoff vote. But, having secured only 35 percent of votes from more than 7 million tallies, he won the first round but not by enough to avoid a second round. Meeting him in the runoff, scheduled for November 6, is Baldizón, who received 23 percent of votes. Suger finished a distant third with 16 percent.

    "Several sectors of the dominant [Guatemalan] forces expected Otto Pérez Molina to win in the first round to save costs,” said Álvaro Velásquez, 42, professor of social sciences and political analyst at Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales in Guatemala City. “Now the people have spoken to contradict this. That's good news for the power of the vote.”

    But Pérez Molina can still make history in November; given his extensive military background and Guatemala’s history under decades of military rule, he can be the first ex-soldier to be democratically elected in Guatemala. Baldizón, a successful businessman with alleged ties to narcotraffickers, hails from the northern region of Péten—a department that borders Mexico.

    Read More

    Tags: Crime, Guatemala, Elections, Álvaro Colom, Otto Perez Molina, Insecurity, Manuel Baldizon

  • Absentee Voting Proposed in El Salvador’s National Elections

    September 16, 2011

    by AQ Online


    President Mauricio Funes yesterday announced his support for changes to El Salvador’s electoral laws that would allow Salvadorans living abroad to vote in national elections. At an event in celebration of El Salvador’s national Independence Day, Funes emphasized: "I do not exaggerate when I say that the institutionalization of absentee voting is a historical necessity... we are not a true democracy until the one-third of Salvadorans living outside the country have a voice in our elections.”

    According to Funes, his government has requested technical advice from the United Nations and will strive to make all necessary changes before national elections in 2014. One component of the effort will be the modernization of El Salvador’s national identity card, Documento Único de Identidad (DUI), which Salvadorans living in the United States will be able to acquire at their closest consulate.

    In the first eight months of 2011, Salvadorans living abroad sent home $2.4 billion in remittances to friends and families in El Salvador—a 4.8 percent increase over the same period in 2010. This makes the overseas community a vital part of the national economy. If the proposed reforms are successful, El Salvador will join the growing number of countries in the hemisphere that allow citizens residing abroad to participate in the political process through absentee voting.

    Tags: Mauricio Funes, Voter participation

  • Mexico’s Macroeconomic Strength Improves its Competitiveness

    September 15, 2011

    by Arjan Shahani

    Mexico received some excellent news recently when the World Economic Forum (WEF) published its Global Competitiveness Report, calling attention to the fact that the country has made significant progress in improving its relative position in the world competitiveness rankings.
    From last year to the 2011-2012 ranking, Mexico moved from 66to 58 place, an eight-spot improvement. Only seven other countries had a larger jump in the list. As competitiveness expert Beñat Bilbao explains, “(this variation) is very relevant. Fluctuations from year to year tend to be very low.”

    Besides drops suffered by other countries closely competing with Mexico, such as the Russian Federation, Jordan and the Slovak Republic, Mexico’s improvement in the ranking results from progress made in efforts to boost competition and facilitate entrepreneurship by reducing the number of procedures and the time it takes to start a business. The report also mentions Mexico’s large internal market size, sound macroeconomic policies, technological adoption, and a decent transport infrastructure as helping it to move up in the WEF Report.

    This is no doubt a great triumph for President Calderón. He has continuously boasted over TV messages and radio spots that his administration has invested more resources than previous governments into improving federal bridges and highways in Mexico. Calderón has also been vocal about an open market economy and sound financial policies as key ways to face the global economic crisis. According to WEF, he’s on the right track.

    Read More

    Tags: Mexico, Competitiveness

  • Ahmadinejad to Visit Venezuela, Says Chávez

    September 15, 2011

    by AQ Online

    President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela announced on Wednesday that he is expecting a visit from his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, this month. He told reporters, “Ahmadinejad is coming here, at last, after New York,” referring to the latter’s attendance at the UN General Assembly next week.

    President Chávez, who himself will not be traveling to New York to attend the General Assembly, did not provide specific details about the date or content of his meeting with Ahmadinejad. In recent years the two leaders have become close political and commercial allies, bound also by rocky relations with the United States. They last met in Tehran in October 2010, and before that in Caracas in November 2009. This latest visit could aggravate tensions with the United States; earlier this year the Obama administration imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s state-owned oil giant PDVSA for doing business in Iran, which it considered a violation of international sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program.

    Chávez is currently recovering from the removal of a cancerous tumor and may receive a fourth round of chemotherapy next week. Though he will not attend the General Assembly, he has said he expects the meetings there to be “lively” and plans to follow them closely. In particular Chávez expressed his support for the Palestinians’ bid for statehood.

    Tags: Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Venezuela-Iran relations

  • Canada’s Leadership Void in the Parliamentary Opposition

    September 14, 2011

    by Huguette Young

    With the tragic death last month of Jack Layton, Canada’s charismatic leader of the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP), Conservative Party Prime Minister Stephen Harper now holds all the cards in the House of Commons.

    Harper is now dealing with three weakened parties in the House of Commons, which will begin its fall session on Monday, September 19. The prime minister is leading his first-ever majority government since taking power in 2006. The NDP is the official opposition in the House of Commons, but the party finds its voice waning after Layton died at age 61 after a short battle with cancer. The Liberal Party of Canada is now down to 34 seats after losing more than half its seats in the May 2 election referendum. With a mere four seats, the separatist Bloc québécois party, which only runs candidates in the province of Québec, has been effectively wiped out.

    All three opposition parties are looking to hold a leadership convention in 2012—leaving Harper a lot of room to maneuver. Up until the May election campaign, the Bloc québécois, the Liberal Party and the NDP made life difficult for Harper’s minority government. Now, with a comfortable majority, he can easily push through his “tough-on-crime agenda” as well as the Conservative Party’s economic policies and deficit-fighting plan. Now all three parties are vulnerable.

    Layton’s temporary, hand-picked successor, the 68-year-old Nycole Turmel is the first to admit that it will be difficult to fill Layton’s “big shoes.”

    Layton made a historic breakthrough in Québec in May, collecting 59 of the province’s 75 seats and guided the NDP through its best national showing ever—winning 103 of the 308 seats in the Commons.

    Read More

    Tags: Canada, Stephen Harper, Jack Layton

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    September 14, 2011

    by AS-COA Online

    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.

    Sign up to receive the Weekly Roundup via email.

    Guatemala Heads to Runoff after Ex-General Wins First Round

    Otto Pérez Molina won the first round of Guatemala’s September 11 election by a wide margin, but well short of the 50 percent plus one vote need to avoid a runoff. With almost all ballots counted, the Patriotic Party (PP) candidate captured 36 percent of the vote compared to 23 percent for second-place finisher Manuel Baldizón of the Renewed Democratic Freedom (Líder) party. Pérez, who served as a general during the country’s civil war, campaigned on a platform that he would confront the country’s high violent crime rates with an “iron fist.” He is heavily favored to win against wealthy businessman Baldizón when they face each other in the second round on November 6. However, Pérez also faces a challenge over campaign spending; the country’s electoral agency says he already surpassed the legal limit while he contends that he can still spend $1 million between now and the runoff.

    The website of Guatemalan daily Prensa Libre carries multimedia content exploring the electoral results, including graphs, video, and a timeline.

    Read an AS/COA News Analysis about the Guatemalan election.

    Congress up for Grabs in Guatemala

    Guatemalans voted for legislators as well as presidential candidates on Sunday. Central American Politics blog looks at how the election reshaped the country’s Congress, with no party winning an outright majority. The governing National Unity of Hope and the Grand National Alliance (UNE-GANA) coalition, which previously accounted for the block that held the largest number of seats in the 158 unicameral Congress, will likely be outnumbered by members of the Patriotic Party. The lack of presidential candidate likely hurt the coalition’s candidates at the polls. UNE-GANA was left without a contender after the Constitutional Court banned former First Lady Sandra Torres from the race on the grounds that close relatives of a sitting president cannot run for the presidency.

    Read More

    Tags: Free Trade, Juan Manuel Santos, Guatemalan Elections, China and Latin America

  • Date Set for Venezuela’s 2012 Presidential Election

    September 14, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Venezuela’s electoral body, the Consejo Nacional Electoral, affirmed that the next presidential election will be held on Sunday, October 7, 2012. This announcement came as a surprise to many who had expected the election date to remain in the traditional month of December.

    President Hugo Chávez, despite admitting in June that he is battling cancer and having undergone multiple rounds of chemotherapy in recent months, will represent his party—Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela, or PSUV)—next year. Last night, Chávez tweeted: “7 October 2012: your destiny is written! We will write another revolutionary victory on your page! We will live and we will conquer!” Some have criticized Chávez for moving up the date since it will reduce the campaign period for his challengers. 

    On the opposing end, María Corina Machado, a representative for the state of Miranda in the unicameral National Assembly, met with voters today in the state of Zulia to solicit support for her already-declared bid. Machado belongs to the Primero Justicia (Justice First) party, which falls within the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Coalition for Democratic Unity, or MUD) opposition bloc. In Zulia, Machado said, “We have to react now with the closer date—389 days remain—to mobilize ourselves and act. Together we work for democracy, security for our family and prosperity for all Venezuelans. We have the will.”

    Other declared MUD candidates include: Henrique Capriles, governor of Miranda; Pablo Pérez, governor of Zulia; César Pérez, governor of the state of Táchira; and Antonio Ledezma, mayor of the Caracas metropolitan district. MUD will hold its primary on February 12, 2012, to select a challenger to Chávez.

    Tags: Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, Antonio Ledezma, Henrique Capriles, Maria Corina Machado, Pablo Perez, Cesar Perez

  • Colombia’s Unprotected Informal Workforce

    September 14, 2011

    by Daniel Mera Villamizar

    Please find the original text below, submitted in Spanish.

    An often overlooked policy challenge for Colombia is how to safeguard the country’s informal workforce. Some of these workers do not have health security or pension funding, and they earn less than the monthly legal minimum wage (“Smml” in Spanish).

    But it is also a challenge to officially identify this group within the bounds of Colombia’s labor system. And attention is long overdue. In the first of two posts on this topic, I share some troubling statistics on this stunningly large segment of workers: about 63 percent of all employees, or roughly 12.2 million Colombian citizens in total.

    The term “informal employment” is often used wrongly in Colombia. As labor economist Juan Carlos Guataquí notes, “informal” often refers to a business that employs fewer than five people. The term does not take in to account the quality or conditions of employment—which matter more to workers.

    Guataquí adds: “The possibility exists that workers in small businesses, in spite of being fully covered by the benefits of social security and job stability, turn out to be classified as ‘informal workers.’” For this reason, Colombia’s labor system is ripe with a shockingly large number of unprotected employees who go entirely unrecognized.

    Tags: Colombia, Social inclusion, Labor rights

  • Brazilian Judge Halts São Paulo Airport Construction

    September 13, 2011

    by AQ Online

    In a setback to Brazil’s preparations for the 2014 World Cup, Federal Judge Louise Vilela Filgueiras Borer ordered an immediate halt to the construction of a third terminal at São Paulo’s main international airport. São Paulo-Guarulhos International Airport, which was recently ranked the worst in Latin America, was undergoing a renovation to double the airport’s capacity in advance of the World Cup as well as the 2016 Olympic Games.

    Judge Filgueiras said the state airport authority Empresa Brasileira de Infraestrutura Aeroportuária, or Infraero, jettisoned a formal bidding process for the project and awarded the contract to Delta Constructions. In her ruling, Filgueiras wrote that the move represented a worrying precedent in Brazil—one which ignored regulations in the interest of finishing a project as soon as possible. The project was estimated to cost 1.2 billion reais ($700 million).

    An April 2011 report from the Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada (Institute for Applied Economic Research, or Ipea) warned that 10 of the 13 Brazilian airport terminals being upgraded throughout the country were not on track for completion by the start of the World Cup in June 2014. President Dilma Rousseff is now evaluating an option to rely on temporary, warehouse-like modules to accommodate the expected passenger influx for the Cup.

    This is not the first setback for Brazil’s transportation authorities. In July, Alfredo Nascimento, former minister of transportation, resigned on allegations of corruption for so-called “irregularities” in the granting of contracts.

    Tags: Brazil, Infrastructure, 2014 World Cup, transportation, 2016 Olympics

  • Guatemala Presidential Election Moves to November Runoff

    September 12, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Preliminary results following yesterday’s presidential election in Guatemala indicate that no single candidate won over 50 percent of the vote, meaning that a runoff election will be held on November 6. With 92 percent of ballots counted by the Tribunal Supremo Electoral, Guatemala’s election supervision body, Otto Pérez Molina, a former army general, obtained 36.16 percent of the vote despite polling as high as 49 percent shortly before the election. Pérez Molina will face the second-place candidate, Manuel Baldizón, an attorney, businessman and congressman, who collected 23.40 percent.

    The central issue for both campaigns is how to effectively combat Guatemala’s rampant crime and insecurity. Guatemala has one of the highest murder rates in the hemisphere, according to the World Bank: 45 murders per 100,000 citizens. Guatemala, as with its Northern Triangle counterparts Honduras and El Salvador, is a key transit route in drug trafficking between South America and the United States. The amount of illegal drugs seized in Guatemala doubled between 2008 and 2009.

    Pérez Molina has pledged to fight crime with a mano dura, or iron fist. He proposes beefing up Guatemala’s security force—hiring 10,000 police officers and 2500 soldiers. Baldizón supports the death penalty and has suggested creating a national guard. Both candidates have also pledged to continue anti-poverty programs in the interest of promoting social inclusion across Guatemala.

    Pérez Molina is the leader of the Partido Patriota (Patriotic Party—PP), while Baldizón is the founder of the more moderate Libertad Democrática Renovada (Renewed Democratic Freedom—LIDER) party. Regardless of the runoff election result, November’s election will usher in Guatemala’s first-ever female vice president. Pérez Molina’s running mate is Roxana Baldetti, a congresswoman, while former First Lady Raquel Blandón is on Baldizón’s ticket.

    Tags: Guatemala, Drug Trafficking, Crime and Security, Otto Perez Molina, Manuel Baldizon

  • Guatemalan Presidential Hopefuls Vow Continuance of Anti-Poverty Programs

    September 9, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Three of Guatemala’s ten presidential candidates in separate campaign events yesterday promised to leave untouched many of the anti-poverty programs established by outgoing President Álvaro Colom. The programs, which have been overseen by Mr. Colom’s wife, Sandra Torres, are extremely popular among Guatemala’s poor and were the basis of Ms. Torres’ recently abandoned run for the presidency.

    The top contender in Sunday’s first-round election, former-General and Partido Patriota candidate Otto Pérez Molina, vowed that his top priority in office will be to crack down on crime and gang-related violence “with an iron fist.” But Molina also proposed expanding programs that promote greater social inclusion and creating a new government ministry that will focus on social development. Líder party candidate Manuel Baldizón, currently second in polls, delivered a similar message to supporters in Guatemala’s northern city Santa Elena, saying he is the only candidate “truly committed” to the fight against poverty.

    In polls released yesterday, Baldizón trailed Perez by a hefty 16 percentage-point margin. However Guatemala’s electoral system requires a runoff in the event that no candidate receives a majority of first-round votes—given a second-place finisher eight more weeks to catch up to Molina before second-round voting on November 6.

    Tags: Guatemala, Social inclusion, Álvaro Colom

  • 9/11: Also a Call for U.S. Leadership on the Inter-American Democratic Charter

    September 9, 2011

    by Javier El-Hage

    September 11, 2001, is remembered as the day the United States received a dramatic call to lead the world in defeating terrorism. It is also the day the U.S., along with 33 nations of the Americas, signed the Inter-American Democratic Charter (IADC) committing to the collective promotion and protection of democracy. Through ten years of costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. has failed to lead the implementation of the IADC and has stood in the sidelines as democracy has eroded in the Americas. It is time to take action—a peaceful one.

    Just minutes after New York City and Washington DC were hit, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell gave this moving speech in Lima, Peru, at the Organization of American States’ (OAS) General Assembly:

    "A terrible, terrible tragedy has befallen my nation, but it has also befallen all of the nations of this region, all the nations of the world, and all those who believe in democracy. [Terrorists] can destroy buildings and kill people—and we will be saddened by this tragedy—but they will never be allowed to kill the spirit of democracy. They cannot destroy our society, nor our belief in the democratic way.
    It is important that I remain here for a bit longer in order to be part of the consensus on this new Inter-American Democratic Charter. That is the most important thing I can do before returning to Washington DC.
    I hope we can move forward in the order of business to the adoption of the Charter, because I very much want to be here to express the commitment of the United States to democracy in this hemisphere."

    Powell’s word on the importance of the IADC and the U.S. commitment to democracy in the face of a massive terrorist attack is not an overstatement. Terrorist organizations are exclusively harbored and sponsored by non-democratic states that deny basic human rights to their citizens. As with the Third Reich’s Germany or the Taliban’s Afghanistan, it is no coincidence that the U.S. has never had to wage war on a democratic nation. In a world where territories and populations are governed by states, the struggle for peace is first and foremost a struggle for a democratic world comprised of a community of democratic nations.

    Here’s where the IADC has a purpose. The IADC is the most ambitious pro-democracy document yet to be approved at an international level. It is the cornerstone of an emerging international law on democracy and represents a groundbreaking step toward the consolidation of democracy and human rights around the world.

    Read More

    Tags: Inter-American Democratic Charter, Organization of American States (OAS), Democratic Governance

  • Mexico Mourns After Casino Royale Massacre

    September 8, 2011

    by Arjan Shahani



    Mexico suffered the criminal attack with the highest number of civilian casualties in its near history recently as a group of 10 to 12 armed men entered the two-story Casino Royale in the city of Monterrey, doused it with a flammable liquid and threw Molotov cocktails in the first floor. The exact details are still sketchy and the real death toll might never be established (there are inconsistencies in numbers reported by authorities, witness accounts and morgue registries) but unofficially the number is above 50, most of them women. The full motive behind the attack will probably never be determined, but the local media’s investigative reports point toward non-compliance with a criminal gang that had demanded a cut of the business’ profits in exchange for “protection.”

    Gruesome as the attack was, the reason for the elevated number of victims sadly has more to do with institutionalized corruption than with the criminal act itself. Survivors to this tragedy have testified that other than the main entrance to the establishment (which was blocked by the attackers), four non-labelled service doors were locked and the only supposed emergency exit to the place was fake and had a concrete wall behind it. The amount of suffering and emotions the victims must have felt when they thought they would be able to escape the fire and faced a wall in front of them, is horribly unimaginable.

    Casino Royale received its license to operate as a restaurant and betting house in 2007, during the administration of Mayor Adalberto Madero, who in 2011 was officially kicked out of the PAN party for corruption charges and tainting the party’s image (he was later reinstated due to a technicality). Ironically enough, Rodrigo, José Francisco and Ramón Agustín Madero (Adalberto’s cousins) are members of the administrative board of the company that owns Casino Royale.

    The matter becomes worse when we learn that during 2011 the establishment had already been subject to two other criminal attacks; the venue was not shut down permanently after the follow-up investigations even though it was not up to code. As if that wasn’t enough, videos showing Monterrey Mayor Fernando Larrazabal’s brother going into the Casino and suspiciously receiving wads of cash in cell phone boxes were leaked by the local and national media, furthering social outrage.

    Today, a city and a whole country continues to mourn. Frustration is at an all-time high and is manifesting itself in different ways. On Twitter users heightened their continued demands for both Larrazabal and Governor Rodrigo Medina to resign. The local soccer teams held minutes of silence before their recent games. Masses honoring the victims have been held and peace rallies are the current talk of the town, though actual turnout has been surprisingly low.

    Read More

    Tags: Monterrey, Massacre

  • GOP Candidates Square Off on Immigration Policy

    September 8, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Republican frontrunners took to their podiums last night for the second televised debate, where a discussion on immigration reform and border security featured prominently. Texas Governor Rick Perry’s debut in the GOP race was rare opportunity for guest-moderator and Telemundo anchor Jose Diaz-Balart to press candidates on their views on immigration, with a focus on the undocumented population.

    Gov. Perry, who currently leads the race despite announcing his candidacy for president less than a month ago, stirred things up with his criticism of President Barack Obama’s immigration speech in May. "For the President of the United States to go to El Paso, Texas, and say the border is safer than it’s ever been,” said Gov. Perry, “either he has some of the poorest intel in the history of this country or he was an abject liar to the American people."

    Gov. Perry’s calls for more border agents were echoed by many of the other candidates, including Herman Cain and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, currently second place in the polls, pushed for continued construction of the fence along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. Romney also stressed the need to minimize the economic incentive, what he calls the “magnet,” that attracts undocumented immigrants to the United States.

    Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman and Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, focused instead on legal immigrants’ contribution to the economy and American competitiveness. “Immigration has made this country the dynamic country it continues to be,” said Santorum, whose parent emigrated from Italy, “so we should not have a debate on how we don’t want people to come to this country.


    Tags: Immigration, Border security, GOP Debate, Republican Debate, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney

  • Violence at West Indian Parade a Reminder to Provide Youth Opportunities

    September 7, 2011

    by Nina Agrawal

    The West Indian Day Parade and its pre-dawn “J’ouvert” revelries have taken place every year on Labor Day in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn since the 1960s. Modeled on the traditional Carnival festivities of the Caribbean islands, the parade includes revelers painted black and red to evoke the devil, mas bands dancing to soca, calypso and steel drums, masqueraders dressed in elaborate feather and sequined costumes, and plenty of Caribbean food. Monday's event concluded a series of activities over the Labor Day weekend this year celebrating West Indian culture.

    As an annual attendee myself, I was deeply saddened to hear of the violence that took place near and around the parade routes, both during and after it—not to mention the spate of shootings across New York City during the holiday weekend. All in all, from Friday through Monday, 52 shootings claimed the lives of 13 and wounded 54 others, according to police data. In a particularly devastating incident, a shootout on Park Place and Franklin Avenue around 9 p.m. on Monday left two men and an innocent bystander dead, in addition to wounding two officers. Fifty-six-year-old Denise Gay was sitting on her stoop with her daughter when she was struck by a stray bullet in a dispute between Leroy Webster and Eusi Johnson, both former convicts who lived nearby.

    In processing this violence, I was disheartened to hear people blaming the West Indian parade, which I and many others experienced as a celebration that brought together the neighborhood’s diverse communities—with roots in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Guyana, and Haiti, to name just a few—to recreate a Caribbean tradition in New York.

    I also tried to come up with an explanation—and perhaps more naively, a solution. What caused these acts of violence? Why were my neighbors and peers caught in crossfire and engaged in violence when I led a life of comparative security and ease? What could be done to prevent similar incidents in the future?

    Read More

    Tags: Education, Economic Development, Youth, Crime and Security, West Indian Day Parade

  • Children’s Rights in Jamaica

    September 7, 2011

    by Jaevion Nelson

    On May 22, 2009 in St. Ann, Jamaica, seven girls died in a fire at the Armadale facility, which was a state-run juvenile center that housed girls exposed to crime and violence. Those that made it out of Armadale alive suffered severe injuries as a result of the blaze.

    While the fire has long been put out in St. Ann, the apathy surrounding the protection and promotion of children’s rights in Jamaica is not yet extinguished. In fact, it has been burning for decades. The underlying problems continue: weak governing policies, lack of accountability for responsible adults, inherent flaws in the child protection system, and lack of training and capacity building for those in charge of children in juvenile facilities.

    The Armadale tragedy is testament to the pervasiveness of these problems, which impede important steps in appreciating and fulfilling human rights as we seek to build a more advanced country in Jamaica. The roadmap for Vision 2030, the National Development Plan, seems clear and exhaustive. But the rights of our children are not adequately taken into account; if they are not addressed, Vision 2030 will be a useless blueprint and will fail to take Jamaica forward. 

    Jamaica ratified the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1991 and has legislated the obligations of this international treaty into the Child Care and Protection Act (CCPA) of 2004. But arguably, there have been few changes on this front since the CCPA. Teachers still practice capital punishment, parents continue to neglect their child rearing responsibilities, older men and women continue to use power and influence to engage in human trafficking, and even religious leaders sexually exploit our children while pretending to offer guidance and emotional support. Additionally, those who must take action and make a difference ignore the immediate and long-term implications until these situations escalate and draw the attention of the media.

    Tags: Jamaica, Youth

  • 9/11 Remembered

    September 7, 2011

    by John Parisella

    In the course of human history, few events come along that are so indelible that people remember where they were, what they were doing, and how they felt at one exact moment. For many of my contemporaries, the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 brings back vivid memories of the day when the United States’ Camelot came to an abrupt end. The tragedy of 9/11 is one such event.

    The unspeakable terror of the events of September 11, 2001, will remain as the singular, horrific day that transformed the world and America in particular—and the way the world has evolved since that day. The politics surrounding 9/11 remain, and historians will surely debate its ramifications for decades to come: two wars that directly resulted from the attacks continue in their distinctive forms; the Patriot Act remains fundamentally in force; and Guantánamo Bay is still open. 

    The human tragedies woven around the 2001 attacks will be commemorated in the coming days. Nearly 3000 people lost their lives on 9/11 and it has been estimated that possibly over 10,000 lost a relative in the World Trade Center. Twenty-four Canadians also perished that day. Some remains have never been found, and for all who were involved in some capacity, the wounds have not healed. Last year’s controversy over a mosque and community center near Ground Zero is clear evidence that time is moving ever so slowly.

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  • Guatemalan Court Rules on Child Abduction for Adoption Case

    September 7, 2011

    by Karen Smith Rotabi

    Loyda Rodriguez finally received a long-awaited Guatemalan court order on July 29, 2011, which found her daughter’s intercountry adoption to the U.S. to be illegal. The court order gives a 60-day window for return of the child.

    In the ruling, the courts determined that the adoption was processed with fraudulent paperwork (including an illegal passport) and require repatriation of the young girl, now a U.S. citizen. This comes after five years of searching for the child, engaging high-profile human rights defenders and staging hunger protests to demand justice. Still, her daughter’s return home remains up in the air. 

    The ruling is a watershed moment for Rodriguez and at least two other women seeking to have their daughters returned from the United States. All three of these children now live with U.S. families after coming to the country through what initially appeared to be legitimate adoptions—any initial wrongdoing by the families is not clear. But when all three U.S. families were informed that the adoptions were a result of alleged abductions, the children were not returned to Guatemala. The U.S. families remained silent and may have even worked to block concerted efforts for DNA testing and desperate pleas from the mothers for justice.

    And with this recent court ruling, the U.S. Department of State remains silent while deferring all questions to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Will DOJ require the foreign court order to be enforced? That is unlikely given DOJ’s decision to decline formal requests from the Government of Guatemala for DNA tests in each of the three cases. But there is a glimmer of hope. At the end of last month, Senator Mary Landrieu (LA) visited Guatemala and met with the mothers; hopefully Senator Landrieu will attempt to influence U.S. legal collaboration.

    Read More

    Tags: Guatemala, CICIG

  • Ecuador, U.S. On Track to Normalize Relations

    September 7, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino has expressed optimism that the ongoing talks to restore U.S.-Ecuadorian diplomatic relations will be resolved before the end of this year. Relations were downgraded five months ago to the charge d’affaires level but, in an encouraging sign, both countries recently nominated ambassadors for their respective embassies. U.S. President Barack Obama named career diplomat Adam Namm yesterday to be the ambassador in Quito, while Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa tapped Nathalie Cely, minister of coordination and production, over the weekend for the ambassadorship in Washington.

    Patino revealed that Namm will have the consent of the Ecuadorian government to assume his post, although Namm still requires approval from the U.S. Senate. Cely’s nomination is still pending approval from Washington. During a press conference, Patino said, “We have maintained contact with the State Department and gradually advanced to this level of recovery.”

    Bilateral relations hit a low point in April when a WikiLeaks cable from 2009 was published in the Ecuadorian newspaper El País, which revealed U.S. concerns of corruption among high-level national police officials and knowledge of such by President Correa. Shortly thereafter, U.S. Ambassador Heather Hodges was expelled from Ecuador, and in response Ecuadorian Ambassador Luis Gallegos was declared persona non grata in Washington, resulting in the formal downgrading of relations.

    Tags: Ecuador, State Department, Rafael Correa

  • Martinelli Pursues Electoral Reform in 2012

    September 6, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli announced yesterday that he will hold a referendum in 2012 on a constitutional modification to reform the country’s electoral system. The initiative was already introduced by the executive branch in March as a law and is currently being discussed in Congress. A controversial point is that the proposed changes would include presidential re-election and the possibility of runoff starting 2014 if no candidate obtains an absolute majority of the vote.

    Last week a dispute over the referendum during a debate in Congress led to the demise of the Alianza por el Cambio, a national political coalition initiated in 2009 between Martinelli’s Cambio Democrático (Democratic Change) party and the opposition (Partido Panameñista, the Unión Patriótica and the Movimiento Liberal Republicano Nacionalista). By the end of last week, Martinelli dismissed Juan Carlos Varela from his post as foreign minister (Varela remains Vice President) due to their differing positions on the proposals.

    Martinelli, who according to a recent poll by Dichter & Neira  (D&N) has lost 20.5 percentage points of popular support since last month and is blamed for the political rupture, said “there’s nothing more democratic than re-election.” He added, “The ones who oppose a second round are against democracy or have personal or party interests.” Before Martinelli’s announcement, Vice President Juan Carlos Varela—and leader of the Partido Panameñista—had already said that re-election must be approved by Panamanians: “Let the people decide,” he told a local newspaper last week.

    Varela’s stance throughout the crisis has increased his appeal among voters. The D&N survey showed that the percentage of Panamanians who would vote for him in 2014 increased by 7.6 percentage points up to 24.8 percent during the last month; the percentage of Panamanians who would vote for Martinelli decreased by 6.6 points.

    Tags: Panama, Ricardo Martinelli

  • Brazil Unexpectedly Cuts Key Interest Rate

    September 1, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Citing concerns about slowed global as well as domestic growth, Brazil’s central bank cut its key interest rate from 12.5 percent to 12 percent on Wednesday. The move, which follows five rate increases this year, surprised many and worried investors concerned about inflation. It also raised questions about government influence on monetary policy, as a number of politicians, including President Dilma Rousseff, had recently called for a rate cut.

    The Banco Central do Brasil’s monetary policy committee, Comitê de Política Monetária (Copom), voted five to two on Wednesday to cut the Selic rate by 50 basis points, translating to an interest rate decrease of 0.5 percentage points. A Reuters poll of 20 economists showed that they all expected the central bank to maintain the rate at 12.5 percent; investors expected at most a decrease of 25 basis points.

    In a statement accompanying the news, Copom said that in “reevaluating the international scenario, [it saw] a generalized reduction of great magnitude in the growth projections” for the U.S. and European economies. The committee was concerned that this dip would affect the domestic economy through reductions in trade, weaker investment flows, tighter credit, and pessimism among consumers and businesses. The statement said effects were already being felt in declining growth projections for the Brazilian economy.

    Signs of an overheated economy and unsustainable growth have lately begun to manifest themselves in Brazil. The real has appreciated more than 40 percent against the dollar since the end of 2008, hurting the manufacturing sector through less competitive exports and cheaper imports. As of mid-August 2011, annual inflation stood well above the central bank’s target 6.5 percent upper limit—at 7.1 percent. Throughout this year, Brazil has been taking steps to tighten its economy, not only raising the key interest rate multiple times, but also cutting spending and requiring banks to increase their reserves. Nonetheless, Copom said that at this time it considered the balance of risks against inflation to be “more favorable.”

    Though government officials say that the central bank maintains independence in setting interest rates, Rousseff’s administration said earlier this week it was increasing its 2011 surplus target to pave the way for looser monetary policy, and central bank president Alexandre Tombini has in the past advocated for greater policy coordination with finance ministry officials.

    Tags: Brazil, Economic Policy, Central Bank of Brazil, Comitê de Política Monetária (Copom)

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    September 1, 2011

    by AS-COA Online

    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.

    Sign up to receive the Weekly Roundup via email.

    Mexico Mourns, Makes Arrests after Casino Royale Tragedy

    Police in Mexico arrested five men thought to be members of the Zetas drug gang and responsible for arson that killed 52 people in a Monterrey casino on August 25. Authorities believe gang members carried out the brutal attack, which led to three days of national mourning, after the casino’s owners failed to pay protection money. Despite the arrests, questions persist about who is at fault. President Felipe Calderón, who labeled the attack terrorism, placed blame on the United States for its role in the violence due to drug consumption—a move that Malcom Beith critiques in In The Los Angeles Times’ La Plaza blog, Daniel Hernandez explores the blame game; he writes that some place responsibility in the hands of Calderón’s National Action Party (PAN), given that casinos—“seen as magnets for organized crime”—have proliferated since the PAN came to power a decade ago. Poor safety measures are at least partly to blame, writes James Bosworth for The Christian Science Monitor; blocked emergency exits prevented victims from escaping the fire.

    In the days since the Casino Royale tragedy, a debate between Calderón and his predecessor, Vicente Fox, picked up steam. Fox supports negotiating with drug trafficking organizations to reach a pact to end the drug war—an idea Calderón has firmly rejected, as Mexican daily El Universal reports.

    ATF Head Transferred after Botched Mexican Gun Operation

    In the wake of the Operation Fast and Furious scandal, Kenneth Melson—head of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)—will be transferred to another position at the U.S. Department of Justice. The ATF operation, which intended to gain intelligence on gun trafficking, allowed thousands of weapons to “walk” in southwestern states and across the Mexican border. The guns have been linked to at least 12 violent crimes in the United States and an unknown number of crimes in Mexico.

    U.S. Grants Asylum to Second Mexican Reporter

    Cameraman for Televisa Alejandro Hernández Pacheco became the second Mexican journalist to receive asylum in the United States because of Mexico’s drug war violence, news agencies reported Monday. Hernández, who was kidnapped by the Zetas cartel in July 2010 and later fled to El Paso, Texas, is expected to confirm the report in a press conference in the next few days.

    Read More

    Tags: President Daniel Ortega, Mexico Casino, Latino College Enrollment, Colombian Defense Minister

  • Indigenous Groups and Presidents Clash in Ecuador and Bolivia

    August 31, 2011

    by Christopher Sabatini

    In both Ecuador and Bolivia, the rhetoric of political inclusion is crashing into the politics of identity and collective rights. Both Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa and Bolivian President Evo Morales and their broad, heterogeneous movements rode to power by tapping popular frustration over social and political exclusion and discrimination. Their electoral arrival came in the wake of the collapse of traditional party systems that for decades had survived with a near monopoly of power, sustained through closed deal-making and the effective disenfranchisement of vast segments of the population.

    Now, though, both presidents are confronting a grassroots backlash by the very particularistic groups that they claim to represent. It is as much a story of the genie they uncorked, as an example of challenges of governing nationally in an era of competing rights and identities and escalating demands. The outcome will test not only the fate and intentions of both governments-but also the future of the Andean region and the viability of those nation-states.

    Since being re-elected in 2009 under a new constitution, President Correa has clashed repeatedly with indigenous organizations in Ecuador. Ironically many of those same groups celebrated the 2008 plurinational constitution inspired by the President as the most significant achievement for inclusion in Ecuador's history.

    According to the 2001 census, close to seven percent of the Ecuadorian population identified itself as indigenous. And many are increasingly self-defining as individual nationalities, with identities often tied to specific territories inside Ecuador. Since the early 1990s, the indigenous civil society organization Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) and the indigenous party Pachacutik have claimed to speak almost exclusively on behalf of all those indigenous nationalities and ethnicities. Their participation, much like their history, has tended to be outside the system. While Pachacutik, for example, has had representatives in the national congress, it has tended to act as a spoiler rather than a loyal opposition. Pachakutik has contributed to the downfall of three governments-President Bucaram in 1997, President Mahuad in 2000, and President Gutiérrez in 2005-when their presidents have failed to meet the indigenous group's demands.


  • Colombian Congress Approves Landmark Social Inclusion Law

    August 31, 2011

    by AQ Inclusion

    Yesterday Colombia’s congress approved an anti-discrimination bill that levies prison sentences of one to three years for acts of discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, political belief, or sexual orientation. The bill, Ley 08 in the Senate and Ley 165 in the House of Representatives, was authored by Senator Carlos Baena of the Partido Mira. It now awaits a signature from President Juan Manuel Santos.

    Passage of the bill is considered a landmark victory for Colombia’s minorities, including Afro-Colombians, Indigenous populations, and LGBT groups, and had the backing of many NGOs supporting greater rights for these traditionally excluded populations. According to the 2005 Colombian census, 10.5 percent of the Colombian population self-identifies as “black, mulatto, or of African descent.” The Comisión Intersectorial Afrocolombiana reports that 80 percent of Afro-Colombians live below the line of extreme poverty.

    During legislative consideration, observers debated whether jail time was the most effective form of punishment. Some, including the former Deputy Attorney General Francisco José Sintura, argued that prison sentences were excessive and opted for other means like education. The bill also received criticism—and its passage delayed—for not specifying what constitutes an act of discrimination. Before yesterday’s final vote, however, Partido Mira refined the bill’s language to define six circumstances that could be considered discriminatory under the law, including physical assault, employment discrimination and refusal of admittance to movie theaters, bars, etc.

    In a statement, Senator Baena said that the new law will “settle a historic debt with the Afro-Colombian population that continues to face racism.” Baena added that “the Afro-Colombian role is essential to the economic, social and political reality of our country.”

    Colombia is a focus country for the Americas Society Social Inclusion Program.

    Tags: Colombia, Social inclusion, Juan Manuel Santos, Afro-Latinos

  • Colombian Congress Approves Landmark Social Inclusion Law

    August 31, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Yesterday Colombia’s congress approved an anti-discrimination bill that levies prison sentences of one to three years for acts of discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, political belief, or sexual orientation. The bill, Ley 08 in the Senate and Ley 165 in the House of Representatives, was authored by Senator Carlos Baena of the Partido Mira. It now awaits a signature from President Juan Manuel Santos.

    Passage of the bill is considered a landmark victory for Colombia’s minorities, including Afro-Colombians, Indigenous populations, and LGBT groups, and had the backing of many NGOs supporting greater rights for these traditionally excluded populations. According to the 2005 Colombian census, 10.5 percent of the Colombian population self-identifies as “black, mulatto, or of African descent.” The Comisión Intersectorial Afrocolombiana reports that 80 percent of Afro-Colombians live below the line of extreme poverty.

    During legislative consideration, observers debated whether jail time was the most effective form of punishment. Some, including the former Deputy Attorney General Francisco José Sintura, argued that prison sentences were excessive and opted for other means like education. The bill also received criticism—and its passage delayed—for not specifying what constitutes an act of discrimination. Before yesterday’s final vote, however, Partido Mira refined the bill’s language to define six circumstances that could be considered discriminatory under the law, including physical assault, employment discrimination and refusal of admittance to movie theaters, bars, etc.

    In a statement, Senator Baena said that the new law will “settle a historic debt with the Afro-Colombian population that continues to face racism.” Baena added that “the Afro-Colombian role is essential to the economic, social and political reality of our country.”

    Colombia is a focus country for the Americas Society Social Inclusion Program.

    Tags: Colombia, Social inclusion, Juan Manuel Santos, Afro-Latinos

  • Extradition of President Portillo Approved by Court in Guatemala

    August 30, 2011

    by AQ Online

    On Friday the Constitutional Court of Guatemala upheld a ruling authorizing the extradition of former president Alfonso Portillo to the U.S. to face charges of laundering $70 million. President Álvaro Colom must now decide whether to approve the Court’s ruling or pardon Portillo, who served as president of Guatemala from 2000 to 2004.

    In January of this year a federal grand jury in New York requested Portillo’s extradition under the claim that he embezzled Guatemalan public funds and hid the money in U.S. banks. There are also allegations that the former president laundered money through European accounts. Shortly after the U.S. indictment was made public, Portillo was captured by the Guatemalan police near the country’s Caribbean coast.

    Portillo’s lawyer, Gabriel Orellana, argues that the Constitutional Court has overstepped its power by ruling on an issue that falls under the purview of the sitting president. It is the role of the president to implement foreign policy and diplomacy with other nations, he says—a terrain the Constitutional Court is now meddling in. Reacting to the judgment, Orellana told a local newspaper that the ruling “imposes several requirements on the U.S. that only the president can solicit.”

    The Constitutional Court judges conditioned Portillo’s extradition on respect for his human rights and required that—in the event that he is found guilty—the former president fulfill his sentence in Guatemala.

    The U.S Embassy in Guatemala said, “We applaud the efforts made by the Constitutional Court, the Attorney General's Office and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala." Portillo is currently under house arrest and will remain so until President Colom decides on his future.

    Tags: Guatemala, President Alfonso Portillo

  • Argentina and Uruguay Inaugurate Trans-Border Train Line

    August 29, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (CFK) will travel today to Salto, Uruguay, to meet with her Uruguayan counterpart José Mujica. Together they will preside over the opening of a new train line that will connect passengers in the two countries.

    In recent years only cargo has crossed the Argentina-Uruguay border by rail. Passenger train service was discontinued nearly 30 years ago due to frayed bilateral relations. In recent years disagreement has centered on the construction of a cellulose plant in Fray Bentos, Uruguay, that Argentina alleged would pollute the Río Uruguay on the border of both countries. For the last three years, Argentines in the city of Gualeguaychú, Entre Ríos (at times with the support of the federal government), staged numerous protests including a blockade of the bridge over the Río Uruguay.

    The new railway—and this afternoon’s inauguration ceremony, which hundreds of government officials from both countries are expected to attend—underscores the warming relations between the South American neighbors. CFK’s trip, replete with symbolism, will take her from across the Río Uruguay in Concordia, Entre Ríos, to Salto, as she and Mujica launch the rail line traversing the river border between their two countries.

    This transnational infrastructure is part of El Plan de Acción Binacional Argentino-Uruguayo (Argentine-Uruguayan Bi-National Action Plan), that was signed earlier this month by the two countries’ ministers of transport. Today’s symbolic journey from Concordia to Salto will expand on September 9 to a weekly, 813-kilometer (505-mile) journey from Pilar, Argentina to Paso de los Toros, Uruguay. Service will become daily by December.

    Tags: Argentina, Uruguay, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, José Mujica

  • I’m Colombiana. The Movie Is Not.

    August 25, 2011

    by Lina Salazar Ortegón

    When I heard about the controversy surrounding (yet another) movie in which Colombia is portrayed as a land of cocaine, crime and armed insurrection, I was disheartened. It is baffling how apparent ignorance in Hollywood has led to the continued dissemination of the notion that Colombia—my country—is still an unsafe, violent place where visitors and tourists are regularly kidnapped or killed.

    On August 26, 2011, Sony Pictures’ Colombiana will premiere at theaters across the United States. It may be titled Colombiana, but the movie’s official synopsis doesn’t even mention the country. According to the Internet Movie Database, the entire film was shot in Mexico, Chicago and France—producers never even set foot in South America. Even more disturbing: the movie won’t have the same name in every country. In Colombia its title will be Dulce Venganza (Sweet Revenge), and Chinese theatergoers will flock to see Black Beauty Evil.

    Colombiana’s title is a brazen attempt by Hollywood producers to capitalize on the decades-old reputation of a country that has made tremendous progress in recent years. It is a purely commercial strategy grounded in fantasy, not reality. And what producers don’t realize is that perpetuating the myth that Colombia is a violence-ridden failed state can have real costs for people living there, and that negative perceptions can have serious negative real world consequences, such as an impact on tourism.

    This is good reason to support organizations such as Por Colombia—a group of volunteer students and friends of Colombia in the U.S. and Canada—and initiatives like Colombia, the Other Side of the Coin—a pacifist campaign lead by Carlos Plaza, a Colombian community leader in New York. The latter is leading efforts to distribute materials on premiere night in theaters throughout New York City that shed a more positive (and realistic) light on Colombia.

    When they first saw the trailer early this summer, Por Colombia launched #ColombiaisBeautiful—a grassroots social media campaign on Facebook and Twitter designed to counteract overly negative depictions of Colombia in pop culture. The campaign’s banner is a digitally altered poster of the movie: instead of a gun, the “Colombiana” on the film’s poster holds a bunch of flowers, and the tagline "Vengeance is Beautiful" is replaced by "Colombia is Beautiful."  This simple campaign has attracted thousands of followers and received coverage from national and international media outlets, including Univision and Huffington Post.

    Bogotá-born Carlos Macías, the president of Por Colombia, argues that Sony Pictures is making a profit at Colombia’s expense. Colombians are not against talking about the conflict, says Macías. “If you’re going to talk about the Colombian armed conflict, go ahead, we’re the first to start the conversation," he points out. We don’t deny that violence remains a problem, but we demand balance. We want to provide people with actual facts, while at the same time remembering to include the country’s positive side—which is all too often left out.

    A few months ago a Russian student at Columbia University told me he had been everywhere in Latin America except Colombia. When asked why, he replied, “Because my dad can’t afford to pay the ransom.” Maybe it was a bad joke, but there is nonetheless some truth to it. It may have been slightly offensive, but it is good reason to stop and think.

    How can we expect people not to say such things when in July, policemen José Libardo Forero, Wilson Rojas, Carlos Duarte, Jorge Romero y Jorge Trujillo completed  12 years in captivity by guerillas? When in April, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) kidnapped two more unarmed soldiers in Medellín, Antioquia? And in July five Colombians were kidnapped in Arauca and that same month a money-laundering network caught in Spain with $30 million in Colombian cocaine money?

    Let’s face it: as long as these things keep happening, the rest of the world will keep making jokes about Colombian cocaine and kidnappings. It would be great if more people would keep an open mind, but that can’t be expected. So let’s focus on what we, as Colombians, can do. First, let’s avoid complaining about or denying our reality. Let’s not always answer, “We also have coffee and flowers.” (We do, but it goes beyond that.) We must be permanent promoters of our positive side by recognizing the improvements the country has achieved and delivering good, unbiased information about Colombia. 

    We can also cite some concrete facts. For example, security on our national road system is better today than anytime in recent history, and more Colombians and tourists are traveling by car throughout the country. From 1990 to 2009, 26,977 drug laboratories were destroyed, according to the Observatorio de Drogas of the Dirección de Antinarcóticos, and 92,772 hectares of illegal crops have been eradicated so far in 2011. In addition, there were 1,602 extradition requests from 2002 to 2010, 1,106 of which were approved.  These are real improvements. Further progress is a matter of time and consistent policy.

    Por Colombia and The Other Side of the Coin are great initiatives deserving of broad-based support. Let’s all join Por Colombia’s social media rally on August 26. It’s about becoming agents of “the other side of the coin”: the reality that Colombia is a fascinating country that has captured—rather than kidnapped—thousands of foreigners who have visited recently and simply fallen in love with our people.

    Lina Salazar is a guest blogger to AQ Online. She works with Americas Quarterly and in the policy department at Americas Society/Council of the Americas.

    Tags: Colombia, Colombiana, Por Colombia, Colombia The Other Side of the Coin

  • Unasur Unity Tested by Events in Libya

    August 25, 2011

    by AQ Online

    The foreign affairs ministers of Union of South American Nations (Unasur) member-countries gathered in Buenos Aires, Argentina on Wednesday for a meeting  on economic cooperation and diplomacy. The members agreed on plans to send Unasur monitors to upcoming regional elections but could not reach a consensus on the group’s position on recent developments in Libya.

    Members are divided between those—like Colombia and Brazil—who suggest formally recognizing Libya’s National Transition Council (NTC) and those, like Venezuela and Ecuador , who question the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) multilateral military intervention.

    Brazil’s Antonio Patriota added the Libya conflict to this year’s meeting agenda and proposed that the bloc recognize the NTC alongside Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain and others. In Latin America, only Colombia has officially recognized the governing body.

    “We exchanged our views and recognized that this is a situation in permanent evolution but we have not established a position about it”, said Carolyn Rodrigues-Bickett, Guyana’s Foreign Affairs minister and also president pro tempore of the Union.

    Members also agreed that Unasur will start working on the design of a multilateral payment system to reinforce the use of local currencies and the creation of a regional bank, Banco del Sur. The 12 countries also agreed on steps to coordinate the use of their reserves to quell economic volatility.

    Tags: UNASUR, Lybia

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    August 25, 2011

    by AS-COA Online

    Obama Administration to Halt 300,000 Deportations

    U.S. Department of Homeland Security head Janet Napolitano revealed August 18 that the United States will review 300,000 pending deportation cases for people living in the country for several years who have not committed serious crimes. The Houston Chronicle reports that Napolitano submitted a letter to 22 senators saying “it makes no sense to expend our enforcement resources on low-priority cases, such as individuals...who were brought into this country as young children and know no other home.” Given that the move will affect undocumented immigrant students, supporters of the long-stalled DREAM Act heralded the decision.

    The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog outlines who might qualify to remain in the United States under the new Obama immigration policy, with factors for staying deportation including an individual’s length of residence, age at the time of arrival, educational pursuit or military service, age, and role as primary caretaker.

    Learn more about immigration issues at AS/COA's Hispanic Integration Hub.

    Cancer Claims Canadian Opposition Leader

    Jack Layton, who led Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP) to Official Opposition status for the first time in May’s federal vote, lost his battle with cancer this week. His passing came as a surprise, given his late-July announcement that he would step down from his position temporarily to seek treatment. In a letter penned in the final days before his death, Layton—known for his tendency to avoid political mudslinging—addressed Canadians by saying: “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic.”

    Layton’s passing leaves Canada’s two main opposition parties, the NDP and the Liberal Party, with interim leaders at a time when the governing Conservative Party holds a parliamentary majority.

    Rousseff Ranked World’s Third-most Powerful Woman

    The Brazilian president took the number three spot in’s list of the 100 most powerful women in the world, behind German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner took spot number 17.

    Read More

    Tags: Weekly Roundup

  • Pobreza en El Salvador: Izquierdas y Derechas

    August 24, 2011

    by Julio Rank Wright

    La superación de la pobreza no es cuestión de izquierdas o derechas, es cuestión de voluntad. No comparto con quienes vociferan que en el mundo hay una gran conspiración de los ricos para explotar a los pobres. Tampoco me identifico con quienes sugieren que a las izquierdas les conviene mantener niveles de pobreza altos como caldo de cultivo para la sobrevivencia de sus postulados ideológicos. La pobreza en El Salvador es una realidad.

    La Dirección de Estadísticas y Censos de El Salvador (DIGESTYC) publicó recientemente los resultados de la Encuesta de Hogares de Propósitos Múltiples (EHPM) para el 2010. La EHPM arroja datos importantes que se supone deben orientar las políticas públicas, no sólo del gobierno de turno, sino de toda la clase política. ¿Qué nos dicen los últimos resultados? Primero, el 12.6 por ciento de los salvadoreños viven en pobreza extrema, es decir con un ingreso menor a $45.12, lo equivalente al costo de la canasta básica alimentaria. Segundo, el 25.3 por ciento de la población salvadoreña vive en condiciones de pobreza relativa, es decir hogares sin la capacidad de cubrir el equivalente a dos canastas básicas alimentarias. En síntesis, el nivel de pobreza general en El Salvador es del 36.5 por ciento. Los niveles más bajos ocurrieron en el 2006 y pues obviamente los efectos de la crisis financiera mundial del 2008 incrementaron de nuevo los niveles de pobreza.

    ¿Qué sentido tiene enumerar cifras que seguramente sabremos estimar? Leídas fríamente quizás sugieran que El Salvador es otro país más, que a pesar de haber logrado importantes avances democráticos y de desarrollo, seguirá destinado a la pobreza. Sin embargo, hay una lección más importante que se puede derivar de las cifras y su evolución con el tiempo: para poder superar la pobreza es necesario primero trascender la disputa entre  izquierdas y derechas.

    Es urgente encontrar puntos de coincidencia en políticas públicas específicas para reducir los niveles de pobreza. Las diferentes fuerzas vivas del país deben reconocer abiertamente que existen dos amenazas claras para la sostenibilidad democrática del país, y la región: la inseguridad ciudadana, incluyendo crimen organizado y la pobreza. En un escenario ideal no debería de existir retórica ideológica de izquierda y derecha al afrontar realidades que ponen en jaque la viabilidad nacional. La combinación de liderazgos anclados en el pasado, un aparato estatal lento e ineficaz y la ausencia de una visión compartida del futuro entre la clase política, sociedad civil y sector privado nos mantienen en medio de una batalla ideológica.

    El contexto electoral es la oportunidad perfecta para que los partidos políticos logren acercar posiciones, sin temor, en temas de trascendencia nacional. En pleno siglo veintiuno hay temas que no deberían ser víctimas de la polarización: acceso a servicios básicos, educación, salud, política energética, competitividad nacional, institucionalidad democrática y prevención de la violencia, entre otros.

    La reacción de la sociedad civil salvadoreña ante la crisis de choque de poderes entre los órganos legislativo y judicial unos meses atrás fue ejemplar. Sin embargo, así como se reaccionó apasionadamente ante un decreto legislativo, es preciso reaccionar más enérgicamente contra la pobreza que roba vidas y aplasta sueños.

    Julio Rank Wright is contributing blogger to AQ Online. He is from San Salvador, El Salvador, but temporarily living in Washington DC.

    Tags: El Salvador, poverty, political system

  • Bolivia Accuses U.S. of Stoking Unrest

    August 24, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Bolivian President Evo Morales this week accused the United States government of conspiring with local NGOs to incite the ongoing indigenous protest marches that began on August 16. The Isiboro-Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS) inhabitants, the Confederación de Pueblos Indígenas de Bolivia (Cidob) and the Consejo Nacional de Ayllus y Markas del Qullasuyu (Conamaq) are marching in opposition to the construction of a highway that would cross a 9,997 square kilometer (2,470,400 acre) national park that has been a self-governing territory since 2009.

    “Capitalism and non-governmental organizations use indigenous leaders to promote a march whose objective is not the protection of natural resources of the madre tierra, but a conspiracy against Bolivia”, said Morales in El Pueblo es Noticia, a T.V. show of the state-run media agency. He added that Bolivia will have to “reconsider the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) presence in the country.”

    In a meeting with Minister of the Presidency Carlos Romero, U.S. deputy chief of mission William Mozdzierz rejected Morales’ claims and insisted that the United States’ only goal is to improve bilateral relations within a framework of mutual respect.

    Beyond President Morales’ statements, Romero also claims that the objective of protest groups isn’t to protect the environment or their cultural heritage: rather it is to defend illegal deforestation and illicit resource extraction interests.

    Tags: Bolivia, Indigenous rights, United States.

  • Dealing with Debt and Deficits, Canadian Style

    August 23, 2011

    by John Parisella

    In the wake of the debt ceiling debate in the U.S. and Euro zone summits about the precarious financial situation of some of its members, articles and editorials in The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post have referred to Canada as a potential model to emulate in order to eliminate deficits and reduce the debt. They refer to how deficits in Canada in the early 1990s were eliminated mostly through spending cuts, and how tax cuts were the source of the growth that put Canada’s fiscal house back in order.

    There is some truth to this narrative but it is highly incomplete and one needs to state that the overriding factor in Canada's success had more to do with a political class of different stripes working together, although not without debate or conflict.  In practical terms, a federal Liberal government in Ottawa, which was not allergic to an activist governmental agenda, decided to lead the way to a balanced budget. The message was clear: problem solving must take precedence over winning ideological and partisan battles. Even social democratic parties like the NDP in Manitoba and Parti Quebecois in Quebec were willing to put their ideology aside and exact serious spending cuts.

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    Tags: Canada, Debt.

  • Mexico and Costa Rica Sign Security Accord

    August 23, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla yesterday signed an agreement in Mexico City with her counterpart, President Felipe Calderón, which will expand bilateral cooperation on security issues, including anti-drug trafficking efforts. Chinchilla and her delegation will also hold talks on a wide range of bilateral issues including improvements in investment and trade between the two countries.

    The agreement signed yesterday includes a new extradition treaty to allow for criminals and suspects to be transferred more easily between the two countries and will create new mechanisms to share information on organized crime groups. “Collaboration on security matters is essential to strengthen the fight against crime,” said Chinchilla. “It's a problem that will get out of hand if we don't confront it now."

    Following the signing, President Calderón stressed the regional nature of the fight against organized crime: “All nations in the Americas share the common challenge of providing security to our citizens, even in the context of an increasingly intense and challenging fight against transnational organized crime.”

    Before meeting Calderón, President Chinchilla visited Mexican businesses organizations to promote trade and investment between the two countries. In 2010, trade between Mexico and Costa Rica topped $2.7 billion, up from $551 million in 2001.

    Tags: Costa Rica, Mexico, Felipe Calderon, Laura Chinchilla

  • Ortega Leads Polls as Nicaragua Campaign Kicks Off

    August 22, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is the frontrunner candidate in a nationwide presidential campaign that officially began on Saturday in Managua. Mr. Ortega is running for his second consecutive five-year term following a 2009 Supreme Court ruling that overturned a legal prohibition on consecutive reelection. He is facing a fragmented opposition represented by four presidential candidates.

    A recent CID-Gallup poll showed Ortega leading the field with 41 percent of voters voicing support for him, while Liberal Constitutional Party candidate Fabio Gadea got 34 percent and former president Arnoldo Aleman won 11 percent. To win the election outright in the first round, the winning candidate must win either 40 percent of the vote or at least 35 percent and a lead of 5 points over the runner up.

    Mr. Ortega’s candidacy in this year’s elections has been called unconstitutional by Nicaraguan legal scholars and opposition candidates. Ortega first held the presidency from 1984 to 1990 and began his second term in 2007. He was the only presidential candidate of the Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional (FSLN) party in national elections that took place in 1984, 1990, 1996, 2001, 2006, and now 2011. Nicaraguans will head to the polls on November 6 to determine their country’s future leadership.

    Tags: Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega


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