August 4, 2011Tags: Chile, Education, Sebastian Piñera
The leaders of widespread student and faculty protests in Chile yesterday announced plans to mount a national strike and an additional series of mass demonstrations to contest a far-reaching education reform bill supported by the government. In response, Chilean Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter indicated that his office would deny to students permission to demonstrate in downtown Santiago where prior confrontations with police have caused significant property damage: “The march will not be approved by our government due to the damage caused to property, bystanders and police. We will take all necessary measures to enforce the decision. It is time for the demonstrations to end.”
According to student leaders, the government’s proposed education reforms would allow for excessive levels of privatization in the education sector and lead to higher levels of indebtedness among graduates. “We analyzed the ministry’s proposal and students considered it a setback because it allows profit in the education sector. We do not see any structural changes, but only further privatization and perpetuation of student debt," said Univeridad Católica de Valparaíso official Nataly Espinoza.
Chile has long struggled with education reform initiatives and these latest demonstrations are the culmination of more than two months of smaller protests across Chile. Students are calling for a halt of the trend toward privatization in education and other basic services such as public transportation.
August 4, 2011Tags: Caribbean, Jamaica, Gender Equality
On a global scale, very few women hold leadership roles in decision-making processes. This unfortunate reality holds true especially at the regional and national levels. Didier Ruedin, a scholar on population studies, notes that “in free and partly free countries, the proportion of women in parliament is closely associated with other measures of women’s status in society.” As the argument goes, if more women are integrated into society—and are viewed as respectable and capable leaders, equal to the social standing of men—then their participation in the political system is more likely.
And since 1945, when the United Nations Charter was adopted, equal opportunity for men and women has become a fundamental principle of human rights. In the gender equality movement, there have been significant changes over the years—particularly in the areas of entitlements and women’s roles in certain activities including decision making. In fact, the 1975 genesis of International Year for Women spawned international agreements benefiting women. Some such declarations include the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights, and the Millennium Development Goals, and they have been enacted to highlight the need for countries to act against discriminatory practices.
Yet many inequalities remain. Statistics show that:
• Two-thirds of the world’s illiterate people are female.
• Nearly 70 percent of the world's poorest people are female.
• Women represent a growing proportion of people living with HIV/AIDS.
• In only 16 countries in the world does female representation in national legislatures amount to larger than 25 percent.
August 3, 2011Read More Tags:
Cubans Prepare for Home Sales
The Cuban government has yet to finalize the rules, but Cubans are preparing for the soon-to-come day when they can buy and sell homes for the first time since the 1960s. Some Cubans imagine legal home sales as an economic boon and an opportunity to skirt the state bureaucracy’s control over where they reside, while others see home sales as a gateway to gentrification. Officials say they will enact the reform before the year’s end.
Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about the challenges facing Cuba as it continues reforming its communist economic system.
Martelly’s 2nd PM Pick Rejected by Haitian Senate
Haiti’s Senate rejected Bernard Gousse, President Michel Martelly’s second nominee in the three months since he took office, for the position of prime minister. The legislators opposed Gousse’s candidacy on the grounds that he has been connected with human rights violations.
UNASUR Considers Measures to Guard against Volatile Dollar
Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa proposed on Saturday that UNASUR take measures to avoid negative effects from the tumbling value of the U.S. dollar and economic uncertainty due to the debt ceiling negotiations. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos called meetings of UNASUR members’ economic ministers and central bank directors to discuss South American dependency on the U.S. currency, the first of which is scheduled to take place in Lima tomorrow.
Venezuela to Drastically Reduce Prison Population
Newly appointed Venezuelan Minister of Penitentiary Services Iris Varela told the press Sunday that she plans to clear some 20,000 prisoners from the country’s jails—a drop of 40 percent—in order to reduce overcrowding. She contended that people guilty of nonviolent crimes should serve their sentences outside of prison. In Venezuela, over 50,000 people are crammed into space designed for only 14,000, according to government figures.
Chávez Wants to Talk FARC with Santos
Colombian admiral Édgar Cely worked the Andean media into a tizzy Tuesday, when he said that the Venezuelan government of President Hugo Chávez continues to provide a safe haven for rebels from the FARC and the ELN. Cely later backtracked on his comments, drawing applause from Chávez, who denies that Colombian rebels find refuge in his country. Nevertheless, Chávez said Wednesday he wanted to speak with his Colombian counterpart Juan Manuel Santos about the subject.
Colombia’s Silent Violence
As Colombia’s civil conflict wanes, security in many parts of the country has improved. But Elizabeth Dickinson reports for The Atlantic on violence that doesn’t show up in official statistics in her article covering the disappearance of 328 people over four years in the coastal town of Buenaventura.
Mexico and Colombia Cement Cooperation
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos visited Mexico this week, where he met with President Felipe Calderón and signed several security agreements. The deals include an extradition treaty and a judicial cooperation agreement. Santos’ visit coincided with the inauguration of a bilateral free trade agreement between the two countries.
U.S. Senate Confirms Wayne as Mexican Envoy
Four month after the Mexican ambassador to the United States stepped down amid a dust up over WikiLeaks cables, the U.S. Senate confirmed his replacement late on August 2. The job goes to Earl Anthony Wayne, a career diplomat who served both as an ambassador to Argentina and, most recently, as the deputy ambassador to Argentina.
Read an AS/COA Online update covering recent congressional hearings on the Obama administration’s new choices for diplomatic positions in Mexico and Guatemala.
Mexico’s Other Migration
In an in-depth piece for The Los Angeles Times’ La Plaza blog, Daniel Hernandez explores the economic and security dynamics driving internal migration in Mexico, where the unemployment rate is nearly half that of the United States, yet 3 million people slipped into poverty since 2008, according to a recent government report. Prosperous Queretero has emerged as one of the towns attracting new migrants. Moreover, a more secure Mexico City, once stereotyped as a seething cauldron of crime, has also become a refuge from states where drug war violence has surged since 2006.
See Americas Quarterly’s photo essay of the Campos Ordinola family’s 2010 journey home from Ciudad Juarez—a family lured to the city by the promise of work, but disillusioned by drug war violence.
Federal Prosecutors Resign en Masse in Mexico
Top federal prosecutors in 21 of Mexico’s states abruptly resigned from their posts Friday. The Mexican Attorney General’s Office has fired 462 employees and is investigating another 700 as part of a process to rid the institution of corruption.
Mexican Prez Candidate Talks Education, Security, Economy
Candidate for the governing National Autonomous Party (PAN, in Spanish) Santiago Creel offered his take on the challenges facing Mexico. In an interview with Milenio, Creel says he would reform public monopolies, go after drug traffickers’ laundered money, and centralize police functions under a secretary of the interior. Improving education is the country’s most important task, according to Creel.
DOJ Sues Alabama
The U.S. Department of Justice sued the state of Alabama over HB 56, the toughest state immigration law in the country. The bill, which faces at least two other lawsuits, instructs police officers to check the immigration status of those they stop, criminalizes giving undocumented immigrants a ride, and directs schools to check students’ status. “[A] state cannot set its own immigration policy, much less pass laws that conflict with federal enforcement of the immigration laws,” Eric Holder said in a press release.
Costa Rica Suspends Oil Exploration
On his first day on the job, Costa Rica’s new Environment, Energy, and Telecommunications Minister René Castro announced Monday a three-year moratorium on oil exploration. Castro also headed the ministry from 1994 to 1998.
An AQ blog post by Alex Leff reports on President Laura Chinchilla’s sinking approval ratings and recent cabinet shakeup.
Brazil Could Overtake Japan as 3rd Biggest Automaker
Forbes.com reports on Brazil’s booming automobile industry, with production expected to grow from 3.6 million to 6.2 million per year by 2026. The sector is attracting billions in investment from Chinese and South Korean manufacturers, and benefits from trade agreements with other Latin American countries and a strong domestic market. The boom could lead to Brazil overtaking Japan as the world’s third-biggest car manufacturer, behind the United States and China.
Brazil’s Real: Most Overvalued Currency in the World?
The Economist’s version of the Big Mac Index for July 2011 finds that Brazil now has the world’s most overvalued currency, at 149 percent over the value of the dollar when adjusted for GDP per person. Of the 45 countries other than the United States included on the list, the other top two overvalued currencies were also South American—Colombia (108 percent) and Argentina (101 percent).
Macri Wins Buenos Aires Mayoral Election
On Sunday, conservative incumbent Mauricio Macri defeated Daniel Filmus, who was backed by the governing party in a runoff election to become mayor of Buenos Aires. Macri said at a press conference following the victory that he plans to run for president in 2015.
Read an AS/COA hemispheric update exploring Argentina’s electoral outlook.
Student Protests Continue in Chile, Hurting Piñera’s Popularity
President Sebastián Piñera’s education proposal fell short of mollifying student protesters this week, who plan to respond to the president’s outline for reform by Friday. Students have taken over universities and high schools throughout the country, disrupting classes since May and sending Piñera’s approval rating tumbling to 30 percent—his lowest since taking office.
“Anonymous” Enters Education Dispute in Chile
The group “Anonymous” hacked into a series of Chilean government pages in a show of support for the country’s student protesters. As Bloggings by Boz reports, the attack could have been staged by the international hacking group or by student-activist groups in Chile who have taken on the “Anonymous” moniker. Writes Boz: “This online addition to street protests is likely to become the norm for Latin America in the coming decade. As long as government servers are easily hacked or hit with denial of service attacks, computer-savvy protesters are going to find ways to hit the websites and draw additional attention to their cause.”
Uruguay Condemns Iranian Amb’s Holocaust Denial
Luis Almagro, Uruguay’s foreign affairs minister, condemned comments by Iranian Ambassador Hojatollah Soltani saying that the number of Jewish Holocaust victims did not exceed “maybe thousands.” Almagro recalled that Holocaust survivors still live in Uruguay. Diplomatic relations between Uruguay and Iran remained unaffected by the incident.
Honduras Displaces Guatemala as Top CentAm Coffee Producer
With a harvest of 3.8 million 60-kilogram bags of coffee, Honduras became Central America’s top coffee producer this year. This year was also the first time coffee prices in Honduras had surpassed neighboring Guatemala’s in a decade, reducing a historic pattern of smuggling Honduran beans across the border to fetch higher prices.
Guatemala Sentences Ex-soldiers to 6,060 Years
After a quick trial, a Guatemalan court sentenced four former military officers on Tuesday to 6,060 years of prison each for their role in the 1982 massacre of over 200 people in the village of Dos Erres. MSNBC’s Photo Blog offers scenes from the courtroom. The Central American Politics blogger writes: “[W]hile it is right that these four men from the Dos Erres massacre have their day in court, I am uncomfortable with the fact that the people who trained, ordered, and rewarded them for their behavior will not.”
Noriega to Head Home to Panama
The French government said Tuesday it approved a Panamanian extradition request for Former dictator Manuel Noriega, who is currently serving a seven-year sentence in France for money laundering. Noriega could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of human rights abuses committed during his rule.
Marvel Comics Unmasks Afro-Latino Spidey
Marvel Comics revealed the new face behind the Spiderman mask this week: Miles Morales, a half-black, half-Hispanic teenager from Brooklyn. Morales takes over the superhero job from Peter Parker, who was murdered by the Green Goblin in the last issue. Sid Axel Alonso, senior editor at Marvel Comics, was quoted as saying: “What you have is a Spider-Man for the twenty-first century who’s reflective of our culture and diversity. We think that readers will fall in love with Miles Morales the same way they fell in love with Peter Parker.”
August 3, 2011Tags: Peru, Ollanta Humala, Susana Baca
Although Ollanta Humala became Peru’s president just last week, he has already achieved a landmark accomplishment by appointing the first black minister in the history of the republic. Renowned Afro-Peruvian singer, Susana Baca, 67, will lead Peru’s culture ministry.
Baca, whose name and work is synonymous with Afro-Peruvian tradition, mixes Andean and African beats in her music. Her work won her a Latin Grammy award in 2002 for “Best Folk Album,” referring to Lamento Negro which had been recorded in Cuba two decades prior. Over the years, Ms. Baca has become an ambassador of sorts for Peru’s black community; she is building a cultural center for Afro-Peruvians in the Peruvian town of Santa Barbara and has toured frequently around the world.
Ms. Baca’s nomination came as a welcome surprise to many who had become accustomed to the absence of black representatives in Peruvian politics. In 2009, Peru under Alan García became the first Latin American country to formally apologize to its citizens of African descent. The government apologized for the “abuse, exclusion and discrimination perpetrated against [Afro-Peruvians], from the colonial era until the present.” So while discrimination of Afro-Peruvians is not state-sanctioned, many believe that there remains a high degree of “underground” racism.
President Humala's new culture ministry is a welcome step in reversing such racism.
August 3, 2011Tags: Peru, energy, Ecuador, Ollanta Humala
Peru’s new Minister of Mines and Energy, Carlos Herrera, announced yesterday that authorities from the country’s Comité de Operación Económica del Sistema—the national agency responsible for energy oversight—would begin rationing energy in Peru’s major northern cities Trujillo and Cajamarca.
Although the likely need for electricity rationing in 2011 was predicted last year by former Mines and Energy Minister Pedro Sánchez, the implementation of cuts highlights Peru’s infrastructural shortcomings in the energy sector. According to the government statement, hydroelectric facilities in Peru’s central regions produce sufficient energy to fulfill demand, but the country “does not have the capacity to transport sufficient electricity to the north.”
Power will initially be cut only during nighttime hours in the affected areas and the government has voiced support for plans to import electricity from Ecuador, Colombia and Chile in the near future.
August 2, 2011Tags: Mexico, Mexican General Attorney
The office of Mexican Attorney General Marisela Morales announced yesterday the formal removal from office of 21 federal prosecutors who had represented districts throughout the country. This is the largest mass resignation in the office’s recent history and coincides with another announcement that 111 office staff members will be charged with crimes, 462 will be immediately removed from their positions, and 386 cases are still pending. The assortment of charges against staff includes fraud, theft, the abuse of public office for personal gain, bribery, and embezzlement.
The attorney general’s office has not provided details about the removal of prosecutors, which has led Alejandro Poiré, Secretary of the National Security Council (Concejo de Seguridad Nacional), to request that Morales informs the government whether the prosecutors are under investigation for wrongdoing. According to Poiré, the office “didn’t clarify if the prosecutors failed performance evaluations or if they are being removed because of differences with the incumbent Marisela Morales.”
In a press release, Morales Ibañez was vague: “Depuration of the Attorney General’s Office is fundamental to provide citizens the results they deserve. Today’s Mexico requires that public officials do our work with responsibility and dedication,” she said.
The prosecutor for Querétaro state, Norma Patricia Valdéz, said that her colleagues were gathered together and informed the dismissals. Valdéz—who like other prosecutors will be replaced by her assistant—said there were never any personal differences between herself and the Attorney General. She added she doesn’t fear any investigation into her time in office as she has always “worked within the bounds of the law.”
August 2, 2011Tags: Colombia, Social inclusion
An English translation appears below this text, originally submitted in Spanish.
En Colombia existen cerca de 2.150.000 habitantes mayores de 15 años que no saben leer ni escribir. Y alfabetizarlos no es una prioridad nacional.
Recientemente, un destacado economista, Adolfo Meisel, escribió en la prensa:
“Algunos pensarán que el analfabetismo no se ha erradicado en Colombia porque los costos que implica son muy altos. No lo creo. Más bien, ha sido por falta de interés de los que orientan las políticas sociales y educativas, así como de los ciudadanos que gozamos del inmenso privilegio de tener una buena educación.”
El Estado asumió un compromiso de corto alcance. En el marco de los Objetivos de Desarrollo del Milenio se propone reducir la tasa de analfabetismo de los jóvenes entre 15 y 24 años.
August 2, 2011Read More Tags: Costa Rica, Laura Chinchilla
Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla is struggling to navigate choppy waters. A crisis in the public health system has deepened the troubles facing the Central American republic.
Chinchilla's popularity in this 4.6 million-strong nation is steadily eroding, bucking a trend in which most neighboring leaders are gaining in their approval ratings. In her worst poll score, by Unimer for La Nación newspaper, Chinchilla sank in early July to 26 percent approval from 37 percent in March.
One in four respondents said that President Chinchilla is doing a poor job and 80 percent said they see her having no control over the country. Cathalina García, Unimer’s vice president of research, has attributed Chinchilla’s unfavorable report card to her perceived failure to live up to her promise of handling crime.
The ailing health care system is exacerbating matters. The discovery last month of a hole in Costa Rica’s social security system has set off a fresh crisis for the Chinchilla administration, prompting a workers strike and a series of cabinet shakeups—including the resignation last Thursday of María Luisa Ávila, Costa Rica’s minister of health. Ávila’s resignation does not bode well; she was Chinchilla’s highest-regarded minister, having secured a 79 percent approval rating when Unimer last polled the public opinion of President Chinchilla’s cabinet members in March.
August 1, 2011Tags: Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Buenos Aires, Mauricio Macri, Daniel Filmus
Mauricio Macri, incumbent mayor of Buenos Aires since 2007, was re-elected yesterday by a nearly two-to-one margin over challenger Senator Daniel Filmus. The election, which had entered a run-off last month after no candidate won an outright majority on July 10, ended with Macri claiming 64.3 percent of votes and Filmus the remaining 35.7 percent.
Filmus was President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s hand-picked candidate from her Frente para la Victoria (Front for Victory—FPV), which controls both the presidency and a combined 118 seats in the 329-seat bicameral Argentina National Congress. Although Macri enjoys widespread popularity as mayor, his Propuesta Republicana (Republican Proposal—PRO) alliance holds only 11 seats in the national congress.
This election was viewed by observers as a bellwether for Argentina’s presidential race. Macri was considered a leading challenger to Fernández de Kirchner in the upcoming October election, but he declined to enter the race earlier this year in favor of seeking another mayoral term. Although Fernández de Kirchner currently leads in the polls, a first-round victory—which requires at least 40 percent of the vote—is not a foregone conclusion. Macri’s endorsement is widely sought after among all potential candidates and he has pledged to speak with each of them prior to deciding who to back.
August 1, 2011Read More Tags: Colombia, corruption, Juan Manuel Santos
Uno de los hechos más notables del primer año del gobierno del presidente colombiano Juan Manuel Santos ha sido su impetuoso interés por destapar escándalos de corrupción en las oficinas del Estado. En poco tiempo, Santos—que se posesionó el 7 de agosto de 2010—ha desenmascarado multi-millonarios desfalcos a las arcas públicas y ha puesto en evidencia sofisticadas redes de fraude que involucran a empresas privadas con altos funcionarios del gobierno, ex-funcionarios y mandatarios locales.
Para demostrar que esta batalla está muy arriba en la lista de sus prioridades, Santos ha salido a los medios en tono solemne a anunciar operaciones anti-corrupción de gran calado. Los anuncios se han vuelto tan frecuentes que a la prensa le queda poco tiempo para asimilar un caso cuando ya sus titulares apuntan hacia otro nuevo.
Hace apenas dos semanas, el 12 de julio, el Presidente Santos, acompañado de la Fiscal General de la Nación y el comandante de la Policía Nacional, reveló un millonario desfalco a las arcas públicas en la DIAN, la oficina nacional de recaudo de impuestos. 17 personas enfrentan cargos por el robo, desde 2004, de cerca de 1 billón de pesos (unos 568 millones de dólares), en devoluciones fraudulentas del impuesto a las ventas, IVA. “Este es apenas un bracito de un gran pulpo,” dijo Santos.
El 2 de mayo, el presidente, en otra puesta en escena similar, anunció el primer gran golpe contra una anillo de corrupción en el sistema público de salud, en el que se detectó que cerca de 600.000 millones de pesos anuales (unos 340 millones de dólares) habían sido robados o pagados de manera fraudulenta a contratistas privados por servicios de salud que nunca fueron realizados o por medicamentos que nunca fueron suministrados a los pacientes.
August 1, 2011Tags: Brazil, Social inclusion
An English translation appears below this text, originally submitted in Portuguese.
O Brasil perdeu um dos seus mais importantes líderes da luta pelos direitos humanos. Aos 97 anos, morreu, no Rio de Janeiro, o escritor, jornalista, ex-senador e dramaturgo, Abdias Nascimento no mês de maio. Considerado o mais importante ativista negro, depois do lendário Zumbi dos Palmares, Abdias representa, para os negros brasileiros, algo semelhante ao que Nelson Mandela representa para os sul-africanos, ambos com uma biografia dedicada à luta contra o racismo em seus países.
A história de Abdias Nascimento confunde-se com a própria luta pela igualdade racial no Brasil. Sua militância começou na juventude, quando, ainda na década de 30, participou da Frente Negra Brasileira, o primeiro movimento nacional contra o racismo. E, em 1944, fundou com outros ativistas negros (procure um sinônimo) o Teatro Experimental do Negro, uma companhia que tinha como objetivo protestar contra a falta de negros na dramaturgia brasileira. Abdias foi, também, o primeiro senador negro do Brasil e um dos primeiros legisladores a abordar medidas de reparação para os descendentes de africanos escravizados no Brasil. Seus memoráveis discursos no Senado Brasileiro eram iniciados com um pedido de proteção às divindades africanas, das quais era devoto.
Abdias foi também um embaixador da causa negra brasileira no exterior. Exilado nos Estados Unidos durante os anos da ditadura militar no Brasil, o ativista entrou em contato com dezenas de importantes líderes afrodescendentes da África e demais países da diáspora. Na condição de professor convidado por prestigiadas universidades como a Yale School of Dramatic Arts, o escritor sempre sempre se dedicou a divulgação da história e cultura dos povos negros do Brasil. Suas denúncias nos fóruns internacionais fizeram de Abdias uma persona non grata para o establishment brasileiro, que refutava veementemente sua crítica à falsa democracia racial brasileira.
July 29, 2011Tags: Cuba Travel
As early as September 10, 2011, Tampa’s Cuban residents will be able to fly directly to Havana, officials announced Wednesday. These flights will be the first between Tampa’s International Airport and the Cuban capital since 1962, when the U.S. implemented a trade embargo on Cuba.
Last March the Tampa airport received official approval from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to operate direct flights to Cuba, but the Cuban government did not give its go-ahead until earlier this week. The weekly flight, which will seat 145 passengers in a Boeing 737, will be operated by ABC Charters of Miami, which already offers flights between Miami and Cuba. "Accessing this vital international destination will benefit all of Tampa Bay with its economic impact, and it is great news for our Cuban-American community," asserted Joe Lopano, CEO of Tampa International Airport.
The Tampa area has the second-largest Cuban-American population in the nation (behind Miami), according to U.S. Census figures. The new flights will open the airline runway for 140,000 Cuban-Americans who live within 90 minutes of the airport.
Shortly after President Obama’s inauguration the administration reversed restrictions imposed by President George W. Bush on the travel of Cuban-Americans to the island. And in January of this year, the administration enacted policies to allow American citizens to send up to $2,000 a year to support “private economic activity” in Cuba and facilitate “people-to-people” contact by permitting American student, religious and cultural groups to visit Cuba.
ABC Charters predicts that it will increase its services in October from one flight per week to and from Havana to two. While tickets prices have not been confirmed, ABC Charters’ president Tessie Aral said they will range from $399 to $459.
July 28, 2011Tags: Peru, Ollanta Humala, 2011 Peru presidential election
Promising continued economic growth but reiterating a commitment to greater social inclusion, Ollanta Humala takes office today as president of the Republic of Peru. Fifteen heads of state are to attend, including all the presidents of South America except for Hugo Chávez, who remains in poor health.
Humala, a nationalist former Army officer, won a runoff election on June 5 after campaigning on promises of more fairly redistributing wealth and taxing the windfall profits of mining companies—promises that particularly appealed to residents of rural Indigenous communities. Since then, he has taken noticeable steps to reassure members of the business community, who had feared that his election may dampen the country’s growth and stifle investment. He has said he would not replicate the actions of Hugo Chávez, for example by nationalizing key industries. And in a spate of key cabinet appointments announced last week and earlier this week, including Luis Miguel Castilla—deputy finance minister under outgoing president Alan García—to the post of finance minister, Humala has demonstrated his intention to maintain continuity with at least some of the previous administration’s economic policies.
Even as Humala signals a desire to maintain Peru’s current rate of economic growth (nearly 9 percent in 2010), analysts believe he will reiterate his commitment to income redistribution and social inclusion today. The rate of overall poverty in Peru is more than 30 percent, and stark inequalities between urban and rural areas persist. During his campaign Humala promised to increase the monthly minimum wage from 600 soles ($220) to 750 soles ($272); create pensions for the indigent; and increase spending on social services for the poor through a windfall tax on gold and copper producers. Nonetheless, as Carlos Monge, a researcher at the Centro de Estudios y Promoción del Desarrollo (Center for the Study and Promotion of Development), points out, members of the economic team the president-elect has assembled have not historically shown themselves to be enthusiasts of taxing mine companies.
Humala will face pressure to continue following through on promises to boost spending for the poor. Renee Ramirez, general secretary of Peru’s Education Workers Union, said, “The new government has built up such great hopes that if it doesn’t follow through there’ll be a big divorce…We threw our weight behind Humala but we didn’t write him a blank check.”
July 28, 2011Read More Tags: Peru, Pinochet, Gay Marriage, Humala, Afroperuvian Minister, Joe Arroyo
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.
New President to Take the Reins in Peru
Peruvian President Alan García thanked his cabinet for its work at their last meeting today, as the country prepares for the July 28 presidential inauguration of Ollanta Humala. The former leftwing firebrand finished revealing a cabinet that Reuters characterizes as more conservative than that of former president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio "Lula” da Silva, to whom the media often compare Humala. The cabinet is anchored by Central Bank head Julio Velarde and Finance Minister Luis Miguel Castilla, both U.S.-trained economists who Humala will carry over from the outgoing García administration. (Velarde will remain at his position, while Castilla moves up from the position of deputy finance minister.) The 12-country South American regional bloc UNASUR will also meet tomorrow in Lima, where they will discuss ways to advance regional integration and poverty reduction. All 12 heads of state plan to attend Humala’s inauguration and the UNASUR meeting, except for Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, who is undergoing cancer treatment.
Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about Humala’s cabinet picks.
Humala Appoints First Afro-Peruvian Minister in Country’s History
President-elect Ollanta Humala announced that singer Susana Baca will serve as culture minister in his cabinet. A 2002 winner of a Latin Grammy, the singer will be the first Afro-Peruvian to hold a cabinet post in the Andean country.
Puerto Maldonado Shows Another Side of Peru’s Economic Development
In a dispatch for the Summer 2011 issue of Americas Quarterly, Caroline Stauffer profiles the town of Puerto Maldonado in the Peruvian Amazon—an impoverished area where the rapid economic growth of recent years has yet to trickle down. Puerto Maldonado is one of the many places where the local population's perception that development had passed them by contributed to the rise of center-left Ollanta Humala in this year’s presidential elections.
The next issue of Americas Quarterly, focusing on sports in the Western Hemisphere, hits newsstands August 10.
Colombia’s Congress Tasked with Debating Gay Marriage
Colombia’s Constitutional Court told Congress last night to take up the issue of gay marriage in order to resolve a legal vacuum surrounding same-sex partnerships. The issue remains controversial in Colombia, whre the Constitution specifies that marriage can only exist between a man and a woman. Congress has declined to change the law, despite considering proposals to legalize gay unions six times in recent years.
July 27, 2011Tags: Chile, President Sebastian Piñera, Chilean mining
Union workers at Chile’s Escondida copper mine broke off labor negotiations on Tuesday over unmet contract terms, and are threatening to extend their five-day strike indefinitely. The 2,300 striking miners from the Escondida—the world’s largest copper mine—will be joined by 7,000 contractors today, according to union leader Marcelo Tapia. Workers from Chile’s state-owned Codelco mining company may join the strike on Thursday, though the intervention of President Sebastián Piñera has made it unlikely.
The strike at Escondida that began last Thursday was spurred by disagreement over monthly production bonuses. The mine is willing to pay workers a total of $6,000 in bonuses by the end of the year, but the worker’s union rejected the offer, demanding $10,800 per worker instead. Other union demands include protections for workers who contract serious illnesses on the job, punch clocks that better control their 12-hour work days, and removal of company surveillance camera which, the union claims, violates worker privacy.
Escondida has deemed the strike illegal and has refused to continue talks. Australian mining company BHP Billiton Ltd, which holds a 57 percent share of the mine, has refused the same government mediation that appears to have eased tensions at Codelco.
Union demands are buoyed by the near all-time high price of copper, currently at $4.40 per pound, that is generating record profits for shareholders like BHP, Rio Tinto PLC and Mitsubishi Corporation. The mine, located in the northern region of Antofagasta, produces about 3,000 tons of copper per day, or 7 percent of the world’s copper, worth about $30 million.
July 27, 2011Read More Tags: Fidel Castro, Baseball
Legend goes that when Fidel Castro was a law student, back in 1949, he was such a talented baseball player that he was offered a $5,000 to join the New York Giants team. But he snubbed the offer. That refusal has been widely commented among Cuban baseball fans but also by stars who are divided between those who follow Castro’s example, and those who go.
The greatest, Lázaro Vargas is among the former, having turned down an $8.5 million offer to join the Atlanta Braves, after winning the gold medal in the Barcelona Winter Olympics in 1992. “Castro taught me it is a sweet feeling to walk down the street knowing that no one can buy you,” he once said.
Baseball players live a relatively privileged life in Cuba, and are regularly paraded as national heroes. During my first trip to Havana I remember watching a television program showing a crowd on the concrete steps of Havana's stadium going crazy as Vargas drove a curveball past second base. “"We love baseball more than rum, more than rice and beans; sometimes I feel I love it more than my own life” a shirtless youngster once told me, while playing baseball with a stick from a door and the lid of a plastic bottle in one of the many creaky corners around Nuevo Vedado. “I would love to be able to play in the United States one day, to play American kids, to get that feeling. Do you understand?” he asked me. I did not really then.
Now, after several trips to Havana, having lived in Miami and after writing an article titled Ping-Pong Diplomacy for the Summer 2011 issue of Americas Quarterly (to be released on August 10 and available in Barnes & Noble on August 15) on Cuba and U.S. sports relations, I feel I am getting closer to answering him positively. Despite recent reports that show that around 350 Cuban baseball players have abandoned the Communist-led island over the past several years—virtually all to the U.S.—money is not the only factor.
July 26, 2011Tags: Mexico, Biofuels
Mexican airline Interjet has successfully completed the first commercial biofuel flight in Latin America. Flight 2605, which used a jatropha-based fuel that reduces air pollution by 80 percent, flew round-trip from Mexico City to Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of the state of Chiapas, where jatropha grows. Interjet joins European carriers KLM and Lufthansa in pioneering commercial biofuel flight.
The Airbus A320/200 operating the Interjet flight was powered by a blend of 27 percent jatropha-based fuel and 73 percent kerosene. A total of 12,716 liters (3,360 gallons) were consumed for the 800-kilometers (497 miles) flight. The jatropha used for the flight was cropped in Chiapas and turned into fuel at a Honeywell subsidiary in the United States.
Jatropha curcas is a flowering plant that contains seeds, harvested by Chiapas farmers, which are predominantly used to produce biodiesel. It is not yet a viable substitute for petroleum-based fuels because its production is not sufficiently large. According to Interjet CEO Jose Luis Garza, who was aboard the flight to Tuxtla Gutierrez, “Production of this fuel is very expensive, several times more than conventional fuel.” But, he added, “We didn’t raise the price of the tickets. The goal is to raise awareness.” Currently, the land in Chiapas is overexploited and jatropha production could be a way to recover it, he said.
Aeropuertos y Servicios Auxiliares—the state-owned company managing Mexico’s airports and supply of aviation fuel—has said that more jatropha could be produced if demand were higher. The Mexican government aims to produce 700 million liters (185 million gallons) of biofuel a year by 2020 and become a leading biofuel producer in the region. Among the plans to stimulate production are the Convenio General de Colaboración con el Consejo para el Desarrollo Económico de Sinaloa (General Cooperation Agreement with the Sinaloa Council for Economic Development), which aims to promote the commercialization of jatropha-based fuels.
July 25, 2011Read More Tags: Canada, Quebec
Two separate rail journeys on two separate continents have provided very different learning experiences. Last year, I decided to take Amtrak's Adirondack train from New York to Montréal to observe firsthand the state of passenger rail travel in North America. U.S. President Barack Obama had outlined his vision for high speed rail (HSR), and the Province of Québec had expressed its interest in joining the international connection for the Northeast corridor. I blogged about my experience and was pleasantly surprised to find out that the prospect of HSR was attracting an enthusiastic following.
This year on a visit to Europe, I traveled France’s Train à Grande Vitesse (High Speed Train—TGV) from Paris to Marseille and Paris to London.
I knew the New York to Montréal trip would be long, but 11½ hours was more than I bargained for. The scenery was surely stunning, the price was affordable, but it is ridiculous that in an era of alternative travel the trip was nearly double the time of a car ride and quadruple the time of a commercial flight to the same destination. Crossing the U.S.-Canada border was particularly disconcerting as the train, which was filled to capacity with passengers, stayed immobile for over an hour for individual inspections. And I was told this was a good day.
July 25, 2011Tags: Peru, Ollanta Humala
In a television interview yesterday evening, Peruvian President-elect Ollanta Humala—set to take office on Thursday (July 28)—unveiled eight additional appointments to his administration’s cabinet. He named engineer René Cornejo to head the Ministry of Housing, Construction and Sanitation. He also tapped Peruvian doctor Alberto Tejada to lead the Ministry of Health. Humala designated constitutional lawyer Fernando Eguiguren to direct the Ministry of Justice, while choosing former president of the Association of Exporters, José Luis Silva, to be foreign trade and tourism minister.
An earlier round of appointments was made last week, as Humala selected centrist politicians Daniel Mora and Kurt Burneo to respectively head the defense and production ministries. Both leaders served during former President Alejandro Toledo’s administration from 2001 to 2006. Humala also reappointed incumbent President Alan García’s popular choice of Central Bank Governor, Julio Velarde, to another five-year term. International markets responded favorably.
Other portfolios named yesterday included the ministries of labor, interior, transportation and communications, and agriculture. The president-elect has not yet named ministers of culture or education. View more of Humala’s appointments.
July 22, 2011Tags: Gay Rights, gays in the military
Today marks a victory for homosexuals who wish to serve openly in the U.S. military. The Pentagon is scheduled to announce that that the military is ready to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the Clinton-era policy banning gay men and women from openly serving in the military, without having an adverse effect on readiness. An estimated 13,000 people have been discharged from the military under the policy since it was enacted in 1993. Congress voted to repeal the law last December, but delayed ending enforcement of the ban until top military officials could verify that the military was prepared for the change. President Obama now has to sign a certification of the repeal; if he does so in the next few days, the policy will end 60 days after that, with the repeal becoming effective in late September.
Servicemembers United, an organization that represents gay and lesbian military personnel and veterans, praised the decision, as service members will no longer be obligated to serve in silence. "We are glad to see that just three weeks into his tenure as secretary of defense, [Leon Panetta] is already confident that this policy change can take place with little or no disruption to military readiness," said J. Alexander Nicholson III, the executive director. Nicholson was referring to the fact that repeal of the policy will be one of Panetta’s first major acts since assuming the office of Secretary of Defense earlier this month.
While this is a momentous occasion, a few hurdles lie ahead. The military still has to figure out what services and benefits it would offer to same-sex couples. While it can now extend family support to same-sex partners of deployed service members, federal law will prohibit it from providing same-sex couples with the full range of health, housing and education services it grants heterosexual couples.
July 21, 2011Tags: Cuba, Barack Obama, Fidel Castro, Sports
I wrote an op-ed in the Miami Herald today in reference to an article by Andres Schipani ("Ping-Pong Diplomacy") in the Summer 2011 Americas Quarterly to be released on August 10 and available in Barnes & Noble stores beginning August 15.
In the summer of 1989, U.S. yachtsmen sailed the Black Sea Regatta after the Soviet Odessa Sports Club had participated in the Liberty Cup Yacht Race around the Statue of Liberty. The exchange was one of hundreds of sports-related exchanges between the Cold War enemies that included hockey, tennis, baseball and diving before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In contrast, no such policy — until now — has taken off with Cuba.
Sports have always been an effective tool for fostering cross-cultural awareness and breaking down ideological stereotypes. Consider this: Between 1955 and 1985 the U.S. State Department issued on average 1,700 visas a year to Soviet athletes, artists, scientists and students in a policy of “soft power” diplomacy.
In the same vein, the now-famous ping-pong diplomacy launched by President Richard Nixon with China started with a table tennis match. Those early efforts undermined the communist governments’ efforts to isolate their citizens and were instrumental in building trust between citizens — and effectively weakened control of governments over their citizens.
The full text of this morning's editorial can be accessed here.
Christopher Sabatini is editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly and senior director of policy at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas.
July 21, 2011Read More Tags: Mexico, Felipe Calderon, Drug Cartels
Last week, Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ) ruled that military personnel accused of human rights abuses will no longer be court-martialed and will now face a civil trial. Though the decision might seem like a triumph for human rights activists, a much larger problem looms behind this smoke screen.
Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s war against drug cartels has increasingly involved the use of Mexico’s military. In hot spots like Nuevo Laredo, the military police has virtually assumed all of the law enforcement responsibilities, after 900 local transit and police officers were suspended pending toxicology exams and criminal investigations. And it doesn’t end there. Soldiers are posted in virtually all conflict-ridden areas in the country, cracking down on drug cartels in order to pursue a safer country where local law enforcement has proven ineffective.
This is all the more intriguing because in Mexico, ensuring domestic civil security is not part of the military’s responsibility. They have filled this gap due to their sworn allegiance to the President—one that they have not threatened to overrun since they committed to Mexico’s first post-revolution civilian government under Miguel Alemán in 1946.
The legislature and the SCJ have argued that since the military has essentially taken over control of policing local conflict areas in Mexico, military personnel should not be exempt from civil law and “protected” by military proceedings. It is unfortunate, however, that those in the lawmaking and justice system apparently have no knowledge of regional history or applied comparative politics.
July 21, 2011Read More Tags: OAS, Humala, Venezula, Brazil transparency, Argentina elections
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.
U.S. House Committee Votes to Defund OAS
During a July 20 markup hearing, the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted in favor of cutting the entire $48.5 million that the United States contributes annually to the Organization of American States (OAS). "Let's not continue to fund an organization that's bent on destroying democracy in Latin America," said Connie Mack (R-FL), who authored the amendment and is among GOP committee members who accuse the OAS of supporting anti-U.S. governments in the Americas. Committee Democrats contend the move signals backing away from multilateralism. “Here we are for a lousy $48 million willing to symbolically turn our backs on our own hemisphere,” said Gary Ackerman (D-NY). Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin reports that the decision “is only the beginning of what looks to be a long and contentious debate over the fiscal 2012 State Department and foreign operations authorization bill written by chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).”
Humala Keeps CenBank Head as Mining Stocks Rally
Peruvian President-elect Ollanta Humala said onTuesday he will keep President Alan García’s Central Bank head Julio Verde in his position, sending yet another signal that Humala plans to adopt centrist policies in the style of Brazil’s Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva. Stocks of mining companies with interests in Peru have rallied this month, recovering the losses they suffered when the Lima General Index plummeted on the news of Humala’s election. Humala is expected to announce his economic minister and his chief of staff during the evening of July 20.
Brother’s Scandal Puts Dent in Humala’s Approval Rating
In just one month, Peruvian President-elect Ollanta Humala’s approval rating took a nosedive, dropping from 70 percent last month to 41 percent on Sunday, according to pollster Ipsos-Apoyo. The polling agency attributed the public’s sudden discontent with Humala to the unpopularity of his brother Alexis, who made an unauthorized trip to Russia, in which he represented himself as an emissary of the new government in meetings with officials from Gazprom, Russia’s state oil company.
July 21, 2011Tags: Ecuador, Press Freedom, El Universo
A judge in Ecuador ruled Wednesday that the directors and former opinion editor of El Universo newspaper must serve three years in prison and pay $30 million to President Rafael Correa for an opinion article published in February. In addition, the judge ruled that the newspaper must pay Correa a separate $10 million.
In February, President Correa filed libel charges against El Universo directors Carlos Pérez, Nicolas Pérez and César Pérez, as well as then-opinion editor Emilio Palacio, after the newspaper published an opinion article by Palacio entitled “No to Lies.” Correa argued that the piece, in which he is repeatedly referred to as “El Dictador,” unjustly accuses him of ordering security forces to open fire on civilians at the hospital where the president was detained for several hours last fall. Though Correa originally sued for $80 million in damages, he has said he “will not keep one cent” of the money, and that the reason the ruling is important is that it sets a historic precedent, signaling “the beginning of the end of abuses by corrupt press.”
Palacio, who resigned last week from El Universo in hopes that President Correa would drop the charges against him and the newspaper, has said that the president misinterpreted his meaning. “I was not accusing the president, only warning him” that a future opponent could do so, he wrote in a column last Thursday. Palacio plans to appeal the judge’s ruling and says he was not given the opportunity to present evidence in court. El Universo will do the same. In an editorial published yesterday the newspaper said it “rejects this sentence of 80 pages, dictated in record time” and that its lawyers “will exhaust all national and international means of recourse.”
Press freedom advocates have also criticized the ruling. Diego Cornejo, executive director of the Asociación Ecuatoriana de Editores de Periódicos (Ecuadorian Association of Newspaper Editors), said the suit and judge’s decisión could lead to censorship and self-censorship among the press. Gonzalo Marroquín, president of the Inter-American Press Association, called it “a grave hit against the most essential principals of freedom of expression.”
July 20, 2011Read More Tags: Jose Miguel Insulza, Organization of American States (OAS)
Strange things seem to happen in Washington DC when the temperature climbs. As the thermometer approached triple digits today, the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs (HFAC) actually referenced the American classic film “Animal House.” The HFAC proposed cutting off funding for the Organization of American States (OAS), which the U.S. helped create and has supported from its founding in 1948.
As I describe in the forthcoming article “Is the OAS Irrelevant?” in the Americas Quarterly to be released on August 10 and available in Barnes & Noble stores beginning August 15, it has been a rough couple of years for the OAS. Most notable was the fiasco over the 2009 coup d’état in Honduras; recently a Truth and Reconciliation Commission has affirmed that the ouster of ex-President José Manuel Zelaya was, in fact, a coup. Then there was the controversial vote to end Cuba’s 50-year-old suspension, the continued blind eye that the organization seemed to turn toward Hugo Chávez’ antics in Venezuela, and a general sense that no adults were left to run the place.
The theoretical strength of the OAS is its inclusive nature. Yet that is also its weakness. All 34 countries in the Americas (except Cuba) are members and even the tiniest Caribbean nation can be heard during discussions. But because it is bound by consensus, that broad mandate works only so well as there is a consensus of approach among the members. As Latin America and the Caribbean have become increasingly diverse in their political and philosophical outlook, consensus of any kind had become harder to come by. As a consequence, the OAS itself has become mired in its own indecision.
Attacks on the OAS from Washington have been going on for years, but they have intensified during the tenure of current Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, a veteran Chilean politician known in his home country as “El Panzer.” With his socialist ties, Insulza was not the U.S.’ first choice nor its second. And criticism of his administration has become a wider chorus. Since he was elected to his first five-year term in 2005—he has since been re-elected last year—Insulza and the OAS have been the targets of bipartisan complaints and threats.
July 20, 2011Tags: Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, Referendum, International Court of Justice, Contras
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega proposed a referendum on Tuesday that would demand that the U.S. government pay $17 billion in damages to Nicaragua for its role in that country’s civil war in the 1980s. President Ortega made the announcement during a political rally in Managua to celebrate the anniversary of the 1979 ouster of dictator Anastasio Somoza by the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN).
The claim of due damages originated in 1986, when the International Court of Justice ruled that the U.S. had violated international law by “training, arming, equipping, financing and supplying the contra forces.” It did not specify an amount for the indemnity. The administration of then-President Ronald Reagan blocked the ruling from being implemented through its power of veto on the UN Security Council. The charge was later dropped by former Nicaraguan President Violeta Chamorro in 1992, and Nicaragua never received compensation.
While Ortega’s proposed referendum drew support from a left-leaning crowd at the rally, Francisco Aguirre Sacasa, an opposition deputy, called the proposal “absurd” and said it would amount to nothing.
President Ortega, who has been in power since 2006, proposed the referendum amid the lead-up to November’s presidential elections, in which he plans to seek a third term.
July 19, 2011Tags: Chile, Education, Sebastian Piñera
Chilean President Sebastián Piñera announced several changes to his Cabinet yesterday, after his government’s approval rating fell to 31 percent, from 63 percent last October. The low approval is due in part to ongoing protests by students who demand reforms to the national education system. Justice Minister Felipe Bulnes will now take over the Education Ministry, and Pablo Longueira and Andrés Chadwick—two well-known senators from the conservative Unión Demócrata Independiente party, which is part of President Piñera’s Alianza por Chile coalition—have been assigned to the Ministries of Economy and Interior.
Thousands of students convened by the Confederación de Estudiantes de Chile (CONFECH) have taken to the streets of Santiago and other main cities of Chile calling for reform of the education system inherited from the Pinochet-era. The protests started in mid-May this year and have intensified since then. According to a statement published on the CONFECH website, the mobilizations aim for the defense and restoration of public education, the increase of state expenditures on education, not-for-profit schooling, and democratization of educational institutions.
Mining and Energy Minister Laurence Golborne, who gained enormous popularity following the rescue of 33 miners in October 2010 and is thought to have presidential aspirations, will move to the Ministry of Public Works. He leaves behind the problem of increasing labor unrest at the state copper mine CODELCO.
Piñera has been criticized by other political leaders for his cabinet reshuffle. José Antonio Gómez, from the opposition Partido Radical party, questioned why the president has appointed a total of four senators from his Alianza por Chile coalition—out of 16 in the Senate—to ministry positions. Noting that party leadership will now designate senators to fill those seats, Gómez and others argued that the decision undermines democracy, as it does not give citizens the opportunity to vote for those who will represent them.
July 19, 2011Read More Tags: Dominican Republic, Baseball, Sports
As the NFL lockout nears an end, its resolution will almost certainly redistribute income from incoming rookies to veteran players. The same could be the case in impending Major League Baseball (MLB) negotiations, where the interests of Caribbean youth might be sacrificed to those of the league and its current players.
Historically, top NFL draft picks yet to play a down received larger contracts than players who had proved themselves over seasons of bone-crushing, concussion-inducing play. But as owners and players negotiated distribution of the players’ share of revenue, the 224 collegians drafted by NFL teams—who had no seat at the table—found their collective self-interests ignored. Instead, the new contract will include a rookie salary scale limiting their pay.
A similar scenario could unfold in baseball. The issue is whether Caribbean youth will be included in the annual player draft. Currently, only players in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico reaching the age at which their high school classes graduate are draft-eligible. Extending the draft internationally would include youth from the Caribbean, baseball’s most fertile recruiting grounds.
Dominicans alone hold a tenth of all major league roster spots and a quarter of those in the minor leagues. Foreign-born players, overwhelmingly Latinos, constitute over 27 percent of all major leaguers and about half of all minor leaguers.
Caudillos Can Be Already Removed from Office in Honduras—Just Not the Way It Was Done with President Zelaya
July 18, 2011Read More Tags: Manuel Zelaya, Coup in Honduras, Honduran Truth Commission
Last week, the Honduran Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Commission) confirmed that the June 28, 2009 forced removal of former President of Honduras Manuel Zelaya was a coup d’état. This is good news. Unfortunately, the report goes on to recommend a series of unnecessary constitutional reforms intended to allow for a legal process to remove a president from power.
Problem is: procedures for a special trial against high-ranking state officials are already clearly and unambiguously articulated and regulated in the current constitution. They just weren’t followed. Amending the beleaguered Honduran constitution again to address this phantom problem will not only fail to address the fundamental issue behind the events of June 28th, they will further confuse and weaken Honduran rule of law.
The Commission’s report, “To Prevent These Events from Happening Again” claims (1) that “the Honduran system for checks on the executive power is problematic and has substantial omissions, along with contradictory and dispersed legal rules, open to a lax interpretation;” (2) that “a basic modern constitutional principle is that a president may not be removed by a court decision, but only by a resolution of Congress with due process of law;” (3) that “the constitutional crisis of June 28, 2009 demonstrated that Honduras lacks an impeachment process;” and (4) that “to prevent these events (the coup) from happening again, the constitution should create this procedure.”.
But these assertions are simply not true. Article 313(2)(c) of the Honduran Constitution gives the Supreme Court the power “to adjudicate on the legal actions brought against the highest state officials and congressmen.” Articles 414 to 417 of the current Code of Criminal Procedure outline each of the steps that a criminal suit against the president must follow.
July 18, 2011Read More Tags: Colombia
Desaparecerse del mundo bloguero es fácil cuando uno arranca un proyecto periodístico al que le dedica incansables horas. El primer sacrificio es abandonar aquellos espacios de opinión para volver a la rigurosa reportaría e investigación y sólo con el correr de la práctica, termina dándose cuenta que es capaz de hacer ambas cosas. O por lo menos intenta. Hace casi tres meses regresé a Colombia, esta vez como editora del portal Votebien—una plataforma de medios de comunicación, organizaciones sociales y cooperación internacional con el respaldo editorial de la revista Semana. Como reportera en la versión de 2010 en la que cinco colegas cubrimos las elecciones presidenciales, disfruté del periodismo serio, riguroso e independiente, y un equipo profesional incomparable. Viajé por buena parte del país, dicté talleres a colegas y aprendí de periodismo web y política 2.0 como nunca antes. Ahora con menos recursos y también menos periodistas, volvimos con el compromiso de cubrir las elecciones locales, un escenario de poder donde se juegan aún más los modelos administrativos, las cuotas burocráticas y la maquinaria electoral.
Los colombianos elegiremos en octubre ediles, concejales, alcaldes, y gobernadores en todo el país. Daremos con nuestro voto el poder a nada menos que 23 mil funcionarios públicos.
La preocupación de quienes apoyan la alianza y permiten que Votebien esté al aire es genuina: En Colombia las elecciones no son el fruto de un voto informado ni programático. Son, lamentablemente, escenarios donde presionan los grupos armados, las élites, los corruptos, el narcotráfico, los mafiosos y los políticos que por años se han quedado con la torta burocrática de sus regiones.
July 18, 2011Tags: Peru, Ollanta Humala
Only 10 days prior to his inauguration on July 28, Peruvian President-elect Ollanta Humala’s approval rating has dropped to 41 percent. The latest figure comes from a survey released yesterday by Peruvian firm Ipsos Apoyo—the same organization that polled support of Humala at 70 percent less than one month ago.
Ipsos Apoyo director Alfredo Torres attributes the 29-point slide to the fallout from a trip that Ollanta Humala’s brother, Alexis Humala, took to Russia earlier this month. While there, he held a series of meetings with high-level public- and private-sector officials, including Russian minister of foreign affairs Sergey Lavrov. Both sides report that they discussed oil and gas issues and improving bilateral ties, but the Peruvian media is also reporting that Alexis Humala met with Russian arms manufacturers, the defense minister and representatives from Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned gas corporation.
While the President-elect maintains that he did not send his brother to Russia as an envoy of the incoming administration, the Russian foreign ministry averred that Alexis was sent as a “special representative” of the Peruvian government. Alexis Humala lived in Russia for nearly 10 years and has close ties to the country. According to the poll, 77 percent of Ipsos Apoyo respondents believe that Alexis Humala tried to use his ties to his brother for personal benefit and 82 percent of respondents disapprove of the trip.
In the face of growing consternation, President-elect Humala on July 8 suspended Alexis from the Partido Nacionalista Peruano—a party the brothers co-founded together—which also forms part of the Gana Perú coalition that carried President-elect Humala to victory earlier this year.
July 15, 2011Tags: Fernando Lugo
NOTE: If you were incorrectly directed here and are looking for the Fall 2011 Table of Contents, please access it here.
The Paraguayan Congress on Thursday rejected a constitutional amendment that would allow presidential re-election. Supporters of President Fernando Lugo’s Alianza Patriótica por el Cambio (Patriotic Alliance for Change—APC) party presented the opposition-controlled Congress with a petition of 100,000 signatures urging lawmakers to overturn one-term limit that dates back to 1992. But after Thursday’s ruling, President Lugo—who has claimed no interest in running for re-election—will leave office at the end of his first term in August 2013.
Several supporters of the amendment walked out of the hearing in protest of the decision, including Senator Carlos Filizzola, who said, “We are turning our backs on the country, they have smacked the citizens.” But Senator Lilian Samaniego was skeptical of the president’s stance on the re-election issue, saying the "campaign for re-election is encouraged by the president of the Republic, who with his classic ambiguity intended to appear as alien to the attempted constitutional violation."
Lugo was elected in 2008, ending six decades of rule by the Colorado Party on pledges to champion the needs of the poor.
July 14, 2011Read More Tags: Brazil, economic growth, President Dilma Rousseff, inflation
With inflation this month reaching a projected 6.3 percent per year and a currency that has increased 47 percent against the dollar since the end of 2008, could the Brazilian economic miracle be just a bubble? Though there are warning signs, there are also positive signals that indicate Brazil be able to power through--though at significant cost.
First the negative signals. Chief among these is the signs of an overheating economy. In June the Central Bank’s adjusted, upward, the rate of inflation to 6.3 percent--slightly over its target. Add to this near full employment, the limited efforts to reduce the Brazilian government’s stimulus (through BNDES and federal spending--especially in preparation for the World Cup and Olympics), and the promise to increase the minimum wage by 14.5 percent next year and it looks like a pressure cooker. Granted it doesn’t approach Argentina or Venezuela, but 6 percent-plus inflation touches the upper limits of the government’s comfort level and is Brazil’s highest rate since 2005.
Second is the overvalued Brazilian real. High interest rates (an effort by the Central Bank to contain inflation), record high commodity exports, and a flood of foreign investment have swollen the value of the real. The appreciated value of Brazilian currency against the U.S. dollar and the renminbi has hurt exports and undercut domestic manufacturing. And in an economy in which corporations have come to rely on foreign credit, the appreciated exchange rate has led many to take out dollar-denominated loans. A drop in the value of the real relative to the dollar would place a serious crimp on those corporations. Any sort of devaluation in Brazil’s floating exchange rate will be tough on the economy.
July 14, 2011Read More Tags: Arturo Valenzuela, Social Media
Last week, the Obama administration organized the White House’s first ever Twitter Town Hall. More than 60,000 questions were tweeted well before the start of the town hall—making it a massive outreach on jobs and the economy. While logistically awkward, the amount of participants in the town hall underscores the unrivaled reach of both Twitter as a medium and the imperative to know and use this tool.
Clearly, this administration recognizes the transformative power of social media. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela gets it too.
As Valenzuela’s tenure comes to a close at the State Department, many observers will assess how he left his mark on U.S. foreign policy and policymaking. Most, if not all, past administrations have made an impact on their Latin American policies with an innovative initiative or style. Examples include John F. Kennedy (Alliance for Progress), George H.W. Bush/Bill Clinton (Free Trade Area of the Americas), and George W. Bush (democracy promotion). What will Valenzuela be known for?
With his digital town hall last November, active Twitter feed and Facebook account—amid the burgeoning Facebook presence of U.S. Embassies in the Americas—Valenzuela’s assertive use and understanding of social media stand out as a chief positive contribution. This proactive social media presence falls in line with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s “21st Century Statecraft.”
July 14, 2011Read More Tags: Economic Development, Youth, Crime and Security, Employment and unemployment, Walmart
However you feel about big-box retail setting up shop in New York, Walmart’s announcement last week of a $4-million donation to New York City’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) offered some cause for celebration. According to the New York City government, private funds donated by Walmart and other companies will enable the program to provide an additional 4,000 New York City youth (aged 14 to 24 years old) with summer employment and educational opportunities. This comes on top of the 24,000 slots the program had secured through public funds alone.
SYEP, which began in the 1960s, places youth in various minimum-wage jobs at camps, parks, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, retail companies, and small businesses across the five boroughs of New York City. It also offers career exploration opportunities, training in financial literacy and information about post-secondary educational opportunities. Though reduced from the 35,000 placements made in 2010 and the 52,000 made in 2009, the 28,000 jobs SYEP will offer youth this summer are good news at a time when 24.5 percent of 16- to 19-year olds and 14.5 percent of 20- to 24-year-olds are unemployed across the country. But still, with 131,000 young people filing applications to be a part of SYEP this year, there remains unmet demand by aspiring workers.
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