Columbia University’s graduate school of journalism announced on Monday that Yoani Sanchez, author of Cuba’s most prominent independent blog, Generación Y, will be awarded a Maria Moors Cabot Prize and special citation for outstanding reporting. For the past 71 years The Cabot journalism prize—the oldest international award in journalism—has been conferred to journalists “who have covered the Western Hemisphere and, through their reporting and editorial work, have furthered inter-American understanding.” Past winners include Peruvian journalist and author, Mario Vargas Llosa and Mauricio Funes, the President of El Salvador.
The school of journalism’s official press release calls Sanchez’s blog “a pitch-perfect mix of personal observation and tough analysis, which conveys better than anybody else what daily life—with all its frustrations and hopes—is like for Cubans living their lives on the island today.” They also announced a special citation to Sanchez “for her courage, talent and great achievement” of putting the rest of the world in touch with Cuba.
In her response from Cuba, Ms. Sanchez said the most important thing about the honor was that it gives her prestige and a degree of “protection” from possible repressive actions by the Cuban government. She also indicated she would “use the prestige and protection that the Cabot Prize brings with it to continue to grow the Cuban blogosphere” and to support other future projects.
It is very unlikely that Ms. Sanchez, who has been labeled a “professional dissident” by the Cuban regime, will be permitted to travel to New York to receive her prize at the award ceremony in October. Instead, she says she travel in a virtual manner, as she does every day through her blog.
Read more about Yoani Sanchez and her consortium of bloggers in “Dispatches from the Field: Is Cuba Really Changing?” in the latest issue of Americas Quarterly.
Iran's top diplomat in Bolivia, Masoud Edrisi, announced on Wednesday that Iran’s government has approved a $280 million low-interest loan for the Bolivian government to use as they see fit, including oil and natural gas exploration projects. Edrisi said that the final terms of the loan have not yet been established.
This announcement comes just after the Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman wrapped up a 10-day tour of Latin America last week, aiming to counter Iran’s influence in the region.
Since taking office, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has established stronger ties with Latin America, especially with Bolivia, Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. In August 2007, Iran pledged to invest 1.1 billion euros ($1.54 billion US) in Bolivia's agriculture, energy, industry, and humanitarian sectors.
Yesterday, during his weekly show on state-run television, renowned Cuban economic analyst Ariel Terrero recommended that the Cuban government place the management of certain sectors of the economy in “hands” other than the state’s. Although Terrero avoided using the word “privatization,” he explained that the Cuban government cannot successfully run the entire economy on its own and sectors like the food industry and certain types of small commerce can potentially be more productive if “new formulas” are put into practice.
Raúl Castro’s government, which currently controls close to 90 percent of the island’s economy, has recently taken similar actions to those suggested by Terrero by distributing state-owned land among 80,000 people.
Brazilian imports of natural gas from Bolivia have fallen steadily from a high of 31.5 million cubic meters per day at the end of 2008, to 25 million earlier this month and now to only 21 million cubic meters daily. Hydrocarbon sales, which have dropped almost 20 percent, are widely considered Bolivia’s “engine of growth.” But even amid lowered natural gas exports, Bolivia’s National Statistics Institute reported last week that the economy grew at a rate of 2.1 percent in the first half of 2009.
Among the reasons cited for the decrease in demand are increased domestic gas production in Brazil, the recovery of water levels for hydroelectric dams in southern Brazil and the completion of two liquefied natural gas (LNG) re-gasification plants capable of receiving LNG from global exporters. Historically, when Brazil’s gas purchases have fallen, Bolivia has tended to sell more gas to Argentina. This time, sales to Argentina appear to be holding steady. Brazil is contractually obligated through 2019 to purchase a minimum of 20 million cubic meters daily.
Also notable is an increase in recent months of Bolivian imports of liquefied natural gas despite abundant domestic gas reserves. Analysts indicate that this is likely a consequence of inadequate investment in downstream infrastructure—a result of the hydrocarbon nationalization process began by the administration of President Evo Morales in 2006.
A trash collector in New York found over 2,000 ancient Mexican bowls and figurines as he cleared out a deceased artist’s apartment in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan. The Mexican Cultural Institute has laid claim, pending verification of the artifacts authenticity. The trash collector, Nick DiMola, has other plans.
"I'm confident I'm going to keep them," said the 39-year-old DiMola.
Whether the artifacts will remain with DiMola or be sent back to Mexico depends on their date of entry into the United States. In 1983, the U.S. government enabled certain provisions of a 1970 resolution by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) regarding ownership of cultural property. If the items entered the U.S. prior to that date, DiMola will most likely retain ownership.
Although President Manuel “Mel” Zelaya prefers to wear a white hat, there are no men in white hats in the escalating situation in
As I wrote here earlier, de facto President Micheletti’s refusal to accept President Arias' San José Accord was a serious mistake. The stumbling block was the provision to allow President Zelaya to return to
The intransigence led to the breakdown in the talks and drove Zelaya—never a cool head to begin with—out of a sensible, moderate process and back into the arms of Presidents Chávez of Venezuela and Daniel Ortega of
The exit of French oil company Perenco from Ecuador has heightened concerns about the investment climate in the Andean nation. Announced earlier this week, the move comes after the seizure of oil concessions as part of a tax dispute. Officials from PetroEcuador, the state oil company, took control of concessions 7 and 21 in the country’s northeastern Amazon region last week, after Perenco warned it was about to halt production in response to Ecuador’s refusal to comply with a tax dispute ruling issued by an international arbitration body.
Rodrigo Marquez, head of the French oil group’s Latin American division, says the seizure amounts to an expulsion, leaving President Rafael Correa’s leftist administration exposed to billions of dollars in compensation claims. “We’ve been expelled and our assets have been taken over,” Mr. Marquez said. “They are trying to say they didn’t really take over the facilities because they didn’t send the army in, but the fact of the matter is that before we were due to start the suspension of activities, government officials went in and started to persuade the employees not to carry out their instructions. You would appreciate that an employee caught in that situation would feel somewhat intimidated.”
Luis Jaramillo, president of PetroEcuador seemed to think that the fact that authorities had not militarized the oil fields made it all OK. Although the explanation he gave Reuters did not aid his case: “We have had a dialogue with the workers and we have told them that if they stop the production they would affect the national economy.”
Perenco’s tax dispute with Ecuador dates back to October 2007, when the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)-producing nation increased the windfall tax on oil from 50 percent to 99 percent. Although it later reset the tax at 70 percent, Perenco and its minority partner, Burlington Resources, a subsidiary of ConocoPhillips, have taken the dispute to a World Bank arbitrator, the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). In May, ICSID ordered Ecuador to stop expropriating oil from the concessions, but Ecuador refused to comply, saying it had the right to recover a tax debt in crude.
Ecuador has now pulled out of the ICSID, a worrying development for international investors, although many analysts say ICSID’s rulings related to the Perenco concessions will still be enforceable.
Luke Peterson, of Investment Arbitration Reporter, makes the good point that enforceability will be difficult, however, pointing out that Ecuador could well follow the example of Argentina. “When it comes time to pay the awards [ordered by ICSID] Argentina hasn’t paid anything. Instead you see a cat-and-mouse game where multinationals chase Argentine assets around the world.”
While foreign oil operators in Ecuador such as Repsol, Andes Petroleum and Petrobras have largely accommodated the escalating demands of Rafael Correa’s administration for revenue sharing and control, Perenco is bucking the trend, according to Ramiro Crespo, of Quito-based Analytica Securities. “Instead of capitulating to the President’s high pressure take-it-or-leave-it offers, Perenco seems resolved to outduel Correa in his favorite game: chicken,” he said. Crespo, in a prescient note before the seizure of Perenco's fields, said Mr. Correa, perhaps emboldened by a belief that any credit he is missing out on from traditional sources such as the markets and multilateral lenders will be available through China or India, was motivated increasingly by ideology.
When they weren’t glued to the TV screen last night to watch their national soccer team take a lashing from the U.S., Hondurans were probably feeling the tension rise as their deposed president, Manuel Zelaya, and his entourage grew closer to crossing the border from
Meanwhile, the so-called San José Agreement—which it was hoped would squelch whatever potential clash awaits Zelaya and restore his presidency after arrival—remains unsigned. Some wonder whether the 12-point roadmap proposed on Wednesday represents a failure for the chief mediator, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias. Expectations were high for Arias to build bridges once again, as he had done across warring parties over 20 years ago in a way that knocked the socks off the world and Nobel Prize judges.
But, alas, it seemed by Wednesday that the Hondurans had thoroughly humbled Mr. Arias. He appeared visibly exhausted, even perturbed that evening after presenting the plan, which it seemed the de facto government of Roberto Micheletti was destined to dismiss from the outset.
Representatives of the deposed government, of course, seemed a lot more willing to follow the map since Arias proposed a portion of it last weekend. And why not? Point 6 of the San José Agreement calls for the Honduran Congress to turn back the clock to pre-June 28—the morning when armed forces raided Zelaya’s home and booted him to Costa Rica in his pajamas—and allow Zelaya to resume his presidential term ending in January 2010.
The National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR) is claiming that interrogation techniques used by police in the
"They have specialized in this technique," NCHR Vice President Joselin Melo said. "It appears that the onion has given them results."
It is only the latest stain on the
Authors: Daniel Altschuler and Javier Corrales
Despite the recent military coup against Manuel Zelaya, Hondurans will most likely elect their next president by the end of 2009. This might end the crisis that led to the coup. But elections will not fix all of Honduras’ political ills. Honduras must also address the decline in the quality of democracy that predates the current crisis, or else it will remain dangerously susceptible to more breakdowns.
On the surface, Honduras prior to this crisis appeared to have moved steadily toward strengthening democracy. From 1982 to 2008, Honduras held seven consecutive civilian elections followed by uninterrupted presidential terms. Honduras also seemed to have tamed its military by the mid-1990s, as civilian leaders had reined in military spending and the military’s political veto power.
The current crisis in Honduras is a stark reminder that democracy entails more than free and fair elections and a military that answers to civilian authority—crucial as these may be. Democracies must also expand the rule of law, citizens’ access to the justice system, state guarantees of civil and political rights, and protections for political minorities. These added aspects of democracy help democracy deliver positive development outcomes and ensure citizens’ political satisfaction. In Honduras, these added aspects were faltering prior to the recent constitutional crisis.
The immediate cause of the June coup was clearly the inability of democratic institutions to rein in a president who was violating the law. The military compounded the problem by expelling the president. But the longer-term problem was a decline in the quality of democracy, which was hampering the political system’s ability to protect citizens and spread prosperity. Poverty remains rampant, corruption pervasive, and crime has gotten worse. In addition, inequality in this vastly unequal society increased during several years in the last decade. And in surveys we have conducted in rural areas, people often report feeling abandoned by an incapable or absent state.
At meetings with Transportation and State Department officials in Washington DC yesterday, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin raised the issue of establishing a direct air route between his city and Cuba. Nagin did not receive any commitments or a timeline for a response from federal officials.
President Barack Obama repealed the 2004 Cuban-American travel restrictions back in April. However, U.S. citizens are still prohibited from traveling to Cuba without licenses. In an interview appearing in the new Americas Quarterly, Senator Richard Lugar, ranking member of the Committee on Foreign Relations, calls for “opening up travel to Cuba for all Americans.” Since June 30, Continental Airlines has re-started its charter flights operating between Los Angeles and Havana every Tuesday.
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.
Second Round of Talks Falls Short in Resolving Honduran Crisis
This latest round of mediated talks between representatives of Honduran interim leader Roberto Micheleti and deposed President Manuel Zelaya ended with little solution. Costa Rican President and negotiations mediator Óscar Arias’s proposed a seven-point plan to peacefully reinstate Zelaya, but the Micheleti delegation firmly rejected it. The New York Times’ Ginger Thompson reported Wednesday that a new round of talks would be postponed after Honduras’ current Foreign Minister Carlos López Contreras failed to convince the de facto government to accept terms that would allow Zelaya’s return to power. Rumors of another attempt by Zelaya to return to Honduras repeatedly crop up; CNN Expansión reported Wednesday morning that Zelaya himself is planning his return in upcoming days.
In an AQ blog post, AS/COA’s Christopher Sabatini takes a look at the negotiations, Arias’ plan, and the increasingly isolated situation Honduras finds itself in as countries and multilateral institutions cut large swathes of aid. On Monday, the European Union followed suit, suspending $92 million in financial aid to Honduras, reports the European Voice.
Access AS/COA’s resource guide to the Honduran crisis.
Early this morning, thousands of Guatemalans tuned in to listen for the first time to “Despacho Presidencial” (Presidential Office), President Álvaro Colom’s new weekly radio show. It airs every Wednesday from 7:00 a.m. to 8: 00 a.m. on TGW, a state-owned radio station.
The program—whose slogan is “a space to listen and be listened to”—was developed as a way for Guatemalans to talk directly to the President, express their everyday concerns. According to Communication Secretary Ronaldo Robles, the show, which will have a different theme each week, is part of a government effort to develop the national information system.
Political analyst Gustavo Porras is among some that opposed the government and are skeptical about the show’s real intentions. Porras is worried that this could be a first step in limiting freedom of speech as it may open the door for the President to gain more control over the media. He is quick to point out that weekly broadcasts are used by other regional presidents accused of violating freedom of speech—a top concern for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, as Santiago Canton points out in his newly released Americas Quarterly article.
Downpours that began on Monday in the province of Iquique—located in Chile’s extreme-north desert region of Tarapacá—has damaged 4,800 homes, closed schools for 48 hours and led to power outages affecting more than 20,000 people. The storms eventually dumped 15-times the average monthly rainfall for the month of July and prompted Chile’s national emergency office to mobilize resources for roof repairs and the prevention of landslides.
While Chile’s government has thus far viewed this rain event simply as an “unusual climatic phenomenon,” climate change experts see an overall trend toward extreme weather events and changing rainfall patterns in Latin America, displacing hundreds of thousands of people in recent years. Sasha Chavkin in a policy update for the newly released Americas Quarterly looks at preparations that Chile and other countries have taken to be ready for extreme future rainfall and drought events, focusing on work to develop procedures for declaring states of emergency and for responding to disasters.
In a logical world, President Oscar Arias’ seven-point plan for resolving the Honduran impasse is the best—and perhaps only—way forward after the Honduran coup. In many ways it reflects the things that we have promoted on this website: move up the date of the elections (in Arias’ plan to October), allow President Zelaya to return with a significantly curtailed role in a coalition government, an amnesty for the charges against him pre-June 28, and a commitment by the ousted president not to press for re-election. Pretty straightforward.
And it almost got the parties there—except for the de facto government of former Congressman Micheletti which has dug in its heels, refusing to allow the ousted president to return. There are three major problems in their position, though: 1) it only deepens Honduras’ isolation; 2) it will only serve to radicalize Zelaya and the alliance of the more extremist presidents who support him; and 3) the coup itself is not as popular as the de facto government wants to portray it to the outside world. (Which really shouldn’t matter anyway because it was, in fact, a coup even if orchestrated by institutions.) The truth is that coups have received popular support. Yes, even the Chilean coup of 1973 was supported by a broad segment of the population. That didn’t make it right, though—nor certainly did it justify the bloodshed that followed. (This is a side note to those who want to argue that this wasn’t a coup: there have been plenty of coups that haven’t followed the classic playbook and have enjoyed both popular and institutional support. But they were still coups.)
Concerning the first, on Monday, July 20, 2009, the European Union announced that it was suspending $92 million in assistance. This is on top of the $270 million World Bank loan and $200 Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) loan that have been put on hold, the U.S. assistance to the Honduran military and the more than $180 million in U.S. bilateral assistance that hangs in the balance. And there’s the suspension from the OAS, the condemnation of the UN, and the pulling of most foreign ambassadors from Tegucigalpa—and Honduras looks like it’s become a political pariah and economic loner. There’s also the issue of remittances, which represent 25 percent of Honduras’ meager GDP. If the de facto government hews to the original timetable for elections in November and the transfer of power in January, it’s going to leave its people pretty high and dry. And let me venture a guess here: at that point for most Hondurans, living in the third poorest country in Central America and the Caribbean, the coup and the government that came in its wake are going to look a heck of a lot less inspiring.
Concerning the second, as the clock ticks and Zelaya’s return is delayed—under any form—the new-found populist is threatening again to go back to the silliness and rhetoric orchestrated by his puppeteer Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. We’ve already seen this before with the irresponsible (though unfortunately ultimately deadly) stunt he performed on July 5 when he tried to return and the military blocked his way. When that failed he returned to a more sensible fold: the U.S. and a mediated solution through Arias. As the possibilities appear to be closing down, Zelaya is returning to his position of going back to Honduras as soon as possible with or without an agreement. Maybe it’s just a—misguided—negotiating tactic. But it does indicate that he could resort again to the destructive, polarizing and deadly tactics of before.
The de facto government shouldn’t have to yield to such irresponsible posturing. But it demonstrates that beyond the Micheletti government’s unconstructive intransigence the success of any negotiated solution will depend on Zelaya accepting a symbolic return to power. Ultimately, that’s all he’ll get—a shortened term and constrained powers—but it will be what is necessary to restore some modicum of institutionality to Honduras and demonstrate the hemisphere’s and international community’s capacity to enforce constitutional processes. But is Zelaya enough of a stateman to do this?
I wouldn’t hold my breath, especially as time goes on. But this should be put to the test for world public opinion to see. It all boils down to whether Zelaya prefers to be seen as a responsible symbol of democracy for the world community or a political martyr. The latter would allow him to someday stage a comeback as the wronged advocate of the poor ousted by the elite. This may seem like a stretch now, but should things go south in the next administration, with the financial and rhetorical support of President Chávez, Zelaya could return as a populist symbol. In other words, the opposition’s intransigence today could lead to their being steamrolled later, as Zelaya roars back as a victim of the past and champion of the poor. Letting him return now in a defanged form will help head this off.
Third, as unpopular as President Zelaya was in office, the coup has split the country down the middle. At the time of his removal, President Zelaya was enjoying a measly 25 percent approval rating. Today according to polls, 46 percent of the population opposes the coup. Should Honduras’ economic and political isolation drag on, support for the coup will only decline further. Some governments and observers have even the questioned the legitimacy of the de facto government to convene new elections. Worse case scenario? Without a compromise that brings in a more legitimate government to oversee the November or October elections (whenever they’re held) Honduran citizens may be looking at another four years of isolation. Unlikely, but a disaster should it happen.
In short, for all the flaws of President Zelaya (and there are many) the short-(and even medium-) term future of Honduras hinges on these negotiations. There are plenty of reasons for either side to dig in its heels. But neither Honduras’ future, the interests of its citizens, or the rule of law internationally would be served by their doing so. Let’s just hope for the sake of their country they do accept something close to what’s on the table now.
An Ipsos Apoyo survey published yesterday by El Comercio reported that President Alan García’s popularity had reached 27 percent by mid-July, a 6 percent increase from last month. The survey, conducted from July 15-17, also revealed that only 20 percent of the population supports the naming of Javier Velásquez Quesquén as prime minister—a contrast with the 41 percent that supported the previous prime minister, Yehude Simon, when he took the post last October.
García’s higher approval ratings may be a result of his decision to reshuffle the cabinet after indigenous protests turned deadly in early June. The protests revolved around a set of decrees that protesters said violated their ancestral claims on land and resources in the region. Infringement on indigenous land rights is a concern in Peru and in other countries where “territories have not been properly delimited,” according to Katya Salazar and Javier La Rosa in their article for the Summer issue of Americas Quarterly released today.
More than two weeks after a military coup ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, a superficial calm has returned to the country: protests have slowed and the interim government has repealed the curfew in place since June 28.
However complaints of censorship and mistreatment toward members of the foreign and local press continue to surface.
A series of arrests, a media blackout and attempts at censorship have been denounced by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Reporters without Borders, Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and other human rights groups.
At 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, a new Canadian law went into effect that requires Mexicans and Czech Republic nationals to obtain a visa prior to entering the country. Ottawa’s action comes in response to a dramatic jump in asylum applications, with Mexican refugee claimants tripling since 2005 and Czech asylum seekers reaching 3,000 applications in 2007, up from fewer than five claims in 2006.
Canadian and Mexican officials had been forcefully lobbying to overturn the decision since it was adopted a few months ago. Some experts are calling the visa requirement one of the most damaging foreign policy decisions made by Canada in recent times. Canadian immigration minister Jason Kenney defends the visa by explaining that the dramatic increase in claims is “creating significant delays and spiraling new costs in [Canada’s] refugee program” and “undermining our ability to help people fleeing real persecution.”
One sector that is fearful of the backlash is the tourism industry. Canadian tourism officials have asked for a delay of the ban until mid-November—July and August are some of their most lucrative months, with an average of 125,000 Mexican tourists visiting.
Canada has one of the most generous refugee systems in the world and accepts almost six times as many refugees and asylum seekers per capita as the United States.
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.
Mediated Talks on Honduras to Resume; Zelaya Calls for Insurrection
Talks between the deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and the interim government ended in Costa Rica with little progress on July 10. Since then, Costa Rican President Óscar Arias announced talks would resume later this week and Zelaya said that, should he not gain reinstatement this weekend, he would consider the dialogue a failure. He also called on Hondurans to engage in an insurrection.
The Christian Science Monitor interviewed COA's Eric Farnsworth, who described the call for an uprising as "a colossal mistake." Moreover, in a debate on a National Jounal Experts blog, Farnsworth writes: “The real story is not the overthrow of Zelaya in Honduras…[but] where the hemisphere itself has been as nation after nation has elected leaders who then use the institutions of democracy to attempt to perpetuate themselves in power.”
The Wall Street Journal puts the Honduran crisis in context in a multimedia look at the history of caudillos. Considering both sides of the coup, the main article states: “In the eyes of the international community Roberto Micheletti took charge through an old-fashioned coup,” but “In Mr. Micheletti’s take on the events, it was his government who avoided another, slow-motion coup by Mr. Zelaya himself.”
On Monday, Bolivian President Evo Morales met with Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez in Montevideo to negotiate an agreement that would provide Bolivia with access to the Atlantic Ocean in exchange for the use of Bolivia’s natural gas resources. The deal will give free port privileges to Bolivia in Nueva Palmira—a key port on the Paraná River— and Montevideo. For the Bolivian gas to reach Uruguay, approval would be needed from Brazil and Argentina since the existing pipeline system connects these two countries.
The Bolivian and Uruguayan leaders also discussed restarting Urubapol, an alliance that promoted the development of Bolivia, Uruguay and Paraguay in the 1970s and 1980s. Vázquez also promised to support Morales in demanding the delisting of the coca leaf from the international dangerous drugs list referring to it as “a plant that forms part of the Bolivian highland culture.” Both presidents also issued statements expressing their full support for the government of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya.
The early arrival of sub-freezing temperatures in Peru’s southern highlands has brought severe cases of hypothermia, pneumonia and other respiratory diseases, leading to the deaths of 246 children.
Every year, dozens of children, especially those under 5 years, succumb to cold-related illnesses in rural Peru’s mountain communities. But this year’s early winter temperatures have provoked a major spike in fatalities, up 40 percent from last year. Experts are blaming climate change for the March onset of extreme cold, snow, hail, and strong winds that usually don’t strike the region until June.
The government declared a state of emergency in the affected regions, but critics complain that the cold conditions are predictable and that the deaths could have been avoided. Oscar Ugarte, Peru’s minister of health, has said that blame lies with regional officials who have failed to distribute resources, rather than with the central government.
Non-governmental organizations have stepped up efforts to rush donated clothes and equipment to the affected regions. Local press reported on Monday that the organization Solaris Peru has delivered 24 tons of clothes to 1,290 families in its first week of operations.
The Central Reserve Bank reported that remittances from January to June fell by 10.3 percent, or $200 million, in comparison to the first half of 2008. The drop in remittances to a total of $1.74 billion is attributed to the economic crisis and to unemployment in the
President Mauricio Funes, who took office on June 1, vowed during his campaign that El Salvador would become "the most dynamic economy in Central America." This recession jeopardizes that goal and is a stumbling block for his planned social programs.
What is it about South American leaders and public gifts to President Obama? In April, we were treated to the spectacle of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez giving a copy of Eduardo Galeano’s Open Veins to the U.S. President at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad—a disingenuous publicity stunt that backfired and stole the headlines from other, more substantive and important issues. And now we have Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva at the G8 summit in Italy giving Obama a soccer jersey signed by all the members of the Brazilian national soccer team.
Now, as a soccer head myself, I can think of no better gift to receive from the Brazilian President than a signed jersey. I certainly hope that it is displayed properly in the White House, and even though there is no record of the First Family having any particular interest in or affinity to soccer, nonetheless this is quite a cool gift. No complaints there. Except one. It was barely a week ago that the United States and Brazil played the championship game of the Confederations Cup in South Africa, the 2010 World Cup host. This was the first time in history that the United States men’s soccer team made it to the final of an extra-regional international soccer tournament. For Brazil, this was old hat, a big yawn, which paled in comparison to their five (yes, five) World Cup Championships. But for the upstart Americans, this was a big deal.
G8 leaders meeting in
Canadian Environment Minister Jim Prentice called his country’s planned reduction of 70 percent by 2050 “realistic,” in contrast to the G8’s number of 80 percent, given “the climate we have, the industrial base we have, our population growth.”
Data collected in 2007 placed
Arturo Valenzuela, Tom Shannon, Carlos Pascual, and Kenneth Merten all went before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week for their “job interviews” for Latin America policy (aka, confirmation hearing).
As I’ve written here before, Valenzuela is up for assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs; Shannon, ambassador to Brazil; Pascual, ambassador to Mexico; and Merten, ambassador to Haiti.
The senators and nominees primarily focused on alternative energy, the Merida initiative, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, and, of course, Honduras. It’s important to note that a frequent topic of the day—the presence and nefarious influence of Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and al-Qaeda in the hemisphere—didn’t get so much time. Perhaps that comes up only when administration officials are stumping Congress for more funding on Latin America initiatives.
The headline out of this hearing, however, is not about the accomplishments, or policies, of these sharp and savvy diplomats. It was an opportunity for certain Republicans to raise legitimate complaints about the Obama administration’s policies on Honduras and Cuba. At the same time, it was hardly contentious—fortunate for those going through the confirmation process!
Last Sunday, Mexico witnessed how the PRI, or Institutional Revolutionary Party (a heterogeneous grouping of right-of-center groups and revolutionary nationalists), reasserted its standing and overtook President Felipe Calderón's National Action Party (PAN) in the elections for Congress, six governors, and municipalities and local congresses in 11 states. The PRI also defeated the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), which lost many of its traditional constituencies and is now facing one of its worst crises.
The PAN's electoral strategy didn't help. While the PRI relied on the political and financial resources of its governors to operate the party’s campaign, the PAN chose an approach of direct confrontation. It also counted on President Calderón's popular image, paralleling a vote for the PAN with a vote against drug traffickers.
Calls for better infrastructure and government services have intensified after an elderly woman died of respiratory failure yesterday, which reports indicate was the result of police use of tear gas against protestors in the province of Santiago. Colonel Jesus Cordero Parderes, the regional police spokesman, denied accusations that the police used tear gas and rejected linking the woman's death with police actions. During another protest last Friday in Los Guandules in southwest Santiago, a young man was injured with a bullet and five people were detained in a demonstration calling for road improvements and demanding greater attention to the recent power shortages.
The Broad Front for the Popular Struggle (FALPO) organized protests across Santiago province to demand better public services. Victor Breton, a leader of FALPO, said that the protests are calling for an end to the blackouts, better access to drinking water, improvements in local roads, and better security for the residents, among other demands.
There has been a history of clashes between FALPO and the police in the Dominican Republic and accusations of police misconduct, particularly during protests at the time of the economic crisis in 2003 and previous power shortages. In 2004, during a demonstration in Navarrete, Santiago, a member of FALPO was fatally shot by a police officer, and in 2007, a spokesman for FALPO was also killed.
Just downriver from the French Quarter—New Orleans’ oldest and most famous district—the wrought iron balconies and handsome Creole townhouses give way to a scruffier set of neighborhoods that are getting lots of attention lately thanks to new development plans.
The Faubourg Marigny and Bywater districts in recent years have become the city’s new havens of bohemia—places where artists, musicians and eccentrics thrived after the French Quarter became overrun with tourists (many of them in search of 3-for-1 beer specials) and wealthy folks.
Now, locals—and good music—are more likely to be found at one of the bars in the Marigny than along bead-laden Bourbon Street.
Hurricane Katrina—the 2005 storm that went down as one of the deadliest in U.S. history—only strengthened the two neighborhoods’ appeal. Like the French Quater, they escaped serious flooding due to their strategic location along the Mississippi River, on some of the city’s highest ground. Today, these traditionally working-class neighborhoods are also the site for an ambitious project set to break ground in the fall that will transform much of the riverfront into a park. Not surprisingly, housing values have skyrocketed and investors are busy buying up the peeling shotgun structures that can still be had at bargain prices.
Antonio Ledezma, the mayor of Caracas, spoke with the Organization of American States (OAS) yesterday to discuss how the OAS can help to end a hunger strike that has spread to include over a dozen city employees since it began last Friday. The mayor—a member of the opposition to President Hugo Chávez—is protesting Chávez’ violation of democratic rights and has asked OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza to create a high-level commission that would visit the country and analyze the “gravity of the situation.”
Ledezma’s chief complaint is that President Chávez has stripped away his executive responsibilities by naming Jacqueline Faría as the chief of government of Caracas, a post that has complete veto power over the mayor’s actions. Chávez also has limited Ledezma’s access to state funds, leaving over 22,000 city employees without a paycheck for the past eight months. The President has taken similar actions against opposition governors, taking away their power to administer schools and hospitals.
The Venezuelan government denies Ledezma’s accusations and claims that his hunger strike is a stunt to attract media attention.
Secretary of State Clinton’s meeting today with deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was intended to show the support—visibly—of the United States for a return to the status quo ante, but it also served a more important purpose: by getting Zelaya on board with the idea of allowing Costa Rica’s President and Nobel Laureate Oscar Arias to mediate the constitutional crisis, the United States buys time to consider all appropriate options and actions. Cooler heads can now prevail, because we’ll presumably be spared additional acts of the theater of the absurd that saw Zelaya circling high above
Now, everyone can take a deep breath and attempt to resolve the crisis away from the
That includes the
Reports began trickling out of Bolivia on Sunday of a major counternarcotics operation in Chiquitania, an area in the eastern province of Santa Cruz. Officials now say that the raid led to the seizure of what may be the biggest cocaine factory ever found in Bolivia—the world’s third largest cocaine producer.
On Monday, Oscar Nina, director of the government’s special anti-narcotics force, called the seizure of the factory, which was capable of producing 100 kilograms per day of highly refined cocaine, “the biggest setback to narcotrafficking to have occurred in recent years.” The factory is the fourth major lab to be discovered in 2009 in Bolivia. As in the other cases this year, a number of Colombian nationals were arrested and were believed to be working in collaboration with local teams.
Alfredo Rada, Bolivia’s minister of government, used coverage of the action to voice his criticism of past U.S. anti-drug actions in the region and pointed out that the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), which had been active in the region, failed to discover the labs. Cocaine production in Bolivia grew in 2008 and the government has come under pressure to control the problem, particularly after receiving heavy criticism for expelling U.S. anti-narcotics officials from the country.
Yesterday’s mid-term legislative elections in Mexico—where 500 federal deputies, six governors and city mayors in a number of municipalities were up for grabs—had one clear result: President Felipe Calderón and his party (National Action Party – PAN) lost influence. This was welcome news for the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s (PRI) old and new guard.
Preliminary results show that the PRI, along with their allies for nine years, the Green Party, will have an absolute majority. Together, they will likely hold around 252 of the 500 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. Calderón’s party is expected to keep around 146 seats, and the rest will be divided among the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and smaller parties.
Governor races confirm this trend. At least three of the six states will go to the PRI.
Regional authorities in the southeastern Peruvian province of Huaytará announced on Sunday that 480 vicuñas (a relative of the llama) had been killed and robbed of their precious fur, reaching an estimated value of about $50,000. Vicuña poaching has been on the rise in recent years partly due to worsening poverty—the fur of four of these animals carries a value of $400 in the local market and up to $2,000 internationally. It is one of the finest fibers in the world.
The poachers—many of whom are thought to be locals—use binoculars and firearms to trap the vicuñas and an existing route to “transport the fiber toward the south of Peru to the border of Bolivia,” explained Jorge Quinto, the region’s manager of natural resources. Illegal poaching harms a local population that counts on these animals as part of their daily survival.
The government is trying to crack down on poachers, but “it’s hard to catch them,” explains Ulario Maita, president of a local vicuna villager association. The justice system doesn’t pursue poachers, and if caught, they rarely serve prison sentences. To curtail poaching, Maita says that the villagers would need better equipment and vehicles to pursue the criminals, along with increased community pressure. This is the formula that helped to repopulate herds in the 1990s.
Things aren’t going well in
The international community is squarely in favor of declaring this a coup and having Zelaya returned to power. The Honduran Congress, armed forces, Supreme Court, and many of its people refuse to allow it. Just yesterday when Zelaya (unwisely) chose to try to return on (again, unwisely) a Venezuelan jet, he was turned back by the military blocking the airport.
Meanwhile, the OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza is engaging in shuttle diplomacy, going between the different actors in the Honduran capital,
Before laying out my position on this, to avoid any confusion at a time (and in a region) where people like to ideologically pigeonhole others and claim that one or the other is not on the “side of freedom,” let me say the following in as direct a fashion as possible:
A new hopeful has joined the presidential race in Colombia. Germán Vargas, 47, the former leader of the center-right Radical Change party last week officially launched his long expected bid to become Colombia’s next president in 2010.
A lawyer, veteran political mover and shaker and former senator, Vargas has stood faithfully by President Álvaro Uribe over the years. He led a successful coalition that helped bring Uribe first to power in 2002, and then backed his reelection. But this time around, Vargas won’t be supporting a possible third Uribe reelection.
What makes Vargas different from other candidates is that he is not on standby like presidential frontrunner, Juan Manuel Santos, who has said he will withdraw from the race if Uribe chooses to run for a third consecutive term. Vargas is eyeing the presidency whatever Uribe’s final decision may be. “I’m an Uribista (supporter of Uribe) but not a re-electionist,” Vargas said recently.
Over the years, Vargas has staunchly backed Uribe’s Democratic and Social Security policy that centers on a military defeat of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas. “I will defend with full rights and conviction the enormous achievements that the Democratic Security Policy has achieved,” Vargas said during his opening campaign speech.
Vargas is a known hardliner who adopts the same resolve and tone when talking about crushing the guerrillas as Uribe does. And like Uribe, Vargas has no plans to negotiate with the FARC. “That isn’t feasible. They (the FARC) lost their chance. There is no way to have a successful peace process and that is what they don’t understand,” Vargas told La Semana magazine. He added his strategy would be to “fight them until the end.”
But while he is keen to bill himself as an heir to Uribe’s Democratic and Social policy, he also brands himself as a politician who will defend Colombia’s poor and vulnerable, as part of what he calls is a much-needed “profound social transformation” in Colombia. He is keen to hark back to his liberal roots under the guidance of Luis Carlos Galán, a popular Colombian liberal leader who was assassinated in the late 1980s. Vargas’s ideology, though, belongs to more to the center-right.
During his opening campaign speech, Vargas focused on a checklist of Colombia’s woes—the country’s 3 million displaced, its 22 million poor, rising unemployment, and rural poverty. He promises to deliver greater health and education coverage and is convinced the lack of infrastructure is holding back progress in Colombia.
This all sounds good. But Colombians have heard these promises before. As a public speaker, Vargas is disappointing and tends to come across as someone with a lack of conviction and sensitivity. And when he does become passionate, he appears conflictive. So far, Vargas has offered little insightful reflection or a vision for Colombia’s future following his recent weeks-long tour of the country. His campaign slogan, “Better is possible” is ambiguous as it is uninspiring.
Just a few years ago, there was a lot of hype about Vargas, and most local pundits believed him to be the clear favorite to succeed Uribe. But does he stand a chance today? It’s too early to tell. It all depends on what Uribe decides. If Uribe is a candidate and Vargas stands against him, local pollsters predict Vargas would lose. But if Vargas were to stand against former defense minister Juan Manuel Santos, it could prove to be a tight race.
Meanwhile, there’s been much speculation about whether Uribe will heed President Barack Obama’s recent advice and refrain from seeking a third term. During Uribe’s trip to Washington earlier this week, Obama insinuated that two consecutives terms in office is quite enough.