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  • Morreu o maior líder negro brasileiro do Século XX

    July 6, 2011

    by Paulo Rogério

    An English translation will appear 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.

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    Tags: Social inclusion

  • UN Proposes Truth Commission on Duvalier Dictatorship

    July 6, 2011

    by AQ Online

    On Tuesday United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang  supported  the creation of a truth panel to investigate the human rights abuses of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, Haiti’s president from 1971 to 1986. Speaking at a press conference in Haiti, Kang said the initiative would facilitate reconciliation among Haitian victims of the dictatorship, and that it would proceed alongside current efforts to prosecute Duvalier in local courts. The former despot has been accused of torture, arbitrary detentions, rape, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial executions.

    During a four-day trip to Haiti, Kang met with government officials, including President Michel Martelly and the president of the lower chamber in Congress, as well as human rights groups and civil society organizations. She reminded them of the importance of human rights in the context of development and insisted on the importance of a truth commission. “I hope it will thoroughly examine this period of Haitian history as well as others, promote memory and reconciliation, and raise awareness of the need to protect and promote human rights, particularly among young persons,” she said.

    After being overthrown by a popular uprising in 1986, Duvalier fled to France, where he spent the last 25 years in exile. He returned to Haiti in January of this year, after which several criminal charges were brought against him. More than 20 lawsuits have been filed in local courts for crimes including murder, torture and embezzlement. Bobby Duval, a former soccer celebrity who favors the creation of a truth commission, is among the plaintiffs; he has spoken several times about the tortures he suffered during 17 months of imprisonment without charge.

    Duvalier’s lawyer, Reynold Georges, opposes the creation of a truth commission, arguing, “We have our own legal system, and we're going to stick to it. ... Love Duvalier or leave the country.” Additionally, in April, President Martelly told a Montreal newspaper that he would be willing to consider amnesty for Duvalier on the basis of national reconciliation. He has already reached out to Duvalier allies; Daniel Supplice, minister of social affairs under Duvalier, was the head of Martelly’s transition team and is among the candidates to become Martelly’s Prime Minister.

    Tags: United Nations, Haiti, Jean-Claude Duvalier, Human Rights in Haiti

  • Cuba Travel Restrictions in the Spotlight in Brooklyn and Beyond

    July 5, 2011

    by Matthew Aho

    On June 23, South Florida Congressman (and Appropriations Committee member) Mario Diaz-Balart successfully added an amendment to the 2012 Financial Services Appropriations Bill  that would nullify recent steps by President Obama to ease travel restrictions and money transfers to Cuba. The move—which would disproportionately affect constituents in Mr. Diaz-Balart’s own district, many of whom regularly visit family in Cuba—is the latest attempt by hardliners in Congress to block people-to-people contact and prevent Americans from traveling or sending money to Cuba.

    Although the amendment may be gutted before the bill’s final passage (this has been the fate of similar prior efforts), the tactic is a stark reminder that some in Congress still believe that the only way to facilitate democracy in Cuba is to prevent Americans from spending money there, where some of it inevitably winds up in Castro government coffers.

    Moderates disagree. Shortly after the measure passed, the Washington DC-based Cuba Study Group issued a statement condemning the amendment saying, “transitions from authoritarian rule in Eastern Europe, apartheid South Africa and even the Arab Spring…have proven that contact with the outside world has played a crucial role in promoting those changes.”

    There are numerous compelling arguments for freedom to travel. One often-raised belief is that the U.S. government shouldn’t be in the business of deciding where Americans can and cannot travel. U.S. citizens can travel to Iran and North Korea (far scarier adversaries by any objective measure)—just as we were allowed to travel to apartheid South Africa and the Soviet Union—so why not Cuba?

    Others think travel restrictions are a strategic blunder. If U.S. policy toward Cuba is designed to foment political transition, the thinking goes, then the soft-power punch dealt by iPod wielding Americans comingling on Havana’s famous Malecón far outweighs any profit the Cuban government derives from cash those gringos spend there.

    All of this aside, the simple reality is that ending the travel ban, which requires an act of Congress, is a political non-starter—at least through the end of 2012. It just won’t happen! And this raises an interesting question: Why are Diaz-Balart and his colleagues making such a tremendous fuss over low levels of family, academic and cultural travel?

    Even those of us who watch Cuba news closely struggle to understand this one.

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    Tags: Cuba, Barack Obama, Mario Diaz-Balart, Cuba Study Group, Brooklyn academy of music

  • Humala to Visit U.S. in Move to Strengthen Ties

    July 5, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Peruvian President-Elect Ollanta Humala will meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza and likely President Barack Obama—depending on Obama's schedule—in Washington DC on Wednesday.  The trip marks the first top-level contact between the United States and the president-elect, who will take power on July 28. The meetings will touch on Peru’s recent economic growth, the free-trade agreement with the U.S.—which Humala has publicly opposed—as well as joint efforts to combat drug trafficking.

    The visit marks an important step in continuing the strong relationship between the U.S. and Peru. As South America’s sixth-largest economy, Peru is currently leading the region’s economic boom with a projected 6.6 percent growth this year. A former army officer, Humala moderated many of his positions during the presidential campaign and has said that he’ll support sensible investments in the country’s natural resources, but “with respect for the rights and freedoms of the indigenous population and local community.”

    Prior to his U.S. trip, Humala completed a tour of South America where he met with the presidents of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Uruguay. The president-elect had also scheduled a visit to Venezuela which has been delayed to President Hugo Chávez’ current health conditions. Before arriving in Washington DC, he and his wife, Nadine Heredia, will first pass through Miami.

    Tags: Peru, Barack Obama, Washington DC, Ollanta Humala, Hila

  • What Georgia Stands to Lose Through Enactment Today of HB 87

    July 1, 2011

    by Jason Marczak

    Three years ago, I led efforts to bring together leaders from civil society and the public and private sectors to identify ways in which to expand the integration of immigrants and Latinos overall in the Atlanta metropolitan area. Today, July 1, marks a rather unceremonious change in how Georgia’s politicians have caved into anti-immigrant sentiment.

    The Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011—HB 87—is likely to not only drive out immigrants, but also restrain current and new investment and jobs.

    Back in 2008, the working group—comprised of both leaders from Atlanta and beyond— recognized the importance of the fast-growing Hispanic market and noted how integration of this constituency into the workforce is good for business. Michael Thurmond, the then-Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Labor, opened our meeting with a discussion of the contributions of Hispanics to Georgia’s economy both as laborers and as consumers. Hispanics, he said, represented $1.8 billion in buying power in Georgia. 

    Beginning with the construction boom around the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, immigrants have increasingly become a source for Georgian economic prosperity. These new laborers helped to build Centennial Olympic Park and other critical infrastructure for Georgia to host the Olympics and leap onto the world stage. Following the Olympics, between 1996 and 2004, an average of 71,414 homes were built in Georgia, as the Atlanta metropolitan area became a hub for real estate and construction.

    And, as Americas Society documented a few years ago in our white paper on Atlanta, although immigrants’ contributions are generally recognized, “a slowdown in economic growth and rising unemployment can shift public attitudes toward immigrants and generate concerns about their costs and the transformation of communities. This leads to social division and an unwelcome environment for Hispanics, including those who are legal residents or citizens.” Regrettably, this is exactly what has happened with today’s enactment of the anti-immigrant HB 87.

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  • Election for Governor of the State of Mexico and Implications for the 2012 Presidential Race

    July 1, 2011

    by P. Velasco and A. Saracho

    This Sunday, the citizens of the State of Mexico, the country’s most populous state, will elect a new governor. But Sunday’s election is more than just a state contest: it has the attention of the entire nation. The current governor, Enrique Peña Nieto of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), is the clear frontrunner for the 2012 presidential election and this weekend’s contest is seen as a test for him and his party.

    Every electoral poll published in the last three or four years has consistently noted the popularity of Peña Nieto. According to recent polls, if the elections were held today, the PRI would return to the presidency after 12 years of Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) governments. And this would happen by a wide margin.

    And this election is the first battle for the presidency. If the PRI wins, the popularity of  Peña Nieto and his party would be validated. But it is also an opportunity for the PAN and Partido Revolucionario Democrático (PRD), to beat Peña Nieto and PRI or, at least, to weaken his position. Indications are that Sunday will be a PRI victory: polling suggests that Peña Nieto and the PRI will win with a clear advantage –more than 50 percent of the votes in the first round.

    A victory would reinforce the PRI’s position as the strongest party in the country. It has won over significant governorships and some large cities or municipalities. What has made it so strong is being mostly united behind Enrique Peña’s presidential bid. In this sense they learned their lesson from the 2006 election where two main groups fought for the candidacy and ended up sending the PRI to third place.

    This time we shouldn’t expect this to happen.

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    Tags: Felipe Calderon, 2012 Mexico elections, Estado de Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, Eruviel Avila

  • Chávez Admits to Cancer

    July 1, 2011

    by AQ Online

    In the wake of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’ address yesterday evening from Cuba in which he confirmed rumors of a battle with cancer, Venezuela’s army chief, General Henry Rangel Silva, is reaffirming the continued stability of the country.

    Gen. Silva said on Venezuelan state television that, “We have seen our comandante thinner than usual but still standing. The country is calm.” Venezuelan Vice President Elías Jaua assured the public that Chávez’ administration would remain united and robust, and would continue implementing the policies that Chávez has long championed.

    Chávez didn’t specify what type of cancer he has nor where the tumor that was surgically removed two weeks ago was located. He also didn’t provide an indication of when he would return from convalescence in Cuba. A regional summit on July 5 marking 200 years of Venezuelan independence—at which Chávez was scheduled to appear—has been postponed.

    Chávez’ governing from abroad—especially in less-than-perfect health—during his longest absence from Venezuela during his 12-year presidency has also raised charges of unconstitutionality. Yet, financial markets reacted positively to Chávez’ address, with Venezuela’s benchmark bond increasing by 2.0 points. 

    Tags: Cuba, Venezuela, Hugo Chavez

  • Will Bolivarianism Outlive Hugo Chávez? Unlikely

    July 1, 2011

    by Christopher Sabatini

    Now we know: President Hugo Chavez admitted last night that he has cancer.

    A lot hinges on his recovery.

    The debate - and fear - swirling around Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's absence demonstrates the institution-less condition that twelve years of his government have left Venezuela in. Where before his absence after June 10 left the country wondering about his condition, the news now of his battle with cancer has opposition and allies alike all-too aware of his fallibility--and worrying about the polarized country's future. His absence has left a vacuum in Venezuela underscoring a system that is not only incapable of selecting a replacement but also institutionally incapable of balancing competing (some of them criminal and potentially violent) elements within the government. The risk--not just now--is that even should he return to full health, Venezuela is fast becoming a failed state, held together by one sultanistic leader and the opposition's hatred of him.

    After his speech last night, the Vice President, Elias Jaua and others called for "maximum unity" in the Partido Unido Socialista de Venezuela (PSUV). That unity is likely to fray with President Chavez's uncertain recovery and his probable intermittent absence as he seeks treatment. Criminal elements within the regime are likely to pursue any means possible to avoid being revealed and relinquishing their nefarious and lucrative businesses. Already there are rumors of individuals within the government reaching out to segments of the opposition.

    The situation should be a reminder, not just to the U.S. whose policy on Venezuela has been adrift the last three years but also to Venezuela's neighbors that this regime--and the eventual transition to another leader (whenever and whoever that may be)--is not likely to follow the relatively smooth patterns of the democratic transitions of the 1980s. The U.S. and neighboring governments should see this as an opportunity to begin to lay plans for how to best deal the likely implosion of the Bolivarian government, in a way that should involve efforts to form a government of national unity and rebuild consensus and the rule of law in the polarized and politicized country.

    In the meantime, one of the worst things the opposition could do now is to try to force a confrontation with the government. In the past, the opposition engaged in a deluded and ultimately dangerous strategy of street politics--organizing mass protests as a sign of strength in the hopes of bringing down the government or provoking a violent reaction by elements within it. Unfortunately, on April 11, 2002 they got what they wanted--though at the cost of human life, Chavez came out the victor. Doing the same now could provoke a political crisis with dangerous consequences. Let's hope now that they have rediscovered the merits of competing in elections and have a number of new, fresh leaders that they use this opportunity to double down and focus on the presidential elections in 2012.

    Tags: Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, Cancer, 2012 elections

  • Georgia’s HB 87 Goes into Effect on July 1

    June 30, 2011

    by Daniel Altschuler

    In 2004, a film called “A Day Without a Mexican” explored a thought experiment: what would happen if all of California’s Mexican population suddenly vanished?  The “mockumentary” was based on the premise of a magical-realist pink fog that descends on the state and takes away all residents with blood ties to Mexico.  The result? The state’s economy grinds to a screeching halt.
     
    This year’s immigration fight is showing the prescience of this farcical film.  With states pushing draconian immigration measures to scare away undocumented immigrants, and congressional Republicans introducing additional enforcement measures with no offer of legalization for workers already here, we are beginning to see just how economically damaging these policies can be.  Nowhere is this truer than in Georgia, where farmers are finding it nearly impossible to replace the immigrant workers—not all Mexicans, to be sure—who are fleeing the state in fear of draconian new legislation.
     
    Georgia’s law, HB 87, mirrors provisions of Arizona’s controversial SB 1070, by empowering local police officers to check the immigration status of anyone suspected of violating any law (including a traffic violation). Among other harsh provisions, the law also follows an earlier Arizona law by mandating that businesses use a federal electronic verification system (E-Verify) to check that all their workers have legal authorization. It also dictates sentences of up to 15 years for workers who use false identification to get hired.

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    Tags: Immigration, HB 87

  • Georgia’s HB 87 Goes into Effect on July 1

    June 30, 2011

    by Daniel Altschuler

    In 2004, a film called “A Day Without a Mexican” explored a thought experiment: what would happen if all of California’s Mexican population suddenly vanished?  The “mockumentary” was based on the premise of a magical-realist pink fog that descends on the state and takes away all residents with blood ties to Mexico.  The result? The state’s economy grinds to a screeching halt.
     
    This year’s immigration fight is showing the prescience of this farcical film.  With states pushing draconian immigration measures to scare away undocumented immigrants, and congressional Republicans introducing additional enforcement measures with no offer of legalization for workers already here, we are beginning to see just how economically damaging these policies can be.  Nowhere is this truer than in Georgia, where farmers are finding it nearly impossible to replace the immigrant workers—not all Mexicans, to be sure—who are fleeing the state in fear of draconian new legislation.
     
    Georgia’s law, HB 87, mirrors provisions of Arizona’s controversial SB 1070, by empowering local police officers to check the immigration status of anyone suspected of violating any law (including a traffic violation). Among other harsh provisions, the law also follows an earlier Arizona law by mandating that businesses use a federal electronic verification system (E-Verify) to check that all their workers have legal authorization. It also dictates sentences of up to 15 years for workers who use false identification to get hired.

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    Tags: Immigration, HB 87

  • Presidential Candidacy of former Guatemalan First Lady Rejected

    June 30, 2011

    by AQ Online

    The Guatemalan Supreme Electoral Court yesterday ruled against Sandra Torres, ex-wife of President Álvaro Colom, in her bid to compete in the country’s September 11 presidential election. The court’s decision was based on legal fraud stemming from Torres’ divorce from Colom on March 11.

    The divorce was an effort to bypass a provision in the Guatemalan constitution that bars close relatives of a former president from taking power. Aimed at limiting autocratic rule, the clause dates back to Guatemala’s transition to democracy in the mid-1980s. According to Deputy Christian Boussinot of Torres’ Coalicion de la Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza y la Gran Alianza Nacional (National Unity of Hope—UNE), the party plans to appeal the decision.
     
    Even before the Court’s decision, Torres was trailing behind her presidential rival, former army general and Partido Patriota (Patriot Party) candidate Otto Pérez Molina, by 27 percentage points in an exit poll of 230,000 voters conducted by Prensa Libre and released yesterday. Given the high levels of insecurity in Guatemala, Pérez Molina’s military background and anti-crime platform make him a popular candidate. If Torres had been allowed to run and won the election, she would have become Guatemala’s first female president.

    Tags: Álvaro Colom, Otto Perez Molina, Guatemala elections, Sandra Torres

  • Republicans Play Politics with their Own Trade Agenda

    June 30, 2011

    by Christopher Sabatini

    On Monday this week, the White House finally sent to Congress for approval the free-trade agreements (FTAs) with South Korea, Panama and Colombia.  The Senate Finance Committee is already tackling the legislation by holding today a “mock” markup of all three implementation bills. Only this time, after President Barack Obama re-negotiated key provisions of the agreements to please segments of the Democratic base, it isn’t President Obama or his labor cohorts that are putting trade expansion at risk—but the Republicans in Congress.

    Included in the FTAs sent to the Hill this week is a provision for continued funding of trade adjustment assistance (TAA). Designed to provide support for U.S. workers hurt by foreign trade, TAA has been a part of every trade bill since the 1960s, making it easier for Democratic representatives to vote in favor of trade by avoiding the charge that they were coldly placing global economic concerns over the interests of domestic labor.

    Now, though, Congressional Republicans have decided to use TAA as a symbol of their zeal to cut public spending. Senator Mitch McConnell and Representative John Boehner have stated their intent to separate it from the vote on the FTAs—a move that will complicate Democratic support. The targeting of TAA as an example of economically damaging profligacy, though, is spurious; the budget for TAA is only estimated to account for $1 billion. This amounts to a drop in the bucket compared to the $13 billion of new exports that the FTAs are expected to generate for the U.S. economy.

    Moreover, the tactic represents political cynicism at its worse.  Since the agreements were originally negotiated under the George W. Bush administration, Republicans have derided Democrats as hurting American jobs and betraying U.S. allies when they have balked at supporting them.  They were right then.  But at the time they were negotiated, it was reasonable to expect—on the part of Republicans and Democrats alike—that TAA would be part of the package, as it has been for decades. Now, Republicans are changing the game. If they insist on sticking to their new rules, they will be the ones who will hurt the U.S. economy, U.S. workers and abandon U.S. allies who committed to an FTA under a Republican president.

    *Christopher Sabatini is editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly and senior director of policy at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas.

    Tags: Colombia, Panama, Free Trade

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    June 29, 2011

    by AS-COA Online

    From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.

    Sign up to receive the Weekly Roundup via email.

    Long-Awaited Colombia, Panama FTAs Advance

    Max Baucus (D-MT), Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, announced this week that on June 30 a “mock” markup would take place of the draft implementing bills of pending U.S. trade pacts with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. The move, involving negotiations between Republican legislators and the White House, could clear the way for approval of the three long-awaited bilateral pacts. Still, objections remain over the fact that the Obama administration tied it to a renewal of the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, which provides aid to U.S. workers affected by global trade. Some Democratic legislators are pressing for the TAA to be separated from the trade-deal package.

    Summit Meeting in Venezuela Canceled Because of Chávez’s Poor Health

    Venezuela canceled the summit meeting of Latin American and Caribbean leaders today planned for July 5 due to the poor state of President Hugo Chávez’s health, Brazilian diplomatic sources told A Folha de São Paulo. The news came a day after Venezuelan state media released a video of Chávez speaking with former Cuban head of state Fidel Castro in an attempt to silence rumors that the Venezuelan leader had fallen into a coma. The rumor mill continues to churn, however, as Chávez remains in Cuba after over two weeks recuperating from what authorities say was surgery on a pelvic abscess. Chávez has only spoken to the media once, by telephone, since the surgery and the authorities have yet to release detailed information about his health. Meanwhile, Chávez’s brother Adán set off a flurry of media attention when he told a prayer meeting in the state of Barinas, where he is governor, that Chávez supporters should not discard armed struggle as a means to enact their revolutionary program. 

    Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about the challenges Venezuela faces as Chávez convalesces.

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  • Security in Central America: A Glimmer of Hope

    June 29, 2011

    by Jason Marczak

    No longer can policymakers ignore the grim reality of the level of violence in the seven countries that comprise the Central American isthmus. The situation today evoke comparisons of the homicide rates that many countries experienced at the height of their armed conflicts—a time of violence that all had hoped would remain in the past.

    The numbers are staggering. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Central America’s homicide rate tops 33 murders per 100,000 people, making it the most violent area of not just Latin America, but also the world. In fact, the region’s homicide rate is more than four times the global average. The situation is particularly troubling when it comes to the region’s youth; 39 of every 100,000 young people age 15 to 24 years old will fall victim to murder each year.

    Increasing international attention and assistance to the region is certainly a very welcome development. Last week, Central America's heads of state along with the presidents of Mexico and Colombia and other international observers decamped to Guatemala City for the International Conference in Support of the Central American Security Strategy organized by the Central American Integration System (SICA). In a region where divisions often bubble to the surface, the leaders’ resolve to jointly tackle insecurity was perhaps one of the conference’s biggest achievements.

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    Tags: Central America, Security, Crime, Youth

  • Hopes for Approval of U.S. FTAs with Colombia and Panama

    June 29, 2011

    by AQ Online

    The White House announced yesterday that a major hurdle had been cleared for bringing the free-trade agreements (FTAs) signed with Colombia, Panama and South Korea more than five years ago to Congress for a vote. This happened after the administration reached an agreement with House Republicans about Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA)—the program that helps American workers who have lost their jobs to overseas trade and increased competition return to work.

    TAA was last in the spotlight in February of this year when amendments enacted in 2009 to expand the program expired. A vote to extend those changes was postponed in February because Republicans questioned the cost of the bill, arguing that the program would cost $620 million for the remainder of 2011 and $6.5 billion over the next 10 years. On the other hand, Democrats insist that trade agreements cannot be discussed before there is a decision on the benefits program. Last year $975,320,800 in federal funds was allocated to states under the TAA program, and 227,882 U.S. workers received TAA benefits and services.

    A sign that the FTAs may be on their way to approval is the decision by Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Finance Committee, to hold a “mock” markup of the draft implementing bills of the three FTAs tomorrow. In addition to the FTAs and TAA, the session will cover the extension of the Generalized System of Preferences and Andean Trade Preference and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA). As the Finance Committee explained in a press release yesterday, “these programs lower costs for U.S. manufacturers importing from developing countries and give developing countries duty-free access to the U.S. market for certain products.”

    Given that the FTAs were submitted under fast-track procedures—which at the time allowed former President George W. Bush to negotiate agreements that Congress could merely approve or disapprove—mock markups are the only opportunity legislators have to suggest amendments to the administration’s proposals.

    Despite evidence demonstrating the positive economic impact the FTAs with Colombia and Panama would have on the U.S. economy, a difficult political environment has hindered their passage. Before TAA expired, debate over the FTAs was stalled on the basis of unionists’ rights in Colombia—a powerful argument at the time of the 2008 presidential elections.

    Tags: Free Trade, U.S.-Colombia FTA, Trade Adjustment Assistance, U.S.-Panama FTA

  • Canada’s New Foreign Minister Doubles Down in Libya

    June 29, 2011

    by Huguette Young

    Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s management of Canada’s foreign policy has been widely criticized in recent months—particularly after the embarrassing loss of its seat on the UN Security Council in October 2010. Yet, having recently secured a comfortable parliamentary majority in Canada’s May 2 elections, Mr. Harper and his Conservative Party colleagues appear poised to take a more assertive stance on global affairs.

    The first substantial indicator of this departure from its foreign policy status-quo was Canada’s June 14 announcement that the Harper administration had formally decided to side with the Libyan rebel forces instead of the embattled Qadhafi government.

    As part of an “enhanced engagement strategy,” Canada has chosen to recognize the National Transitional Council of Libya (NTC) as the “legitimate representative of the Libyan people going forward,” said newly appointed Foreign Minister John Baird in an announcement to the House of Commons. Baird also promised that he would meet NTC representatives in their stronghold city of Benghazi (a promise he fulfilled on Monday) and that Canada’s response against Colonel Muammar Qadhafi’s regime would be robust.

    “After three months of energetic diplomatic, military and humanitarian engagement, the world’s resolve to protect the civilians of Libya against attacks and threats of attacks from the Qadhafi regime has not faded,” Baird continued in his address. “It is gaining momentum. But our work is far from over. And so we must look at doing more in terms of humanitarian aid. We must continue our military assault on Qadhafi’s command and control centers.”

    Calling for a “full and impartial investigation,” Baird also said he was disgusted by reports that the Libyan regime was using torture and sexual violence against the Libyan population.

    Mr. Baird’s nomination to lead the foreign ministry came as a surprise when it was announced. Known as the “pit bull” of Parliament due to his scrappy and aggressive tone, Baird replaced then-Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon, who was defeated in the Conservative Party’s parliamentary sweep in May. Thus far, Baird has been deft in addressing difficult questions during the daily question-and-answer sessions in Parliament and appears to be sticking to his promise to “fight hard for what I believe in.”

    Canada’s recognition of the NTC certainly reflects Baird’s position, as has his endorsement of a 90-day extension of Canada’s participation in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)-led military campaign in Libya. And Parliament appears to agree with the Harper administration position—with the only dissenting voice coming from Member of Parliament Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party.

    With Canadian forces retreating from Afghanistan in July, the Libyan conflict now tops Canada’s foreign affairs agenda. Last year’s humiliating defeat at the United Nations Security Council was a blow to Canada’s international standing. It now seems Harper is taking steps to turn things around.

    *Huguette Young is an AQ Online contributing blogger based in Ottawa, Canada.

    Tags: Canada, Stephen Harper, John Baird

  • Human Trafficking Persists in Latin America, Report Finds

    June 28, 2011

    by AQ Online

    The U.S. Department of State yesterday released its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, which evaluates states’ actions to combat human trafficking around the world. The 2011 report shows an increase over 2010 in the number of countries that fail to take adequate steps to prevent human trafficking. In Latin America, Venezuela joined Cuba on a list of Tier 3 violators—a status given to countries that do not make sufficient efforts to address the problem.

    Of 13 states cited for insufficient action in last year’s report, the Dominican Republic is the only country to be reclassified due to progress. In April, 2011 Dominican President Leonel Fernandez met with leaders of the U.S. armed services’ Southern Command to develop a plan for an Antinarcotics War Coordination Center—to be headquartered in the Dominican Republic—which will also combat human trafficking in the Caribbean.

    The report also honors ten individuals for their extraordinary efforts in the fight against human trafficking. Two TIP Report “Heroes” hailed from Latin America: Leonel Dubon, founder of El Refugio de la Niñez (Children’s Refuge House), a Guatemalan NGO that provides shelter to underage sex-trafficking victims and human trafficking specialist Dilcya Garcia, a former deputy prosecutor in Mexico City’s Attorney General Office.

    The TIP Report was first published in 2001 following the passage in the United States of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000. Its classification system also includes Tier 2 countries, which do not currently meet TVPA standards but are making significant progress, and Tier 1 countries—like the U.S.—that are fully compliant with anti-human trafficking standards. Of the 184 countries evaluated in 2010, 23 were given the lowest, Tier 3, designation.

    Tags: Human Rights, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, human trafficking

  • Fernández de Kirchner Selects Economy Minister as Running Mate

    June 27, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Three days after announcing her re-election bid, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (CFK) revealed the selection of Amado Boudou, the current economy minister, as her running mate in the October 23 election. Boudou, 47, is one of the cabinet’s most charismatic members and observers believe that his age will help court young voters.

    Boudou is also popular among the electorate for his accomplishments in public office. Prior to his current post, he was in charge of Argentina’s pension funds. During this period—the nadir of the global recession—Boudou was instrumental in advocating for the nationalization of privatized pension funds. He remains adamant that Argentina’s inflation rate, hovering near 25 percent, is not an issue—instead pointing to the economy’s growth rate of 9.1 percent during the first four months of 2011.  

    The selection of Boudou was welcomed by kirchneristas as he belongs to CFK’s Peronist Frente para la Victoria (Front for Victory—FPV)—unlike incumbent Vice President Julio Cobos, who belongs to the opposition Unión Cívica Radical (Radical Civic Union—UCR). CFK and Cobos have frequently clashed and barely speak to each other.

    In a poll taken last week, CFK led the field of candidates with 47 percent support. If a candidate receives at least 45 percent of the vote in October, s/he wins the presidency and a runoff is avoided.

    Tags: Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Julio Cobos, 2011 Argentina Elections, Amado Boudou

  • In Mexico, Women Protest Against Sexual Violence

    June 24, 2011

    by Isabelle Schäfer

    Last week, about 2,500 people—spanning all genders and ages—participated in La Marcha de las Putas (Slutwalk) along Mexico City’s Paseo de la Reforma to demonstrate against sexual harassment and violence.

    One of the protestors, Adela Muñiz, stood in the middle of the promenade dressed in a short skirt, high heels and a red blouse. Muñiz was holding a wooden cross with slogans in Spanish such as “Enough,” “No more aggressions,” and “#Marchadelasputas”—the latter denoting the hashtag on Twitter. Other demonstrators were chanting “Ni putas, ni santas—sólo mujeres” (Not sluts nor saints—just women).

    The wooden cross, according to Muñiz, symbolizes women’s victimhood of verbal and physical aggression, and how that aggression has led to many dead and missing women. Events like La Marcha de las Putas are intended to convey that these assault victims should never be blamed for any act of sexual violence.

    “[The pejorative word] ‘whore’ is the pretext that sexual harassers use [to commit their crimes],” said Minerva Valenzuela, a cabaret actress and organizer of the Slutwalk. “We [women] got used to thinking that we are being harassed because it is our fault. We think for example: ‘It’s my fault, I shouldn’t have worn this skirt.’”

    The first Slutwalk began in Toronto, Canada, after a police representative said that—in order to avoid victimization—women should refrain from dressing like “sluts.” Valenzuela heard about the Canadian demonstration from a friend, asked that friend to blog about the topic and looked into organizing a similar event in Mexico. After registering initial support through her network of friends, an open Facebook invitation that Valenzuela initiated soon ballooned to over 10,000 participants.

    Read More

    Tags: Mexico, Women's rights

  • Haiti Overhauls Adoption Procedures

    June 24, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Haitian President Michel Martelly on Thursday announced that he intends to ratify the Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoption, which sets forth guidelines and procedures governing international adoptions and mandates that all adoptions be processed by government-recognized agencies.

    The announcement was made after a summit in Port-au-Prince that brought together representatives from ten adoption-destination countries to discuss efforts to revamp Haiti’s adoption laws.  Problems with Haiti’s adoption laws entered the international spotlight following numerous incidents in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, including one occasion in which a group of U.S. missionaries were accused of kidnapping 33 children from Haiti under the guise of adoption.

    Prior to the earthquake, in 2007, UNICEF reported that there were approximately 380,000 orphans in Haiti—a number that has surely increased in recent years.

    Tags: Haiti, adoption, Michele Martelly

  • Secretary of State Clinton Visits Central America

    June 23, 2011

    by AQ Online

    U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Guatemala yesterday for a meeting of regional leaders as part of an International Conference of Support for the Central American Security Strategy. Also attending are numerous heads of state from the region and other officials, such as Luis Alberto Moreno, president of the Inter-American Development Bank.

    During an announcement earlier today, Secretary Clinton pledged U.S. support totaling $300 million (up 10 percent from 2010) to combat drug trafficking, crime and associated violence. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos—speaking from vast experience in dealing with insecurity issues—told his Central American counterparts, “Drug trafficking brought our country to its knees…But we stood back up.”

    Clinton’s visit comes on the heels of President Obama’s March trip to El Salvador, during which he reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to stability in the region. Total cost estimates for regional security measures are estimated to be nearly $900 million but, as Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom said, “for us, it is the difference between life and death.”

    Tags: Guatemala, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Insecurity

  • Mexico Lowers the Bar on Education

    June 23, 2011

    by Arjan Shahani

    It’s a common challenge in all of Latin America: run-down public school systems are insufficient, inadequate and outdated. Specifically in Mexico, negligence regarding education has widened the divide between the nation’s poorest and richest, leaving little hope for children graduating from public schools actually making a name for themselves and growing out of poverty. Mexico spends a larger portion of its GDP (about 5 percent) than countries like Uruguay, Chile and China, but it’s not about the amount of money spent. It’s the quality of education provided.

    Unfortunately, the Ministry of Education (SEP) continues taking one step forward and two steps back in this regard, mainly hindered by its inability to negotiate with the ever-combatant teacher’s union (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación, or SNTE) which has become a mob of ramblers who’ve taken education hostage. 

    The most recent news regarding the eroding quality of our school system is an agreement reached by the SEP and SNTE on filling new teaching positions. This year the Ministry of Education and the SNTE (led by Elba Esther Gordillo) declared that candidates will be eligible to become teachers if they pass a meager 30 percent of questions on the Examen Nacional de Habilidades y Conocimientos Docentes (National Test on Teaching Skills and Knowledge).

    Ironically students in Mexico need to get 70 percent or higher to pass each subject. This, however, does not seem to bother José García, a member of the Comisión Rectora de la Alianza por la Calidad de la Educación (Guiding Commission of the Alliance for the Quality of Education) of the SNTE, who blatantly defends the policies. “It’s the students who need to show they know to subject matter, not the teachers,” he says. Crazy as this may sound.

    Read More

    Tags: Mexico, Education

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    June 22, 2011

    by AS-COA Online

    From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.

    Sign up to receive the Weekly Roundup via email.

    Argentine President Announces Reelection Bid

    Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced Tuesday she will run for reelection in October. Fernández, who has led Argentina since 2007, stated her decision was based on “a strong sense of political and personal responsibility.” Given her current high popularity, many analysts see her as well placed to win reelection. 

    Sec. Clinton Joins CentralAm Leaders at Guatemalan Security Summit

    In a trip aimed at supporting Central American efforts to rein in drug cartels, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will head the U.S. delegation to Guatemala City for the Central American Integration System’s summit on security, kicking off June 22. Assistant Secretary of State for Hemispheric Affairs Arturo Valenzuela and Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield will also attend and will meet with seven regional presidents, including heads of state from Central America, Colombia, and Mexico. The United States has already pledged $200 million to support security initiatives in Central America and is not expected to pledge additional funds at the summit. 

    In a related story, The Washington Post takes an in-depth look at security challenges faced at the porous Guatemalan-Mexican border.  

    Read More

    Tags: El Salvador, Mexico, Guatemala, Argentina, IMF, Kirchner, Hilary Clinton, Drug War. Mexico Central Bank, Venezuala Electricity

  • Argentine President Announces Run for Re-election

    June 22, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Putting an end to doubts about her intentions to stay in power, Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, announced yesterday that she will run for re-election on October 23. Although only a month ago Fernández de Kirchner said she was not “dying to be president again,” in a nationally televised address on Tuesday evening, she said she has a “personal, historical and political responsibility” to fulfill. Backed by ministers, governors and other public figures in the room, Fernández de Kirchner promised to keep working for the nation’s reconstruction, saying “my commitment is irrevocable.”

    Speaking from Argentina’s presidential palace, the Casa Rosada, the 58-year old center-left president did not name a running mate. Fernández de Kirchner, representing the Peronist Frente para la Victoria (FPV) party, will run against Ricardo Alfonsín (Unión Cívica Radical party)—son of ex-president Raúl Alfonsín—and former President Eduardo Duhalde (dissident Peronist). According to the most recent poll of the Center of Public Opinion Studies, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, if elections were held today, Fernández de Kirchner would lead with 47 percent of the votes, followed by Alfonsín (15 percent) and Duhalde (7 percent).

    If Fernández de Kirchner wins, she would keep her party in power for 12 years—a hold that began in 2003 when her late husband, Néstor Kirchner, took office following the country’s 2001-2002 economic crisis. The 2007 victory was attributed to her husband’s popularity, and she has capitalized on the public’s sympathy following his death last October; at the same time, supporters also acknowledge her pro-poor policies and a growing economy.

    In addition to popular support, Law 26.571, Ley de Democratización de la Representación Política, la Transparencia y la Equidad Electoral (Law of Democratization of Political Representation, Transparency and Electoral Equity)—signed December 2009—will facilitate the FPV’s aspirations, as it undermines the formation of party alliances and limits new candidates from running for the presidency.

    Opponents accuse her administration of unsustainable populist measures, corruption scandals, manipulation of official statistics, and doubtful management of public resources, though consultants doubt these factors pose a significant threat to the President’s candidacy.

    Tags: Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, 2011 Argentina Elections

  • Presidents of El Salvador, Mexico Commit to Protecting Migrants

    June 21, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Meeting Monday in Mexico City, President Mauricio Funes of El Salvador and President Felipe Calderón of Mexico promised to work closely to protect the human rights of migrants and combat organized crime in their countries.

    In a joint press statement with President Funes after a private meeting at the presidential residence of Los Pinos, President Calderón said that Mexican and Salvadoran citizens travel north to the U.S. in conditions of secrecy that make them vulnerable to situations of violence and abuse “that worry and anger all of us, and that must be eliminated.” Both presidents also recalled that the last time Funes traveled to Mexico was in September 2010, following the killing of 72 migrants—among them 13 Salvadorans–in San Fernando in Mexico’s northeastern Tamaulipas state.

    President Calderón said that, since that August massacre, Mexico had stepped up its efforts to protect the security and rights of migrants, including the recently approved Ley de Migración, which seeks to punish those who violate migrants’ rights, root out corruption among public authorities and decriminalize migrants’ status, granting them the possibility of a temporarily legal stay in Mexico.

    Presidents Funes and Calderón also announced they will both attend this Wednesday’s meeting in Guatemala of the Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana (SICA), a regional  body. At the meeting, which U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will also attend, they will put forth their plan for regional security—the first time in history that Central American states are proposing a common plan of action against security challenges. Funes emphasized that the battle to combat organized crime cannot be won by any single country, but rather, demands solidarity and coordination among multiple states.

    Tags: Security, Immigration and migration, El Salvador-Mexico relations

  • Honoring Arbenz in Guatemalan School Curricula: Implications for Social Cohesion

    June 21, 2011

    by Sarah Chakrin

    More than 60 years after a U.S.-backed coup against pro-poor, pro-indigenous President Jacobo Arbenz, the Guatemalan government has committed to publicly honor the ousted president.  The Guatemalan government will issue an official apology to Arbenz’ surviving family members, construct an exhibit in the country’s National History Museum and revise its school curricula to treat him as a hero, according to a recent New York Times article.

    The Guatemalan government’s decision to include Arbenz in its school curricula is a significant move that institutionalizes the honoring of a powerful indigenous rights advocate. It also formally incorporates the indigenous perspective in a system that has a profound effect on social climate.

    Education and social cohesion are inseparably intertwined.  An education system has the power to either mitigate or exacerbate societal problems and even civil conflict through both its structure and content.  Levels of accessibility to education can indicate inclusiveness, while curricula determine values and meanings in a society.  Scholars on this subject go as far as to suggest education systems as a gauge for the relationship between the state and civil society.  A recent study on public-private partnerships in education published by Americas Society is underpinned by the notion that inclusive societies are built upon inclusive education systems.

    Guatemalan society is still marked by inequality and social fragmentation after the 36-year civil war and genocide that ensued after Arbenz was overthrown.  Access to schooling, quality of education, and measured performance levels are drastically varied between indigenous and non-indigenous, rural and urban populations.  Among the factors that contribute to this inequality are failures to address the specific needs and challenges of these marginalized populations, and methodologies and content that fail to reflect indigenous and rural perspectives.  While certain state programs and private schools do address multicultural and bilingual education—there is a department devoted to this in the Ministry of Education—the system-wide inclusion of Arbenz and his legacy could incorporate the indigenous perspective in state and societal agenda in a new and profound way.

    Read More

    Tags: Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz

  • Humala Registers 70 Percent Approval

    June 20, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Although he won’t assume Peru’s presidency until July 28, a poll released yesterday by Peruvian firm Ipsos Apoyo reveals that President-elect Ollanta Humala enjoys a 70 percent approval rating with five weeks to go before his inauguration. Sixty-one percent of the electorate also believes he will govern moderately, similar to former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Investors’ fears that he would drift toward Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’ style of leadership temporarily crashed Peru’s stock exchange two weeks ago today.

    Political observers in Peru warn that Humala will have to juggle several demands to satisfy the population. First, he will have to maintain the calm in the business sector to ensure steady commercial growth and foreign direct investment—one of the highest rates in South America. Second, Humala will also have to address the social concerns of the Peruvian people, such as a staunch fight against corruption.

    The latter is an issue that Humala advocated for strongly in the presidential campaign, particularly in the runoff against Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of corruption-tainted ex-President Alberto Fujimori. Seventeen percent of the electorate disapproves of Humala while 13 percent remain undecided.

    After recently wrapping up a tour to Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile, the President-elect is set to embark on a second tour this week to Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela.

    Tags: Peru, Hugo Chavez, Keiko Fujimori, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Ollanta Humala

  • El Salvador Enacts Media Reforms

    June 17, 2011

    by AQ Online

    El Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes yesterday announced a major series of media reforms that will transform state-owned radio and television by granting them unprecedented legal autonomy to broadcast independent content. The reforms, which were developed in collaboration with the World Bank, is designed to put an end to the historic role of state media as a campaign tool of incumbent governments and a mouthpiece for ruling administrations.

    Salvadoran Minister of Communications of the Presidency, David Rivas, explained that "for many years state radio and television were subject to political whims or subjected to the interests of particular groups, but not the interests of society as a whole." Critics of state media in El Salvador say the state-owned Radio Nacional and Canal 10 were often used during the country’s brutal 1980s civil war to disseminate disinformation and distract Salvadorans from accurate war coverage.

    World Bank representative Alberto Leyton lauded the announced reforms and emphasized that state media should further the “public good” by refraining from simply broadcasting the “situational interests” of a particular government.

    Tags: El Salvador, Mauricio Funes, media reform

  • Quebec and Canada: A New Federalism

    June 17, 2011

    by John Parisella

    The conversation on the need to tackle the U.S. deficit and debt issues as well as the debate on same-sex marriage that is recognized by some individual states, brings to the forefront the way the American federal system is functioning. Looking at how the model works here and elsewhere may actually help in finding solutions to current problems.

    Federalism is the common trait within North American nations. While defined as the establishment of two or three levels of government—a central entity and subnational (or federated) state—the application of federalism differs from country to country.  

    The principal rationale for adopting the federal form of government is to reconcile diversity and identity with a desire for unity within a nation-state. While no one can claim that a federation is a superior form of government, it has shown in many instances to be flexible and innovative when associated with a strong democratic political culture. Some of the most prominent federal countries outside North America—Australia, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, India, and Brazil—have demonstrated a capacity for stability and growth.

    This being said, many federations have had to undergo transformations to accommodate new realities. While some have been of the constitutional variety, most changes are of the administrative kind. The creative tensions inherent in a federal structure can best be dealt with when combined with healthy and intense political discourse and debate. A study of the Canada and Quebec model, while still very much perfectible, is a good case in point.

    Read More

    Tags: Canada, Quebec

  • Is The FARC Reactivating?

    June 16, 2011

    by Andrés Mejía Vergnaud

    Early on June 14, the FARC attacked again, this time near the village of Puerto Rico in the Colombian department of Caquetá. Puerto Rico is very close to San Vicente del Caguán—one of the five municipalities that were demilitarized by President Pastrana in 1998 under peace talks with the FARC. Caquetá, a region of vast plains, located several hundred miles south of Bogotá, has been a FARC stronghold since the late 1960s. The FARC prospered there over four decades, under the cover of the jungle, and exploiting the lucrative business of cocaine that flourished in the region. Nonetheless, these types of guerrilla attacks had almost been eradicated during the administration of Álvaro Uribe. He had listed the FARC structures in Caquetá as main targets in his counteroffensive.

    In principle, this single attack on June 14 would not justify wondering whether the FARC have successfully reactivated. But the FARC had executed more than five attacks in the past week alone, including the kidnapping of a number of Chinese oil workers in Caquetá and the virtual siege of the village of Caloto, in the department of Cauca. More attacks to police headquarters have taken place in villages of Cauca such as Argelia and Morales. Three weeks ago, in the coastal region of Chocó, the FARC kept a number of civilians under hostage for two days.

    In the past seven years, after Uribe’s military offensive began to show results, guerrilla attacks occurred seldom; whenever they happened, reaction by the military was quick and effective. But reaction by the current government under Juan Manuel Santos has been slow, confusing, and often politically charged. For example, some observers perceive the minister of defense, Rodrigo Rivera, as being more concerned with image matters than actual results. Rivera has often downplayed the magnitude and the seriousness of the FARC facts.

    Is the FARC undergoing a successful reactivation process? At this point, two things can be asserted. First, the FARC has decided to circle back to a guerilla-warfare model. Second, it has carefully chosen several areas of the country where such model can have a greater efficacy. Caquetá and Cauca are clearly two of them.

    Read More

    Tags: Narcotics Violence, Drug Trafficking

  • Guatemala Debuts “Women Only” Buses

    June 16, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Guatemala’s first-ever public buses reserved exclusively for use by women began covering routes in Guatemala City yesterday during the peak rush hour times of 6:00 a.m.–7:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.–7:00 p.m.  The special fleet, which exempts male conductors and children under 12 from the restrictions, can be easily identified by pink ribbons or pink-colored signs bearing the explicit instructions: “For Women Only.”

    Of greater metropolitan Guatemala City’s 3.5 million inhabitants, about half use the public bus system on a daily basis. According to the local Association of Urban Buses, an average of a dozen vehicles per day are attacked by armed assailants who rob passengers and regularly assault female riders. Congresswoman  Zury Ríos Sosa, who spearheaded the gender-segregated bus initiative, says the new system will protect women and enhance their safety on public transportation. Ríos has said she would also like to create a women-only taxi system similar to those already established in Mexico City and other Latin American cities.

    The first day of service was met with a mix of enthusiasm and confusion. Hundreds of women lined up to board the pink-ribboned buses, but some were made visibly nervous by male riders in nearby lines who appeared to mock the new routine. The system also created difficulties for riders unaccustomed to traveling without their husbands or older sons. Some men, who mistakenly boarded the new buses, were ordered off.

    Yet, the system seemed to win the approval of its primary beneficiaries. One female passenger remarked, “It’s much better on these buses, because one is more relaxed, without the filth” or fear of unwanted advances by men.

    Tags: Guatemala, transportation policy, Crime and Security

  • Humala: We Wait

    June 15, 2011

    by Christopher Sabatini

    The election guessing game in Peru has ended and now the Humala guessing game has begun: Will Ollanta Humala be the Peruvian equivalent of Venezuela’s Chávez or Brazil’s Lula? The answer, on which may hang Peru’s torrid rates of economic growth—among the highest in the region—and web of free-trade agreements with everyone from China to the  United States, has become a parlor game for investors and observers, as we all watch whom Humala nominates to his cabinet. More than the people he chooses to populate his first round of appointments, the answer may actually lie in his formation as a military officer.

    When he first ran for president in 2006, Humala professed his admiration for Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez; he even campaigned in the trademark-Bolivarian red tee shirt. Only five years later, the one-time lieutenant colonel who led an uprising against former elected autocrat President Alberto Fujimori, claimed he was a moderate leftist in the mold of former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who embraced markets and foreign investors and reduced poverty.   

    It’s not hard to understand why he shifted role models. In the intervening five years, President Chávez has gone from the leader of an anti-American bloc of countries during the years of President George W. Bush to the head of the most dysfunctional economy in the region, with rates of inflation this year likely topping 25 percent and an economy that, even with the spike in oil prices, will be one of the last to rise out of the region’s post-recession torpor. In contrast, President Lula, by hewing to a course of fiscal stability, appointing confidence-instilling technocrats and supporting both foreign investors and Brazilian companies, has both kept Brazil on a path of stable economic growth and—combined with innovative social policies—reduced the number of the Brazilian poor by up to 38 million. No mean feat.

    The first round of elections in Peru shocked the country and the world. After what appeared to be enviable rates of economic growth and stability, a slim majority of voters rejected the center, aided in part by a three-way split between former Lima Mayor Luis Castañeda Lossio, former President Alejandro Toledo and former Prime Minister Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.  In a vitiated party system, the center lost to two candidates on either side of the spectrum—Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of Alberto Fujimori who governed from 1990 to 2000 and is now jailed for corruption and human rights violations, and Humala.

    Read More

    Tags: Peru, Hugo Chavez, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Ollanta Humala

  • Planned Merger of Peru and Colombia Stock Markets Postponed

    June 15, 2011

    by AQ Online

    The Colombian stock exchange (BVC) and Lima stock exchange (BVL) announced yesterday in a joint press release that they will delay their ownership merger until Peruvian President-elect Ollanta Humala has an opportunity to revise the agreement. Under the current proposal, announced in January, Colombia’s exchange would own 64 percent of the new company and Peru’s 36 percent.

    The announcement does not affect the trading integration of the Colombian, Chilean and Peruvian stock markets that began under the framework of the Integrated Latin American Market (MILA) on May 30.

    The statement released yesterday said that the decision referred only to a postponement of the merger and not a modification of any of its terms. Nonetheless, Kurt Buneo, Humala’s economic advisor, said that the integration of stock trading had been done “too quickly,” and the new government would need to renegotiate if “there is asymmetry in the distribution of benefits.”

    Following the announcement, the BVL fell 11 percent and and the BVC dropped 2 percent.

    In spite of the delay, officials from the two exchanges reiterated their support for the agreement, saying it would contribute to both countries’ economic growth, and a final deal could happen later this year. The merger would continue the process of diversification, expansion and improvement of the Colombian, Peruvian and Chilean exchange markets begun with the launch of MILA—the second-largest stock market in Latin America after Brazil’s—earlier this year. There is also the possibility that Mexico and Panama may join MILA.

    Tags: Peru, Colombia, Integrated Latin American Market (MILA), Financial Markets

  • Obama Makes Rare Presidential Visit to Puerto Rico

    June 14, 2011

    by AQ Online

    President Barack Obama arrived in Puerto Rico today, marking the first time in 50 years that a current U.S. president has visited the island. The five-hour trip kicked off with a brief speech in San Juan where the president supported a referendum for Puerto Rico residents to decide their political status—the options being statehood, independence or remaining a commonwealth. He will deliver a longer address during a visit with Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño at the governor’s mansion where he is expected to discuss the $7 billion stimulus package granted to Puerto Rico and its effect on the island’s 16 percent unemployment rate.

    According to the Cecilia Muñoz, White House director of intergovernmental affairs, the visit demonstrates that the Obama administration has prioritized Puerto Rico’s economic and political affairs. Shortly after taking office, Obama expanded a presidential task force on Puerto Rico’s political status created by former President Clinton in 2000 and chaired by Ms. Muñoz.

    Following trips to North Carolina and Florida where jobs and the economy were the topics of interest, today’s trip to Puerto Rico is also a sign that the President is gearing up for the 2012 campaign. Though Puerto Ricans who live on the island cannot vote in the presidential election, frequent migration and strong ties between Puerto Rico and U.S. cities like New York and Florida give the president an audience that extends far beyond the residents of San Juan. 4.5 million Puerto Ricans live in the mainland United States.

    Today’s visit is a chance for the president to address the booming Latino electorate on the mainland. He will no doubt remind his audience that he has appointed more Latinos to his presidential cabinet than any other president in American history, along with Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor.

    Tags: Immigration, Puerto Rico, President Barack Obama, 2012 Presidential Campaign, Hispanic Voters

  • UN Secretary-General on Latin America Tour

    June 13, 2011

    by AQ Online

    As part of a four-country, seven-day official visit through South America, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon made his first stop in Colombia over the weekend. He joined Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to visit sites in the north of the country, near the Caribbean Sea, that have been subject to floods and mudslides. Altogether these natural disasters have killed 469 people since last year.

    Ban ended his visit yesterday in the town of Soacha by visiting populations displaced by ongoing internal violence. He praised Colombia’s recently-ratified Victims’ Law, which awards territory and compensation to over four million internally-displaced Colombians. The secretary-general visited a school in the large settlement for uprooted civilians of Altos de la Florida, which was constructed with UN funds. Ban, the former South Korean foreign minister, recalled his own personal childhood—having been displaced as a result of the Korean War that bifurcated the Korean Peninsula.

    Ban’s tour comes one week after he announced his intention to seek a second term as secretary-general. Colombia occupies one of the non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council, and Ban received Santos’ endorsement over the weekend.

    The secretary-general continues to Argentina today, where he will be received by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. He will also travel to Uruguay and Brazil, wrapping up his Latin American tour on Friday, June 17.

    Tags: Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Uruguay, United Nations, Juan Manuel Santos, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Ban Ki-moon

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