Amid a mix of praise and criticism, President Mauricio Funes today marks his second anniversary as the leader of El Salvador, with surveys showing that Salvadorans commend him for his progressive social policies but disapprove of the economy’s slow growth and rampant violence. In a national survey conducted by the Instituto Universitario de Opinión Pública at the Universidad Centroamericana from April 29 to May 7, 1,262 Salvadorans rated Funes' job performance at 6.16 on a scale of 1 to 10, down from 6.78 a year ago and 7.6 in August 2009.
A member of the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación (FMLN)—a leftist guerrilla organization that was converted into a political party in 1992—Funes assumed the presidency in the midst of the global economic recession and following 20 years of consecutive government by the right-wing Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA) party. He prioritized maintaining close relations with the United States, where more than 2 million Salvadorans live and work, contributing to the U.S. economy as well as to the Salvadoran economy through remittances. The President also has focused on implementing social policies to mitigate the effects of the recession on the Salvadoran poor. Among these is the provision of free lunches, school supplies, uniforms, and shoes to more than 377 million public school students; free medical services; and the Plan de Agricultura Familiar to assist small farmers with credit, insurance, technical assistance, and the procurement of seeds and fertilizer.
While survey results show that Salvadorans recognize the social achievements of the Funes government, they fault the President for failing to improve the economy and effectively combat widespread violence. El Salvador’s economy is projected to grow only 2.5 percent in 2011, although that number is up from 1.4 percent growth in 2010 and a 3.1 percent decline in 2009. Likewise, Funes’ government has succeeded in reducing the extortion rate by 28 percent and bringing down the daily average of homicides, but the latter still stands at 11 per day.
Today Funes will present the FMLN-led Legislative Assembly with an assessment of his past two years of government. The party has confirmed in a press release that it will continue to implement policies in favor of El Salvador’s most disadvantaged populations.
Despite efforts from various U.S. congressmen to convince their peers that Mexican drug cartels should be classified as terrorist organizations operating within the United States, the U.S. Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Homeland Security (DHS) recently decided against it. In doing so, the U.S. administration missed out on yet another opportunity to show resolve in the fight against binational drug-related crime and violence.
Mexican President Felipe Calderón continues a full frontal assault against the cartels, recently deploying a larger contingent of soldiers to border towns, but the U.S. government apparently has other priorities and/or larger problems to deal with.
The Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego writes in its most recent Justice in Mexico report that according to DHS Office of Anti-terrorism Director Grayling Williams, “the mechanisms and laws already in place in the U.S. to deal with drug trafficking are sufficient and the proposed terrorist classification would be unnecessary.”
Although there is no universally agreed, legally binding, criminal law definition of terrorism, the key message behind this decision has less to do with defining the term and more to do with how the government agencies are willing to deal with this growing problem. Classifying Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations would set a clear agenda on fighting the drug trade. It would also open up a series of procurement processes for projects combating the issue both within Mexico and the United States.
With Peru’s presidential runoff only five days away, the last polls that can be legally published before the vote show that the race is neck-and-neck. The Peruvian polling firm Imasen reported on Sunday that Ollanta Humala of Gana Perú holds a slim 1.3 percent lead over his opponent, Keiko Fujimori of the Fuerza 2011 party. Ipsos Apoyo found a similarly tight race with 50.5 percent supporting Fujimori and 49.5 percent prefering Humala. Approximately 20 percent of Peru’s voters are still undecided.
With polls showing no clear frontrunner, the first and only televised debate on Sunday was seen as opportunity for one candidate to take the lead ahead of the June 5 runoff. However, neither presidential hopeful emerged as a clear winner. Rather than focus on wooing undecided voters, Humala and Fujimori exchanged political jabs.
Humala recalled the human rights abuses and corruption that plagued Peru under Keiko Fujimori’s father, former President Alberto Fujimori. Keiko Fujimori responded by asserting her political independence and casting doubt on her rival’s far-left policies—including taxing the rich and spending heavily on social programs—that she claimed would endanger Peru's strong economic growth rate and scare off foreign investors.
Peru’s elite appears as divided as the electorate. Former president Alejandro Toledo is backing Humala, while his ex-prime minister, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski is supporting Fujimori.
Last week, President Barack Obama delivered a major foreign policy speech about the “Arab Spring” in the Middle East and North Africa. It was bold, insightful and comprehensive. He mentioned just about every country in those areas that has made headlines recently: Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, and Yemen. Just about every country except for one very big and important one: Saudi Arabia. It turned out to be the elephant in the room, and its conspicuous absence from the speech spoke louder than most any other point.
Similarly, in recent major speeches about Latin America, President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, and outgoing Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Valenzuela have also neglected to mention the oil-rich elephant in this hemisphere: Venezuela.
Why should we be silent on Venezuela? Is it a country—like Saudi Arabia—that we so often treat with kid gloves?
Late last year, it was officially stated that we know that the Venezuelan state has connections to narcotraffickers and terrorists (among other items). This came thanks to the Senate’s “questions for the record” answered with refreshing candor by then-ambassador nominee to Venezuela Larry Palmer.
When the truth is already “out there,” why should we still be passive with this South American country?
Several tell me that the great debate on Venezuela inside our government is still hot between the strategic engagement (or “appeasement”) camp and the proactive camp. But, the numbers in the strategic engagement side seem to be dwindling. This is good news. Nevertheless, to date, the tensions between these two camps and consequential apparent indecision and confusion about our policy direction continues to cost us internally and in the region.
Thousands of Indigenous protestors have mobilized in the highland city of Puno, Peru, this week over fears that a Canadian-led silver mining operation will contaminate water supplies in the area. The protests, which began on Thursday, have largely cut off the city of 120,000 from the rest of Peru, stranded hundreds of foreign tourists who use the town as a staging point for tours of Lake Titicaca, and shut down a nearby border crossing to Bolivia.
According to local reports, these latest protests, which come less than 10 days before Peru’s scheduled second-round presidential elections on June 5, have been accompanied by sporadic violence. "They've started to loot public and private institutions, banks and shopping centers," police officer William Anda said on local radio. In response, President Alan Garcia has authorized the army to prevent escalation, but it has thus far not acted to put down the protests by force.
In a statement, Andrew Swarthout, CEO of the mining firm Bear Creek, which holds the concessions over the areas in dispute, attributed the protests to pre-election political tension, "which have arisen from communities distant from and unaffected by the Santa Ana Project." Hernán Cauna, a protest leader, declared: "We will defend our land until the very end, even though the state is causing pressure by mobilizing their armed forces and police.”
Less than 10 days before Peru’s presidential run-off election, Keiko Fujimori of the Fuerza 2011 ticket is pulling ahead of Gana Perú candidate Ollanta Humala, according to the latest figures by polling firm Datum. Fujimori had the support of 52.9 percent of respondents, compared to 47.1 percent for Humala. This latest poll, which surveyed 1,214 people and was conducted on Sunday, indicates an increase in Fujimori’s lead of about one percentage point from the previous poll, conducted earlier this month.
Humala was scheduled to travel to Brazil today to meet with President Dilma Rousseff and her predecessor, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva—after whom Humala has tried to recast his public image. However, Humala decided to cancel the trip at the last minute, according to spokesman Javier Diez Canseco, so that he could focus on consolidating popular support during the final campaign stretch.
Humala is a former political mentee of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and appears to be struggling to convince voters that he has abandoned his radical-left past. Although he has vowed to govern as a moderate and has backed down on earlier proposals to increase taxes and take over private pension funds, the Datum poll showed that fully half of Peru’s voters believe Humala might govern as an authoritarian ruler. Only one-third of voters think he will honor the country’s international agreements, including free trade deals.
Fujimori, daughter of jailed former President Alberto Fujimori, enjoys strong backing by the business community, who believe she will continue the free-market economic reforms begun by her father in the 1990s. Critics feel she is too close to her father politically and over-reliant on his former aides and policy advisors.
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.
PDVSA Hit with U.S. Sanctions over Iran Ties
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro said Tuesday he could not guarantee the supply of oil to the United States after the Obama administration sanctioned Venezuelan state oil firm PDVSA over its dealings with Iran's energy sector. Venezuela exports one million barrels of oil per day to the United States, which amounts to 10 percent of U.S. imports. The Chávez administration threatened to cut exports in the past, but did not do so.
Colombia’s Senate Passes Victims Law
The Victims Law, which would provide a system of state reparations and means to recover illegally usurped land to victims of the country’s civil conflict, passed Colombia’s Senate. The House and Senate versions must now be reconciled. La Silla Vacía outlines the main points that require clarification before the Colombian Congress decides to approve the legislation.
LatAm, Asia Still Leading the Way on Global Econ Recovery
The UN’s mid-year update to the World Economic Situation and Prospects Report found that Asia and Latin America continue to aid a global economy on the mend. “The strong recovery continues to be led by the large emerging economies in Asia and Latin America, particularly China, India, and Brazil,” according to the report. However, the survey also warns of potential bumps in the road for these growth economies: “[C]oncerns include persistently rising inflation and emerging domestic asset price bubbles, fuelled by large capital inflows and related upward pressure on their exchange rates.”
Latinos Like Mobile
In February, the Pew Hispanic Center released a report finding that Latinos were less likely than non-Hispanic whites to use the internet, have a home broadband connection, or own a cell phone. A new study by the Hispanic Institute, however, found that English-speaking Hispanics have “emerged as the most avid users of wireless services,” and that they are more likely than non-Hispanics to own a cell phone, send text messages, and use a greater variety of mobile features.
Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies voted yesterday in favor of a measure easing forest preservation requirements in the Amazon region. The vote comes only a week after Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira announced the creation of a high-level deforestation commission tasked with “suffocating deforestation.”
Under the new law, commercial farmers would be allowed to clear previously restricted areas such as hilltops and slopes, along with land only 50 feet away from rivers and streams. It would also make it easier for landholders to meet conservation quotas for their properties and offer amnesty to some who have illegally cleared land in the past.
Supporters of the amendments argue the changes are necessary in order to boost agricultural production and economic development. Critics and environmentalists contend that current laws are already too weak and poorly enforced. Production can be increased, they say, by increasing output in areas already cleared for farming.
The bill will now move to the senate, where it will likely be amended before reaching President Dilma Rousseff. Ms. Rousseff has said she will veto any legislation that includes amnesty for prior deforestation violations.
The United States announced new sanctions on Tuesday against Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA and six other foreign oil and shipping firms that trade with Iran. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg said that sanctioned companies “engaged in activities related to the supply of refined petroleum products to Iran” in breach of an existing U.S. ban. PDVSA delivered at least two cargoes of refined petroleum products worth about $50 million to Iran between December 2010 and March 2011.
Sanctioned companies will not be allowed to access U.S. government contracts, import/export financing and export licenses for sensitive technology, but do not affect the companies’ sale of oil to the U.S. or the activities of its subsidiaries. According to the State Department, the sanctions are aimed at tightening Iran’s gasoline supplies, which will undoubtedly have a ripple effect on the energy sector in the Islamic Republic.
The other six sanctioned companies include Tanker Pacific of Singapore, Ofer Brothers Group of Israel, Associated Shipbroking of Monaco, Petrochemical Commercial Company International of Jersey and Iran, the Royal Oyster Group of the United Arab Emirates, and Speedy Ship of the United Arab Emirates and Iran.
The State Department announced a separate set of sanctions, also on Tuesday, directed at 16 companies and individuals in China, Iran, North Korea, and Syria involved in nuclear proliferation activities and development of weapons of mass destruction.
Former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya signed an agreement yesterday in Cartagena, Colombia—brokered by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez—that allows him to legally return to Honduras for the first time since being overthrown in a June 2009 coup d’état. This accord was conceived at a meeting early last month between Santos, Chávez and current Honduran President Porfirio Lobo.
As part of the deal, Zelaya and his supporters will be allowed to participate in the Honduran political system. Corruption charges against Zelaya were dropped earlier this month. Lobo has pledged not to appeal them, meaning Zelaya can reenter Honduras without fear of prosecution Honduras is also expected to rejoin the Organization of American States as a full member, after being suspended one week after the coup took place.
At the Council of the Americas’ annual Washington Conference earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed support for this pact. Clinton noted that it will help reintegrate Honduras into the international community, calling this step “long overdue.”
The U.S. Congress is as relevant as the executive branch on many specific issues that affect U.S.-Latin American relations, from trade to immigration. Yet individual Members of Congress rarely pay sustained attention to policy toward the region as a whole. Instead, Capitol Hill’s focus tends to be narrow, reflecting the domestic sources of foreign policy and the constraints of lobbying interests in the exercise of its oversight responsibilities.
There are of course exceptions to this congressional trend, and among them, Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) stand out. That's why both received the Council of the Americas Chairman’s Award for Leadership in the Americas last week.
Senators Menendez and Lugar are both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—Menendez is the Chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee and Lugar is the Ranking Minority Member of the full Committee. It’s not easy to find bipartisan comity these days in Washington, but in fact these awards were richly deserved and widely praised.
Colombia is going through one of the most severe rainy seasons in decades. In twelve months of downpours, more than one million hectares (2.47 million acres) of productive land have been flooded, roads have been erased by mudslides, and big and small cities have been isolated and heavily damaged. So far, 428 people have died and 77 are reported missing, according to official figures. About 2.9 million people (6.4 percent of the total population) have been directly affected in 28 of the country’s 32 departments, according to the National Statistics Department.
“This is the worst natural tragedy in the history of the country, considering the number of people affected and the extension of the catastrophe,” said President Juan Manuel Santos. “It’s something like when Katrina hit New Orleans a few years ago, but this time we are talking about a whole country.”
The government estimates that this unprecedented rainy season, caused by the La Niña/El Niño weather phenomenon, could cost some 2.5 percent of the GDP. This is comparable to the destructive power of the country’s three most damaging natural disasters of the last 30 years: the earthquake in Armenia in 2001 (1.86 percent of GDP), the volcano eruption in Armero in 1985 (0.29 percent) and the earthquake in Popayan in 1983 (0.45 percent). But this time it’s all happening in one year.
Unpredictable forces of nature are in play in Colombia’s current disaster. No one can be blamed for that. But as national and local authorities wash their hands of responsibility, they persist in sponsoring policies and projects that alter (and sometimes destroy) the mechanisms that can both trigger or turn off such forces.
“Deforestation, the destruction of the páramos (high-mountain wetlands) and humedales (savanna wetlands) has profoundly altered the water cycle in our country and has led to the aggravation of floods, which have created favorable conditions for landslides,” wrote Manuel Rodriguez Becerra, a former environment minister. He is one of the most vocal critics of how the country is bartering its ecological assets for the short-term revenues of environmentally-unfriendly industries such as mining.
Almost two weeks after Ecuador held its sixth referendum in three years, the National Electoral Council (CNE) announced last night that nine of 10 referendum questions received majority votes in favor of President Rafael Correa’s proposals. Official results indicate that votes in favor of the proposals accounted for between 44.96 and 50.46 percent of votes cast, while votes opposed to the questions received between only 39.25 and 42.56 percent of votes. The results omit nullified votes or “blank” votes.
The final referendum question on whether to outlaw cock and bullfighting, a question to be addressed by individual districts, received approval in 127 of 221 districts. It will be implemented only in those districts where approved.
The referendum, viewed by many as a vote of confidence in the president himself, was largely expected to be approved. However, growing resentment of the president’s perceived reach into control of the media and his proposal to revamp the judiciary led many to believe that this would not be a landslide victory for Correa. The victory may bolster Correa’s chances for reelection in the next presidential elections, to be held in 2013, although its narrow margin suggests such an outcome may not be as easily achieved as was previously thought.
The results of the referendum now await final confirmation from the CNE, and opposition politicians may still contest the results by filing complaints with the electoral authorities.
History is a great teacher, and in these days of disaffected voters I take solace in reaching back in the past to see if we can find some inspiration to make our politics more appealing to the voter. Senator Robert F. Kennedy was fond of this quote: "Some people see things as they are and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not?” Lest we not forget Martin Luther King, Jr.‘s call: ‘’Free at last. Thank God Almighty, we’re free at last.” You might say this was another era and we were dealing with transformational changes such as civil rights. But it was more than that. It was about an era where we could dream of a better world, not for the next election cycle but for the next generations. It was a time where we believed in the power of dreams. It seems voters in democracies are craving for this kind of aspirational and inspirational rhetoric and leadership from their elected representatives.
Since the days of RFK and MLK, it seems our politics have become more transactional than transformational. We argue about deficits, taxes, debt, stimulus funding, and how to negotiate an amendment to a bill. We sometimes fall into silliness like insisting on certified proof of the birth of a person already duly vetted and elected over two years ago. Voter turnouts in western democracies have consistently declined, though the last presidential election saw an increase. Much of it can be attributed to the candidacy of Barack Obama where young people felt inspired by the power of his words and, yes, his dreams for change in America. That was the lesson of 2008 whether you voted for Obama or not. Dreams matter.
On May 9, 2011, Premier Charest tried to take a page from history to present a project not for the next election, but for the next generation. It is called “Plan Nord: Building Northern Québec Together.”
To be fair, not all politics can be about transformational change. We need to be realistic. Not only would it be irresponsible to bankrupt a nation to pay for electorally-popular programs, it would be downright immoral to neglect the impact on future generations. People want jobs, not speeches. But sometimes, it is important that politicians get out of the box and think beyond the next election cycle.
This is why the recently announced major sustainable project in Northern Québec becomes worthy of attention. Skeptics may caution scrutiny, but it is definitely one that merits interest for its magnitude and its promise to demonstrate that economic development, environmental protection and community building can be on the same page when it comes to vision, policy development and decision-making.
In the interests of full disclosure, you would expect my endorsement of this project given my current position. This being said, this announcement by Québec’s premier is the culmination of years of study, consultation, debate, and discussion from all the different parties interested in developing a modern, sustainable development project. Environmentalists, aboriginal leaders, builders, investors, voters, and political opponents all have the right to ask: What is in it for us? Why do it? If so, how can we turn it into a win-win proposition—one that benefits the current generation but embodies a wealth of opportunity and hope for the next generation? This is why at the announcement and after years of consultation and study, the Plan Nord had to begin to answer these questions.
President Santos’ policy of rapprochement with Venezuela has suffered a significant and unexpected setback: the resignation of José Fernando Bautista, Colombia’s ambassador to the Bolivarian Republic.
Bautista submitted his farewell letter anticipating revelations of deals with the infamous Nule Group, whose owners, two brothers and their cousin, remain in prison while they face trial for what will perhaps be the greatest corruption scandal in Colombia’s history. The case involves multi-million bribes and illegal commissions in public contracting. The Nule scandal has also resulted in the suspension of Bogotá Mayor Samuel Moreno, the arrest of his brother Iván —a senator— and the imprisonment of a number of second-rank officials.
At this point, it’s still not clear what kind of job Mr. Bautista did for the Nules. A long-time successful lobbyist, he might have sold his ability to be influential in the highest circles of fovernment. But concerns have arisen that he might have gone beyond this, and that he could have been involved in an alleged plot to discredit Sandra Morelli, the Colombia’s comptroller general. Mr. Bautista claims in his letter that he did nothing but advising what at the time was a successful and respected corporate group. This defense leaves a question open: if this was the case, why did he feel compelled to resign? It’s hard not to suspect there’s something more.
Brazilian Minister for the Environment Izabella Teixeira announced yesterday the creation of a high-level commission responsible for monitoring and addressing the deforestation crisis affecting Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. The commission will be filled by government specialists as well as by members of the Environmental Ministry and representatives from the states which have registered the highest levels of deforestation. According to satellite imagery, deforestation of the Amazon has increased from 103 square kilometers (64 square miles) in March-April 2010 to 593 square kilometers (368 square miles) this year—an almost 600 percent increase in one year. Minister Teixeira called the figures “alarming” while noting the concern as a main reason for establishing the commission.
The increase in deforestation is occurring mostly in Mato Grosso state where nearly 25 percent of Brazil’s soybean harvest is produced. Experts say that increased demand for soy and cattle are key factors in farmers’ decisions to clear more forests from their lands. However, activists like Greenpeace’s Maricio Astrini believe the deforestation is due more to a lack of significant legal protections and penalties for land-clearing activities.
At issue is the country’s Forest Code, which has detractors and proponents on both sides of the concern. As the Code currently stands, 80 percent of land in the Amazon region must remain forested while the percentage drops to 20 percent for all other regions. Proponents argue that the percentage must remain at its current levels or risk further deforestation or the appearance that deforestation will be met with amnesty. Opponents argue that the current percentage of deforestation limits economic development.
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.
Giuliani Advises Peru’s Fujimori as She Pulls ahead
Conservative Peruvian presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori contracted former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani this week as an adviser to help design public security programs. The news came as polls indicated that Fujimori has begun to pull ahead of leftwing nationalist Ollanta Humala for the June 5 runoff election. A Datum released Sunday night found Fujimori leading over nationalist Humala by nearly six percentage points, with 46 percent against Humala’s 40.2. Another pollster, Ipsos Apoyo, released a figure the same day that found Fujimori winning by a smaller margin, with 51.1 percent compared to Humala’s 48.9 percent.
Victims Law Reaches Final Debate in Colombian Congress
A law that would provide state compensation to victims of violence in Colombia’s civil conflict reaches its final debate in Congress today. Before passing the law, legislators will debate whether to legally recognize that Colombia faces an internal conflict with enemy combatants or to classify the FARC guerrilla army as a terrorist group for the purposes of the law. Colombian ex-President and FARC nemesis Álvaro Uribe explains to Foreign Policy why he supports categorizing the guerrillas as terrorists rather than combatants. Investigative website La Silla Vacía charts the positions of key Colombian politicians on the issue.
Scandal-tainted Colombian Envoy to Venezuela Resigns
Eight months into his job, Colombia’s Ambassador to Venezuela José Fernando Bautista stepped down Monday after admitting he had ties to a Colombian construction conglomerate involved in bribing politicians for work contracts. He will be replaced by Ricardo Montanegro, who served as the Colombian business attaché in Caracas.
The federal election in Canada this month changed the political landscape beyond recognition.
After two successive minority governments, conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper won his long-sought majority on a low-tax deficit-cutting plan and crime agenda, winning 166 seats out of a total of 308.
That in itself was quite a feat but the jaw-dropping results on election night provoked a seismic shift in the representation at the House of Commons, Canada’s lower chamber.
For the first time in history, the New Democratic Party (NDP), a social-democratic left-leaning party, became the official opposition in the House of Commons, replacing the Liberal Party of Canada which scored its worst political performance in history. The NDP grabbed 103 seats, up from 36, beating their own 1988 historic breakthrough of 43 seats. The Liberals dropped to 34 seats from 77, and the Conservatives gained 23 seats, dominating every region except Québec.
Now, two weeks later, we can reflect on what to make of all this.
It seems Canada was due for a change.
Nearly 81 million people under age 18 in Latin America and the Caribbean are affected by moderate to severe deprivation, a new study has found. Pobreza Infantil en América Latina y el Caribe (Child Poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean), released yesterday by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), looks at the multiple dimensions of child poverty and proposes public policy recommendations to confront the key causes of such poverty.
The study—carried out from 2008 to 2009—based its framework on the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was adopted in 1989. It took into account such factors as nutrition, access to drinking water and sanitation services, school attendance, and availability of information and communication media, considering deprivation from any one of these as a contributing factor to poverty and social exclusion. It also measured household incomes and assessed a household’s capacity to provide for children’s basic needs. The report found that child poverty is unevenly distributed across the region, with over two-thirds of the children in Bolivia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Peru living in poverty and less than one-fourth of those in Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay doing so.
The report’s authors urge governments to invest in children by promoting their rights, ensuring their access to food, water and quality services, and developing strong systems for social protection. ECLAC executive secretary Alicia Bárcena and UNICEF regional director Bernt Aasen also call for governments to integrate social, employment and macroeconomic policy to combat the cycle of poverty.
Hundreds of people took to the streets of Havana last weekend to march in support of gay rights in Cuba. The demonstrations, which attracted numerous high-profile participants including well-known poet and playwright Norge Espinosa and Cuban President Raúl Castro’s daughter Mariela Castro, concluded at the Pavilion Cuba in central Havana. The demonstrations were sponsored by Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX), which Ms. Castro directs, and were timed to precede the May 17 International Day Against Homophobia.
The Cuban government’s decision to allow these demonstrations stands in stark contrast to decades of official persecution of Cuban homosexuals under former President Fidel Castro. In a 2010 interview in the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, the elder Castro admitted his government had treated gays poorly and had not "paid enough attention" to the problem of homophobia on the island. Since that time, the government has largely reversed its position on the issue.
The fourth Cuban Campaign Against Homophobia runs through May 17 with events in at least 10 of 15 provinces and will culminate in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba later today. Other events are scheduled to take place throughout Latin America—a region that is achieving significant progress in the area of LGBT rights.
This month’s historic decision by the Brazilian Supreme Court to legalize same-sex civil unions continued a string of stunning victories for gays in Latin America.
In fact, as I point out in “Latin America’s Gay Rights Revolution” (Journal of Democracy, April 2011), since the early 2000s the region has emerged as surprisingly fertile ground for gay rights. Within the last five years alone, Uruguay lifted all legal barriers preventing gay men and women from serving openly in the military, Colombia’s Constitutional Court granted gay couples full rights of insurance, inheritance, immigration and social security, Mexico City legalized gay marriage and gay adoptions, and Argentina became only the eighth country in the world to legalize gay marriage.
A cocktail of social and political factors accounts for this surge of gay rights in what historically has been one of the most homophobic areas of the globe. This includes the growing secularization of the Latin American public—a trend made possible by the fading of Catholicism. In addition, the region has seen the advent of gay-friendly national governments in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, and municipal governments in São Paulo, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, and Bogotá. These inroads follow the examples set by Latin America’s closely tied European counterparts. In 2005, Spain became the first Catholic-majority nation to legalize gay marriage and Portugal followed soon thereafter. In an act of transnational policy crosspollination, Spain’s marriage bill served as the blueprint for the Argentine one.
A San José court rejected most of an appeal by former Costa Rican President Rafael Calderón last week, but the court ruled to lighten his charges and overturned his five-year jail sentence.
Calderón, age 62, was convicted in October 2009 of two charges of embezzlement for helping divert millions of dollars from a Finnish government loan to Costa Rica’s social security system in 2004, after his presidency.
Last Wednesday, the appeals court reduced the ruling to a single embezzlement charge with three years in prison.
However, Calderón won’t go behind bars.
Under Costa Rican law, a person who is handed a sentence of three years or less, and whose record is otherwise clean, can walk.
In Calderón’s case, the judges said he must refrain from breaking the law for five years or else he could lose this get-out-of-jail card.
Costa Rica’s justice system confirmed that a former president took up to $500,000 in kickbacks of public funds meant to be used to purchase medical equipment, but set him free. This drew a muted but “respectful” reaction in a brief statement from the Public Ministry that took him down, and it bewildered the citizens of this country of about 4.5 million.
Calderón, who served as president from 1990-1994, maintains he’s innocent, claiming that those funds were legitimate payment for legal services rendered while he wasn’t in office.
The 2009 guilty verdict was a huge blow to Calderón and his center-right Social Christian Unity Party. He was all set to run for president on the party’s ticket that year until the day the Supreme Court declared him an embezzler.
The court sentenced him to five years in prison but Calderón stayed out of jail pending appeals—another interesting facet of Costa Rican law.
Calderón vowed to continue challenging the accusations. After the decision last week he said he plans to bring the case to the Inter-American Human Rights Court (the Costa Rica-based judicial arm of the Organization of American States).
The ruling came just two weeks after a conviction of fellow ex-president Miguel Angel Rodríguez, also of the Social Christian Unity Party, who was sentenced to five years in prison for taking bribes from French mobile gear maker Alcatel.
Rodríguez, president from 1998 to 2002, said he would appeal the ruling but no date has been set for hearings. Rodríguez was in office at the time that the crime was perpetrated. His onetime electorate will be watching closely to see what kind of decision the appeals court makes the next time around.
*Alex Leff is a contributing blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org based in San José, Costa Rica, and is a local correspondent for Reuters and GlobalPost.
Guatemala has its own magical realism when it comes to law and justice. In the past two months the fight against impunity in the Guatemalan courts took three notable hits. This put into question the rule of law in a country a Prensa Libre editorial recently called: “the paradise of impunity and the hell of law enforcement, subject to unforeseen and inexplicable changes.”
On May 11, Alejandro Giammattei, accused of executing five convicts when security forces stormed El Pavón prison outside Guatemala City in 2006, was acquitted due to a lack of evidence. This was the first major case launched in August 2010 by the UN-appointed agency International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). Giammattei was accused by CICIG, led at the time by its then newly appointed head Francisco Dall'Anese Ruiz, of forming part of a criminal organization based in the interior ministry and the civil police. This unit was called on as being responsible for the executions of people detained in prisons. Alleged crimes included murder, drug trafficking, money laundering, kidnapping, extortion, and the theft of drugs.
Two days before Giammattei’s acquittal, the Eleventh Court of Criminal Sentencing in Guatemala acquitted former President Alfonso Portillo Cabrera of embezzlement. Portillo was accused of diverting Q120 million ($16.1 million) from the Ministry of Defense. Manuel Maza Castellanos and Eduardo Arevalo Lacs, former ministers of finance and defense, were also acquitted in a case that involved money laundering through accounts in Guatemala as well as U.S. and European banks.
The acquittal came because two of the three members of the Guatemalan court felt that the Attorney General and CICIG had no hard evidence to prove the charges and questioned the quality of the witnesses. Upon hearing the sentence, Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz warned she would promptly be submitting an appeal with the belief that there was sufficient testimonial evidence to issue a guilty verdict. The attorney general said she would use all state resources to challenge the ruling.
Despite Ollanta Humala having won the first round of voting for the Peru presidency, second-place finisher—and runoff opponent—Keiko Fujimori now leads Humala ahead of the June 5 election according to three polls released over the weekend. One poll by the firm Datum predicts that Fujimori, of the Fuerza 2011 ticket, will win 53.4 percent of votes in the runoff, while her Gana Perú counterpart will register 46.6 percent. Peruvian citizens are mandated by law to vote, and the Datum survey notes that 13.8 percent of respondents said they would spoil their ballots or intentionally leave them blank.
Another poll, by Ipsos Apoyo, reveals a statistical tie between the two candidates: Fujimori has 51.1 percent and Humala 48.9 percent. According to this poll, Fujimori was the more preferred candidate on issues of democratic values, freedom of expression and private investment. To boost her security credentials, Fujimori is currently campaigning with former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani.
The Ipsos Apoyo also shows that Fujimori enjoys a majority support in Lima and areas in northern Peru, while Humala’s electoral base lies in southern, central and eastern areas of the country. The two runoff finalists are scheduled to debate each other in Lima on May 29.
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.
Calderón on NorthAm Integration, Clinton on Hemispheric Cooperation
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered her views on U.S. collaboration with Latin America in a new era at the 41st Annual Washington Conference on the Americas, saying: “We are interdependent, and we have to deal with the real questions that interdependence poses.” The secretary talked on a range of hemispheric issues, from the near-term goal of approving Colombian and Panamanian trade deals to academic exchange, institution building, and security pacts. Mexican President Felipe Calderón closed the conference by talking about the need to deepen North American integration, and said: “The closer we are, the more competitive we will be, and the faster we will grow.” Calderón called the current U.S. immigration system “broken” and described it as a “bottleneck for growth and prosperity.” He also called for U.S. leadership on climate change and bilateral security issues, pointing out that winning Mexico’s fight against organized crime required Washington’s collaboration to tackle arms trafficking, money laundering, and drug consumption in the United States.
Other speakers at the conference included Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, U.S. Senator John McCain, and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. Get complete coverage at AS/COA Online.
Obama Steps up Call for Immigration Reform
President Barack Obama gave a major speech in El Paso on May 10, calling for comprehensive immigration reform that would include a path to citizenship for the country’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. It was the fourth major event over the last three weeks in which Obama continued his push for reform, though he did not clarify when legislation will come or how he will win over opponents in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
Read an AQ blog post by Senior Editor Jason Marczak about the renewed call for immigration reform.
Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla will visit the United States next week in a bid to build on the charm offensive with American investors and media that she kicked off last September.
Chinchilla and a selection of top cabinet members and investment promoters will set off May 14 for San Francisco, California, and then to Washington DC on May 18, meeting along the way with businesses to spark interest in moving their operations to Costa Rica.
“I want to get the message in the minds of investors worldwide that Costa Rica is the best destination for their operations,” Chinchilla said on Tuesday.
Chinchilla needs to convince U.S. companies that Costa Rica, known for its stability, is still a sound investment despite the country’s infrastructure shortcomings, crime problems and her government’s widening deficit that surpassed 5 percent of GDP last year—the highest as a share of economic output in Latin America, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).
Preparations are underway in Port-au-Prince today as Haiti readies for the inauguration of President-elect Michel Martelly on Saturday. The ceremony, which will take place on the grounds of the heavily damaged national palace, marks the first transfer of power since the 2010 earthquake that left nearly 1 million homeless.
Approximately 150 foreign dignitaries are expected to attend the event, including former U.S. President Bill Clinton, U.S. ambassador to Haiti Kenneth Merten and numerous heads of state from Latin America and the Caribbean. However, Mr. Martelly has stirred controversy in Haiti by inviting all eight of Haiti’s living presidents to the event, including former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc’’ Duvalier. In a statement, Haiti's National Human Rights Defense called the decision to invite Duvalier “a total disregard to the tens of thousands of victims” of his regime.
Mr. Martelly will face daunting challenges as president. The earthquake recovery effort is far from complete and recent months have brought increasing insecurity and economic hardship. Robert Maguire, associate professor of international affairs at Washington DC-based Trinity Washington University, provides in-depth analysis of Haiti’s precarious situation and offers a few possible solutions in his article, “Haiti's New President: Welcome to the Toughest Job in the Americas,” in the latest issue of Americas Quarterly.”
El Salvador is the country with the least foreign direct investment (FDI) in Latin America according to a report released last week by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). The country experienced a 79 percent decline in investment compared to the previous year, with total investment amounting to a meager $89 million.
As the report was being quoted in local media outlets an avalanche of political opportunism ensued. For one, members of the private sector—citing recent rifts between the judicial and legislative branches over some controversial decisions related to electoral reform—cited judicial security as the source of lagging investment. Alternatively, President Funes blamed the private sector for not investing in El Salvador. This criticism was reinforced in the report’s analysis, which noted that Salvadoran businesses were the largest investors in Central America with a capital outflow greater than those of their regional competitors.
The ghosts of political instability and public insecurity in a country with endemic homicide rates resonated widely. But while we become entrenched in politically charged bouts, we fail to evaluate information for what it is.
Why is El Salvador posting such low numbers? Part of it is due to changes in the formal accounting principles used to aggregate foreign direct investment, according to ECLAC. Then they cite “endogenous factors like citizen insecurity, increasing operation costs of foreign businesses and the erosion of certain incentives associated to special sectors.”
The Brazilian Senate approved an agreement late Wednesday night to triple the amount Brazil pays for surplus electric energy from Paraguay's share of the joint Itaipu hydroelectric dam. Brazil’s annual payments jumped from $120 million to $360 million due to growing concerns that Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo could get a better price for its surplus energy from Argentina or Uruguay or on Brazil's unregulated energy market. Brazil’s state-controlled utility company, Eletrobras, will be responsible for payment.
Under the 1973 Itaipu Treaty, both countries have rights to 50 percent of the electric energy from the 14,000 megawatt dam—the second largest hydroelectric dam in the world. Yet Paraguay’s total population is only 3 percent that of Brazil’s and therefore sells 95 percent of its electricity share to its larger neighbor.
The agreement was originally proposed by former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. It was approved by the lower House in April, and now that it has passed the Senate, it does not need President Dilma Rousseff’s signature to go into effect. Wednesday’s Senate vote comes two days after southern Chile’s Environmental Assessment Commission of Coyhaique approved the $3.2 billion HidroAysen hydroelectric project in the Patagonia region. Brazil also plans to develop the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in the Amazon, costing between $11 billion and $17 billion.
To date, the Itaipu project has displaced over 10,000 families living beside the Paraná River and flooded the Guaíra Falls National Park. Chile’s HidroAysen is projected to flood 5,900 ha (14,580 acres) along the Baker and Pascua Rivers. Environmental groups claim that Belo Monte could displace up to 50,000 indigenous Brazilians. Despite controversy, all three projects represent a larger movement in Latin America to invest in renewable energy and lessen the regions dependence on oil and coal.
Sandra Torres, the recent ex-wife of Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom, filed papers yesterday with the Registro de Ciudadanos at the Tribunal Supremo Electoral in Guatemala City to become a presidential candidate in the upcoming election. Accompanied by Roberto Díaz-Durán, her aspiring vice-presidential candidate and the former president of port operator Nacional Santo Tomás de Castilla, the filing put an end to weeks of speculation that the former first lady would run for office after filing for divorce from the president this past March. If approved, Torres and Díaz-Durán will be the candidates for the Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza (UNE) and Gran Alianza Nacional (Gana) political parties, which have formed an alliance to back the two candidates in the September 11 election.
Torres filed for divorce from President Colom to sidestep a law in the country’s constitution prohibiting the president’s relatives from running for the nation’s highest office. Colom is also ineligible to run for re-election. Despite legal approval of the divorce in April, some have called the divorce fraudulent and a blatant violation of the constitution. On Friday, a legal organization, Alternativa Renovadora de Abogados y Notarios, filed a motion with the civil tribunal court asking for a reevaluation of the approval of the divorce in light of the allegations. The motion also asks the court to decide if the candidacy filing should be considered fraudulent and the approval annulled.
In the meantime, the Tribunal Supremo Electoral will now review Torres’ candidacy papers to ensure they meet all the necessary requirements before officially registering Torres and Díaz-Durán as candidates. It is uncertain how last week’s legal filing may affect the proceedings.
Should Torres be approved by the Tribunal, her main opponent would be former army general Otto Pérez Molina, of the right-wing Partido Patriota. Polls published this Monday by newspaper Siglo 21 show that Molina holds a 16+ point lead over Torres among likely voters in September's election.
On Saturday (May 7) at 5:00 p.m. radio and television stations around Ecuador simultaneously released the consulta popular exit poll data of Santiango Pérez in a “Who Wants to be a Millionaire" fashion. The announcement came replete with special sounds, flashing lights and suspense filled moments of silence.
This spectacle was followed by President Correa´s climactic, and juvenile, speech declaring victory of “sí” over “no.” However, since Saturday evening, the only thing that is certain regarding the consulta is that, actually, no one knows who is the “winner.” Furthermore, the closeness of the voting paints a picture of a split populace and a president that is quickly losing his popularity.
By late Saturday night it had already become clear that the exit poll data were wildly inaccurate. It is unclear how pollster Pérez (the only entity approved to conduct an exit poll) claimed the poll would have a margin of error of plus/minus 2 percentage points when it failed to include the two categories “blanco”(blank) and “nulo”(invalid). Since then, pundits, journalists and politicians have all given their opinion on who has won which of the 10 consulta questions, all of whom seem happy to ignore the fact that only 59 percent of votes had been counted as of this morning. And as of this morning, the “no” vote has a slight lead in just 2 of the 10 questions.
The President’s speech today from the Chamizal National Memorial in El Paso, Texas, hit the right message: immigrants are vital to U.S. economic competitiveness and growth. As was reiterated today, the U.S. can no longer afford to idly sit by without passing legislation to create an immigration system that fosters entrepreneurship and addresses the plight of those in the U.S. without authorization. With flags fluttering in the background on a hot Texas day, he emphasized that “reform will make America more competitive in the global economy.”
The numbers are clear. Immigrants come to the U.S. to contribute to this country’s future and to create a better future for their families. It’s no surprise that people who give up everything to start a new future in the U.S. are also innovative businesses people. In fact, according to a 2008 study issued by the Small Business Administration, immigrants are 30 percent more likely to start a business than non-immigrants. And overall, The Tomás Rivera Policy Institute reported in 2007 that Hispanic entrepreneurs have established an estimated 2 million businesses in the United States, generating $350 billion annually. Here in New York, immigrants accounted for $229 billion in economic output, or 22.4 percent of the state’s total GDP, according to a 2007 study by the Fiscal Policy Institute.
No último dia 25 de abril foi lançada, em cinco capitais brasileiras, a campanha "Banda Larga é um direito seu: uma ação pela internet barata, de qualidade e para todos". A iniciativa da sociedade civil visa discutir o “Plano Nacional de Banda Larga - Brasil Conectado”, lançado pelo Governo Federal em 2010. Na pauta das organizações, o debate sobre a importância da universalização do serviço de Internet, a garantia da liberdade de expressão e o fortalecimento do caráter público dessa infraestrutura.
No Brasil, a exclusão digital é certamente um grande entrave para o desenvolvimento e inclusão social. Com apenas um terço da sua população com acesso à internet e tendo a banda larga com menor penetração do que em países como Chile e México, o Brasil precisa, com urgência, conectar a sua população caso queira alcançar um papel de liderança na América Latina.
Na zona rual do país o problema da exclusão digital é ainda mais grave. Uma pesquisa da Confederação da Agricultura e Pecuária do Brasil, mostrou que 92 por cento das escolas entrevistadas não possuem acesso a Internet, o que revela que apesar da melhoria da economia brasileira e, por consquência, do acesso da Classe C a novos bens e serviços, não significou a melhoria da infraestrutura digital em lugares mais remotos, daí a importância de uma política pública que possa garantir o acesso igualitário da Internet a todos os municípios.
Dados da consultoria McKinsey&Company, divulgados pela BBC, mostram que um aumento de 10 por cento nas conexões de banda larga pode levar a um crescimento entre 0,1 por cento e 1,4 por cento no PIB de um país. Esse número pode ser maior em um país emergente como o caso do Brasil. Exemplos de sucesso do bom uso da internet não faltam. Na cidade do Recife, por exemplo, o Porto Digital (www.portodigital.org) transformou-se um dos principais pólos de tecnologia do país. Localizado em uma área anteriormente deteriorada e sem perspetiva econômica (apesar de histórica), depois do uso produtivo do espaço por startups (pequenas empresas incubadas) de tecnologia, a iniciativa já gerou 6,5 mil empregos e representa 3,5 por cento do PIB do estado de Pernambuco.
Ao levar Internet de alta velocidade para a população brasileira, a presidente Dilma Rousseff poderá fazer uma mudança sem precedentes na história brasileira, pois promoverá de uma só vez a possibilidade do exercício da cidadania e o desenvolvimento econômico para milhões de brasileiros que hoje estão a margem da chamada revolução digital.
Initial results from Ecuador’s National Electoral Council (CNE) following the 10-question referendum that President Rafael Correa put before voters last Saturday suggest support for his proposals among voters, although by a much smaller margin than expected. Data from Ecuador’s CNE on Monday show that “yes” votes range from 43.7 to 49.06 percent, compared with 40.56 to 44.25 percent for “no” votes, with about 40 percent of total votes counted. The margins were particularly close for the most controversial questions about planned banking, judicial and media reforms.
On Saturday night Correa was celebrating victory, after some exit polls indicated voters had approved the proposals by margins of up to 20 percentage points. Even after the latest CNE results were released, Correa reiterated his victory, claiming his government had swept the polls and accusing Ecuador’s opposition groups of manipulating the vote count by withholding vote data “to claim that there is a dead heat.”
Opposition groups, who see the proposals as an attempt by the president to increase his own power, are demanding that the CNE recount the votes, pointing to inconsistencies in the results and the “unprecedented number of records that are not being processed,” especially from provinces with high numbers of voters. However, election observers from the Organization of American States said there was no evidence of fraud having occurred, although they did note weakness in the training of voting officials.
The referendum’s proposed reforms include a plan to limit banks to offering financial services only, prohibiting media companies from owning non-media companies, censorship, and overhauling the judicial system, including by giving the president greater say in judicial appointments, and setting up a panel to regulate media content. Another controversial item was a plan to restrict cockfighting and bullfighting, but those results will depend on local jurisdictions.
Regardless of the final results, which the CNE should have in about a week, opposition groups and some analysts say that Correa’s narrow margin of victory is a sign of his declining popularity, as well as a defeat to his mandate to run the government as he has thus far. Previous referenda—to create a constituent assembly and later approve a new constitution—were approved with 82 and 64 percent of votes, respectively.
Las palabras Conflicto Armado habían desaparecido del vocabulario político del país los últimos ocho años gracias a directrices expresas del gobierno de Álvaro Uribe, que en cambio las reemplazó por “amenaza terrorista”, “narcoterrorismo” o simplemente “terrorismo”. En línea con la doctrina del presidente George Bush que delineó el Patriot Act para ampliar las herramientas que facilitaran la persecución y captura de sujetos vinculados con organizaciones terroristas luego de los ataques sucedidos el 11S de 2001, en Colombia se expidieron varios decretos y leyes que buscaban el mismo fin: Enfrentar la “amenaza terrorista” y consecuentemente a las organizaciones que entonces fueron rotuladas en las listas de “terroristas” como las guerrillas de las FARC y el ELN, y las paramilitares AUC.
Algunas de estas directrices derivaron en perversas prácticas como los llamados “falsos positivos”, es decir el asesinato de civiles de manera extrajudicial, quienes luego eran disfrazados como guerrilleros dados de baja en combate, lo que les aseguraba a las tropas conseguir premios por los resultados contra el “enemigo”. También permitieron que la agencia del Inteligencia del Estado (DAS) se convirtiera en un aparato de espionaje contra periodistas, opositores, sindicalistas y magistrados, personas que para el gobierno podrían suponer una “amenaza terrorista”.