Amidst growing national concern and international coverage of the violence in Mexico, a bit of news on the macroeconomic scale talks wonders of our country’s capabilities to overcome even the biggest obstacles.
Last week, Bloomberg ran a story on Mexico being the second economy in Latin America to bounce back from the 2009 recession with the highest pace of growth in the last decade. Our economy expanded by 5.5 percent in 2010.
Granted, it is not China’s double digit performance. But for a country that is largely dependent on an economic relationship with the our neighbor to the north—80.5 percent of our trade is with the United States—and is still facing important trade challenges, the GDP expansion at a 0.2 percent rate larger than expected for the fourth quarter of 2010 is excellent news. In a way, it is also good news for the United States. It shows that consumer spending is recovering in spite of the housing situation and the still present issue of unemployment (9 percent in January).
Cuban President Raúl Castro acknowledged yesterday that the frenetic pace of public sector layoffs in recent months is unsustainable and will be scaled back to help brunt the impact of the cuts. The mass firing of up to 500,000 workers, scheduled to occur by April, are part a major economic restructuring toward greater self-employment, which was designed to increase efficiency and worker productivity on the island.
In an evening report on state television news, Mr. Castro was said to have told the government’s Council of Ministers that a project "of this magnitude, which affects in one way or another so many citizens, cannot be framed in inflexible periods."
Since the reforms were first announced in September 2010 many observers have been concerned that the magnitude of the layoffs, coupled with an extremely short time frame for implementation, could lead to further economic and social turmoil in Cuba. By way of yesterday’s comments, the Cuban government appeared to acknowledge the complexity of moving so many workers from the public sector into self-employment.
Cuba’s first national Communist Party Congress in more than a decade is scheduled to take place in Havana in April. The Congress is widely expected to rubber-stamp last year’s proposed reforms, but the scope of any further changes could well be determined there.
In the early hours of yesterday morning, Chileans marked the one-year anniversary of the 8.8-magnitude earthquake that killed over 500 people, left thousands homeless and caused upwards of $30 billion in damage. President Sebastián Piñera attended the official vigil in the coastal town of Cobquecura, which was the epicenter of last year’s disaster.
Former president Michelle Bachelet, who was Chilean head of state during the 2010 tragedy and is currently the Under Secretary-General of the United Nations, replied to criticism of a perceived slow response on the part of her administration. In an interview yesterday with Radio Cooperativa, President Bachelet said that her government did everything “humanly possible,” adding that “we made the maximum effort to be with the people, the victims, and to come to the community.” Bachelet said that the only time the government paused during the recovery was to hand over power to Piñera, who assumed the presidency 13 days after the earthquake hit.
Looking forward, President Piñera remains optimistic about Chile’s future. In all, 220,000 homes, thousands of schools and hundreds of hospitals were destroyed by the earthquake. He noted that over half of the necessary reconstruction efforts to damaged infrastructure have already been achieved in one year’s time. Piñera proclaimed that “this is a gigantic accomplishment for all Chileans.”
Coincidentally, around 10:30pm local time yesterday evening, a smaller earthquake—registering a 5.9 magnitude on the Richter scale—hit southern Chile, specifically the Maule, Biobío, Los Ríos and Araucanía regions. No casualties have yet been reported, according to Chile’s Oficina Nacional de Emergencias (ONEMI). Another smaller earthquake followed this morning, around 7:30am local time, in Biobío.
The people-power revolutions that ousted the decades-old autocratic governments of Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and are rocking the rest of the Middle East have prompted Cuba watchers --yet again-- to wonder when the last redoubt of Cold War dictatorship in the hemisphere is next. It isn't, and we have U.S. policy partly to blame.
For the last two decades, from Eastern Europe to Egypt, none of the countries that has experienced a people's revolution has been under a U.S. embargo. Though it is about to be the target of focused sanctions as a result of its bloody response to the protestors (and deservedly so) before the current uprising even Libya saw its sanctions ended in 2004 by the George W. Bush administration. In the case of Libya --and in the past-- targeted sanctions tied to a specific act by the government can provoke a course correction or even collapse. Over the long-term, though, sanctions actually seal a country off from the rest of the world and allow a government to dig in. The inverse relationship between isolation and people's revolution is no coincidence. Contact with the outside world builds capacity and ideas insidious to even the most tyrannical regime.
Whether it was the 1989 Velvet Revolution in then-Czechoslovakia, the end of communist rule in Poland (two years after U.S. sanctions were ended after the crackdown on Solidarity) or the broad coalition that ended the 30 year-reign of Mubarak last week, the symbols, motivations and means of these peaceful transitions owe much to the sort of contacts that the 52-year U.S. embargo on Cuba has cut off. Defended as a way to deny the regime of Fidel and Raúl Castro the resources to oppress its own people, the U.S.' half century-old sanctions against Cuba have, in pursuing this noble effort, become a blunt instrument. In the name of this cause, the embargo has sealed off the Cuban people from personal interaction with average Americas and denied it the inspiration and tools for its own liberation. Communication, contact and even limited trade is not a zero sum game; sometimes, yes, the regime may benefit, but sometimes the people benefit more, especially when it helps break down the control over information that such regimes need to survive.
Make no mistake. The level and type of repression in Cuba exceeds that in Egypt under Mubarak or even Eastern Europe under communism. Fifty years of cruel, systematic repression by the Castro regime, the penetration of government spies throughout society and the suffocating control of the state over the economy have atomized civil society, closed off freedom of expression and left Cuban citizens dependent for their livelihoods on the state. As a result, many Cubans --especially the younger generation-beaten down by decades of repression, deprived of inspiring contact with the outside world and denied broad access to the tools of communication-- are left waiting for the end of a gerontocracy.
On Thursday, demonstrators at the Supreme Court in Montevideo protested the criminalization of marijuana possession. Under the slogan, “No más presos por plantar" (No more prisoners for plants) supporters of the Movement for the Liberation of Cannabis protested the arrest of an Uruguayan artisan and of Alicia Castilla, the Argentine author of Cultura cannabis. Both were arrested for being in possession of marijuana in their residencies.
A memorandum addressed to the Supreme Court by the movement’s supporters argued that the ambiguity of Law 14.294, which punishes narco-traffic and prohibits the cultivation of cannabis but exempts those that hold a “reasonable amount exclusively for personal consumption” is the term in question as to who decides the amount and the reason for possession.
In late 2010 Congressman Luis Alberto Aparicio Alejando Lacalle Pou submitted a bill to Parliament to decriminalize the cultivation and harvesting of marijuana for personal consumption. “My generation lived and lives with drugs, unlike our parents or grandparents, so it isn’t a taboo subject,” Pou told AFP. He added that "Uruguay’s narcotics law is completely contradictory.”
Sebastián Sabini, deputy of the ruling party Frente Amplio, shares Luis Alberto’s view, but believes a limit of 25 grams of marijuana and eight plants in the home should be set, in order to "provide legal certainty for citizens on how far it is considered possession for personal use and in what point becomes trafficking. "
In 2007 a report composed by the National Drug Board found that marijuana is the most consumed drug in Uruguay. The survey of about 200,000 people found that 12.2 percent had experimented with the drug.
In the 1980’s, the World Commission on the Environment and Development, now called the Brundtland Commission, coined the term “sustainable development” to illustrate the links among economic, social and environmental objectives. Since then, science has added support for the vision expressed by the Commission; holes in the ozone layer and emerging evidence about man-made contributions to climate change have made the environment part of the equation for policies promoting economic growth.
While the debate in the 1980s was originally framed in win-lose terms, in recent years policymakers have come to realize that economic growth and environmental protection do not have to amount to a zero-sum game if tied to social progress. Unfortunately, the Great Recession of 2008 produced a political dynamic in our democracies and societies in which we are once again returning to a win-lose proposition when it comes to discussing how to stimulate growth.
At a time when the Supreme Court has already ruled on the power and jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Agency, current battles in the U.S. House of Representatives over these issues hark back to an earlier period. Even in a country like Canada, where the environmental community has made sustained progress in the last two decades, some are once again sounding the alarm about a pushback. This has led to an increase in combative dialogue with government policymakers.
President Felipe Calderón of Mexico announced yesterday that he will meet with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House next Thursday, March 3, amid a recent spike in drug-related violence and increased friction over leaked diplomatic documents. Last week two U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agents were shot at in San Luis Potosí, and WikiLeaks cables released in December revealed a much rockier relationship between Mexican and U.S. government officials and uneasy attitude toward the drug war than had been publicly expressed.
U.S. and Mexican officials have consistently touted the unprecedented level of cooperation between the two governments on battling drug cartels and associated violence, including $1.4 billion from the U.S. in training, equipment and other drug war aid. Nonetheless, since December 2006, when President Calderón took office and deployed soldiers and federal police in a widespread crackdown, more than 34,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence. Most recently, ICE agent Jaime Zapata was killed and his partner Victor Avila injured last week while driving north from Mexico City to Monterrey.
On Tuesday, the same day that Zapata was buried in Brownsville, Texas, President Calderón remarked in an interview with Mexico’s El Universal newspaper that U.S.-Mexico relations had become strained after WikiLeaks’ release of cables that included statements by U.S. officials reflecting frustration with a “risk-averse” Mexican army and inter-agency rivalries. Calderón said the cables show that U.S. diplomatic officials are ignorant of Mexico’s security situation and tend to exaggerate, while rivalries and a lack of coordination among U.S. agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Agency, Central Intelligence Agency and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, are undermining the war on drugs. He also said the U.S. government should do more to curb demand for drugs in the United States, where the most illegal drugs in the world are consumed, and to stop the flow of arms into Mexico.
Both presidents said the reason for the meeting, which will be the fifth between the two leaders since President Obama took office in January 2009, was the two countries’ shared interests and was not the result of any individual incident.
From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Latin American Leaders React to Gadaffi Protests
Reactions to the government crackdown on protests in Libya that have reportedly left hundreds dead have prompted a range of reactions in Latin America. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega told Radio Nueva Ya that he has discussed the crisis by phone with Gadaffi and offered the solidarity of the Sandinistas to the people of Libya. Retired Cuban head of state Fidel Castro said Gadaffi’s image suffered from attacks in the Western mass media, and predicted that NATO would invade Libya. Peru broke diplomatic relations with the North African government, while the Chilean government asked for an immediate end to the repression. Nearly all Latin American heads of state have called for a peaceful resolution to the crisis.
U.S. Senate Holds Hearing on LatAm Policy
The U.S. Senate Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere held a hearing to discuss Latin America policy on Thursday, February 17. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) proposed looking at Latin American policy “through a prism that includes four lenses: values, institutions, attitudes, and technology.” Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) called for the passage of the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Act and debated Cuba policy with Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Arturo Valenzuela. The Senate hearing followed a similar hearing in the House two days prior.
State Dept Seeks to Quell Fracas over Cargo Plane in Argentina
The State Department issued a fact sheet explaining its version of the events that led to the confiscation of the contents of a cargo plane carrying guns, surveillance equipment and drugs. The State Department said it had coordinated with the Argentine government and declared the equipment prior to arrival, and added that all of the materials were necessary to conduct hostage-rescue training for the Argentine federal police. The U.S. team neglected to declare morphine included in medical kits. The issue continues to stir controversy in Argentina.
A U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks today, dated November 16, 2008, from then-U.S. Ambassador to Colombia, William B. Wood, reveals that former President Alvaro Uribe authorized “clandestine cross-border operations against the FARC in Venezuela, while trying to avoid a repeat of a crisis generated by the capture of FARC official Rodrigo Granda in Caracas in 2003.” Ambassador Wood’s cable contradicts official statements by Colombian officials that Mr. Granda was seized on Colombian territory and appears to support claims by Venezuela that Mr. Granda was captured in Caracas and then transferred to Colombia.
The cable also reveals Uribe’s strategy for dealing with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was based on efforts to “manage Chávez as opposed to confront him” for both economic and security reasons. This strategy included Uribe’s agreement to peace talks with ELN guerillas, facilitated by Mr. Chávez, because it was “better to have Chávez inside the process than outside causing problems.”
The release of the 2006 cables follows correspondence released in December 2010, in which Mr. Uribe told U.S. Admiral Mike Millen that he was “prepared to authorize Colombian forces to cross into Venezuela, arrest FARC leaders, and bring them to justice in Colombia.” The accounts contained in the cables also stand in contrast to current Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ efforts to restore diplomatic ties with Venezuela last August, after over a year of tensions that included trade embargos and accusations that Chávez supports Colombia’s rebel groups in Venezuela.
The most recent wave of drug-fueled gang violence in Acapulco, Mexico killed up to 30 people this weekend, according to Mexican government statements. The fighting began last Friday when a scuffle between competing gangs evolved into a gun battle that left five burned vehicles and seven dead. The shootings then continued Saturday and Sunday, igniting prolonged gunfire and mounting casualties—including a 17-year-old male. According to police, several of their positions were fired upon yesterday, but no officers were killed.
This latest episode is the most recent blow to Acapulco's tourism revenues, which are projected to fall by as much as 88 percent this year as U.S. college students cancel spring break trips due to reports of violence. In 2010, drug violence in Mexico claimied 16,000 lives despite efforts by local and national authorities to control the problem. In the pacific resort city of Acapulco, which has seen growing violence in recent years, attacks are largely attributed to three specific cartels: the Beltrán Levya brothers; the Michoacana family; and Los Zetas.
Despite this weekend's turmoil, Zeferino Toreblanca, Governor of the state of Guerrero, insisted that the streets were secure and the city was open for business.
In contrast to the looming political fights over spending, healthcare repeal, and immigration, free trade could be a rare case where President Barack Obama will benefit from Republican control of the House of Representatives. After all, the pending Colombia and Panama free-trade agreements (FTAs) were originally negotiated by George W. Bush’s administration and then held back from being presented to Congress when the Democrats won a congressional majority.
This opportunity for bipartisan collaboration is particularly true of the Colombia deal which has been on the table since 2006, but only if the president is able to overcome the opposition of one of the most vocal and intense coalitions of anti-free trade groups ever, comprising U.S. labor unions and human rights groups. Their collaboration on raising legitimate human and labor rights concerns in Colombia have created a ardent alliance that combines a historically grave (though much improving) human rights and labor rights situation with groups that traditionally have resisted free trade. Both groups include themselves in the Democratic Party, with one of the most outspoken and strident of the groups, the AFL-CIO, constituting an important electoral base for the President in his 2012 reelection bid. Unfortunately, advocates—including moderate Democrats and seasoned policymakers -- of the deal have been making the wrong argument to this powerful constituency, focusing on Colombia’s improvements in human rights and strategic importance rather than the very real benefits this deal will have for American workers and manufacturers.
This is not to say that maintaining the U.S.-Colombia relationship isn’t important. Colombia has been a steadfast ally in its region, surrounded by the anti-institutional, anti-American Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and the voluble (though still willing to cooperate with the U.S. on some fronts) Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa.
Colombia has also clawed its way back from the brink of becoming a failed state under siege from two narcoguerrilla groups and an array of criminal paramilitaries. At the height of the violence in the late 1990s, according to a government-created independent commission, there were 32,000 forced disappearances -- the bulk of them during the decade between the mid 1990s to the mid 2000s -- and 113,000 acts of political violence. Workers’ unions bore a large part of the brunt of the violence, with 275 union members killed in 1996. Since that time, the Colombian government has made tremendous strides, reducing the murder rate from 67 per 100,000 in 2002 to 33 per 100,000 in 2008, rearranging and improving the judicial system, and launching a series of investigations into the murder of union activists and the disappearances. Correspondingly, union deaths plunged to 39 in 2010. While higher than other professions, the general decline is not surprising; according to the Colombian Attorney General in 40 percent of the cases the motives behind past crimes against union members were not linked to labor activism but to generalized violence.
Human rights groups and U.S. labor activists that have drawn a line in the sand to oppose this agreement have focused on these issues, arguing that not enough progress has been made to warrant the U.S. government approving the FTA. (Never mind the fact that the Colombian Congress has approved the agreement, as do a majority of Colombians, including some labor unions. In fact, current Vice President Angelino Garzón, a former leading union activist, has been pushing hard for the agreement.) Groups such as Latin American Working Group and U.S. labor unions, such as AFL-CIO, while conceding that progress has been made, continue to add demands—many of them vague and immeasurable—that range from a complete investigation of all cases of political violence dating back to 1993 to a further reduction in the murder of unionists—though what point would be acceptable is unclear. In countering this argument, pro-FTA commentators have fallen into the trap of defending Colombian government’s progress in human rights and labor rights and its importance as an ally. Pro-FTA advocates such as former Assistant Secretary of State Bernie Aronson pleas that after the success of the U.S.-Colombian program to reduce crime and all the steps taken by Colombia to investigate abuses, not approving the FTA is “slap in the face” of our ally.
But this isn’t the point. Pro-FTA advocates could make a much stronger argument by pointing out the benefits to the U.S. economy and workers.
The first key point to understand is that the most commonly used argument against free trade -- increased competition from cheap, foreign imports -- doesn’t apply to Colombia. Thanks to a U.S. policy originally adopted in 1991 designed to provide legal economic alternatives to narcotics production, 90 percent of Colombian exports already enjoy duty-free access to the U.S. market.The Colombia FTA would actually level the playing field by opening up the Colombian market to U.S. exporters.
Second, in the four years since the U.S. signed but did not ratify its agreement with Colombia, U.S. businesses have lost market share in Colombia. In just one year (2008), U.S. exports to Colombia declined by 50 percent. U.S. agriculture has largely borne the brunt of this loss: According to U.S. government estimates, since 2008 American farmers have lost over $800 million dollars in exports to Colombia. Why? Largely because of competition from wheat and beef producers in Brazil and Argentina. In these cases, the lower costs of their goods due to proximity would be wiped out if tariffs on U.S. goods were removed.
Competition is only about to get stiffer; Canada recently signed a free-trade agreement with Colombia. Now Canadian wheat and beef producers and even automobile manufacturers -- where U.S. parts can be shipped across the border to Canada for assembly and from there sold to Colombia -- are licking their lips at the prospect of a market in which U.S. imports face tariffs ranging on average 15.8 percent for automobiles, up to 108 percent for beef, and up to 248 percent for wheat.
Finally, American states are already taking advantage of the Colombian market even without an FTA. California, for example, shipped over $300 million of its locally produced goods to Colombia; Ohio $105 million; South Carolina $93 million; and Wisconsin just under $100 million. When tariffs are lowered on U.S. goods being sold in Colombia these numbers will only increase.
Though far less contentious, the Panama agreement has equal opportunities to expand state trade. Not surprisingly, U.S. port states do a considerable business with the canal-bisected isthmus country. Alabama traded $28 million worth of goods to Panama in 2009; California $230 million, Mississippi $419 million and even far-north New Jersey $103. But while Panama lacks the human rights cloud that hangs over Colombia, unfortunately (and unjustly), the fate of the Panama FTA is tied to its Colombian counterpart.
What all the above-mentioned states have in common is that their congressional delegations voted against the majority of past free-trade agreements presented to the U.S. Congress. And despite their political votes in one or both houses of Congress, the vast majority of these states have seen their exports grow in those markets. For instance, after 40 percent of its representatives and all of its senators opposed NAFTA in 1994, California’s exports to Canada and Mexico shot up by 151 percent from 1992 to 2009. Since the Golden State’s Senate delegation opposed the FTA with Chile in 2003, its exports to that country have increased by 300 percent from 2002 to 2009. Ohio benefited equally from NAFTA, even after the majority of its congress people and both of its senators voted against it, with its exports growing 114 percent to the expanded North American market. In some cases the corresponding imports have affected producers, though -- contrary to what you hear -- manufactured goods still make up the bulk of the U.S. exports to Latin America.
Why then all the opposition to Colombia? The simple fact is that for trade opponents Colombia represents the perfect target. Traditional U.S. human rights groups -- many of whom have always opposed U.S. free-trade agreements with the region from NAFTA to Peru -- have staked out their position on the country’s bloody human rights past. U.S. labor unions, which have yet to fully support any free trade agreements, in the case of Colombia has taken up the cause of the murder of its brethren. Both are powerful and loud constituencies for the Democratic Party and both have recognized that this could be the case on which they beat back the momentum on free trade. Evidence of their disingenuousness is their inability to articulate and specific, concrete human or labor rights targets that the Colombian government has to meet to win their support. Instead, in the face of substantial and undeniable progress the groups demand vague goals (in the words of Samuel Gompers “More”), but what is never clear and keeps changing.
For the Colombia FTA to be approved, it must first be presented to Congress, and that depends on Obama. So far, his rhetoric has not been encouraging. In his most recent State of the Union address, the president said he would push for the FTAs if he could ensure that they will be good for American workers. But U.S. workers are not competing with Colombian workers -- the latter’s producers are already entering the U.S. duty free. The issue is now to have the Colombian market open to U.S. products that U.S. workers produce.
Unfortunately, many of the advocates for the Colombian agreement are not helping the president make the case. Telling American workers during a time of economic distress that Colombians deserve a trade agreement for being a good ally or improving their human rights record simply isn’t going to work. In part we do they do this because they are distracted by the vocal coalition decrying conditions inside Colombia, when Colombia itself has already approved the agreement. But telling American workers why the FTA would good for their livelihood -- which it is -- will. That should be part of a broader debate the president should lead on trade.
Hosni Mubarak finalmente ha dejado el gobierno de Egipto luego de treinta años en el poder, obligado por la furia popular. Pero ¿por qué podría importar a un país como Bolivia un hecho como ese, sucedido a miles de kilómetros, al otro lado de mar, en un mundo completamente ajeno a no ser por los libros escolares de historia que nos cuentan de pirámides, camellos y faraones? ¿Tenemos algo en común?
Antes de la “era del Internet”—que a Bolivia llegó lentamente hace un par de décadas pero estalló de pronto como estrella de rock—Egipto era para nosotros probablemente lo mismo que la Cochinchina. Pero ha sido justamente el acceso a Internet, más que los medios de comunicación locales, lo que nos ha permitido no sólo conocer algo más de ese país sino seguir paso a paso, a través de Facebook o Twitter, la reciente revuelta social que acabó con el régimen de Mubarak. Y esa es justamente nuestra primera coincidencia: compartimos con Egipto la paradoja de vivir entre la (extrema) pobreza tercermundista y el ícono del desarrollo futurista del Internet.
With the recent trip of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Mexico on January 24, and the even more recent visit of Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper to the White House on February 4, the past several weeks have seen a lot of high-level engagement on North American issues.
In many respects the relationship between the United States and its two neighbors is as strong as it has ever been. With Mexico, the level of cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking is unprecedented. North of the border, President Obama is extremely popular, and the bond between Obama and Prime Minister Harper is robust.
But, as with all relationships, not everything is perfect. Take, for example, the cross-border trucking program with Mexico. Agreed to under the North American Free Trade Agreement, it was implemented for the first time as a pilot project in 2007 by then-President George W. Bush. The United States suspended the program in 2009, and Mexico responded by imposing tariffs on about 90 U.S. agricultural and manufactured exports worth about $2 billion a year.
After seven years in exile in South Africa, former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is widely expected to soon arrive in Port-au-Prince, raising fears that turmoil looms in the run up to national presidential elections next month. According to reports, Mr. Aristide has received a diplomatic passport from the Haitian government, and officials in South Africa, where he now resides, have said they will facilitate his return back home.
The United States and others have warned that Aristide’s return to Haiti could be an "unfortunate distraction" for voters and have urged him to wait until after the second round of voting. But Mr. Aristide remains very popular among Haiti's poorest communities, many of whom are jubilant at the prospect of his arrival.
Mr. Aristide became Haiti’s first democratically elected president in 1991, following the 29-year reign of the father-son Duvalier dictatorship. But he was also removed from power twice, most recently in 2004 when Aristide fled the country aboard a U.S. supplied aircraft. In the years since, supporters have organized periodic protests demanding his return, while critics have lobbed accusations that Mr. Aristide allowed drug-fueled corruption and violent attacks on opponents by armed militias.
In a series of votes late Wednesday, Brazil’s lower house of Congress approved a 6.8 percent increase in the minimum wage to 545 reais a month ($326.50), from 510 reais. Labor unions and some politicians had sought to increase the wage to as high as 600 reais. The bill will now go to the Senate, where it is expected to be approved next week.
The approval is considered an important victory for Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who took office on January 1. Although she was elected by a landslide last October and her governing coalition holds a majority in Congress, that coalition is itself made up of politically disparate groups, including everything from radical leftists and union leaders to socially conservative Christians.
Wednesday’s approval by a strong majority in the lower house shows Rousseff was able to rally her coalition even on politically sensitive issues for her labor constituency. Nonetheless, she risks losing some of her popularity by pushing austerity measures, including planned cuts in federal spending. Last week Rousseff’s government announced a goal of reducing the federal budget for 2011 by 50 billion reais ($30 billion), as she seeks to curb inflation and hold down interest rates. Inflation reached a six-year high of 6 percent in 2010.
Limiting increases to the minimum wage is important because the wage is used to calculate a range of government salaries and benefits, including federally-funded pension funds. Each real added to the minimum wage amounts to a 300 million reais ($180 million) annual increase in federal spending.
Under Rousseff’s predecessor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a former union leader, the minimum wage increased nearly 60 percent between 2002 and 2010, which helped millions move out of poverty and earned him enormous popularity. Current union leaders critical of Rousseff’s proposal say the limited increase in minimum wage and other measures of fiscal austerity will hurt the poor and working class the most.
A 2006 agreement between Lula and labor unions, which Rousseff has pledged to extend, determined that the minimum wage increase would be calculated by adding the previous year’s rate of inflation to the rise in GDP of two years ago. The Brazilian economy stagnated in 2009, meaning the government only had to increase the wage in line with inflation this year. It will face a more difficult decision next year, when the wage rise will have to reflect Brazil’s 2010 economic growth rate of 7.5 percent.
From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Valenzuela and Mack Debate Latin America Policy
Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere Connie Mack (R-FL) held the group’s first hearing of the congressional session yesterday on the state of Latin American relations. Undersecretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Arturo Valenzuela argued that Obama’s policy of engagement had helped foster and increase positive attitudes toward the United States in Latin America, citing Latinobarómetro polling data. Mack, however, attacked President Barack Obama’s policies, saying they rewarded U.S. enemies while punishing the country’s allies, and called for the passage of the Colombian Free Trade Agreement, a Cuba-style embargo on Venezuela, and increased attention to the problem of the Mexican drug war. Valenzuela said that the State Department is investigating whether the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is violating international sanctions against Iran, as alleged by Mack.
Plan Merida Cash Cut; Funds Shifted to CentralAm
The Obama administration’s newly announced budget contains about $250 million less than in 2010 for the Merida Initiative, an anti-drug military aid program for Mexico. A State Department official said the reason for the large drop was that in 2010, $260 million in funds from the plan were used to make a one-time equipment purchase. The news came just after U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield announced that the Obama administration is considering a $200 million anti-drug aid plan specifically for Central America.
U.S. ICE Agents Attacked in Central Mexico
Two U.S. Immigration and Customs officials traveling in a diplomatic vehicle from Laredo, Texas, to the Mexican City of Monterrey were ambushed by gunmen in the state of San Luis Potosi. One agent died while the other is in stable condition. Fernando Toranzo, the governor of San Luis Potosi, said narcotraffickers were behind the attack and he acknowledged the presence of organized crime in his state.
In a meeting with diplomats from various Central American countries yesterday, Mexican Senate president Manlio Fabio Beltrones promised to draft new immigration legislation that will protect and guarantee the human rights of undocumented migrants in Mexico. The new legislation proposes to resolve issues not yet addressed by current law including protections for migrants who witness crimes, higher penalties for human trafficking and increased access to health, legal and financial services. These changes are directed toward undocumented immigrants who have already settled in Mexico as a means of normalizing their status.
Estimates are that approximately 300,000 Central Americans travel through Mexico on their way to the United States annually. Mexican authorities apprehend and deport less than a third of those undocumented migrants. At the same time, the systematic abuse of undocumented migrants is on the rise in Mexico with reported assaults and kidnappings increasing in recent years including the most recent murder of 72 undocumented migrants last August by drug cartels.
Mr. Beltrones’ proposal was met with praise by the ambassadors and consuls from Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Costa Rica. Speaking on behalf of the Central Americans, Ambassador Hugo Roberto Carrillo of El Salvador thanked the Mexican authorities for their efforts on behalf of undocumented migrants while noting that transgressions against migrants were being perpetrated by both Mexican authorities, in overly aggressive efforts to control the flow of immigrants, and by organized crime. Despite this announcement, human rights activists and the United Nations demanded that the disappearances of migrants and past abuse of migrants to date be investigated and resolved.
After 17 long years in a legal battle, Ecuadorian farmers and environmentalists rejoiced this week when an Ecuadorian judge ruled that Chevron Corporation (Texaco merged with Chevron in 2001) was guilty of polluting the Amazon jungle. The judge ordered Chevron to pay a $8.6 billion fine and an equal amount in punitive damages. If Chevron does not publically apologize within 15 days, the company would be ordered to pay twice the amount. But the battle is far from over.
Ecuadorian farmers in the Amazon accused Chevron of dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon River basin between 1972 and 1992. Farmers reported higher cancer rates, polluted water supplies and subsequent damage to crops and farm animals. Plaintiffs say $8.6 billion is not nearly enough and were hoping for at least $27 billion. With the hope to receive more money, the 30,000 Ecuadoreans represented in the lawsuit announced that they will appeal the settlement amount.
Colombia’s alleged plans to build a 137mile interoceanic railway between a “new city” next to Cartagena and Cupica, in the northern part of Choco, sound really interesting. But unfortunately that’s about it. Even the backing of the mighty Chinese Development Bank might not be able to pull this one off. And it shouldn’t.
Let’s start with Cupica. Cupica? Really?
Anyone that has set foot in the Colombian Choco, the lush, scarcely populated, tropical rainforest region that stretches throughout the northern Pacific Coast, knows that this is not exactly a symbol of Colombia’s pride. It is a beautiful region, but ridden by violence, corrupt and very poor. A trip to Quibdó, its capital, takes 30 minutes on a small airplane from Medellín and up to 14 hours or more by car –that is, in the dry season. The land of the Embera Katios and other indigenous groups, a large afro-Colombian population, illegal goldminers, armed groups, and a few adventurers, has proven unlawful and ungovernable for decades. Building a new port with the goal of a new era of development in the Cupica area sounds awfully quixotic, sardonic, but perhaps more worryingly, completely misguided.
Leaving aside the environmental concerns, which have been discussed for years and should be again before such a plan remotely begins to take shape, the government will do better by paying close attention to the infrastructure the country really needs. This is especially true after the devastation created by the recent floods. First should the food come to the table, and then the wine. The dry canal project is like wine. It may bring out the food flavor, but is certainly not essential.
The stunning announcement that Hosni Mubarak was resigning from Egypt’s presidency in response to widespread civil protests—in which the media played no small part—is yet again a reminder of journalism’s democratic purpose. Coupled with AOL’s purchase of The Huffington Post, it also illustrates the rapid changes journalism has undergone of late.
Ideally, a free press serves as one of many checks and balances in the political system, fosters accountability, provides a public forum for diverse voices, and builds an informed citizenry that can participate in the democratic process. It preserves democracy where it exists and even helps to foster democracy where it does not. When obstructed from fulfilling these roles, the media not only fail to advance democratic governance, but can actively undermine it.
But a fundamental question dominates the industry today: How can the media, especially in Latin America, continue to fulfill its essential roles in the face of continuous challenges?
Canada’s Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney announced on Sunday that in 2010 Canada received the highest numbers of documented immigrants in more than 50 years. According preliminary data, 280,636 individuals took up permanent residency last year. This represents 60,000 people or about 6 percent more than the figure anticipated at the outset of 2010.
During Sunday’s announcement, Min. Kenney noted that while other Western countries scaled back their immigration flows during the global financial crisis, Canada kept its doors open, admitting most skilled migrants. Parliamentary Secretary Alice Wong added that high levels of economic immigration were crucial to helping Canada emerge from the recession. In addition to permanent residents, Canada admitted 182,000 temporary workers, 89,000 foreign students and 12,000 government-assisted refugees in 2010.
In recent months, Canada has also focused efforts on protecting its southern border with the United States. On February 4, Prime Minister Stephen Harper signed an agreement to share more information on migrants and coordinate cross-border investigations. Meanwhile the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has tripled the number of agents on the U.S.-Canada border in recent years.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield was in Honduras last week to sign over $1.75 million in Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) funds—part of a larger $200 million sum he pledged to Central American nations. Brownfield, who heads the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, noted that the funding would support prison management, anti-gang community policing efforts and security enhancement of borders and ports. In the latter case, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Border Tactical Unit would provide training to Honduran Frontier Police.
The $200 million in CARSI funds will aid Honduras and six other Central American countries: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Panama. The CARSI program is an enhanced version of the Mérida Initiative. According to the State Department, CARSI has a list of five goals including to “re-establish effective state presence and security in communities at risk” and to “disrupt the movement of criminals and contraband within and between the nations of Central America.”
In his remarks in Tegucigalpa, Brownfield added that he chose to visit Honduras because it suffers from crimes—including gangs and illicit drugs—from consequences that often originate outside the country. In speaking of CARSI, he said that “the logic is that if Honduras is a victim of transnational threats, the solution should also be transnational.” Brownfield, a former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela and Colombia, also visited Guatemala, El Salvador and Colombia earlier this month.
This week, while participating in a university event in the Dominican Republic, former President Vicente Fox went out on a limb and pointed his finger toward Colombia and Venezuela for presumably being culprits in Mexico’s drug-cartel violence problem.
Ignoring the basic economic principle that demand drives production, Fox ridiculed himself by saying that Mexico’s challenges in combating drug-related violence are mainly due to the fact that “Colombia continues to produce way too many drugs. And Venezuela continues to make it easy to smuggle drugs.”
Reminding us of the fact that during his presidential term, diplomatic ties between Mexico and Venezuela were severed, Fox went on to say that “it seems that there is an association between Hugo Chávez and the drug cartels. This is what happens when someone loses the compass of democracy. Such is the case of Hugo Chávez, who has lost his head.”
Panamanian lawmakers on Thursday voted by a wide margin to revoke a 1960s-era law that had prohibited foreign investment in Panama’s mining sector. It is widely speculated that the change will allow Canadian mining company Inmet to now move forward with plans to build Central America’s largest copper mine.
"What we're trying to do is develop regions, create jobs and reduce poverty," said National Assembly leader Jose Muñoz of President Martinelli's Democratic Change party in response to angry remarks by protestors that made their way into the halls of Congress. Opposition to the law is driven by fears that new mining operations will damage farmland and water supplies in rural areas. President Martinelli has in the past spoken out against the mining law and is now expected to sign the changes into law.
In addition to the Inmet copper project, which is projected to require a $5 billion investment in operations that will eventually produce 250,000 metric tons of copper a year, interest has also been shown from companies in South Korea and Singapore, among others.
En diciembre pasado entró en vigencia la Convención Internacional para la Protección de Todas las Personas contra las Desapariciones Forzadas. ¿Qué significado tiene este instrumento internacional para los países del Cono Sur?
En Argentina dicen que el término “desaparecido” es una palabra en español que se hizo conocida en todas las lenguas por cuenta de la brutal dictadura que sumió al país entre 1976 y 1983. Treinta mil desaparecidos fue el saldo de un plan sistemático de violencia contra la oposición política, víctimas sobre quienes alguna vez el dictador Jorge Videla se refirió con total despojo de identidad: “¿Qué son los desaparecidos? Son solo eso, desaparecidos, o sea nada.”
“Nosotros sabemos que siempre fueron, pero hoy 25 años después, ya son reconocidos por el Estado de Derecho con la entrada en vigencia de la Convención,” asegura Pablo Barbuto, coordinador del área jurídica nacional de la secretaría de derechos humanos (DDHH) de Argentina.
El país fue junto a Francia uno de los grandes impulsores del tratado que entró en vigencia el pasado diciembre luego de la ratificación de 21 países, 9 de ellos latinoamericanos (Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Honduras, México, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay y Argentina). Aunque para todos ya existía la Convención Interamericana contra la Desaparición Forzada, firmada en 1994 en el marco de la Organización de Estados Americanos (OEA), por primera vez un instrumento internacional reconoce el carácter continuo de la desaparición, y el derecho de las víctimas a la verdad y la reparación.
Cuba held a ceremony on Wednesday in the eastern city of Santiago to celebrate the arrival of a 1,630 kilometer (1,012 mile) undersea fiber-optic cable from Venezuela. The cable, which arrived on Tuesday after a 19-day voyage, is expected to drastically transform communications in Cuba, which has some of the slowest internet connections in the world.
Speaking to an audience that included Vice President Ramiro Valdes, Cuban Computer Science and Communications Minister Medardo Díaz hailed the arrival of the cable, saying it “opens a breach in the [economic] blockade” imposed on Cuba by the U.S. government. He also said the cable would “reinforce [Cuba’s] development, integration and national sovereignty.”
The Cuban government has historically blamed its poor communications on the U.S. embargo, which until recently prohibited any fiber-optic cable from nearby Florida. The Venezuela-Cuba cable, which was financed by Venezuela and laid by French company Alcatel-Lucent, will become operational in July and will increase the speed at which Cubans exchange information with the rest of the world by 3,000 times.
The cable's arrival coincided with news from Havana that the Cuban government appears to have unblocked domestic access to dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez’ website Generación Y, as well as two other web portals that are critical of the government. It remains unclear whether the change is permanent.
From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Colombia, Panama FTAs Get Republican Push
President Barack Obama has indicated he will send the South Korean trade pact to Congress for approval in the near future, but some legislators are pushing for free-trade agreements (FTAs) with Colombia and Panama to be sent along as well. Republican leaders from the House lunched with Obama on Wednesday, where they voiced support for all three pacts. Also on February 9, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk testified before the House Ways and Means Committee, where he indicated action on the Panama and Colombia FTAs would take place within a year but was “contingent on the successful resolution” of concerns over protections of labor rights. On the same day, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) addressed the Council of the Americas, where he cautioned: "Colombia and Panama are not waiting on us. This is the new reality in our hemisphere today that too many Americans don’t understand: Our neighbors are not dependent on us.”
The House postponed a Tuesday vote on the Trade Adjustment Assistance program in a move that The Hill says would “provide Republicans with more leverage for the Obama administration to send all three pending free trade agreements” for Congressional approval.
The new issue of Americas Quarterly explores free trade and market access in the Americas, including Charticles on which Latin American countries support free trade and an analysis of congressional support for FTAs.
FARC Releases Hostage in Colombia
The Colombian guerrilla army known as the FARC handed over hostage Marcos Baquero to a group including delegates of the International Red Cross and ex-Senator Piedad Córdoba on Wednesday morning. Baquero, a councilman from the town of San José de Guaviare, had been held hostage for one year and seven months. Brazil offered two Cougar helicopters for the operation, and four Brazilian pilots and four mechanics participated in the rescue. The FARC has agreed to free another four hostages between the time of this report and Sunday.
Just recently, I came across an article in the Harvard Business Review written by renowned professors Michael E. Porter and Mark R. Kramer. The authors lament the increasingly negative views toward business and capitalism of recent years and argue that companies must lead the effort to bring business and society back together. In their view, those who use corporate social responsibility to enhance reputations, recognition and respect miss the point. Porter and Kramer claim that businesses will gain the most respect if they embrace the concept of shared value, in which the creation of economic value meets social progress. Furthermore, this concept has the greatest potential for launching the next era of growth and innovation.
Porter and Kramer acknowledge that adherence to shared value is far from the norm in business today. While they offer examples of companies moving in the direction of combining economic and societal progress in their business models, such as Wal-Mart, General Electric and Nestle, they argue there is still much to change with education in business schools.
Listening to the recent State of the Union speech by President Obama convinced me that preparing for—or as he says—“winning” the future will require more than short-term job stimulus and deficit/debt-reduction measures. It will require a new mindset very much in line with the Porter-Kramer vision.
Following two days of protests over last week’s arrest of Pepe Luis Acacho, the leading candidate for head of the Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador (CONAIE), Ecuador’s main indigenous organization, Acacho was released by Justice María Cristina Narváez yesteday. In her ruling, justice Narváez called his detention and that of two other Shuar leaders “illegal, arbitrary and illegitimate.”
Acacho, Fidel Kaniras and Pedro Mashiant were arrested last week by the Ecuadorian police and charged with “organized terrorism” for allegedly inciting the protests that took place in September 2009 over the government’s proposed Water Act. The proposed law would have allowed the government to permit companies access to water in areas with large indigenous populations, among others.
Hundreds of protestors took to the streets of Quito surrounding the Corte Provincial de Justicia Pichincha in support of the habeus corpus appeal on behalf of Acacho, Kaniras and Mashiant over the past two days. In a hearing yesterday morning, the court accepted the appeal and released the three men to cheering crowds that had gathered in support of the three men. In her ruling, Justice Narváez ruled that the arrests of Acacho and the two other men were invalid due to procedural lapses as well as in violation of human rights and international accords. Narváez also noted that the arrest and detention of the three men was pursued “against justice and laws, and imposed… on a whim.”
The legal victory was welcomed by the indigenous community of Ecuador as well as those of other indigenous organizations both within Ecuador and in neighboring countries. The case is being used by CONAIE to strengthen their argument that the government of President Rafael Correa is persecuting indigenous leaders in the country. As such, CONAIE announced yesterday that they would request a meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to discuss hostilities between the government and the indigenous population of Ecuador.
European Union Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht said on Monday that the EU was close to reaching a free-trade agreement (FTA) with Mercosur. De Gucht is currently on a diplomatic trip to Paraguay and Uruguay—both members of Mercosur. The commissioner’s statement that “the moment has come” for a trade relationship came shortly after a meeting with Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo in Asunción.
De Gucht’s remarks were strategically timed. March and May will see two bilateral meetings in Brussels. There is also a Mercosur summit in Asunción scheduled for June. In his comments, de Gucht mentioned that the EU has earmarked 130 Euros (US$177) for development until 2013 to facilitate trade and exchanges, with Mercosur being the top priority.
FTA talks between the EU and Mercosur were suspended for six years starting in 2004, but resumed in May 2010 due to the FTA’s potential to help both regions recovery from the global economic crisis. One issue that remains unresolved—and could further hold up the signing of an agreement—is competition between European and South American farmers and animal breeders. Mercosur currently has FTAs with Colombia (2005), Israel (2007) and Egypt (2010).
An unfortunate series of events last week turned my last blog post (Colombia’s Readiness for the Mining Industry) into a warning that has now become reality.
On February 1, five miners were killed in an explosion at La Escondida coalmine, near Sutatausa, a small town north of Bogotá. According to official reports, the explosion was caused by the accumulation of gases—mainly methane—in the tunnels. Floresmiro Olaya, the only survivor of the explosion, said to a local newspaper that the mine lacked proper ventilation, the tunnels didn’t have shelters in case of a collapse (like the one that saved the 33 Chilean miners) and no inspection was conducted by authorities. The families of the killed miners announced they will sue the government for poorly enforcing safety measures in the mine.
This tragedy came only a week after another explosion killed 21 miners in a coalmine in Sardinata, Santander, in the northeast of Colombia. It, too, was apparently caused by a buildup of methane gas.
The passing of Verónica Viviana Medina, who died last Thursday from burn wounds, is part of Argentina’s troubling trend of female deaths after being lit on fire by their partners. Since February 2010, 14 women have been murdered through such extreme acts of domestic violence. Ms. Medina, 32, passed away in a Buenos Aires hospital after over 60 percent of her body was burned three weeks ago.
Police reports say that Medina began an argument with her husband in front of their two children that escalated quickly. Medina’s husband then doused her in alcohol and set her ablaze. Medina was able to run onto the street shouting for help from her neighbors. She identified her husband, Daniel Fernando Rodríguez, 32, as the perpetrator. This was considered rare as most of the 14 women were not able to escape their attackers and notify the public.
Ms. Medina’s death was one of three that have already occurred in 2011, with many additional hospitalizations. In another incident last week, Vanesa Barrera, 21, was lit on fire by her 22-year-old boyfriend in the La Matanza district of Buenos Aires. She remains hospitalized with 80 percent of Barrera’s body having suffered serious burns.
With all the news out of Egypt last week in every major paper and streaming in live, the casual observer would easily be forgiven for overlooking a comparatively benign—but still marked—story: Wednesday’s global celebrations in commemoration of the 12th anniversary of Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution. In fact, it’s possible I would have overlooked the occasion too had we not received (from some mysterious email address) an invitation to attend the official celebration in New York at Venezuela’s consulate general on 51st street in Manhattan.
I almost deleted it upon receipt, but there it was, a day or two later, still sitting in my inbox and curiosity took hold. I called Venezuela home for nearly two years at the very outset of Hugo Chávez’ presidency and still have many Venezuelan friends both in and out of the country. What would it be like, I thought? What would they celebrate?
So I slogged down Fifth Avenue through New York’s ubiquitous icy slush and puddles to satisfy a nagging curiosity and observe the Bolivarian revolutionary revelry. The event was open to the public—no sign-in sheets or security checks—and only a few minutes after the 6 p.m. start time the crowd was already getting big. The celebrants were clearly mostly Venezuelan and it seemed like many of the early arrivals knew the consulate staff, but there was also a pretty diverse gringo crowd sporting patriotic Venezuelan hats and flags and bright red t-shirts.
If you happened to forget yours at home: “no problem!” There was a table of giveaway flags and apparel, and even hard-copy-bound books (in English) with select writings by el libertador himself.
This week marked the annual feast of the Candelaria (Candlemas), a religious event celebrated across Mexico that got its name from the fact that candles were brought to the church to be blessed. Marking the ritual presentation of baby Jesus, the occasion involves first making the necessary repairs to plaster statues in street side markets. These statues—elaborately dressed Niños Jesus that are then brought to local churches—are chronicled in my video below.
You’ll see that Mexicans have developed a devotional cult around the Niño Jesus and there are an infinite number of manifestations of the figure. The Football Niño, the Punk Niño, the Indigenous Niño, and the Doctor Niño are but a few that are popular. The day usually ends with a meal of tamales—the traditional tamalada—the responsibility of the person whose slice of rosca (round, sugary bread) contained a small, plastic figure of the baby Jesus.
Watch a piece I composed on the elaborate preparations involved in the ritual:
Keith Dannemiller is a guest blogger to AQ Online. He is a photographer based in Mexico City.
In early January, three Argentine pilots of a private modern jet were arrested in Barcelona, Spain, for transporting nearly a ton of cocaine. The episode is embarrassing for the Argentinean government since Spanish investigators have proof that the cocaine was loaded onto the plane from an Argentinean military airbase. Moreover, this was the last and biggest of a series of three carefully planned trips. The Spanish authorities chose to watch the first two smaller shipments and wait to seize this larger shipment. They also chose not to reveal any information about the nearly year-long operation to Argentinean authorities.
The lack of Spanish cooperation with the Argentinean authorities reveals an absence of trust and makes an outside observer wonder about the possibility of government complicity. Indeed, there are government connections from previous administrations. Two of those arrested are brothers Gustavo and Eduardo Juliá, sons of Brigadier José Juliá who was head of Argentina's Airforce when Carlos Menem was president. The third, Matías Miret, is also the son of a former Airforce official in command during the country's dictatorship (1976-1983). The modern jet plane used in the last flight, a Challenger 604, was supposedly rented from the company Medical Jet based in Miami, which claims it was leased to the Argentines by an outsourced group. Spanish authorities have revealed evidence that the 944 kilos of cocaine confiscated from the jet originated from the Valle Cartel in Colombia and passed through Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, for processing before making its way to Argentina.
The recent episode is not only uncomfortable for the Argentinean government; it highlights the country's growing role in the international drug trade and the government's weak control over trafficking. At first, President Cristina Fernández´s administration wouldn't admit that the drugs were loaded on the Argentinean airbase, but evidence forced the new Security Minister (former Minister of Defense) Nilda Garré to concede that it was possible and that “some controls have relaxed a little.” Accordingly, Ms. Garré has begun calling for increased regulations for private aircrafts. This sounds like a good idea considering the private jet loaded with a ton of cocaine at a military airbase even passed through Argentinean customs before taking off for Spain.
According to a researcher from the University of Buenos Aires, there is significant drug trafficking throughout Argentina, but mostly taking place by sea. This Juliá brother case is unique because of the large quantity of cocaine transported by air. There is also evidence, however, that Argentina is not just a transit point. It is also a drug producing and consuming country. The exponential growth of the use of Paco, a cheap cocaine derivative often made from production leftovers, makes specialists believe that there is significant production taking place in the country. Around the year 2000, the combination of Plan Colombia cracking down on drug producing countries up north and Argentinean’s economic meltdown made sending cocaine paste directly to Argentina for processing a viable, economic alternative. As a result, consumption has risen among the poor and the use of cheap drugs by young slum dwellers is leading to increasing acts of random gun violence in Buenos Aires.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.