It was hardly a slip of the tongue when Guido Mantega, Brazil’s minister of finance, coined the term “currency war” in late September when describing the state of the global economy. His bold statement publicly reflected the private concerns of investors and policymakers worried about the amount of government intervention worldwide to curb currency appreciation.
This is a particular concern for Mr. Mantega, whose country is home to one of the world’s strongest currencies. In the first ten months of 2010, the Brazilian real gained 4.5 percent on the U.S. dollar and a whopping 25 percent since early 2009.
Originally the finance minister preferred to limit public spending, opposing devaluation of any kind. But he quickly reversed course when many emerging economies, notably in the Asia-Pacific region, lowered their respective exchange rates. The result: when one country intentionally devalues its currency, its exports become cheaper to foreign consumers and imports more expensive to domestic buyers. When other nations follow suit, this practice, known as competitive devaluation, drives down the economic competitiveness of all nations.
To remain competitive, Mr. Mantega increased the tax rate for foreign investments of fixed-income securities two separate times—the second time only one week after speaking at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas in mid-October. Outside economists defended his actions, noting that investors would nonetheless continue to focus on BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) countries in the interest of high returns on investment.
Now Brazil has emerged as perhaps the leading critic among developing economies on the U.S. role in a currency war. Mr. Mantega suggested non-expansionary measures to increase demand and consumption, but got the opposite when earlier this month the Federal Reserve announced it would buy back $600 billion in government bonds. Known as quantitative easing, the Fed essentially gave itself license to print new money and increase liquidity to raise bond prices and lower long-term interest rates. Brazil did not react kindly; President-elect Dilma Rousseff blasted the move as “disguised devaluation.”
Mr. Mantega recommended that developed nations agree on a consolidated action plan at the International Monetary Fund meetings in Washington DC in October and the G-20 summit in South Korea earlier this month. But if the missions of the two gatherings were to advance discussion on the issue, then they both failed miserably.
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has dismissed any speculation that he will take over the vacated leadership position of the Unión de Naciones SurAmericanas (UNASUR) when he leaves office in January, according to his spokesman, Marcelo Baumbach. The leadership position of UNASUR currently remains vacant following the October 27 passing of former Argentine President Néstor Kirchner. Baumbach further stated in comments yesterday that Brazil had no candidate to fill the position ahead of the UNASUR summit in Guyana this Friday.
Lula’s post-presidency plans remain speculative though he has made statements specifically addressing his desire to remove himself from public service. After stepping down in January, Lula plans to do a lot of “resting” and “traveling” throughout Brazil while further pledging to “extract myself from the presidency.” On representing the country abroad, Lula has stated “I don’t look like an ambassador. I don’t want to be an ambassador. I just want to be a simple Brazilian citizen once more and travel a lot across Brazil.”
This Friday’s UNASUR meeting in Guyana is not likely to include electing a new head for the multi-national organization as it seems that no countries have candidates for the post. The summit will instead focus on the possible creation of a human rights council and on the adoption of a “democratic clause” that would suspend countries transitioning power by non-constitutional means from UNASUR. This clause is being discussed as a response to “the crisis caused by the police uprising” in Ecuador on September 30, Baumbach said. President Lula will use this Friday’s meeting as an opportunity to also meet with Guyana’s President Bharat Jagdeo to discuss joint infrastructure projects.
The grace period granted to President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner after the sudden death of her husband and life-long political partner on October 27 has ended with physical violence in congress. Heated debates on November 17 over the 2011 budget ended when opposition congresswoman and president of the Commission on Constitutional Affairs, Graciela Camaño, publicly slapped fellow congressman Carlos Kunkel. With the opposition’s slight majority in both houses of congress, the government has its work cut out to pass its budget plan. The administration is taking an all-or-nothing approach to its legislative proposal and the result is division, fighting and accusations of vote-buying by Kirchner supporters.
Partly as a means to distract from days of deadlock over the budget, President Fernández made a televised announcement on November 15 that her government will start negotiations with the Paris Club, an informal grouping of lenders from the world’s principal economies, to pay off the last of its debt since its $100 billion default in 2001. She emphasized that the negotiations will take place without the intervention from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Any deal will cost the government anywhere from $6.5 billion to $8 billion, and it remains to be seen where it will get the money. It could tap into the $52 billion in international reserves, but it needs congressional approval to do so. This could be tough. Indeed, its current budgetary proposal includes an earmark of $7.5 billion of Central Bank funds to be used for debt payments, but congress is fighting tooth and nail to prevent its passage. Then there is the possibility that the government will issue sovereign bonds to generate the cash in 2011.
Ahead of this week’s first annual China-oriented trade exposition in San Salvador that is expected to include over 50 Chinese business representatives, President Mauricio Funes of El Salvador said Monday that his administration would explore establishing diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. Funes added that he would do so only if it were in the economic interests of his country.
Presently, El Salvador has diplomatic relations with the Republic of China—commonly referred to as Taiwan. In accordance with Chinese policy, China refuses to engage in diplomatic activity with any nation that acknowledges Taiwan. For Taiwan, it fears that El Salvador will repeat what Costa Rica did in 2007: break off relations in favor of a partnership with China that includes greater economic benefits from access to a substantially larger market. However, despite Costa Rica’s actions, all other Central American countries have chosen to maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
A Taiwanese source confirmed Tuesday that Taiwan’s ambassador to El Salvador received guarantees that diplomatic relations would not be broken off. The same source noted that any of China’s attempts to poach Taiwan’s allies would have a negative effect on Taiwan-China relations, which have improved dramatically in recent years under the presidency of Ma Ying-jeou.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Friday began a four-day trip to South America, where he attended a regional meeting of defense ministers in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, this weekend. Mr. Gates’ first stop was Chile, where he met with Defense Minister Jaime Ravinet to discuss disaster preparedness in the region. Chile is among Washington's "closest partners in the hemisphere" and the two countries share "a mutual desire to develop regional mechanisms to support disaster relief," Pentagon Press Secretary, Geoff Morrell told reporters.
On Sunday Mr. Gates arrived at the IX Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas, a gathering held every 18 months that aims to improve cooperation among the militaries in the hemisphere. On the agenda at the conference included issues such as how to promote greater openness in defense budgeting, the role of women in the military, disaster response, and transparency in arms sales and purchases.
On the subject of growing Iranian influence in Latin America, Mr. Gates said, "I think the countries negotiating with Iran in this field should be very cautious and very careful about how they interact with the Iranians about their real motives and what they are really trying to do." Bolivian President Evo Morales countered those comments, saying Bolivia will create alliances with any country that it chooses regardless of U.S. opinion. Gates responded, "As a sovereign state Bolivia obviously can have relationships with any country in the world that it wishes to," Gates expressed on Sunday. "I think Bolivia needs to be mindful of the number of United Nations Security Council resolutions that have been passed with respect to Iran's behavior."
Costa Rican Foreign Minister René Castro arrived to The Hague, Netherlands, on Thursday to file a complaint against Nicaragua at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Mr. Castro’s statements called on the court to help end a situation that he says "threatens imminent and irreparable harm" to Costa Rica.
Tensions between Nicaragua and Costa Rica have been high in recent weeks after Nicraguan soldiers entered the disputed territory of Calero Island, a parcel of land on the Atlantic coast. Nicaragua denies its military is on Costa Rican territory. Costa Rica says it has been invaded.
Also at issue is Costa Rica’s contention that Nicaragua has begun a dredging project as part of a larger effort to build a canal. Mr. Castro voiced his confidence that the ICJ—the UN’s highest court—will rule in Costa Rica’s favor on the issue. He also repeated prior assertions that Costa Rica “will not use any other instrument other than international law" to resolve the dispute.
A proposed law in Ecuador has the potential to choke off freedom of the press in a way that even the September 30 mandate that all public television stations broadcast only the Cadena Nacional has failed to do. The Ley Orgánica de Comunicación, Libertad de Expresión y Aceso a la Información Pública, commonly referred to as the Ley de Comunicación, would concentrate power over media outlets in the hands of the national government.
The Ley de Comunicación was first introduced in September 2009 and was hotly debated in the Ecuadorian Assembly. It was to be debated again this fall, but debate has been delayed indefinitely. This comes after letters of opposition to the ley were sent to Assembly President Fernando Cordero Cueva by Human Rights Watch and the Organization of American States and after a trip to Washington DC by seven congresspeople—referred to as the seven enanitos (little dwarves) by President Rafael Correa—to present their concerns with the ley to various international human rights organizations. Add to this a tense political atmosphere following the September 30 police incident. Dinah Shelton, the president of the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights has promised to come to Ecuador in January to observe debate of the ley.
With news reports often emphasizing the slow economic recovery with respect to jobs, it is possible that we lose some perspective about some legitimate success stories. National unemployment rates often overshadow the work of some communities in transforming their economic profiles. Cities like Raleigh NC have transformed their economy and others like Des Moines IA have significantly lowered their unemployment rates. Another below the radar screen example is Québec City, Canada.
Observe the latest unemployment statistics from October 2010: United States: 9.6 percent; Canada: 8.1 percent; Ontario province: 8.2 percent; Québec province: 7.9 percent; Québec City: 4.7 percent. Québec’s capital city, the so-called government town, has the lowest unemployment rate of any major city in Canada.
In itself, that is a story. But what is more significant are the facts. Québec City has had consistent growth due to its increasingly diverse economic base. When I worked in Québec City in the early 1990s, it was accurate to call it a haven of public service jobs. Now it is becoming a leader in information technology, biomedical research, defense research, applied optics and photonics research, food technology research, brain disease research, etc.
This week, while teaching a group of people how to upload blog posts, Cuban blogger and dissident Yoani Sánchez learned she was to receive yet another award. This time it was the $50,000 (40,000 euro) Liberty Prize granted by Denmark’s Center for Independent Research (CEPOS). Sánchez said that “the news came when I was doing what I like best, providing people with wings to fly in the IT sky.”
CEPOS’ Liberty Prize is given to individuals who demonstrate a sustained commitment to the ideas of individual freedom and human rights. Sánchez, 35, founded the blog “Generación Y” in 2007 and has since used it as a platform to share the realities of daily life in Cuba. She recently compiled select blog posts into a book titled Cuba Libre: Vivir y Escribir en La Habana. For her elegant prose, brave criticism and dedication to empowering others through digital media, Sánchez was previously awarded the Spanish Ortega y Gassett Prize for Digital Journalism (2008) and Maria Moors Cabot Prize for outstanding reporting on Latin America (2009). Sánchez was also named one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2008 and was selected as a 2010 World Press Freedom Hero by the International Press Institute.
Sánchez has been invited to formally accept the Liberty Prize at an upcoming ceremony in Copenhagen, but it remains to be seen whether the Cuban government will grant her an exit visa to travel abroad. She has been prohibited from leaving the island eight times in the past three years.
For Sánchez, her isolation by the Cuban government allows her to keep in touch with Cuban realities and has not stopped her from writing or sharing her knowledge of Internet tools. “Finding people who read what I write and seeing new faces appear” are sufficient compensation, she says.
From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Accusations Fly in Costa Rica-Nicaragua Dispute
Nicaragua fired the most recent salvo in the ongoing spat with its southern neighbor over a small piece of land on the San Juan River delta. The Organization of American States (OAS) overwhelmingly approved a resolution November 12 which reiterates OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza’s four recommendations and implicitly calls on Nicaragua to remove its troops from the disputed area. President Daniel Ortega responded on November 13 that he will not remove soldiers from the area, threatened to withdraw from the OAS, and said: “Drug traffickers direct Costa Rican foreign policy.” Nicaraguans took to the streets in support of the government’s decision. On Monday, Costa Rican Foreign Minister René Castro raised the possibility of calling a meeting of the OAS’ Commission of Foreign Ministers to discuss the dispute and apply further pressure on Ortega to follow the November 12 OAS resolution. Costa Rica’s La Nación argues that every new development “brings Costa Rica and Nicaragua further from dialogue.”
Read AS/COA Online coverage of the dispute.
Former economic and finance minister of Peru, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, has confirmed that he will officially enter the race for the presidency of Peru next Monday. Kuczynski’s candidacy will be on behalf of an alliance between the Restauración Nacional (RN), Partido Humanista, and Alianza por el Progreso (APP) parties and may yet include the Siempre Unidos party. The newly formed alliance will back Kuczynski in his bid for the presidency next year under the name Aliaza para el Gran Cambio and will constitute a centrist political party.
The announcement will add yet another candidate to the ballots for the upcoming April 2011 elections. Already vying for the presidency are Keiko Fujimori, the current front-runner and daughter of imprisoned former president Alberto Fujimori; Luis Castañeda, former mayor of Lima; Former finance minister Mercedes Aráoz; Former President Alejandro Toledo; and Ollanta Humala who very nearly won the presidential election in 2006.
Chief concerns for the upcoming presidency are likely to be sustaining economic growth and poverty reduction. With current economic estimates pointing to over 8 percent growth this year, the future president will be expected to continue policies that have made this possible including free trade, promoting foreign investments and fiscal discipline. And while poverty rates have decreased from 50 to 34 percent, small towns and communities continue to demand more benefits from the large infrastructure projects that have helped expand Peru’s economic capacity.
At least one Haitian was killed in a clash with UN peacekeepers on the outskirts of Cap Haitien, Haiti, on Tuesday. The man was shot amid mass protests in response to the rapidly spreading Cholera epidemic that has killed more than 1,000 people and which many Haitians believe was spread by the mostly Nepalese UN forces. Haitians protesters in Cap Haitien and Hinche reportedly threw stones and set up burning barricades to which the UN troops responded by firing tear gas. According to the UN, the protestor who was shot had first fired at a UN soldier, who fired back in self defense.
The protesters were demanding the departure of peacekeepers and the end of the MINUSTAH stabilization mission, which has been a presence in Haiti since 2004. However, the confirmation of Cholera cases in Port-au-Prince and all of Haiti’s 10 provinces is largely responsible for the unrest. As Haiti nears the one-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake, many of its social services are provided, not by the government, but by the multitude of non-governmental organizations that are currently on the ground. Given the damaged and largely decentralized health care system, access to adequate care is still scarce.
Though fear and anger surrounding Cholera is no doubt the primary agitator behind this week’s protests, the UN believes violence and political manipulation surrounding the presidential elections could also be responsible. The Haitian elections commission may choose to postpone the elections, scheduled for November 28, given the heightened risk of Cholera contamination and Haitian people’s reluctance to leave their homes to vote.
*Homepage photo courtesy of Center for American Progress
El abrazo que se dieron los presidentes Juan Manuel Santos y Hugo Chávez, frente al cajón del fallecido Néstor Kirchner durante su velorio hace dos semanas en Buenos Aires, fue un símbolo inequívoco de la recomposición de las relaciones entre ambos mandatarios.
Una imagen impensable meses atrás que se constituye sin duda en uno de los grandes cambios que se han vislumbrado en los 100 días de gobierno que cumple hoy el presidente Santos: El de la política exterior. Menos confrontacional y más regional si se quiere, Santos eligió amistarse y de paso reanudar los vínculos comerciales con su vecino Chávez. Optó por entregarle al presidente Rafael Correa las copias de los discos duros encontrados en el computador del No. 2 de las Farc, Raúl Reyes, durante el bombardeo a su campamento en suelo ecuatoriano. Prefirió visitar a Brasil que a Estados Unidos en su primer viaje como presidente electo y no ha mostrado afanes en presionar el tratado de libre comercio (TLC) con el gobierno Obama (lo que permite repensar el impacto en la agricultura sobre todo para los lecheros), ni tampoco en rescatar el acuerdo sobre la presencia de militares estadounidenses en bases colombianas que regresó al legislativo por cuenta del concepto de la Corte Constitucional sobre su inexequibilidad. En cambio metió en la agenda con EEUU temas como el cambio climático, la ciencia y la tecnología.
En el plano nacional el Congresoestá abrumado con una serie de nuevas reformas urgentes y necesarias que el gobierno de su antecesor Álvaro Uribe se negó a impulsar: La ley de tierras pensada para atacar el epicentro del conflicto colombiano, que es la inequitativa distribución agraria y el despojo a los campesinos que habitan las tierras más ricas del país; y la ley de víctimas que busca mecanismos de verdad, justicia y reparación para aquellos abusados tanto por el Estado como los grupos armados ilegales. Aunque la discusión tiene mucho de fondo yalgunas asociaciones de víctimas y legisladores como el senador Ivan Cepeda del Polo democrático, se han opuesto a la iniciativapor no sentirse totalmente representados, es innegable que estos sectores fueron durante los ocho años anteriores criminalizados y desatendidos.
Santos también terminó la pelea con las Cortes y abrió canales de interlocución con ONG’s y otros grupos que van más allá del empresariado colombiano y que no se concentran en la microgerencia como solían ser los consejos comunales de Uribe de eternas jornadas dominicales. EL nuevo mandatario instauró los llamados Acuerdos por la prosperidad, privados, en los que más que una pretendida rendición de cuentas a la ciudadanía, discute temas sectoriales en grupos pequeños que cuentan con representantes de la sociedad civil, antes solo llamados para ser colaboradores o informantes de la fuerza pública.
Y es que, elegido para asegurar el continuismo, Santos ha marcado claras distancias con su antecesor sin que ello haya significado una ruptura de sus relaciones con Uribe. Ha demostrado que, por ahora, no será el ex mandatario que gobernó durante ocho años con altos índices de popularidad, el poder detrás del trono. Este distanciamiento sí ha levantado ampolla entre los más enconados uribistas que no se aseguraron ciertos puestos en el Estado como pretendían: Santos llamó a todas las fuerzas partidarias a hacer parte de su gobierno de Unidad Nacional (lo que ha dejado a un solitario Polo Democrático cabalgando en la oposición) e incluyó algunas de sus propuestas en su programa (la ley de victimas es de hecho una iniciativa del Partido Liberal). Nombró un gabinete en su mayoría tecnócrata e independiente,que no obstante tuvodos grandes lunares: la ratificación del director del DAS (Felipe Muñoz) aún en medio del escándalo de la entidad por las chuzadas ilegales a miembros opositores, y el nombramiento del ex ministro de agricultura, Andrés Felipe Arias, vinculado a la investigación de Agro Ingreso Seguro (asignación de subsidios a terratenientes), en la embajada de Italia.
In defiance of mounting international pressure, Nicaragua again refused to withdraw troops from the island of Calero as its border dispute with Costa Rica entered a fourth week. After the Organization of American States (OAS) Permanent Council voted 22-2 on Saturday night to recommend removal of all forces from Calero, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega accused the Permanent Council of bias and threatened to withdraw from the OAS unilaterally.
The border argument ignited on October 21 when Costa Rica accused Nicaragua of dumping sediment from dredging operations onto the islet that it claims as sovereign territory. Nicaragua continued the operations, citing a need to combat drug trafficking, which resulted in Costa Rica issuing a formal appeal to the OAS two weeks ago to stop the incursion. Nicaragua countered by demanding that Costa Rica withdraw its forces from the same territory; Costa Rica does not maintain a military.
OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza has met with the presidents and foreign ministers of both nations. Shortly after, he issued a set of recommendations, the most notable of which called for the removal of armed forces from “an area where they could generate tension”—a carefully-worded salvo leveled at Nicaragua.
The Permanent Council vote on Saturday endorsed Insulza’s recommendations with only Nicaragua and Venezuela opposing the measure. In light of Ortega’s threat, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla warned that she would involve the UN Security Council if necessary.
Venezuela’s National Assembly last week passed the Ley de la Bolsa Pública de Valores Bicentenaria, which will allow for the creation of a new stock exchange geared toward both public and private-sector entities wishing to undertake stock exchange operations. The move is seen as the continuation of a trend in Venezuela toward greater state control over traditionally private-sector functions.
House Finance Committee President Ricardo Sanguino called the new law an important component of the transition to twenty-first-century socialism and not a capitalist enterprise. He says the exchange is not meant to generate a speculative market, but rather to democratize access to liquidity and investment. Entities that will be allowed to raise capital on the market include public companies, joint ventures, collective and social production companies, savings banks, private companies, and small and medium-sized enterprises.
Critics of the new law say it raises more questions than answers. The major issue, according to analyst María Inés Fernández, is which titles are going to be traded and who is going to trade them. It is not clear that there is market demand for a public stock exchange—especially considering that most traders prefer to trade in dollars rather than the volatile bolívar.
State companies are currently traded on the private Caracas Stock Exchange, which will continue to operate but will no longer have access to public titles. The new public stock exchange legislation now awaits final approval by President Hugo Chávez.
The specifics of the planning process behind the September 30 police action are still murky. However, it has become clear that the police force used SMS messaging to rapidly spread information about the unpopular Ley de Servicio Publico and to coordinate the strike for the next morning. Similarly, national newspapers such as El Comercio have argued that the Correa administration, opposition politicians and the general public utilized various forms of communication such as Twitter and Facebook to coordinate, mobilize and share information. But, are all forms of communication created equally?
Facebook. About 30 politicians in
Other assembleistas in Correa´s camp, as well as opposition politicians such as César Montúfar (Concertación Nacional Democrática), have used their Facebook pages as a space to profess their opinions and to share information about legislative happenings. The general public, especially on September 30 and October 15, has used Facebook for posting their opinions and their involvement in street protests. However, because Facebook is, by design, exclusive, the information and opinions that are posted have a limited audience.
Former President Alejandro Toledo announced his intention yesterday to seek the presidency of Peru—an office that he held from 2001 through 2006. The 64 year-old will file for candidacy under the Peru Posible party that he founded in 1994. In his official announcement, Toledo pledged to fight for social equality, economic benefits to the poor and the prevention of corruption across the country.
President Toledo was elected in 2001 after the resignation of Alberto Fujimori—who is currently incarcerated for crimes against humanity—and the subsequent interim presidency of Valentín Paniagua. He took centrist and pro-market positions during his mandate and presided over a period of wide economic growth, even while his approval numbers dropped toward the end in his term.
A poll published earlier this week placed Toledo at third among constituent support for the upcoming April 2011 vote, at 16 percent. Among the candidate pool, ex-Mayor of Lima Luis Castañeda led the survey with 26 percent, followed by Keiko Fujimori, current congresswoman and daughter of the imprisoned ex-president, at 24 percent. Mr. Toledo is the first officially-announced candidate, although Mr. Castañeda and Ms. Fujimori are widely expected to follow suit in the coming weeks.
Toledo is expected to draw significant support from the remote Andean regions of the country, where he was raised in a small village.
From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Cholera Outbreak Worsens in Haiti
In the wake of tropical storm Tomás, the number of cases and deaths related to cholera continues to climb; the outbreak officially reached Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, according to the Pan American Health Organization. The Miami Herald offers a collection of AP videos about the outbreak, the storm, and preparations on the ground.
Argentine Junta Leader Massera Dies
Emilio Eduaro Massera, one of the main leaders of Argentina’s 1976 military coup and subsequent military government, died of a cerebral hemorrhage on November 8. Many see Massera as the brains behind the junta’s Dirty War, which led to the murder and disappearance of between 13,000 and 30,000 people. “Over his tomb will fall the spit of an outraged public, like intermittent rain,” said biographer Osvaldo Bayer, according to the Canadian Press.
Chilean President Sebastián Piñera leaves today on a seven day trip to Japan to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings being held on November 13 and 14 in Yokohama. He will then travel to Beijing on his first official state visit to China. The President will stay through the 40th anniversary of Chinese-Chilean bi-lateral relations on November 17.
This year’s APEC meetings will continue to work on establishing a regional free-trade zone, envisioned to encompass all of Asia despite on going disputes regarding foreign exchange and monetary policies. President Piñera’s participation will be focused around Chile’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) protocol, currently including Brunei, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, the United States, and Chile, which reduces tariffs for trade between APEC countries and the other non-Asian participants. Malaysia has recently joined TPP, and much speculation is on Japan and South Korea to follow suit.
Piñera’s itinerary will include meetings with local officials in Tokyo on Monday before departing to China where he is scheduled to meet Chinese President Hu Jintao, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and Chairman of the National Assembly Wu Bangguo. The President returns to Santiago, Chile, on November 18.
Navy Admiral Emilio Eduardo Massera, a leader in Argentina’s military junta from 1976 to 1978, passed away on Monday in Buenos Aires at age 85. Massera collaborated with Jorge Rafael Videla and Orlando Ramón Agosti to stage a coup d’etat that overthrew Isabel Perón in 1976. The repressive dictatorship that Masserra and his colleagues established in Argentina, and the Dirty War they waged against leftist insurgents and dissidents, lasted from 1976 to 1983.
Nicknamed Admiral Zero, Massero was in charge of the Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada (Navy Mechanical School)—perhaps the most symbolic, clandestine detention and torture facility in of the dictatorship era. Many of the individuals who disappeared and were tortured by the junta—estimates range from 9,000 to 30,000 people—passed through the walls of Massera’s Escuela.
After the country’s return to civilian rule, Massera was found guilty of murder, torture and invasion of privacy by the trial of the Juntas reconciliatory body in 1985. Despite being sentenced to life in prison, Massera received a pardon in 1990 for these charges as well as for his involvement in Operation Condor by then-President Carlos Menem. In 1998 he was again convicted, this time of concealing and changing the identities of the children of the disappeared, and was sentenced to house arrest due to his age.
Massera died of cardiac arrest, which was related to a history of neurological problems.
“Let’s Go For More” was this year’s theme at Argentina’s 19th annual gay pride march on Saturday in Buenos Aires. The LGBT community called for allowing people to change the gender on their birth certificates and for the issuance of national identity cards that can help to prevent the legal difficulties that many transgender Argentines encounter when official documents do not match their professed gender.
Argentina, which in July was the first country in Latin America to recognize same-sex marriage, has witnessed a surge in LGBT tourism in the wake of the passage of gay marriage legislation. “It's the same kind of [tourism] increase that happened in South Africa, Canada, and Madrid after they legalized gay marriage," says Pablo De Luca, founder of the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce in Buenos Aires. He added, people “want to travel to a country where we don't feel like we have to hide our sexuality."
Since the law was passed 500 couples have walked down the aisle and Mr. De Luca estimates that 100,000 LGBT couples have visited Argentina.
Read more on why Argentina legalized gay marriage. http://www.americasquarterly.org/node/1753
The Organization of American States (OAS) heard arguments this week from Costa Rican Foreign Minister René Castro on the Nicaraguan military’s alleged “incursion” on to Costa Rican soil. And now, with tensions continuing to heat up, OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza arrives in San José tonight for talks with Minister of Foreign Relations René Castro and President Laura Chinchilla. He will continue to Managua on Saturday morning to meet with President Daniel Ortega.
The dispute is over Isla Calero on the San Juan River. On Monday, Costa Rica’s security ministry reported seeing a Nicaraguan flag, five soldiers and tents on Isla Calero, an island Costa Rica claims as its own. Costa Rica says this is a violation of its national sovereignty.
Costa Rica and Nicaragua have been trading barbs over who is violating whose sovereignty and who is even sending troops on whose turf since Nicaragua’s San Juan River dredging project began last month.
Costa Rica first decried alleged environmental foul play by Nicaragua, claiming it dumped sediment from the river dredge and then cut down Costa Rican trees, all on its side of the San Juan. Costa Rican Security Minister José María Tijerino also accused Nicaragua of secretly planning to carve a canal across its territory. Costa Rica deployed well-armed and camouflaged police to the border, while the authorities sought communication through diplomatic channels.
Recent news on the management of water has not been very uplifting. Disagreements between countries that share water resources are leading to increasing conflicts over control of and access to this vital resource.
For example, the ongoing dispute between Nicaragua and Costa Rica over the San Juan River has reached such levels of discord that Nicaragua has suggested bringing the case to the International Court of Justice at The Hague for resolution. This is just one of the many global disagreements over water, which are bound to escalate as water availability continues to be on the decline. But long-term planning and cooperation can help prevent future conflicts.
Everyday, one in three people around the world are affected by water scarcity. While populations grow worldwide, the demand for water increases twice as fast. Conflict should then not come as a surprise. Fresh, clean water is need not only for drinking, but also for agriculture, recreation, energy generation, and many other uses.
Aquifers—renewable underground sources of water—may present an untapped resource to help satisfy our water demands.
Adding to Chile’s growing wind energy industry, this week Bosques de Chiloé filed paperwork with Chile’s Sistema de Evaluación Ambiental (Environmental Evaluation System) to move forward with a wind farm on Chiloé, an island off the southern coast of Chile. The San Pedro Wind Farm will consist of 22 generators—each 40 to 80 meters tall—and will be capable of producing 36 megawatts of renewable energy for the nation’s central electric grid, Central Interconnected System (SIC).
The decision to build the San Pedro wind farm arose from studies conducted in 2009 and 2010 that provided data on wind speed, direction, temperature, and pressure in the area and helped the firm gauge the potential for wind energy. The project, estimated to cost $100 million, will be financed in part by revenues from carbon bonds, in keeping with a mechanism established under the Kyoto protocol.
The San Pedro wind farm is only the latest in a series of wind energy projects being launched in Chile. Both the Spanish fishing company Transantartic and Ecopower, a Chilean-Swiss firm, recently announced their intentions to build wind farms on Chiloé, and in July, Denmark’s Vestas—the world’s largest wind turbine company—announced it would invest in the Talinay Oriente wind farm in northern Chile, which it expected to become Latin America’s largest wind farm.
San Carlos and San Ambrosio Seminary, the first Roman Catholic seminary to open in Cuba in more than 50 years, was inaugurated outside of Havana yesterday. The ceremony was attended by President Raúl Castro, Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski as well as several high-level church officials from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Italy and the United States. The seminary is located 10 miles southeast of the capital, and replaces a former seminary that was taken over by the Cuban government in 1966 and transformed into a military barracks.
The event and its impressive attendance by the international Roman Catholic community symbolize improving relations between Cuba’s communist regime and the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II blessed the first stone of the seminary during a historic visit to Cuba in 1998, and construction began eight years later. Wednesday’s inauguration comes several weeks after Cardinal Jaime Ortega of the Archdiocese of Havana led negotiations between the Catholic Church and the Cuban government for the release of 52 political dissidents.
The greatest strides between both the government and the Church have occurred since Raúl Castro came into power. This cooperative approach is in stark contrast to Cuba’s policies during the late 1970s and early 1980s when the regime essentially abolished religion in the Caribbean nation in light of the Marxist-Leninist ideology that religion stands in the way of revolution.
From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
What the U.S. Midterms Mean for Immigration, Hemispheric Policy
AQ’s Jason Marczak writes in the Americas Quarterly blog that Republican congressional victories in the November 2 U.S. mid-term vote could spell setbacks for progress on comprehensive immigration reform. “[I]f the Pledge to America—the Republicans’ legislative agenda unveiled in September—is any indication, the new House leadership’s immigration focus will be on issues of border enforcement, immigration law enforcement and strengthening visa security," writes Marczak. "Plans do not include any focus on creating a path toward legalization of the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the shadows.” In terms of foreign policy, COA Vice President Eric Farnsworth writes in the National Journal’s national security blog to expect a “harder line” with the Republican House, including a reversal on easing restrictions against Cuba, a stronger position against Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, and less efforts to stop the flow of illicit arms into Mexico.
Tuesday’s election results were not unexpected. The question now is what will they mean for U.S. policy in the Western Hemisphere. The outlines are already clear: expect a sharper tone across the board of Congressional oversight and initiative toward the Administration in trying to impact policy. Here are a few predictions for regional policy based on the midterm election results.
The new chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee will be Ileana Ros-Lehtinen; the chair of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee will be Connie Mack. Together with newly-elected Senator Marco Rubio, this troika of Florida Republicans may well seek to reverse the Obama Administration’s slow motion liberalization of Cuba policy. Expect also a harder line coming from Congress toward Venezuela and the possible renewal of an effort to sanction Venezuela as a state sponsor of terror. As well, Chairman-To-Be Ros-Lehtinen has earned strong pro-Israel credentials and is a strong supporter of Iran sanctions; further moves of Brazil or Venezuela toward Tehran could well prove to be a point of friction between the Administration and Congress if the Administration is perceived as downplaying their significance.
With control of the U.S. House of Representatives switching to the Republican Party, the future of a comprehensive approach to immigration reform is now in greater doubt. And Democrats—unable to put forward a proposal that could muster the necessary support to right our broken immigration system—will take a back seat to the immigration plans of the new House leadership.
One of the first orders of business when the new Congress convenes in January will be the designation of new committee chairpersons. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) is out as the House immigration subcommittee chairperson, and Rep. Steve King (R-IA) will likely take the gavel. As for the full Judiciary Committee, it will likely be led by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). This means a new approach for immigration-related issues. And in essence, going back to the drawing board on many of the core concerns.
The Democrats had been working on comprehensive immigration reform that revolved around four pillars originally put forward by Senators Schumer (D-NY) and Graham (R-SC) in March. (That is before Sen. Graham withdrew his support a few months later.) The approach included: requiring biometric Social Security cards; beefing up border security; creating a system for admitting temporary workers; and implementing a path for the legalization of certain undocumented immigrants. And President Obama asserted that the chance for reform was close, noting last week: “Right now on immigration reform, we’re eight votes short or 10 votes short.”
Uruguay’s highest court ruled that a law providing amnesty for human rights violations committed during the 1973-1985 dictatorship and protected former military and law enforcement officials from prosecution is unconstitutional. The ruling comes as the case for human rights abuses and the deaths of 20 people comes to trial against Juan María Bordaberry, the former Uruguayan president and dictator.
The so-called Expiry Law has been upheld by referendums held in 1989 and again in 2009 and requires that all judicial investigations into alleged crimes committed by security force members during the dictatorship be approved by both the executive branch and the Supreme Court. No such investigations had been approved until the election of then-President Tabaré Vázquez, a Frente Amplio (FA) candidate, in 2005.
Proponents of the repeal of the Expiry Law have submitted a bill for approval of the Senate that would recognize all international human rights conventions that the country has signed to be protected by the constitution. Passage of this bill would also invalidate the Expiry Law as it would also broaden prosecutorial powers for prosecuting human rights violators. Opponents of the bill argue that it is an attack on Uruguay’s institutions.
Monday’s ruling allows an investigation into Bordaberry for the deaths of 20 people brought against him by various human rights groups. Bordaberry is currently serving 30 years for constitutional violations and an additional 30 years for extrajudicial killings. He is under house arrest due to health concerns.
It was a sad day for the rule of law in the United States. Sunday, Omar Khadr became the first child to be prosecuted by a Western nation for war crimes since the Second World War. After an intense week, a U. S. military panel returned its verdict, condemning Khadr to a 40-year prison sentence.
But that sentence was largely symbolic. As part of a pre-hearing plea deal, unbeknownst to the panel of jurors, Khadr had already agreed to an extra eight years in jail. He has already served eight at the U.S. Guantánamo Bay Detention Center in Cuba. The jury went even farther than the 25-year sentence recommended by the prosecution.
Now 24, Khadr pleaded guilty last week to five war crimes charges including killing an American soldier in Afghanistan in 2002 during a war fight. He was 15 years old at the time. Badly wounded, he was sent to an U.S. army hospital then incarcerated at the Gitmo prison.
Before his sentencing, he told the widow of the soldier he killed that he was “really, really sorry.”
A border dispute between Costa Rica and Nicaragua has escalated from finger-pointing to formal diplomatic protesting to its latest development: Costa Rica will issue an appeal this week to the Organization of American States demanding Nicaragua withdraw troops from alleged Costa Rican territory.
The land in question, along northeastern Costa Rica and southeastern Nicaragua, is Calero—an island in the middle of the San Juan River, which is the body of water that forms the shared border. Costa Rica claims Calero as sovereign land, and Security Minister José María Tijerino confirmed that the Nicaraguan flag and armed forces were spotted there during a recent flyover operation. Members of Costa Rica’s Fuerza Pública police force were dispatched to the Refugio Nacional Barra del Colorado in the northeastern area of the country. Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega's government has flatly denied that any foreign territory was invaded.
Nicaraguan forces were first seen two weeks ago in Calero engaging in dredging: an environmental practice of gathering sediment and disposing of it elsewhere. Gen. Julio Aviles, Nicaragua’s army chief of staff, claimed the dredging was ordered in an effort to combat drug trafficking—and that it was done on Nicaraguan soil. San José alleged that Managua was not only causing environmental damage, but attempting to change the course of the San Juan River and move the border.
Minister Tijerino affirmed that Costa Rica does not seek military confrontation with Nicaragua, and petitioned his citizens to avoid expressing anti-Nicaraguan sentiments.
For those who find U.S. elections too long and sometimes endless, brace yourself as the next cycle begins tomorrow morning. The near unanimity of prognosticators are predicting a Republican wave, and this will only raise the ante as to whether President Obama will be a one-term President. History leads us to be cautious about predicting presidential elections based on midterm elections.
Since WW II, there have been three blowout results (Harry S. Truman in 1946, Ronald Reagan in 1982 and Bill Clinton in 1994) and each of these Presidents were re-elected two years later. With less than 50 percent of the electorate expected to vote and with the average midterm loss around 28 seats in the House and four in the Senate, it is almost certain that the Democrats will suffer some serious losses. But this is mainly an election about local issues, the current state of the economy and how this impacts on the mood of the country. A presidential election is a much different dynamic.
Elections do often carry some surprises. Races which were leaning heavily Republican are now much closer and some are trending Democratic as is the case in California, Delaware and Connecticut. The weekend rally under the aegis of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert using satire and the theme of sanity indicates that enthusiasm is not just in the Glen Beck camp. President Clinton in a Montreal speech last Friday predicted that the Democrats will cause some surprises. However, while he may be on to something, it is fair to say that if the House flips to John Boehner and the Republicans this Tuesday, the presidential stakes in the Republican Party will begin in earnest.
Fifty years ago, a young senator, John F. Kennedy was elected the 35th president of the United States of America. Winning a close victory against his opponent, then-Vice President Richard M. Nixon, Senator Kennedy made history by becoming the first Roman Catholic president. As the years pass by, the memory of President John F. Kennedy still seems to capture the imagination of historians and scholars.
President Kennedy, with all the promise of a new generation born in the twentieth century taking power, inspired his fellow Americans and the world with the words: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. It seemed better days were before us and that feeling was shared beyond the borders of the United States. Kennedy, a war hero and part of what newscaster Tom Brokaw called the Greatest Generation, assumed the reigns of power at a crucial time in history as two dramatically opposed ideological powerhouses were engaged in what was called the Cold War—each with diametrically distinct political and economic views of the world. And each capable of destroying each other.
It did not take long for the young president to be tested. A failed military operation against Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, the construction of the Berlin Wall by the East German Communist regime and a major nuclear showdown with the Soviet Union about the installation of offensive nuclear missiles just 90 miles from the U.S. shore demonstrated the dangers facing the world following his election and during his time in office.
On the domestic front, the economy was maintaining steady, post-war prosperity despite the usual economic cycles of growth and recession. There was, however, growing unrest. The civil rights movement was gaining in numbers and momentum but encountering significant resistance from segregationist leaders in the South. It was not long that the Kennedy Administration had to address the issue of civil rights and in so doing unleashed a movement toward transformational change.
Brazilian Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff handily beat Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB) candidate José Serra on Sunday in the second-round of voting to become Brazil’s first female president-elect. The final tally gave her 56.05 percent support (55.7 million votes) to 43.95 percent (43.7 million votes) for Mr. Serra. The outcome was no surprise to most observers, as polls had shown Ms. Rousseff with a substantial lead over her rival in the weeks leading up to the election.
President-elect Rousseff spoke after news of her victory in equally compelling language about her goals for handling poverty and the Brazilian economy saying, “We can not rest as long as Brazilians are hungry, while there are families living on the streets, while poor children are abandoned to their fate." She then also stated that "it is necessary, multilaterally, to establish clearer rules for the restoration of capital markets, limiting excessive speculation and leveraging, which increase the volatility of capital markets and currencies."
One day after her electoral victory, Ms. Rousseff maintained a busy schedule at her home in Brasilia. According to local media sources, she was visited by political allies including PT President José Eduardo Dutra, former Finance Minister Antonio Palocci, and special presidential adviser for international affairs, Marco Aurélio Garcia—all of whom have been tapped to assist in preparations for the transition.
Marco Aurélio Garcia, President Lula’s special advisor for international affairs, announced that Rousseff will accompany the president to Mozambique and then on to the G-20 Summit in Seoul, South Korea, on November 11-12.
According to the terms of an agreement signed last week, Peru will allow Bolivia to build a port on its territory. Chile defeated Bolivia and Peru in the War of the Pacific (1879-1884) and Bolivia has been landlocked ever since. In 1992, Peru and Bolivia signed an agreement granting the latter token access to a three-mile stretch of coastline, but it prohibited it from owning property on the land.
The latest deal, signed on October 19 by Presidents Evo Morales, of Bolivia, and Alan García, of Peru, will allow Bolivia to build a naval dock, operate a free-trade zone, and operate an annex of its naval school on a 1.38-square-mile tract of land on the Pacific coast. The meeting marked a clear warming of relations between the two presidents. The agreement is also expected to boost Bolivia’s global trade. A large producer of zinc, tin and silver, Bolivia currently must gain approval from Chile or Peru to move its exports across land. Access to the Pacific coast will cut transportation distances to Asian markets by approximately 40 percent.
Bolivia’s quest for maritime access is the source of a long-standing dispute with Chile. Although the two countries have engaged in diplomatic discussions on the topic for the past five years, including a meeting earlier this year, the government of Chilean President Sebastián Piñera has stated clearly it will not cede sovereignty. Chileans were somewhat disconcerted by news of the agreement. Some perceived it as a move to exert pressure to quickly resolve the dispute, while others called it an effort by Peru to sour Bolivia and Chile’s relationship.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.