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.
Conservatives Trounce Opposition in Canadian Elections
Canada’s May 2 elections gave a boost to the Conservative Party, which now holds a parliamentary majority for the first time since Prime Minister Stephen Harper took office five years ago. The New Democratic Party surpassed the Liberals to become the official opposition party for the first time. The Liberal Party lost big, saying goodbye to half its seats and causing Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff to step down. TPM’s Eric Kleefold points to the party’s inability to evolve to voter demands, writing: “[I]n the last few years, when it was again clearly necessary to shift leftward and impress progressive voters, the party instead picked the decidedly centrist Ignatieff as leader, sealing their fate to be squeezed out between the right and left.”
Read an AS/COA News Analysis about the May 2 Canadian elections.
Peru’s Next President to Inherit Natural Resource Conflicts
Whoever wins Peru’s presidential runoff election on June 5 will have to deal with some 200 natural resource conflicts, according to the country’s human rights office. Most of the tensions stem from the $40 billion in largely foreign funds for mining and energy projects that local residents believe will pollute their communities and sap their water supplies while doing little to halt inequality, Reuters reports.
Bogota Mayor Suspended over Corruption Allegations
Mayor Samuel Moreno of Colombia’s capital Bogota received a three-month suspension from his duties after the Attorney General’s office opened an investigation into his administration of public contracts. Members of Moreno’s party, the left-leaning Polo Democrático Alternativo, also suspended him while the investigation proceeds; some members of the party have called for his resignation.
South American neighbors Peru and Ecuador signed an historic agreement yesterday, setting the maritime border between both countries after over 120 years in dispute. This new accord supersedes previous maritime treaties between the two countries signed in 1952 and 1954. The agreement, approved by President Alan García and foreign minister José Antonio García Belaunde of Peru and their counterparts President Rafael Correa and Ricardo Patiño of Ecuador, now heads to the legislative branches of both countries. The treaty is expected to be ratified easily.
The new agreement, which both countries see as a positive step toward future cooperation, establishes the maritime border between the Andean neighbors on a perfectly horizontal line extending into the Pacific from the point where both countries meet on the Pacific Coast at Boca de Capones. Any islands to the north of the line would belong to Ecuador while Peru retains governance over islands to the south. In a sign of mutual accord, both countries are sending the agreement to the United Nations for recognition across all UN bodies and organizations.
The agreement leaves Chile alone in its dispute with Peru over their maritime border. By setting their bilateral maritime border, Ecuador and Peru relegate the previous treaties—signed by Ecuador, Peru and Chile in the 1950s—to little more than fishing agreements, thus bolstering Peru’s claims as presented to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague in January 2008. While Chile had hoped Ecuador would side to uphold the treaties of 1952 and 1954, and their maritime border implications, the new agreement between Ecuador and Peru effectively removes Ecuador from the dispute altogether leaving Chile to plead its case alone. The ICJ is not expected to have a ruling on the dispute between Chile and Peru until 2013.
The 1992 and 1994 bombings of the Israeli Embassy and the Jewish Community Center (AMIA) killing over 100 people in Buenos Aires remain fresh in the minds of Argentineans. This has been true in part because those responsible for the terrorist acts—including a few Iranian government officials—have not yet been brought to justice and the Jewish community, publicly supported by the current and previous Kirchner administrations, has relentlessly sought closure.
More recently, however, there was a media stir instigated by a controversial Perfil news article on March 26 that accused Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman of brokering a secret deal with the Iranians to set aside the embassy and AMIA investigations in favor of increased commercial ties with Iran. Mr. Timerman did not outright deny the accusation, which ruffled feathers at home and in Israel where he was scheduled to visit a few weeks later. Tactful diplomacy and indirect denials during his official visit to Israel in early April helped smooth relations. Moreover, the newspaper did not provide evidence to back its claim and the issue has been publicly dropped. Nonetheless, the recent controversy calls into question the authenticity of the Argentinean government’s public displays of support for the AMIA cause as it more quietly seeks closeness with Iran.
Government-controlled media coverage of Sunday’s nationwide May Day celebrations in Cuba this week cites the massive annual demonstrations as clear evidence that ordinary Cubans support the economic changes that were approved during last month’s Communist Party Congress in Havana. The reforms, which include major layoffs of state workers, an expansion of self-employment and a reduction in state subsidies for food and other basic goods, represent the first major shift in Cuba’s national economic policy in decades.
The viability of these reforms—specifically whether they will spur economic growth in Cuba—is the topic of the Spring 2011 Americas Quarterly’s Hard Talk Forum. Omar Everleny Peréz, an economist at the University of Havana’s Centro de Estudios de la Economía Cubana, argues that the proposed package of changes will likely be sufficient to revitalize Cuba’s ailing economy. However, Columbia University professor José Antonio Ocampo makes the claim that the proposed reforms fall short of what is necessary to create opportunities for the more than one million state employees who will lose their jobs over the next few years.
Although official details about the final draft of the reforms are not yet public, Cuban leadership has maintained that most Cubans wholeheartedly support the measures. Salvador Valdes Mesa, who heads Cuba's only government-approved trade union, was the only official to speak at the May Day parade in Havana, says the event demonstrated people’s support for the “economic and social policy of the revolution.”
José Ramón Machado Ventura, the newly appointed second secretary of the Communist Party, led Sunday’s march in Havana while President Raúl Castro did the same in Santiago de Cuba.
In an exclusive feature in the Spring 2011 issue of Americas Quarterly, released today, former Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim vigorously upholds Brazil’s foreign policy during ex-President Lula’s administration. In his article, Amorim argues that Brazilian diplomacy during Lula’s presidency, from 2003-2011, was “working to promote South American solidarity and integration,” with an end goal of eventually transforming the continent into a true “Peace Zone.”
Amorim outlines that Brazil under Lula took steps to assert South America’s autonomy from its more developed northern neighbors. For example, Brazil opposed the Free Trade Area of the Americas as proposed by the United States at the 2003 Summit of the Americas in Miami since Brazil believed that this negotiating process was unbalanced in favor of the richer American nations. Amorim also says that during a World Trade Organization ministerial meeting in Cancún, also in 2003, Brazil spearheaded an effort with other developing countries to block what he argues was a “protectionist treaty.”
Nonetheless, with Brazil having emerged as one of the strongest diplomatic voices in recent years, Amorim contends that Brazil and the United States can enter this new global era together as partners. “Brazil and the U.S. will have more to gain from dialogue than confrontation,” Amorim says, adding that “Brazil’s increasing resourcefulness and independence will benefit the United States.”
In addition to Amorim’s exclusive, the Spring 2011 AQ—titled “The New Brazil and the Changing Hemisphere”—contains feature articles written by U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis, Banco Itaú President Roberto Setubal, and Indian Ambassador to Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay R. Viswanathan.
Peruvian presidential candidate Ollanta Humala would win the second round of voting against opponent Keiko Fujimori if the election were held today. According to a poll conducted by CPI on Thursday, Humala received 52.5 percent of the vote while Fujimori earned 47.5 percent.
Polling also shows that Fujimori has wider support in the Peruvian capital while Humala captures most votes in the interior of Peru.
Humala's agenda—constitutional reform, renegotiating energy and mining—is similar to that of 2006 when he lost in the second round to President Alan Garcia. However, his increased appeal is a result of a new strategy that sees the colonel embracing the model of former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva rather than that of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Meanwhile, Fujimori is also running on a platform of greater social inclusion but without major changes to the status quo.
The winner of the June 5 contest will take office for a five-year term beginning on July 28.
More than 2 million Canadians took advantage of early voting last weekend to cast their votes ahead of the May 2 federal general election—a 34.5 percent increase over the 2008 election. This is Canada’s fourth election in seven years, and turnout was higher than expected amid a general feeling of voter fatigue. In a statement released Tuesday, Elections Canada, an independent, non-partisan agency that monitors and conducts federal elections, expressed optimism at the high turnout but emphasized that the figures were preliminary estimates and that not all polling stations may have yet reported.
The general election was prompted after a non-confidence vote was reached in Parliament. That vote, in turn, came after Parliament found Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s minority government in contempt for not disclosing the full costs of certain anti-crime programs, corporate tax cuts and plans to purchase stealth fighter jets from the United States.
Going into the election, Mr. Harper’s Conservative party was considered to be a frontrunner. Recent polls, though, show the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) gaining traction. An online Angus Reid poll conducted in partnership with the Toronto Star and La Presse gave it 30 percent of the vote—only 5 percent less than the Conservative Party, and ahead of the 22 percent allocated to the Liberal Party. Some analysts say the NDP’s rise, combined with the high early turnout, suggests voter dissatisfaction with Canada’s traditional parties.
Nonetheless, analysts say the NDP and Liberal parties are competing for the same voters, which could ultimately lead to a win for the Conservatives.
A Canadian political party needs 40 percent of the vote or a lead of at least 10 percentage points over the runner-up to win a majority in the House of Commons. While the NDP seems to be rising in popularity, some say it is competing with the Liberal Party for the same voters, which could ultimately lead to a win for the Conservatives. It remains unclear whether the two opposition parties will form a coalition, with Prime Minister Harper believing that will be the case if his party fails to win a majority and Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff denying any such plans.
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.
Humala Pulls ahead of Fujimori in Runoff Race
Left-leaning candidate Ollanta Humala holds the lead over conservative Keiko Fujimori in the first major poll since the April 20 first round of the Peruvian presidential election. The Ipsos Apoyo poll gave Humala 42 percent against Fujimori’s 36 percent, while another 20 percent expressed no preference or rejected both candidates. In an El País opinion piece, Peruvian Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa—famous for his criticism of the Latin American left—argued that to vote for Fujimori would amount to justifying the authoritarianism of her father.
Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru to Ink Pacific Pact
The heads of state of Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru meet in Lima this week to sign a pact aimed at increasing integration, as well as the ability to project themselves into the Asia-Pacific market by creating greater economies of scale. The signing of the agreement will take place Thursday.
An AS/COA Online analysis looks at the new Pacific integration pact.
LatAm Structures New Regional Organization
Foreign ministers of the governments making up the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States kicked off a summit in Caracas on April 26 to discuss how to structure the new 33-country political organization. The group’s goal is to foster hemispheric diplomacy and economic development. The United States and Canada have been excluded from membership. At the summit, participants proposed a “democratic clause” to avoid coups within member states. The proposal has yet to be ratified.
Support Surges for Correa’s Referendum
With two weeks to go before a major referendum, a poll by Cedatos predicts Rafael Correa will win a resounding victory. The referendum’s 10 proposals—which include laws reforming the judiciary, restrict media companies’ business activities, and ban bull-fighting—would pass by an average of 61.7 percent on May 7, according to the survey.
Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about Ecuador’s referendum.
After his landslide victory in the March 20 presidential runoff, Haitiian President-Elect Michel Martelly joined Ruben Blades (Panama’s minister of tourism from 2004-2009) and Gilberto Gil (various positions including Brazilian minister of culture from 1987-2008) as an artist who has made a successful transition into politics. But his presidential election is also unique for its use of social media to ride to victory.
Known affectionately to the Haitian people as “Sweet Micky” or tet kale (bald head), Martelly is a popular kompa and carnival artist renowned for his racy lyrics and flamboyant stage persona. It came as no surprise that many initially doubted Martelly’s potential as a serious political candidate. Early predictions had Jude Celestin, a construction tycoon endorsed by incumbent President René Préval, as the favorite to win. Martelly also had to compete with Haitian-American hip-hop/pop artist Wyclef Jean for media attention, until the Electoral Council (CEP) barred Jean from running in September of last year.
A Democratic proposal in the Colorado state legislature failed to gain approval from the Colorado House Education Committee and was rejected in a 7-6 party-line vote this past Monday. The measure, Senate Bill 126, would have allowed undocumented students in the process of normalizing their immigration status, and other criteria, to pay the lower in-state tuition to attend state universities and colleges. The measure would have lowered the cost of education for undocumented students from $28,000 per year to just over $10,300 – slightly more than the $8,500 for Colorado residents who are eligible for additional subsidies not included as part of the proposed bill.
Republicans have opposed the bill arguing that it would encourage more unauthorized immigration into the state. As such, the decisive vote that struck down SB126 in the House was cast by Republican Representative Robert Ramírez, the only Hispanic GOP member of the House, whose father, a Mexican immigrant struggled to gain legal residency. His vote echoed his sentiments that approving the bill would send a message to “a new generation that it’s OK not to follow the laws of our country.”
The measure had been approved last week 20-15, again, in a strict party-line vote in the Democratic-controlled state Senate. Democrats have supported the bill saying that allowing more students to attend colleges and universities would be beneficial to the state’s future economy. Had it been approved, SB126 would have made Colorado the twelth state to grant in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants joining California, Illinois, Kansas, and Texas among others.
Margarita Cedeño, the first lady of the Dominican Republic, announced yesterday that she will not make a bid for the presidency in the 2012 general election. The news comes just weeks after the ruling Partido de la Liberación Dominicana (PLD) party approved Cedeño’s candidacy in the party’s primary. In a radio and televised message on Monday night, Cedeño said "I don't believe the presidency is my ultimate goal."
Her husband, President Leonel Fernández, had announced earlier this month that he will not seek a fourth term, ending speculation of whether he would reform the constitution to allow for more than three terms. His announcement also opened the door for the first lady to become the PLD’s nominee in the general election. However, rising tension among PLD leadership likely influenced Cedeño’s decision to not pursue the party’s nomination.
With Cedeño out of the running, it is not clear who will represent the PLD to face former President Hipólito Mejía of the opposition Partido Revolucionario Dominicano. According to the Dominican Central Electoral Board press release last month, a total of 6,361,258 Dominican citizens are eligible to vote in the May 2012 presidential election—244,000 more voters than were eligible in the 2010 congressional election.
Peruvians go to the polls June 5 for the second round of voting to determine their next president. Early handicappers have Ollanta Humala leading Keiko Fujimori and pulling away. Of course, anything can happen, and five weeks is an eternity in politics. Nonetheless, already a debate is raging whether Humala, should he indeed be elected, will be a Peruvian version of former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva or a Chávez acolyte, or perhaps some sort of hybrid nationalist.
Credit where it is due: Humala has effectively repositioned himself during the campaign as a moderate in the Lula model, rather than the populist authoritarian in the Chávez model who scared Peruvian voters and opened the door to a rehabilitation of President Alan Garcia during the last electoral cycle. Since then he has shed his military garb and taken to wearing suits, disavowed Chávez, and toned down the anti-business, class-warring rhetoric. Investors are not delighted by the choice between him and Fujimori and they are casting a wary eye, but neither are they—yet—running for the exits.
The presidents of Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru are expected to sign the Pacific [Ocean] Agreement this Thursday in Lima—deepening multilateral integration between the four Latin American economies. The agreement aims to facilitate the movement of services, capital and goods through the shared Pacific basin. It is not a free-trade agreement.
Peruvian President Alan García praised the alliance, adding that these four countries “can be protagonists and play a first line role” looking forward. Jose Morales Disso, President of Peru’s National Confederation of Private Business Instructions (CONFIEP), noted that this agreement will strongly benefit Peru’s economy and microenterprises as Peru attempts to reach a wider market—maximizing its recent trade pacts with Asian markets.
The Pacific Agreement should not be confused with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which seeks to integrate Western and East Asian/Australasian economies through a Pacific Ocean free trade zone. Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, and Singapore are current signatories. Australia, Malaysia, Peru, United States, and Vietnam are presently negotiating to join the TPP.
Canada, the United States and Mexico share two important characteristics outside of their common membership to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) – they are democracies and each has a federal system of government. We can argue about how each conducts its brand of democracy and federalism, but no one can dispute that sub-national governments in a federal state have real power. What distinguishes the nature of these three federal states depends on how the sub-national entities choose to exercise their power within their jurisdiction and beyond.
Having examined how sub-national governments function in the three countries, I have concluded that there is no common pattern of behavior. However, the province of Québec can be cited as an example of autonomy and innovation in how it conducts itself as a federated state. This year, Québec is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its so-called “Quiet Revolution,” which was the product of an extensive transformation in how the province decided to conduct its governance and how it exercised its sovereign powers within the Canadian constitution. Since then, Québec has stood out as a modern, innovative state dedicated to exercise the highest degree of provincial autonomy. Whether it was in education, health, culture and economy, Québec gave itself the tools to carve a specific and distinct personality among the Canadian provinces.
Granted, this was not done without tension and confrontation. The reforms began in the 1960’s and were nurtured and expanded in the following decades by successive governments, some dedicated to reforming Canadian federalism and others to turning Québec into a sovereign state apart from Canada. Yet, despite these tensions, Québec’s appetite to fully exercise its jurisdictions has never receded. Today, some observers call it the Québec model – a strong affirmation of Québec’s French speaking identity combined with a social democratic approach to governance, and a mixture of public and private initiatives in the management of its economy.
In partnership with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Chilean Sub-Secretariat for Fish has launched a collection of 46 seafood recipes, hoping to promote national consumption of Chilean seafood products through “tasty and healthy recipes.” Yesterday, at the Terminal Pesquero Metropolitano in Santiago, First Lady Cecilia Morel presented the cookbook that also was developed with Chefs contra el Hambre (Chefs against Hunger), a network of chefs and food critics dedicating to improving nutrition in Chile, especially among vulnerable populations.
Presented during Semana Santa—the holy week leading up to Easter Sunday celebrated in Catholicism—and as part of the government program Elige Vivir Sano (Choose to Live Healthy) led by Morel, the cookbook is part of a broader push on behalf of the Chilean government to combat obesity among its citizens and to encourage local consumption of natural resources. “In a society where obesity is a grave problem and fish are a national treasure, it’s very important that they be consumed locally,” said Morel.
A December study by the Catholic University of Chile and Banmedical Foundation found that 91 percent of Chileans have “poor” or “unhealthy” diets, with 63 percent eating more than the recommended amount of sweets and only 5 percent eating fish more than twice a week.
The cookbook is the fourth in a series published by Chefs contra el Hambre, following earlier ones dedicated to other elements of typical Latin American diets, including potatoes, beans and corn. It will be distributed for free at government fairs and in schools across the country and be made available online on the Sub-Secretariat’s website.
In a similar initiative, the Sub-Secretariat plans to implement in 2012 a nutrition intervention pilot project in Chilean high schools to increase students’ fish consumption.
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.
Term Limits, Economic Liberalization, and a Leadership Shuffle for Cuba
Cuban head of state Raúl Castro proposed enacting term limits in order to rejuvenate the country’s political leadership, currently dominated by geriatric revolutionaries who rose to prominence in the 1950s and 1960s. Castro made the proposal at the opening of Cuba’s Sixth Communist Party Congress, where the island’s leaders evaluated a slew of proposals designed to allow a greater role for private initiative and pare back the role of the state. The Congress officially retired Fidel Castro, bumping Raúl Castro up to the position of first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party. José Ramón Machado, an octogenarian, was named to replace Raúl in the number two spot and The Christian Science Monitor notes that none of the top three spots went to an official under the age of 78.
Read an AS/COA News Analysis about the reforms considered by the Communist Party Congress over the weekend.
Obama Administration Ready to Move on Panama FTA
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk told Congress this week that he is ready to begin technical discussions for the ratification of the pending free trade agreement with Panama. The Obama administration took the decision to move forward on the deal after Panama’s Congress passed changes to its tax law that will allow the United States and Panama to share information on bank accounts in their countries. Bloomberg reports that the trade agreement with Panama could be worth some $6.5 billion to U.S. companies, based on U.S. Census Bureau data. Obama will meet with Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli at the White House on April 28.
Latin America's Middle Class Makes Strides
The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean released its 2011 review, with a focus on the rapid expansion of the region’s middle class as well as how expanded ties with China affect exports. Thanks to rising GDP, falling poverty rates, and better income distribution, Latin America’s middle class grew by 56 million since 1999. Brazil accounted for the largest portion of that growth, given that 38 million people joined middle class ranks there over the past decade.
World Bank Applauds LatAm Growth, but Warns of Challenges ahead
Latin America and the Caribbean weathered the economic crisis better and bounced back more strongly than the United States, Europe, and Central Asia, with an average 6 percent growth rate last year, according to a World Bank report released last week. But the report warns that Latin American economies remain dependent on the rebound of high-income countries and high commodity prices. Inflation, the inflow of speculative foreign capital, and the possibility of local currency appreciation also threaten to undermine the region’s continued economic wellbeing.
The Office of the United States Trade Representative announced yesterday afternoon that the Obama administration has resolved outstanding issues with Panama and will submit the U.S.-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement to the U.S. Congress shortly. In a letter sent to chairmen and ranking members of pertinent House and Senate committees, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk announced that a Tax Information Exchange Agreement had been signed recently between the Panamanian and U.S. governments.
The exchange of tax information agreement paves the way for the Obama administration to introduce the free-trade agreement (FTA) in Congress. The bilateral pact was originally signed in June 2007 under the Bush administration, but upon taking office in 2009 Obama had pledged to renegotiate the FTA under concerns that Panama is a tax haven for income tax evaders.
The U.S.-Panama FTA is joined by agreements with with Colombia and South Korea as having been agreed upon but not yet ratified by Congress. Amid Republican pressure on the Obama administration to pass the FTAs as soon as possible, Ambassador Kirk said that the three pacts are likely to be submitted separately to Congress, rather than as one comprehensive piece of legislation. Kirk is nonetheless optimistic that all three agreements will win approval in 2011.
The White House also announced on Monday that Panamanian President Ricardo Martintelli will travel to Washington on Thursday, April 28 to meet U.S. President Barack Obama for the first time.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) refused to accept defeat in the 2006 Mexican presidential race, causing chaos, dividing our citizenry with messages of hate and tolerating violence from his supporters. But it seems Mexico is ready to give him another try at the top seat of government.
When he ran in 2006, López Obrador was able to rally together practically all leftist factions and political parties. However, the election aftermath and López Obrador’s shift toward extremism caused many of his supporters to abandon him and to look for a more rational social discourse. López Obrador’s current inability to maintain consensus even within his own political party is one of the main reasons why today the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) is a weakened organization and keeps juggling with on-and-off alliances with its offspring (Partido del Trabajo, Convergencia, Partido Social Demócrata, and other small political parties).
Since the PRD would not institutionally carry him, López Obrador recently created a new platform, called the Movimiento de Regeneración Nacional (National Regeneration Movement), or Morena for short, which coincidentally translates to “dark-skinned woman” and is a reference to the Virgen de Guadalupe (Virgen Morena). Through Morena, López Obrador is once again appealing to the disheartened lower classes and sowing seeds of division with over-simplified, anti-business messages.
The Sixth Congress of the Communist party of Cuba has convened, and although General Raúl Castro has announced that it should be the last of the historical generation that overthrew the dictator Fulgencio Batista some 50 years ago, the decisions announced in Havana are just another great disappointment for the 11 million Cubans.
For a half century General Castro has functioned as minister of the armed forces and as such is responsible for the military expeditions that sent Cubans to kill and/or be killed in Africa. He is likewise responsible for the execution of his colleague General Arnaldo Ochoa for the crime of being more popular than Fidel himself. This is in addition to acts of international terrorism such as shooting down two unarmed civilian planes surveying the Florida straits for stranded refugees. Worst of all, he proposes to make Cubans believe that the naming of another octogenarian as vice-president of the Council of State—in this case, José Ramón Machado Ventura—constitutes something new in the sad history of the Cuban revolution.
Raúl Castro now speaks of establishing a limit of two terms of five years each for the present Cuban leadership—this, when he himself is almost 80 years old! Those who see past the charismatically challenged brother of Fidel can easily pick out the figure of Colonel Alejandro Castro, his son and right-hand man. Alejandro also holds a high position in the ministry of interior, the agency of the regime in charge of foreign espionage and domestic repression. Also, General Castro has just appointed Luis Alberto Rodriguez Calleja to the powerful Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba—a man who happens to be married to one of his daughters.
Haitian President-elect Michel Martelly traveled to Washington DC today to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the heads of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. Talks will focus on job creation, education, security, reconstruction, public health, and the future relationship between Haiti and these multinational organizations.
The three-day trip to the U.S. comes two weeks after preliminary results confirmed that Mr. Martelly received 68 percent of the vote in a March 20 run-off election, beating former First Lady Mirlande Manigat. The President-elect will also meet with the U.S. news media, including CNN, the Washington Post, and Fox News. The National Press Club in Washington has confirmed that Martelly will hold a press conference on Thursday, the last day of his trip.
The Provisional Electoral Council had intended to release final results on April 16, but the announcement was since rescheduled for tomorrow. If the preliminary results stand, Martelly will become Haiti’s 44th president on May 14. One of his first responsibilities will be to nominate a new prime minister, who must then be approved by a parliament still largely controlled by members of outgoing President Réne Préval’s INITE party.
Cuban President Raúl Castro’s Saturday speech at the opening of the Communist Party’s Sixth Party Congress in Havana grabbed global headlines this weekend when he unexpectedly announced a proposal to impose term limits on all Cuban government officials—including himself. Under the proposed rule, future leaders would be limited to two consecutive five-year terms in office. Mr. Castro also urged a “systematic rejuvenation of the whole chain of party and administrative posts” and made clear that he would not be exempted from the rule.
Critics of the five-decade-old regime voiced immediate skepticism of Mr. Castro’s intentions. Activist Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz said the proposal is duplicitous because “the ruling elites are giving themselves 10 more years of totalitarian continuity.” Cuban economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe added that term limits won’t solve the real issue, which is “the monopoly on power by a group whose policies have failed for 50 years.” And Cuban-born U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen referred to the proposal as a “farce.”
The long overdue party congress—the first since 1997—was expected to deal with economic issues, but it is not anticipated to result in a major departure from Cuban socialism. In his speech, Mr. Castro expressed strong support for Cuba’s economic model, particularly in terms of health care and education. Yet he has also supported market-oriented reforms that include decentralization and greater private economic activity.
In his column in the official newspaper Granma, Mr. Castro's brother and predecessor Fidel Castro gave an important vote of confidence to the proposed reforms.
El Malecón es esa larga y hermosa avenida que bordea La Habana a orillas del mar. Una terraza desde donde mirar el horizonte suspirando quién sabe por qué. Aquel diciembre de 1989 cuando estuve yo, la película que acababa de ver mandaba suspirar por los apagones de luz que dejaban a los cubanos atrapados en un ascensor destartalado diciendo, resignados, que “por si fuera poco, vivimos en una isla…” .
Ya entonces, y a pesar de los esfuerzos del socialismo de Fidel Castro, la crisis que se vivía era algo así como un secreto a voces. Ni bien salías del hotel, decenas de mulatos habaneros te brincaban disimulando pa’ cambiarte dólares o pa’ que les compres un par de zapatos. En la otra esquina, un muchacho corría con el sombrero robado a otro que gritaba su bronca socialista. Por la tarde, en la plaza frente al cine, hacíamos largas filas pa’ comprar un inolvidable helado Copelia. Fila aquí, fila más allá. No importaba. El Copelia merecía la espera. La gente allí parecía tener todo el tiempo del mundo. Y yo andaba de vacación. Así es que la siguiente fila, por la noche, era pa’ comprar un pedazo de pizza. Mínimamente cuarenta y cinco minutos con todos los ojos de aquellos cubanos clavados en mi mano derecha. Tenía yo una Heinekken que había comprado en el hotel. El socialismo en vivo y directo era para mí no sólo ajeno sino desconocido, sorprendente y finalmente, con aquella lata en mi mano, me avergonzaba (yo, no el socialismo). Las comidas fuera del hotel no estaban previstas en el paquete turístico, diseñado para evitar la miseria. Era el festival de cine. Un evento pa’ extranjeros, intelectuales, artistas y “progres” diríamos hoy. El caso es que era ciertamente una burbuja privada. Fiestas exclusivas amenizadas por el mismísimo Silvio Rodríguez o el maestro Arturo Sandoval. En las puertas del baile, decenas de mujeres cubanas, maquilladas hasta la desesperación, buscaban marido. Un gringo que las saque de la Isla. Poco después, Arturo Sandoval se fue de gira pa’ Madrid y no volvió más.
The government of Mexican President Felipe Calderón made history this week when presidential spokeswoman Alejandra Sota announced that Mexico was the first country in the world to have an entire president’s cabinet actively using Twitter. The goal, Sota explained, “is accountability and to allow officials to better respond to citizens’ concerns.”
Mexico is at the forefront of connectivity in Latin America with 30.6 million Mexicans connected to the internet and the highest number of Facebook subscribers in the region. Still, while countries like Brazil, Colombia and Mexico have become the first to aggressively mix social media technology with politics, the region as a whole lags behind. Dariela Sosa, a Venezuelan journalist and social media expert who attended yesterday’s second annual World Summit on Political Communications in Quito, Ecuador, says Latin America is in its infancy in the use of “web 2.0” in politics.
There may be other practical applications for the government’s turn toward twitter this year, Sota admitted. She says there are plans in the works for social media technology to play a central role in the country’s 2012 presidential elections.
The Cuban government on Saturday will convene nearly 1,000 Communist Party officials from across the country in Havana for Cuba’s first national party congress since 1997. This meeting is likely to be the most significant since the first party congress in 1975, at which the Cuban government first formally adopted a Soviet-style economic system. This time, the most critical issues will be the ratification of market-oriented economic reforms—led by President Raúl Castro—and generational succession planning.
Since 2007, Cuba has taken a number of steps to update its economic model by building market-based incentives into its agricultural sector, reducing government subsidies to individuals and state-owned enterprises, and loosening restrictions on entrepreneurs and self-employed workers. Plans in 2010 to move up to 1.2 million workers into private-sector employment by mid-2011 have been scaled back, but 178,000 business licenses have already been granted. Many observers believe Cuba will have to announce even greater reforms in order to cure its economic woes. What, if any, additional reforms the government decides to undertake at the congress will be carefully scrutinized.
The other major issue at the congress is who from within the party is promoted to leadership-level positions. Cuba’s aging government is widely anticipated to begin promoting younger leaders as it plans for the inevitable transition of power to the next generation.
Sunday—the second day of the Havana meetings—is also the 50th anniversary of the U.S.-backed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in 1961.
Uruguay’s Senate voted yesterday to annul the Ley de Caducidad, or Expiry Law, which since 1986 had granted military officers immunity from prosecution for crimes against humanity committed during the country’s military dictatorship from 1973 to 1985. The vote effectively overrules two prior national referendums in 1989 and 2009, which had upheld the Expiry Law, and opens the door to the possible prosecution of former military officials. The measure keeps intact amnesty for crimes committed during the same period by left-wing militants.
The vote fulfills a major demand of the left-wing members of the Frente Amplio (FA) governing coalition and complies with a 2009 Uruguayan Supreme Court ruling that found the Expiry Law unconstitutional. The measure faced opposition from right wing political party leaders, retired military officials, and even some members of FA like retired Colonel Jose Carlos Araujo, who says repealing the law despite two referendums shows a lack of “respect [for] the decisions of the people.”
In 2003, an independent peace commission found that 175 political opponents were killed during the 12-year dictatorship, including 26 in clandestine torture centers. Only about a dozen officials have been prosecuted for those killings. The repeal passed by a 16-15 vote after a 12-hour debate. It is backed by President José Mujica and will now move to the Uruguay’s lower house for amendments and a vote, which could come as soon as May 20.
Peru is about to be divided, again. With the vote count nearly complete, it looks like the pre-election polls were spot on: first place is Ollanta Humala and second place is Keiko Fujimori. Exit polls also indicate that their two respective parties, Gana Perú and Fuerza 2011, won the most seats in Congress.
What would an Ollanta Humala presidency look like? Would he live up to his campaign promise to be a more center-left candidate, or would he backtrack on his recent character transformation? The problem is: no one knows. During the campaign, he appealed to the mainstream Peruvian electorate by portraying himself as a political centrist and Catholic conservative, and by shying away from his close ties with Presidents Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales. He has tried to portray himself as more like former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. However, many Peruvians—including several investors—believe this is just a façade. Predictions of an Humala victory have contributed to the biggest jump in the cost of insuring Peruvian sovereign debt in five years and the Peruvian Nuevo Sol has declined by 1.6 percent since March 20. We do know that Humala has said he might try to reform the constitution, redistribute wealth through a “national market economy,” and start a government pension program for the elderly.
And, what would a Fujimori presidency look like? It is possible it would look a lot like her father’s, with the first step being a pardon for Alberto Fujimori who is serving a 25-year sentence for human rights abuses and corruption. Nevertheless, Keiko Fujimori appealed to some voters because of her father’s record on the economy, anti-terrorism and populism—he frequently gave away goods and services to remote regions overlooked by other governments. Her presidency is not expected to be much different and there is no guarantee that she would adhere to democratic principles.
Over the past few months, multiple hopefuls have emerged, surged and then collapsed in the race to become Peru’s next president. Former Lima Mayor Luis Castañeda, the first to declare his candidacy, led early polls, but finished a distant fifth place in Sunday’s vote. Former President Alejandro Toledo, whose support hovered around 30 percent in many polls, was expected to coast into the second-round vote. Instead, he finished in fourth place. Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a less-than-well-known technocrat, was polling at five percent only a month before the election, but he surged in recent weeks with strong support from businesses and young voters and finished a strong third place on Sunday. Congresswoman Keiko Fujimori—daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori—had difficulties moving beyond her father’s traditional support base (around 20 percent of the electorate), but with the moderate vote split between three candidates this was enough to pass on to the second round. Two-time presidential candidate Ollanta Humala tapped into many Peruvians’ dissatisfaction with the lopsided distribution of wealth that has accompanied the rapid growth of recent years, and surged from 10 percent to 30 percent support in only a few weeks.
Now Humala will face Fujimori in the June 5 runoff.
The Peruvian civil society group Transparencia-Perú conducted an election-day observation and quick count predicting the following final results (with a 1.5 percent margin of error):
Ollanta Humala (Gana Perú) 31.3 percent
Keiko Fujimori (Fuerza 2011) 23.2 percent
Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (Alianza por el Gran Cambio) 18.7 percent
Alejandro Toledo (Perú Posible) 15.9 percent
Luis Castañeda (Alianza Solidaridad Nacional) 10.0 percent
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday ruled to uphold an injunction against controversial Arizona state law SB 1070. In July 2010—only a day before the law was to go into effect—the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed suit in federal court to block six of the legislation’s toughest statutes. Monday’s ruling agreed with the DOJ’s position that immigration policy falls under federal jurisdiction and not that of individual states.
SB1070 in its original form required state law enforcement to check an individual’s immigration status while enforcing non-immigration-related laws, provided there is “reasonable suspicion” that the person may be undocumented. While the DOJ contested six of the law’s provisions, the rest went into effect on July 29, 2010, and included penalties for municipalities with more lenient approaches to undocumented immigration, as well as sanctions on employers who hire undocumented workers.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who filed a countersuit against the DOJ in February, 2011, will likely take her case to the U.S. Supreme Court. However, because SB 1070 only affects Arizona, there is no guarantee that the Supreme Court will agree to hear the case, in which case the Circuit Court’s ruling would stand.
La carrera electoral argentina de 2011 está comenzando a tomar un mayor ritmo a medida que las candidaturas están más definidas. Si bien no lo ha anunciado oficialmente, pocas dudas quedan sobre la candidatura de la Presidenta Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (CFK) para las elecciones de octubre. Los trascendidos de una eventual candidatura presidencial del Gobernador Daniel Scioli por el sector oficialista (Frente Para la Victoria—FPV) se han desdibujado totalmente. La popularidad de CFK ha tenido altibajos y su gobierno no ha estado exento de crisis, pero hoy su imagen y candidatura generan una adhesión importante en todas las encuestas, posicionándola como la candidata con más posibilidades en las elecciones.
Del lado opositor las cosas no están tan pacificas. Tanto la Unión Cívica Radical (UCR) como el Peronismo Federal (PF) están teniendo intensas discusiones internas y aún no logran definir un candidato. Aunque es cierto que con la decisión del actual Vicepresidente Julio Cobos de no competir en estas elecciones, el camino hacia la candidatura de Ricardo Alfonsín (hijo del ex Presidente Raúl Alfonsín) es cada vez más claro; el Senador Ernesto Sanz aún le disputa la candidatura. La interna de la UCR tuvo una importante ruptura hace algunos días cuando el Senador Sanz decidió no competir en la pre-interna que habían pactado con Alfonsín y presentarse directamente a las primarias oficiales del mes de agosto. Todo eso dejó al desnudo las discrepancias de existentes en ese partido. De todas maneras, Sanz debe trabajar mucho para lograr arrebatarle la candidatura a Alfonsín, a quien algunos acusan de ser el candidato opositor preferido del actual gobierno. Como están dadas las cosas, todo indica que Alfonsín será el candidato de la UCR e intentará formar una alianza con el gobernador socialista de Santa Fé, Hermes Binner, para la fórmula presidencial.
Preliminary results from yesterday’s first-round presidential elections in Peru suggest that no candidate has received an outright majority of the vote, but that Ollanta Humala and Keiko Fujimori will advance to a runoff scheduled for June 5. At the time of writing, 76.5 percent of ballots have been counted according to Peru’s National Office of Electoral Processes (ONPE). In this tally, Ollanta Humala (Gana Perú nominee and former 2006 presidential candidate) received over 29.8 percent of the vote; Keiko Fujimori (Fuerza 2011 nominee and daughter of former president Alberto Fujimori) garnered 23.0 percent; and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (Alianza por el Gran Cambio nominee and former economy minister) won 20.5 percent.
Peruvian online newspapers such as El Comercio and Peru21 awarded first place in yesterday’s election to Humala, while Keiko proclaimed last night in a victory speech that she will advance to the second round. Kuczynski appeared resigned to this reality as well, calling a Humala-Fujimori runoff “almost evident.” Peruvian President Alan García congratulated Humala and Fujimori this morning.
Humala’s advance to the second round was widely predicted based on polling data by Lima-based Ipsos Apoyo, which showed him with 26 percent support of likely voters as recently as April 5. Peru’s electoral laws prohibit official polling in the week before an election takes place.
The Mexican Senate confirmed Marisela Morales yesterday to the post of attorney general—the first woman to hold the position of chief lawyer—in an 84-15 vote. Morales was formerly deputy attorney general for special investigations and organized crime under Arturo Chávez Chávez, who resigned last Thursday after 18 months as attorney general.
Morales will continue her work tackling narcotrafficking and organized crime, which has killed over 35,000 people since Mexican President Felipe Calderón took power in December 2006. She is the third attorney general under Calderón.
This represents a positive step forward toward gender equality in Mexico, which was one of the lowest-ranking Latin American countries in the “Global Gender Gap Report,” published last year by the World Economic Forum. Morales was recognized for her efforts last month by U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the 2011 International Women of Courage Awards Ceremony.
In an agonizingly tight race featuring months of theatrics from an unprecedented five presidential candidates, the climax in the weeks ahead of Sunday’s vote in Peru has been the dramatic and unforeseen rise of nationalist Ollanta Humala.
Nervous investors in Lima, who thought they had seen the last of Humala when he narrowly lost the 2006 election, joke—half way—about leaving the country. Die-hard Humala supporters speak passionately about the potential for a new economic model in the resource-rich Andean nation. Despite being one of the world’s fastest growing economies, Peru is stuck with a high 35 percent poverty rate.
But as Peruvian sociologist Julio Cotler points out, Peru is not Venezuela and Humala would likely fall short of delivering the dramatic change as president that many, for better or worse, expect of him—if he manages to eke out a second-round victory in the June runoff.
Humala 2.0, a churchgoing family man who wears suits and ties, downplays his military past and has virtually disowned his radical brother, who is in jail for leading a failed uprising. He does not utter the name “Hugo Chávez,” though Venezuela’s president loomed large during his 2006 campaign, and he pledges to respect Peru’s free-trade agreements (FTAs) and the central bank’s independence.
The whole transformation is eerily reminiscent of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a former radical who arguably became Brazil’s most popular president ever.
On the last days of year 2010, the Colombian Congress passed a rather unnoticed and little commented law to stimulate youth employment. Despite its simplicity, Ley 1492—also known as la ley de formalización y generación de empleo—carries an ambitious goal: reducing Colombia’s pervasive youth (ages 15 to 24) unemployment. Last year it reached 24 percent, and despite projections of GDP growth around 5 percent, it is expected to rise in 2011.
The core of the law can be synthetized by two basic strategies: encouraging young people under 28 to create companies through special state-financed loans and using fiscal discounts to reward companies who hire a young labor force.
But the well-intentioned law risks clashing with a harsh reality: the severe disconnection between the skills we are teaching to our future labor force and what industries need. Most governmental efforts are oriented toward creating more qualified workers, but without reliable information on the abilities that new and growing industries are desperately demanding.
“To take full advantage of the talent of our youth we need much better communication between companies, training centers and policymakers”, according to Rosalba Montoya of Manpower, a global talent firm that specializes both in high-level and entry-level jobs. Montoya pointed-out how the market is demanding more technicians, construction workers and machinery operatives, while most policies still focus on training professionals in already saturated fields.
The lack of reliable and ground–based information on Colombia’s labor market is a true hitch for the law. We not only ignore who are the professionals in the country and what they really know, but we don’t know what human talent Colombia needs in the mid and long term. Do we need more doctors? Engineers? Bakers? Nurses? Biology teachers? Public officials and experts recognize that gathering that vital information can take more than a decade.
That’s in part why those who supported the bill in Congress underline the benefits of a law that is based on a fiscal stimulus. The impact of the law can be measured, they argue, since every job created under this special regime has to be reported on tax forms. Senator Rafael Pardo, who sponsored the bill and worked to include the creation of a National Committee to monitor labor demand both in cities and rural areas, has argued that one of the great things of the law is that it can be evaluated every fiscal year, and so it can be adjusted.
But adjusting a law is much easier than adjusting people’s expectations about a promised future. A youth labor law should also tackle cultural and deep-rooted practices that work against any intention of guaranteeing young people a better future through a decent work. As a number of companies experience first-hand, a lot of the youth, especially those coming from poverty, simply look for a job, but do not really to build a career.
One of the main challenges is to train youth who grew up seeing their parents financially survive with informal and irregular ‘gigs’ to get used to daily routines, strict discipline, hierarchy, and long-term goals. This cultural unpreparedness for a stable job results in worker turnover and a reluctance from companies to hire precisely those who might need the job the most.
Without reliable information everybody is mostly guessing at their labor needs—from government to companies and workers. The risk is much bigger than simply having another innocuous law in our kit of alternatives. An intuitive effort to help young and ambitious people find a job can really turn against them.
Why? We risk generating massive frustration among young and talented people who, often with high doses of personal and financial sacrifice, are trying to breakthrough in the job market. Even worse, young and talented people might end up feeling (hopefully erroneously) that education is overrated in a market of broken promises.
With so little information on the workforce that Colombia needs, entering the job market resembles searching for a seat in a dark and crowded movie theater. You can either sit on the dirty floor wondering why you paid for for such a bad seat or simply, as it might be more often the case, leave the theater. No refunds.
*Lorenzo Morales is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He is a professor at the Center for Journalism Studies at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia, and is also a journalist currently funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting to focus on the Colombian mining industry.
Responding to a request by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the Brazilian government refused on Tuesday to suspend construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in the Amazon. Last Friday the commission had requested that the Brazilian government stop the dam’s licensing process until it had addressed the concerns of environmental and indigenous groups who filed a petition against the dam in February. The move is the latest in a long-standing battle between the Brazilian government and environmental and human rights activists, including Hollywood notable James Cameron, Governor Arnold Schwarzeneggar of California and former U.S. President Bill Clinton.
Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that the IACHR’s demands were “premature and unjustified,” and that the dam project was “strictly adhering to all relevant standards for construction.”
The Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, which will be the world’s third-largest—after the Three Gorges dam in China and Itaipu, jointly run by Brazil and Paraguay—will extend 3.75 miles long and divert the flow of the Xingu River in Brazil’s northern Pará state. Environmental groups say it would flood close to 200 square miles of virgin rainforest, displacing up to 50,000 indigenous residents and releasing large quantities of methane gas, causing irreparable damage to the environment.
The Brazilian government, which estimates the number of displaced people to be much lower, says the dam is crucial for economic development and for upgrading Brazil’s energy infrastructure. It says the dam will create thousands of local jobs and, by the time it becomes fully operational in 2015, provide electricity to 23 million homes. Brazil currently uses hydroelectric power for than 80 percent of its energy needs.
Construction of the dam, expected to cost between $11 and $17 billion, has been stymied since it was first proposed in the 1990s. After a drawn-out bidding process, a contract for construction was awarded to the nine-company Norte Energia consortium in April of last year. Licenses for the actual building of the dam have yet to be granted, but the Brazilian environmental agency Ibama gave the go-ahead to clear land for it in January. Last month a Brazilian higher court lifted a lower-court order suspending construction based on environmental concerns.
U.S., Colombia Labor Deal Helps Advance FTA
The White House announced on Wednesday that Washington and Bogota had reached a deal that would strengthen labor protection in Colombia, which paves the way for the Obama administration to submit the pending bilateral free-trade agreement (FTA) to U.S. Congress for approval. Colombia pledged to broaden oversight in terms of enforcing labor laws and hiring additional labor inspectors. The New York Times reports that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, currently in New York for his country’s assumption of the UN Security Council, will meet Thursday with U.S. President Barack Obama to announce the deal. This announcement comes less than a month after 44 GOP lawmakers ratcheted up pressure to pass the FTA, warning they would potentially filibuster a U.S. commerce secretary appointment. Learn more about the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement, which was originally signed in November 2006 and has since awaited U.S. passage.
Colombia to Head UN Security Council
President of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos will preside over a special session on Haitian reconstruction at the UN Security Council on April 6 following his country’s takeover of the Council’s rotating presidency. The agenda for the one-month term of Colombia’s presidency will also include crises in Libya, Ivory Coast, and Sudan.
Peruvians to Vote for New President on Sunday
Read an AS/COA Online Analysis about polling in the Peruvian elections.