El sueño de que en unas elecciones se vote por ideas y no por personas ha cabalgado por las sociedades latinoamericanas comicios tras comicios. En Argentina, que elige el próximo domingo un tercio del Senado (24 bancas), la mitad de la Cámara de Diputados (127), así como legisladores de todas las provincias del país—incluida la Ciudad de Buenos Aires—, el sueño persiste. Pero la regla en campaña fue la misma: los partidos aceitaron sus maquinarias y militantes con el ánimo de conservar a los fieles y atraer a los novatos, promoviendo las personas y olvidando la discusión de las ideas.
Por esta razón, varias iniciativas de los ciudadanos y la sociedad civil han querido poner en jaque esa regla. Una de ellas—de la cual soy partícipe—llamada Elegibien.com es una plataforma digital inspirada en el portal Votebien.com Colombia que permite que los ciudadanos respondan a preguntas sobre la situación del país, bajo la premisa de que las redes sociales nos ofrecen la posibilidad de participar todos en igualdad de condiciones en la discusión de los problemas del país.
ElegíBien busca concentrar en un solo lugar a todos los candidatos y generar nuevas formas de debate interactivo. El objetivo es demostrar que—a pesar de la polarización en Argentina que ve la política con los lentes K y Anti K (por kirchnerismo y antikirchnerismo)—no hay una única lectura, ni protagonismos más grandes ni más chicos. En esta oportunidad, se invitó a los candidatos a responder 5 preguntas en el formato video-minuto sobre los problemas que más preocupan a los argentinos: #seguridad #inflación #desempleo #educación y #corrupción. Aunque terminen las elecciones, la iniciativa ve más allá del voto y el día electoral como formas de expresión y participación ciudadana para construir democracia.
A Washington, DC-based advocacy organization began running pro-immigration reform advertisements on the websites of local newspapers in Republican Congressional representatives’ districts on Thursday. In order to pressure the House of Representatives to vote on pending immigration reform legislation, Americas Voice’s web ads target news outlets in Republican members’ districts that, according to recent polling data, overwhelmingly support such reform.
Ads ran on the two California papers’ websites—the Fresno Bee and the Modesto Bee—highlighting data from a poll conducted by Magellan Strategies showing that the majority of voters in the state’s congressional districts 10, 21, and 22 support immigration reform along the lines of bill proposed by House Democrats on October 2. The bill, titled the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (H.R. 15), is similar to a bi-partisan bill passed in the Senate in June and includes a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States.
The ads implore the Republican representatives from these districts—Representatives Jeff Denham, David Valadao, and Devin Nunes, respectively—to vote for H.R. 15. Similar ads will be run in local newspapers in Nevada and Colorado next week targeting Republican Representatives Mike Coffman (CO-6) and Joe Heck (NV-3), whose constituents similarly polled to show overwhelmingly support reform. Seventy-four percent of likely voters support legislation along the lines of H.R. 15, including 71 percent of Republicans in both Representative Coffman and Hoff’s districts.
In a televised speech on Thursday, President Obama urged House Republicans to vote for a comprehensive overhaul that includes a path to citizenship, noting that “anyone still standing in the way of this bipartisan reform should at least explain why.”
Mexico’s ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) announced its support on Wednesday for an opposition proposal to increase the 5 percent tax on junk food set out in President Enrique Peña Nieto’s fiscal reform plan. The tax would be applied to purchases of high-calorie foods including chocolates, sweets, puddings, potato chips and ice cream, but would not be applied to hamburgers or tacos.
Last week, the lower house of Congress approved the fiscal reform package with a 5 percent tax on junk food, and Armando Rios Piter, a Senate finance expert from the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Democratic Revolution Party—PRD), proposed increasing the tax to 8 percent. On Wednesday, PRI Senate leader Emilio Gamboa said that his party would “undoubtedly support” the tax increase. If Piter’s plan is formally adopted, the reform bill would go back to the lower house, before being sent to the Senate for a final vote.
If the bill is passed by both chambers with the 8 percent tax provision included, the reform will contribute nearly 2.7 percent of GDP to government coffers by 2018 according to Deputy Finance Minister for Revenue Miguel Messmacher. The tax reform bill is a key part of the President Peña Nieto’s Pacto por México, a series of reforms agreed upon by Mexico’s three main political parties in 2012 that range from education and energy to security and telecommunications.
Brazil’s postponement of its White House state dinner–seen as a long-awaited wedding ceremony for the two countries after a very drawn out courtship–may signal more than just President Rousseff’s anger with revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) had been spying on her personal life and Petrobrás, the state oil company. Since the postponement (which some have understood to mean cancellation), Rousseff has carved out a new niche for Brazil’s international identity, seizing the opportunity to make a bold and public statement about the direction of its foreign policy, away from the United States and its allies.
Brazil’s newfound enthusiasm for the issue of Internet privacy comes after a half-decade of an ambivalent foreign policy strategy. The predictions of a major shift in international political influence following the 2008 financial crisis, when the G-20 rose in importance to become the premier forum of global governance, signaled a potential new role for Brazil. However, this was problematic for Brazil since the G-20 represented everything that the country had long criticized: a private club of global power players.
Yet, predictions of a seismic change in global power did not come to fruition. Brazil has not made the transition to global player, and is instead juggling conflicting identities. It is a member of an elite club of global power players, but it’s also a committed proponent of global governance reform. Thus, Rousseff’s refusal to accept Obama’s explanation of spying and her recent championing of the right to privacy signal a turn away from the shaky middle ground and toward a more vocal role as a critic of the forums of global governance.
Cuba approved a plan to gradually unify its dual monetary system, a statement carried by official newspaper Granma revealed yesterday. The measure is part of a set of reforms adopted by the Communist Party in 2011 aimed at introducing market mechanisms and decentralizing the Cuban economy. "(Unification) is imperative to guarantee the reestablishment of the Cuban peso's value and its role as money, that is as a unit of accounting, means of payment and savings," the official statement said.
Cuba has had two currencies since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1994 when the country introduced the U.S. dollar as its second currency. Cuba's monetary system currently consists of the peso (CUP)—in which most wages are paid and local goods are priced—and the convertible peso (CUC), used in the tourism industry and foreign trade. Introduced in 2004, the CUC is pegged to the U.S. dollar and is currently valued at 25 pesos at exchange offices. However, companies must exchange dollars and CUCs with the government at the official exchange rate of one peso.
Last July, Cuban President Raúl Castro recognized that the dual currency is one of the “greatest obstacles for the country’s progress.” The system greatly complicates accounting, the evaluation of performance, and trade in the island. It is also very unpopular as sought-after imported goods—such as toothpaste and cooking oil—are far from reach to those who earn their salaries in pesos.
According to Cuban economists, the unification of the two currencies will take up to 18 months, and will involve devaluing the CUC and slightly revaluing the peso. The government has not provided a timetable for the reforms, but it has already begun adjusting the official exchange rate by allowing some companies to exchange dollars earned abroad for up to 12 pesos instead of one. The Cuban central bank has pledged it will back both currencies during the process to give Cubans enough time to convert their savings.
Likely top stories this week: Protesters clash with Brazilian police forces in Rio de Janeiro; A commuter train crash injures 30 in Buenos Aires; Hurricane Raymond builds strength near Mexico’s Pacific coast; Michele Bachelet leads the polls in next month’s presidential elections in Chile; Newly leaked documents reveal that the U.S. spied on former Mexican President Felipe Calderón.
Violent Clashes Between Police and Protesters Ahead of Brazilian Oil Auction: 300 protesters clashed with national police forces today outside a state auction for offshore oil exploration rights of the Libra oil field, near Rio de Janeiro. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff requested heavy security for the event after mass protests erupted last week in support of teachers’ strikes in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Media reports said a small group of protesters tried to set a car on fire, and that the police fired tear gas and stun grenades onto a nearby beach with tourist onlookers.
Commuter Train Crashes in Buenos Aires: 30 passengers were injured in a Buenos Aires train crash this Saturday. The accident took place at Terminal Once, the same station where a crash killed 51 people and injured over 700 others last year. Last year’s crash reduced public support for Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and analysts expect her popularity to be damaged once again ahead of the upcoming Congressional elections scheduled for October 27. The crash comes amidst growing concerns over the quality of the Argentine capital’s rail system and a recent proposal by the federal government to seize administrative control of the city’s commuter rail operations.
Hurricane Raymond Builds Strength Near Mexico: Hurricane Raymond was upgraded to a category three hurricane by the Mexican Comisión Nacional del Agua (Mexican Water Commission—CONAGUA) today. Meteorologists said the storm currently reports sustained winds of 195 km/h (120mph), and that it would be the first category three storm to hit Mexico this year. Public officials say they are still recovering from the damage left by Ingrid and Manuel, two tropical storms that simultaneously affected Mexico’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts last month. The storms killed over 150 civilians and resulted in billions of dollars in damage.
Michelle Bachelet Leads Polls in Chile: A new poll by Universidad Diego Portales finds that former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet is expected to win 37.7 percent of votes in the country’s November 17 presidential election. Bachelet served as Chile’s first woman president from 2006 to 2010 and returns to her home country following her role as the first executive director of UN Women. A runoff is expected between Bachelet and one of the eight other presidential candidates. Bachelet polls far ahead of even the second-place candidate, Evelyn Matthei, who received 12.3 percent of expected votes in the poll.
New Revelations on U.S. Surveillance in Mexico: Newly released documents revealed that U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) secretly spied on former Mexican President Felipe Calderón. The documents state that the agency acquired access to the former president’s email communications with cabinet members. The Mexican Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores (Ministry of Foreign Relations—SRE)— which modestly criticized revelations in September that the U.S. had spied on Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto during his campaign—said more forcefully yesterday that U.S. surveillance in Mexico was “unacceptable, unlawful and contrary to Mexican law and international law.”
Thirty million people live in modern slave-like conditions according to a report published by the Australia-based Walk Free Foundation yesterday, titled the Global Slavery Index. An estimated 3.73 percent of the 29.6 millions of people in modern slavery—defined as those exposed to a range of practices, including forced and bonded labor, human trafficking, forced marriages, and the use of children in the military—are in the Americas.
Of the 162 countries ranked in the index, Haiti scored second with 210,000 slaves out of a population of 10.1 million. The report estimates that one in 10 Haitian children are trapped in an exploitative system of child labor, known as restavek, and that the number increased after the 2010 earthquake devastated the already poor Caribbean nation. Mauritania came in first with 151 thousand slaves out of a total population of 3.8 million. In the Americas, Peru was ranked 65 with 82,000 slaves out of a total population of 30 million, followed by Uruguay at 72 and Colombia at 73.
In absolute terms, India, China, Pakistan and Nigeria have the highest numbers of people enslaved. The Walk Free Foundation report was supported by global leaders such as former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft. Clinton said, "I urge leaders around the world to view this index as a call to action, and to stay focused on the work of responding to this crime."
La vida en Venezuela es imprevisible. No se sabe cuándo los bienes básicos llegarán a los anaqueles, ni cuánto tiempo un corte eléctrico puede dejar el país a oscuras. Desplazarse de una ciudad a otra—en un país de 916 mil kilómetros cuadrados—puede llevar una hora como cinco. Ni siquiera el crimen es organizado. En términos prácticos, es como si cada día fuese una sorpresa, pero a la vez como si se tratase de un guión que se repite de manera incesante.
Dos semanas atrás, una protesta por mejoras salariales paralizó por completo las instalaciones de la Siderúrgica del Orinoco (Sidor), la mayor productora de acero del país que forma parte de la Corporación Venezolana de Guayana (CVG), un complejo de industrias básicas ubicado al sureste del país que en nació en los años 60 con la promesa de potenciar el crecimiento económico de la nación petrolera.
Si bien la sorpresa cayó de imprevisto en la golpeada gestión presidencial de Nicolás Maduro—el heredero político del fallecido Hugo Chávez—las luchas sindicales en Sidor y sus industrias hermanas no son novedad. Durante años, los trabajadores de Sidor han reclamado que las arduas condiciones de trabajo y la ausencia de un plan de jubilación deben ser recompensados con onerosos contratos colectivos. Chávez nacionalizó la empresa en 2008, bajo la premisa que acompañó los otros muchos procesos de estatización durante su gobierno: Venezuela es soberana. Revertir la privatización—firmada en 1997—le garantizó el apoyo de la masa obrera, a un costo muy alto para el país. Bajo el control del Estado, la empresa disminuyó sus niveles de producción en 60 por ciento; producto de la crisis eléctrica, la falta de insumos y corrupción administrativa.
Durante la última huelga, que se extendió por tres semanas y terminó con nuevas promesas, algunos trabajadores insistieron que la siderúrgica podría ser una empresa autosustentable, pero por decisión del Gobierno continúa produciendo a pérdida y subsistiendo gracias al desembolso directo del presupuesto nacional. Esta es la realidad nacional: los problemas administrativos y pésimas decisiones en materia económica obligan al Estado—antes suplantado personalísticamente por Chávez—a intervenir en cada fase del proceso venezolano. Así, el Estado oye a los trabajadores, el Estado garantiza hospitales, el Estado escoge los libros de texto para las escuelas, el Estado garantiza que haya leche y pollo en casa.
While thousands of federal workers in the U.S. went back to work today after grappling with the government shutdown and debt ceiling crisis, Canada’s Parliament has just now reopened for business, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s second Throne Speech since his party won a majority government mandate in May 2011.
Coming at mid-term, the speech has been properly described as a new beginning for the Harper government. He outlined consumer-friendly measures such as reducing the gap between cross-border prices on items purchased in the U.S. and greater subscriber freedom in purchasing cable TV packages. In addition, he announced more law and order policies to reinforce his conservative base. All this was presented in the usual pomp of a Speech from the Throne.
The past year has seen the Harper administration facing its most serious crises since it first took office in 2006. Election irregularities in the 2011 campaign have led to departures within the ranks, and a Senate scandal involving three Conservative senators dominated the spring session. Current polls place the Harper Conservatives behind the third party in the House of Commons—the Liberals, under new leader Justin Trudeau. While there is plenty of time for a resurgence before the 2015 general election, the Speech from the Throne delivered on October 16 does represent a potential second wind.
The Conservative victory in May 2011 was so impressive that some seasoned political observers saw the emergence of a new coalition made up of law and order types and Canadians with conservatives values— one which could transform the Conservatives into “the natural governing party” of the nation, as the Liberals were through most of the 20th century. Harper’s Conservative party is also seen as the most ideological party of its nature since Confederation.
Some pundits have postulated that the 2011 shift to the Right may develop into a permanent phenomenon. After all, in that year, the Liberals dropped to third place (Conservatives occupied 161 seats in the House of Commons while Liberals occupied 34) and seemed decimated in key strongholds across the country, including Québec and the greater Toronto area. The progressive view seemed in search of a principal voice. Enter the new official opposition party—the New Democrats (NDP), who are hoping to replace the Liberals as the alternative to the Conservatives.
Six people were reported dead after a massive gas explosion at a natural gas storage plant near Puebla, Mexico yesterday. Over 100 local residents were immediately evacuated from the surrounding areas and a major highway connecting Mexico City and Veracruz was closed for over four hours. Officials have not yet confirmed what caused the two containers holding approximately 250,000 liters (66,000 gallons) of natural gas to combust at the plant, owned by Gas Tomza.
Experts from the Secretaría de Energía (National Department of Energy) arrived at the site of the explosion yesterday to assist in investigations. Puebla State Governor Rafael Moreno Valle also visited the site. State authorities later stated, “Once the investigation has concluded, we will be able to hold the company and [individuals]” responsible for the explosion accountable.
Major gas explosions are not uncommon in Mexico, where limited oversight of safety protocol remains a challenge. Over 20 people were killed in May when a truck carrying gas tanks exploded on a highway outside Mexico City. In September 2012, an additional 26 people died in at a plant in Reynosa, owned by the state energy company, Petróleos Mexicanos (Mexican Petroleum—PEMEX).
Janet Yellen, nominated by President Obama last week to be the new chairwoman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, might not know it yet, but she has friends in high places in Latin America.
This is because many in the region rightly believe that Yellen's forecasted doveishness will give Latin America time to make the necessary adjustments while U.S. monetary tightening slowly winds its way through global markets.
Even in Brazil, where there aren’t many kind words being said about the U.S. these days, Central Bank Governor Alexandre Tombini has been buttering up markets with measured comments about the Fed’s tightening policy.
But Latin America is watching the aftermath of this appointment closely because there is an ominous feeling that, despite the region’s growing monetary autonomy, tightening U.S. policy will have important consequences for the region—such as creating more expensive imports, pricier debt payments, and higher local interest rates.
Past crises in the region have happened around moments of decisive Fed action—think 1982 and the 1994 Tequila Crisis, without even mentioning the trail of broken exchange rate pegs. But what is remarkable about the last few years is the contrast between Latin American governments having their economic houses in relative order and the chaotic, then sclerotic macro-environment amongst the world’s wealthiest countries.
This is a much different reality than Argentina in 2001 or Mexico in 1994. Only ten or twenty years ago, sovereign, dollar-denominated debt would have been the biggest part of any Fed monetary tightening problem, followed by fixed currency values. These days, after remarkable growth and a decade of responsible policy, much of the region can keep a full-blown crisis at bay. Instead, Latin Americans can now expect mild recessions, hampered growth, and a reckoning for low levels of invested in the good times.
Loose policy in the U.S. and elsewhere over the past few years has given Latin America a relatively favorable environment to conduct its own responsible monetary policy. At the same time that money was cheap in the U.S. and Europe, the relative high returns in Latin America drove capital their way, which provided a boon to economies in a strong phase of growth. China was still growing quickly and South American commodities were fueling that growth. But that new Latin American normal has evaporated relatively quickly with the specter of a developed world recovery and monetary tightening.
In the last round of regional conference qualifiers last night, Chile, Ecuador and Honduras punched their tickets to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
Chile and Ecuador join Colombia and Argentina as the representatives from the Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol (South American Football Confederation—CONMEBOL), while Honduras, which will play in its second consecutive World Cup, joins the United States and Costa Rica from the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF).
In CONCACAF, the qualifying match that created the most late drama was the United States’ 3-2 comeback win over Panama in Panama City. As the game went into stoppage time, Panama led 2-1. If the result had stood, Panama would have claimed the fourth spot on the CONCACAF qualification table, requiring a home-and-away playoff series with New Zealand to book their first-ever ticket to the World Cup. But two stoppage-time goals by the U.S. ended Panama’s World Cup hopes and landed Mexico in the fourth CONCACAF spot, despite their 2-1 loss to Costa Rica. Mexico will play New Zealand twice next month to decide who will travel to Brazil.
In CONMEBOL, Chile’s 2-1 victory over Ecuador sent both countries through to Brazil. Uruguay defeated Argentina 3-2 in Montevideo to secure that conference’s fifth playoff spot, and it will play Jordan twice in November in order to qualify for the World Cup. The group stage of the World Cup begins on June 12 in Morumbi Stadium in São Paulo.
The Estádio Jornalista Mário Filho in Rio de Janeiro—better known as the Maracanã—reopens its doors to tourists today, almost three years after it was closed for renovations. Visitors can now take a guided tour of the historic stadium where nearly 200,000 people watched Uruguay beat Brazil in the 1950 World Cup Final—the largest crowd ever to attend a sporting event. The stadium will host the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2014 World Cup, as well as the final match scheduled for July 13.
According to historian and lead tour guide Bruno Lucena, “it took too long to reopen the stadium for tourists. A place as important for soccer history as Maracanã should always be open to the public.” The tour includes a visit to the honor tribune, the press box, the locker rooms and VIP areas and costs between 15 reais ($7) and 30 reais ($14). Maracanã reopened for play in April 2013 with a “legends” match featuring Brazilian greats like Ronaldo and Bebeto, and hosted the Confederations Cup in June when Brazil won with a 3-0 victory over Spain. The stadium’s reopening followed controversy over delays, costs and the future privatization of the site as well as threats to close the venue amid fears that it does not meet minimum safety standards.
Other Brazilian World Cup stadiums are far from being complete. Five venues are currently facing construction delays: Manaus, Curitiba, Cuiaba, Porto Alegre and Natal. According to Brazilian Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo, “We cannot keep on the same rhythm or we will not deliver them on time” for FIFA’s December deadline.
Two contrasting images of the police pacification programs in Rio de Janeiro this week are likely to remain in the public’s memory. The first is the swift and publicity-laden police occupation on Sunday of the Lins de Vasconcelos favela in Rio’s Northern Zone, where the Brazilian and Rio state flags were flown in a demonstration reminiscent of a military victory celebration. Hundreds of officers armed with assault rifles entered the community on foot, horseback, and in armored tanks, and speakers set up outside police cars played upbeat music as they announced that “Peace begins now.”
The second image comes from the announcement that ten officers from the Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora (Police Pacification Unit—UPP) in Rocinha, Rio’s largest favela, will be charged for the torture and murder of 42-year-old bricklayer Amarildo de Souza, who disappeared on July 14th. Investigators found that after officers called Souza into the Rocinha police station for questioning, they tortured him with electric shock treatments and suffocated him with a plastic bag before disposing of his body in an undisclosed location. Twenty-two Rocinha residents have reported being tortured at the same UPP station since March. The chiefs of Rocinha’s UPP force and of Rio’s state military police were both replaced in August. Rocinha made headlines again last week when the body of a nine-year-old girl—who was raped—was found fifty meters away from a UPP station.
The images from Lins de Vasconcelos and Rocinha draw a contrast between the theatrical expansion of the pacification program and the day-to-day reality of the more than 500,000 city residents now living through it. The program employs militaristic tactics and language in neighborhoods with promises of community development and improved living standards. Following the announcement from public prosecutors about the Souza case, Rio de Janeiro state Governor Sérgio Cabral said, “the Amarildo [de Souza] case is not the face of the UPP. The face of the UPP is civic participation and the guarantee to move freely [within one’s own community].”
In the second annual release of its Social Inclusion Index, Americas Quarterly measured 16 Latin American countries based on numerous performance variables, including access to formal employment and adequate housing, enrollment in secondary school and civil society participation. Among its most interesting findings, the Index provided insight on the systemic nature of racial discrimination in Latin America and the Caribbean. Brazil and Colombia—which possess two of the region’s largest Afro-descendant populations—offered particularly unsettling results.
The Inter-American Development Bank estimates that Afro-descendants represent one-third of the Western Hemisphere’s total population, with the largest concentrations living in Brazil, the United States, Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador.
Across the region, Afro-descendants are more likely than others to live in impoverished areas affected by high rates of crime and violence. Racial inequality is further exacerbated by structural economic factors, including deep income disparities and minimal socioeconomic mobility among Afro-descendants.
Brazil and Colombia possess the region’s largest Afro-descendant populations and both countries continue to face formidable obstacles to reducing racial inequality. The 2006 national census in Colombia estimated that Afro-descendants accounted for 10.6 percent of the country’s population, but some demographers say this number is likely closer to 26 percent. Experts suggest this may be due to the fact that many Colombians of mixed European and African descent do not identify as black because “they do not feel discriminated against—or as a means to avoid discrimination.”
Similarly, the 2010 Brazilian national census marked the first time in history that a majority of Brazilians identified as Afro-descendants, including 50.7 percent of the population identifying as “black or mixed race.” In its official release of census results, the Instituto Brasileiro de Georgrafia e Estatística (Brazilian institute of Geography and Statistics—IBGE) noted that, “Among the hypotheses to explain this trend, one could highlight the valorization of identity among Afro-descendants.”
Secretary of the Interior Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong announced yesterday that organized crime in Mexico declined by over 26 percent from December 2012 to September 2013. In a speech to the Mexican Senate, Osorio Chong also said homicides were down 16 percent, and burglaries and car thefts dropped by 5 and 9 percent, respectively.
Of the 122 individuals deemed high-priority criminal targets, the current administration has arrested 58 and killed 9, according to Osorio Chong, while limiting gangs’ operational and logistical capabilities. In his speech, the secretary explained that "the only way to deliver results” on organized crime was to first understand that security is "a shared responsibility” among the federal government, states and municipalities. One reason for the drop in crime is the creation of five regional information and intelligence centers to promote cooperation and will be accessible to local security authorities for the first time—two of which are currently in operation.
The secretary was appointed by President Enrique Peña Nieto in December 2012 to deliver on the president’s campaign promise to reduce violent crime nationwide. Over 70,000 people were killed due to organized crime during former President Felipe Calderon’s administration from 2006 to 2012. Despite these efforts, violence and organized continue to plague Mexico. Acapulco, one of the country’s primary tourist destinations, now ranks as the second most violent city in the world and claims a murder rate of 142 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, which is 28 times higher than the average for the United States.
The natural gas situation in Mexico is frustrating when considering the country’s ample supply. While Mexico has significant unexplored potential that would benefit power generation, investment is deficient. The country must currently import liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the Middle East and Africa, paying four times the going rate in North America, in order to keep up with domestic demand. Despite the surplus of natural gas in the United States, all of the pipelines coming to Mexico are full, and thus Mexico must import from other parts of the world at a high premium. In order to meet its domestic demand—and potentially export—private investment could engage in exploration and production of the country’s ample natural gas reserves.
Petróleos Mexicanos (Mexican Petroleum—PEMEX) , the Mexican state oil company, holds a monopoly over the energy sector and has not yet been able to fully extract deep water oil and natural gas reserves due to a lack of technical expertise and limited spending on new investments for equipment and research. PEMEX is estimated to be sitting on approximately 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves. In addition to conventional natural gas, Mexico has significant shale gas capabilities, estimated to be the sixth largest amount in the world. The famed Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas has been a boon to the United States, yet the formation does not end at the border. Rather, it extends south into Northern Mexico and represents a tremendous economic opportunity.
The shale gas boom in the United States demonstrates how unconventional drilling techniques–such as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”–are leading to a significant reduction in natural gas imports. If Mexico brings in foreign expertise and investments to develop similar techniques, it would no longer need to import LNG from places like Nigeria or Yemen, and instead be able to enjoy a boom in natural gas production at home.
Human rights activists filed a lawsuit in New York yesterday against the United Nations, demanding compensation and public responsibility for the cholera epidemic that has affected thousands of people in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake. Numerous independent reports, including one produced by an expert panel commissioned by the UN, have concluded that the epidemic was most likely introduced by UN peacekeeping forces who were carrying a strain of the disease from Nepal, and that they did not take sufficient precautions to prevent its spread.
Cholera infections had not been reported for nearly a century in Haiti prior to the 2010 epidemic. The Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti—the group representing the families and individuals seeking compensation in the trial—estimates that 685,000 Haitians have been affected by the disease since 2010. So far, 8,400 Haitians have died from cholera and the disease is expected to claim an additional 1,000 lives each year. Expert reports found that the disease was spread from a UN camp with “documented sanitation deficiencies,” and then carried by sewage channels into the island’s Artibonite River, used by many Haitians for bathing and drinking water.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced in February that UN would not provide compensation to victims of the outbreak, citing provisions of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, which grants the UN immunity from domestic laws. International law experts agree, saying it is unlikely the case will be considered by the federal court where it was introduced, provided that the UN has enjoyed legal immunity from domestic laws since World War II. Haitian President Michel Martelly spoke on the issue last week in his address to the UN General Assembly, saying the entity has “a moral responsibility” to compensate victims.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro requested on Tuesday that the National Assembly implement the Ley Habilitante (Enabling Law), granting him special powers in order to fight corruption, economic issues and “capitalist logic” for one year. Maduro will need at least one opposition vote next week to receive the legislative powers. Because his party already has a two-thirds majority in the legislature, it is expected that the Enabling Law—which former President Hugo Chávez was granted four times—will be implemented for the executive.
Maduro insists the legislative powers are necessary to fight graft, given that Venezuela was ranked as the third most corrupt country in the world behind Liberia and Mongolia. But the news sparked speculation that Maduro is seeking to use his powers to undermine opposition candidates and distract Venezuelans from the economic crisis in their country. Opposition leader Henrique Capriles stated that he believed Maduro’s government would “ use the law to persecute and distract the people from their real problems."
Maduro’s request comes at a time when Venezuela claims highest inflation rate in the region, a sluggish economy and a power outage that left more than 65 percent of Venezuelans without electricity last month. Many analysts believe that 14 years of the Cadivi system—currency and price controls that are a holdover from the Chávez era—are seen as the main culprit behind Venezuela’s high inflation and shaky economy. The system, which provides dollars to importers and Venezuelans who travel abroad, has long been exploited and helped drive the black market price of the dollar to seven times the official exchange rate.
As the U.S. government shutdown continues in its second week and there remains a looming possibility of a Congressional gridlock over the debt ceiling on October 17, much attention has been directed to the first-term Republican Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz. The Calgary-born Cruz has been dominating the headlines for the past three weeks with his 21-hour faux-filibuster against the Affordable Care Act (popularly deemed “Obamacare”), and his adamant stand against the president’s health care reform as a “job killer.” In so doing, the “Senator from Canada” (Cruz was born to an American mother and a Cuban father in Alberta, Canada. He currently holds both U.S. and Canadian citizenship.) has become the de facto leader of Tea Party Republicans in the House of Representations and the face of the GOP.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner seems unable to break Cruz’s hold on the Tea Party caucus. As a result, defunding Obamacare has become the leitmotiv for Republican support to end the shutdown. Speaker Boehner keeps asking for a conversation with President Obama to break the stalemate, but it seems his most intransigent opponent is within his own ranks. Cruz, however, may be calling the tune on this Republican shutdown position, but he is not without his detractors.
Republican heavyweights such as anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist and Bush operative Karl Rove have openly questioned the Cruz-led strategy to tie a budget vote to replacing the 2012 election result on Obamacare or making it inoperative. Some have openly speculated that a fratricidal war within Republican ranks could cost the GOP dearly at the polls in the 2014 midterm elections. Polls, while spreading the blame to both parties, indicate greater disapproval with the Republicans’ performance on this issue. It is undoubtedly a risky strategy.
Clearly, Cruz has ambitions beyond the shutdown and the debt ceiling fight—possibly even the next presidential cycle in 2016. While many Republicans are increasingly uncomfortable with his bravado, his leadership on this issue and his media presence are making Speaker Boehner look weak and vulnerable. This is a unique situation where the Speaker of the House is being held hostage by a first-term Senator of the same party from another arm of the legislature. Meanwhile, the Tea Party is keeping Boehner’s feet to the fire, despite his obvious inclination to find a compromise with Obama.
On Monday, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff demanded an explanation from the Canadian government over a media report that claims the North American country spied on Brazil's Mines and Energy Ministry—the institution that manages the country's mineral and oil resources. This comes only a few weeks after a similar report claimed the United States was also spying on the South American country. "That is unacceptable between nations that are supposed to be partners," Rousseff said via Twitter. "We repudiate this cyber warfare.”
The report broadcast on Sunday by TV Globo claims that Canada's intelligence agency, the Communication Security Establishment (CSEC), used software called Olympia to map the ministry's communications, including Internet traffic, emails and telephone calls. Rousseff noted that there are reasons to believe the espionage had economic and strategic motives as many Canadian mining companies are operating in Brazil.
In response to these claims, Brazil's Minister of Foreign Relations Luiz Alberto Figueiredo summoned Canada's ambassador Jamal Khokhar to demand an explanation for what it called a "serious and unacceptable violation" of Brazilian sovereignty and the right to privacy of its citizens and companies. On the Canadian side, the spokeswoman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that "CSEC does not comment on its specific foreign intelligence activities or capabilities." The Canadian Defense Department declined to comment.
This follows a previous disclosure that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) had spied on Rousseff's telephone calls and emails as well as on state-run energy company Petrobras. In response to this report that came to light in mid-September, the Brazilian president canceled a state visit to the United States scheduled for October 23 and denounced this operation as a violation of human rights and international law during her address at the United Nations General Assembly.
Both reports are based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden who, according to the documents, attended the conference of the "Five Eyes" intelligence-sharing network between the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Snowden is wanted by the U.S. after revealing details of the NSA's massive intelligence activities, and is currently living in temporary asylum in Russia.
As the U.S. government’s shutdown stretches into its second week, local economies everywhere are suffering—but perhaps none as acutely as Puerto Rico.
The Island of Enchantment, which is home to nearly four million people, is slogging through its seventh straight year of recession with an economy that has already contracted 5.4 percent since August 2012. And the shutdown is making it difficult for the U.S. territory to overcome the economic difficulties that have plagued it for the better part of the decade.
Though Puerto Rico’s average per capita income is half that of Mississippi’s— the poorest state in the union—consumer prices on the island are sky high. On average, electricity costs on the island are double those on the mainland, and the cost of importing 85 percent of Puerto Rico’s food is often passed onto the consumers.
The result: nearly half the population lives under the poverty line, and Puerto Ricans are abandoning the island at a record pace due to high costs, a wobbly economy and high unemployment. The government shutdown that began on October 1 will only exacerbate Puerto Rico’s already fragile economy.
The island is burdened by $69 billion in public debt and relies on federal funding for 39.6 percent of the money it spends, compared to the average of 26.2 percent for U.S. states. While less than $6.6 billion of the funding the island receives from the federal government is considered discretionary, the unintended side effects of the shutdown will ripple through various industries and could bring the unstable economy to a grinding halt.
With Puerto Rico’s unemployment rate at a staggering 13.9 percent—the highest in the country—the federal shutdown means the continued loss of what little employment is available on the island. Federal employees, already suffering with furloughs due to sequestration, number about 10,000 on the island; about half of those are considered non-essential and affected by the shutdown. The longer Congress fails to pass a resolution, the more likely it is to increase the unemployment rate in Puerto Rico where workforce participation is just 40 percent and there are fewer than 900,000 jobs.
But the shutdown also threatens to affect the other main source of income on the island: tourism.
In 2011 alone, tourism contributed over $6 million to the GDP and supported 59,500 jobs across sectors. The lost revenue from the closure of some of the island’s main tourist attractions, including Fort San Felipe del Morro and Fort San Cristobal in Old San Juan, as well as El Yunque National Park— the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System —will also have a negative impact on local businesses that depend on tourism.
The negative consequences go further still. Besides decreasing the revenue from the island’s most popular industry, the shutdown affects more than just vacationers and tourist destinations. Perhaps the most dangerous consequence of the shutdown will be the reduced resources to combat violent drug crime.
With a per capita murder rate six times that of the U.S. mainland, more than 70 percent of homicides in Puerto Rico were related to the drug trade in 2012. Up until recently, the federal government paid little attention to what was happening on the island. By 2012, Puerto Rico had received just $260 million to combat drug-related crime—compared to the $1.6 billion that the U.S. initially pledged to Mexico as part of the Mérida initiative.
This all changed with Operation Caribbean Resilience, which began in July 2012—one year after murders in Puerto Rico surged to a record 1,117 per year. While the drug trade began to thrive on the island in the 1980s, it saw a dramatic spike in drug violence 2009, when tighter security at the U.S.-Mexico border closed off traditional drug trafficking routes.
While the federal government has sent 30 additional Homeland Security investigation agents to Puerto Rico and the Coast Guard has increased patrols of the Caribbean smuggling routes, the shutdown affects federal agencies on the island that are already chronically understaffed. Even the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico halted new judicial activities as of October 1.
With more than 43,000 pounds of narcotics seized in 2012 alone, it is clear that the U.S. can’t afford to neglect nearly 4 million citizens affected by the drug war due to partisan politics.
On the day of the shutdown, the FBI announced that it had dismantled a powerful drug organization in Puerto Rico that had generated over $100 million in revenue since 2005. I applaud that success and the new U.S. interest in the Caribbean—and recognize that federal agencies such as the FBI and Coast Guard are not currently affected by the shutdown.
Yet with chronically understaffed federal offices—even when the government is functioning at its full capacity—the shutdown seems poised to stifle the progress that has been made to reduce crime on the island.
Likely top stories this week: Military operations expand into a Rio de Janeiro favela; Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner takes a month-long medical leave from office; Colombia-FARC negotiations advance in Cuba; Mexican tax reform faces new opposition; IMF warns against the threat of a U.S. debt default.
Rio de Janeiro Expands Military Control of Favelas: A peaceful military operation was conducted on Sunday in the Lins de Vasconcellos favela of Rio de Janeiro, home to approximately 15,000 residents. Authorities have already established 34 Unidades de Polícia Pacificadoras (Police Pacification Units—UPPs) across the Rio de Janeiro metropolitan area—and now plan to install two in Lins de Vasconcellos—in an effort to promote public security for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. UPPs came under public criticism recently after 10 military police officers were accused by public prosecutors of torturing and killing Amarildo de Souza, a resident of the Rocinha favela.
Argentine President Takes Medical Leave: Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was ordered by doctors to take a month-long leave of absence after they confirmed she had suffered a head trauma. Vice President Amado Bodou will assume presidential responsibility during Kirchner’s absence. The announcement precedes midterm congressional elections scheduled for October 27 during a political low for Kirchner’s governing coalition. The group recently reported its worst performance in ten years, having received just 26 percent of national votes in the electoral primaries.
Colombian Government and FARC Leaders Resume Peace Talks: Following disagreements that resulted in a two-week stall in peace talks between the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) and the Colombian government, FARC Chief Negotiator Iván Márquez announced this week that both parties have agreed to resume negotiations. The talks began 10 months ago in Havana, Cuba, and have now been recorded in a 25-page document that includes agreements on the key issue of land reform. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said he hopes to conclude negotiations by the end of the year, with the ultimate goal of the FARC surrendering all weapons in exchange for legal and political integration.
Mexican Tax Reform Faces New Opposition: Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s proposed tax reforms face new opposition from the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN). The plan seeks to promote annual economic growth beyond 5 percent by reducing government subsidies for national energy production and raising annual revenue by 1.4 percent from increased sales and income taxes. The PAN has cited concerns that the tax reform bill would disproportionately burden middle-income families by imposing new taxes on private education tuition, mortgages and home rentals.
IMF Warns against A Possible U.S. Debt Default: IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde has warned against the looming threat of a U.S. debt default and the damaging effects it could have on the global economy as the U.S. Congress remains stalled in negotiations over a government shutdown. A recent report by the U.S. Department of the Treasury also warned against what would likely be the country’s worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, noting, “a default would be unprecedented and has the potential to be catastrophic.” In a recent speech, Lagarde said the U.S.’s ability to reach an agreement on the debt ceiling was “mission critical” to global economic growth and stability.
World leaders and migration experts met in New York this week to participate in the UN General Assembly High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development. Participants discussed the growing impact of migrants’ contributions to the economic and social realities of member countries and the need to include migration as a key topic in the development agenda.
The recent world economic crisis led to a new socio-economic landscape—particularly in Latin America, where intra-regional migration flows increased significantly as a result of fewer employment opportunities and tighter immigration policies in Europe and the United States. Countries like Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay became popular destinations for international migrants.
All countries in the region are greatly benefiting from an increased commercial and demographic interconnectedness, except for one: Venezuela.
For many years, Venezuela was a very popular migrant destination. Particularly between 1940 and 1970, thousands of immigrants from Europe and other countries in Latin America—particularly Colombia—saw Venezuela as an ideal place to escape from civil wars, dictatorships and economic crises. Back then, the South American country had a vibrant economy and was one of the most politically stable nations in the Western Hemisphere.
The economic boom lasted until the 1980s, when the collapse of oil prices crippled the Venezuelan economy. Venezuelans’ living standards fell dramatically as a result of failed economic policies, increasing corruption in government and a rise in poverty and crime. It was in this period that, for the first time, a significant number of Venezuelans decided to look for better opportunities abroad.
But the Venezuelan exodus did not attain its current dramatic proportions until the Hugo Chávez era. Between 1999 and 2013—the fourteen years of Chávez’ presidency—Venezuela witnessed unprecedented human capital flight. Though there are no official records of the exact number of Venezuelans living abroad, some experts estimate that about 1 million Venezuelans have fled their home country, 3.5 percent of the country’s population. This includes the emigration of half of Venezuela’s Jewish community—a constant target of the regime—by the time Hugo Chávez died in March 2013.
Due to geographic and cultural proximity, Colombia is the quintessential destination for Venezuelan migrants in Latin America. Some believe that Colombia’s current oil boom can be directly attributed to a rare breed of experts: the thousands of high-skilled Venezuelan oil professionals that were barred from working in the industry following the 2002-2003 Paro Nacional, or national strike. Besides Colombia, Venezuelans have congregated in Miami, Panama City and Madrid, and are increasingly sighted in less conventional places, such as Sydney, Calgary and Santo Domingo.
One of the characteristics of this exodus is that Venezuela is now exporting much more than gray-haired oil professionals. For some time, students have been the country’s main exports, as they have greatly benefitted from Venezuela’s twisted currency control regime known as the Comisión de Administración de Divisas (CADIVI). Thousands of Venezuelan students have decided to enroll in universities abroad as a means to escape the Bolivarian drama. With CADIVI dollars at a preferential rate—currently 6 times lower that the parallel black market rate—many students pursue not one, but two and sometimes three academic degrees, an expensive crusade to postpone the hardest decision of all: going back home.
But there is a bright side to the drama and the brain drain. According to Michael Clemens, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington DC, emigration has many overlooked benefits for countries of origin. In a recent report about skilled migration and development, Clemens says that “even if migrants do not return to their countries of origin, they transfer money, skills, technology, and even democratic ideas; their stories can inspire investments in education in sending countries; and they expand their own life opportunities in ways not possible without moving.”
This and other studies reveal that, besides being a fundamental source of remittances, migrants can also promote entrepreneurship and transfer knowledge and skills that are crucial for the growth and well-being of their countries of origin. Venezuela’s diaspora has traditionally been comprised of high-skilled professionals. And if we add the thousands of younger Venezuelans—who, in the past 14 years, have attained a high-level education overseas—we end up with a solid professional base with unbelievable potential. So how can we capitalize on this human capital in ways that benefit Venezuela?
An engaged diaspora is the sine qua non to development in countries where the number of emigrants is very high. We don’t have to go too far to find examples. Mexico—a country that, unlike Venezuela, has a long history of migration—has discovered the secret ingredient: connecting migration to development. Mexico’s Institute for Migrants Abroad (Instituto de los Mexicanos en el Exterior—IME) coordinates a long list of initiatives through its broad consular network aimed at strengthening the ties between Mexican citizens: those living in Mexico and abroad. Through the “3x1 program”, for instance, Mexicans living in the U.S. can directly invest in their communities of origin. For every Mexican peso provided by migrants, the federal, state and municipal governments contribute an additional peso.
Venezuelans abroad are already moving in this direction. VenMundo, a non-partisan network of Venezuelans in Canada, Chile, the U.S., and Spain, has drafted a set of proposals that include a comprehensive census of the Venezuelan migrant population and an incentive program for returning migrants. However, greater resources and political will are still missing to get these ideas off the ground.
In a recent speech in Doral County, Miami—the largest Venezuelan immigrant community in the United States—opposition leader and Governor of Miranda State Henrique Capriles Radonski asked the Venezuelan community to continue pushing for change in the country they left behind. “I’ve come to take you home,” he said. “The best country in the world is called Venezuela.”
With national legislative elections coming up on October 27, Argentina is abuzz with political activity. In addition to the high economic stakes—the country suffers from increasing inflation and faces the threat of a deep recession—many view this year’s elections as a harbinger of who will become Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s successor two years from now. The results of the August 11 primary races suggest a challenge to her influence, though perhaps not to Argentina’s political system.
Kirchner is serving her second and final term in office (though some debate whether she will attempt to run for a currently unconstitutional third term). The Peronist party, Frente para la Victoria (Front for Victory—FPV), has made several legal adjustments to the country’s electoral and judicial systems that could serve to boost its popularity. They have lowered the voting age to 16 in hopes of support from young voters, created bureaucratic obstacles that political parties must overcome to compete in elections, and reformed the Corte Suprema de Justicia de la Nación (Supreme National Court of Justice) so that two-thirds of its judicial magistrates must affiliate with a political party and run for election.
However, signs of popular dissent have hinted that a new leader might rise to power and bring ten years of Kirchnerismo to a close. First, the opposition has staged several massive protests, including those held in November of last year and this past April, each with larger turnouts than any popular protest since the 2001 economic crisis. Second, the primary elections held three weeks ago suggest that the president’s grip on power may be slipping. To the FPV’s surprise, the Frente Renovador (Renewing Front) candidate, Sergio Massa—the mayor of Tigre (a populous suburb just north of Buenos Aires) and a onetime-Peronist party member who has now distanced himself from the FPV—defeated Fernández de Kirchner’s pick, Martín Insaurralde, for representative of the province of Buenos Aires, a vital district for the president and a traditional Peronist stronghold.
Yet Fernández de Kirchner maintains a confident outlook on the October elections, and her supporters, organized into neighborhood groups, pledge their loyalty as strongly as ever. Yet Massa’s victory in the province of Buenos Aires and non-FPV victories in the provinces of Jujuy, San Juan, Chubut, and La Rioja—normally strong Peronist areas—indicate that many voters are ready for a change.
Though Massa has yet to secure a victory as representative of Buenos Aires province in October and the presidential elections remain two years away, it appears that he is gaining momentum on a potential run for the presidency. While some doubt he has the personal charisma to become a national Peronist leader, others—Peronists and anti-Peronists alike—are drawn to Massa. In recent interviews I conducted in Buenos Aires, a range of voters said that Massa focuses on “real issues” that affect Argentines and that he seems removed from the claims of corruption they perceive in the Fernández de Kirchner administration. His victory in the upcoming midterm elections would present a threat to the Fernádez de Kirchner legacy.
Ultimately, however, Massa may represent more continuity than change. In addition to cutting his teeth as a Peronist mayor, well versed in its politics, his intensely personalistic campaign does not diverge greatly from that of Peronist “super-presidents”—from Juan Domingo Perón himself to Carlos Menem and Fernández de Kirchner. Massa may stress “policy over politics,” but he also abruptly announced his candidacy less than two months before the primaries and relied largely on his own attractive image to garner support. His campaign posters, hung throughout Tigre and Buenos Aires province, display only a clever spelling of his name, “+a,” in bold letters, along with that of his newly formed political party, Frente Renovador (Renewing Front), against a black background.
The current political climate suggests that Fernández de Kirchner will likely be forced to step down in 2015, bringing the reign of Kirchnerismo to an end. However, it is not clear whether an opposition candidate would take the country in a new direction, despite some Argentines’ disillusionment with the politics of the Fernández de Kirchner administration. The leading possible contender has, at least as far as his campaign is concerned, continued the personalistic style of his predecessors.
Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón announced yesterday that Colombia will expand its support to the Dominican Republic to help combat narcotrafficking, reduce the violence related to the drug trade and to strengthen security. The pledge came in a meeting with Dominican president Danilo Medina Sánchez and Dominican Defense Minister Sigfrido Pared in Santo Domingo.
Colombian assistance will focus on improving the amount of information shared between intelligence organizations in both countries. Later this month, representatives of the Colombian National Police will come to the Caribbean nation to train their Dominican counterparts in anti-narcotrafficking tactics and share best practices from Colombia’s drug war. Minister Pinzón has engaged other countries in the region dealing with drug trafficking threats, including Panama, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago.
The Dominican Republic continues to be one of the main traffic points for narcotics distributed through the Caribbean. In the past two years alone, there has been an 800 percent increase in the amount of cocaine exported to the United States and Europe. According to the European Union’s COPOLAD Program, the Dominican Republic’s anti-drug trafficking efforts are hamstrung by lack of state control and technological resources at its Multimodal Caucedo and Haina ports.
Ten police officers were charged yesterday in the murder and forced disappearance of Amarildo de Souza, a bricklayer and lifelong resident of Rio de Janeiro’s largest favela, Rocinha. The charges were announced months after Mr. Souza’s disappearance on July 14, which sparked public protests in Rio and São Paulo and led to the launch of a national social media campaign called “Quem Matou Amarildo?” (Who Killed Amarildo?).
Investigators say the murder was a coordinated effort by community police officers from the local Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora (Pacifying Police Unit—UPP), who allegedly tortured Mr. Souza via electric shock treatment and asphyxiation before murdering him and hiding his body in an undisclosed location. The investigation also revealed that Maj. Edson dos Santos, commander of the Rocinha UPP at the time of Mr. Souza’s disappearance, bribed two key witnesses in the case to blame the murder on drug traffickers. The witnesses later disclosed details to investigators before entering Brazil’s witness protection program. Investigators expect an arrest warrant to be issued in the coming days, in what will likely result in a lengthy and highly publicized trial.
UPP’s were created in 2008 in an effort increase police presence in Rio’s crime-ridden neighborhoods prior to the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. They have faced increasing criticisms from favela residents and human rights organizations, which began reporting abuses months prior to Mr. Souza’s disappearance. Brazilian Federal Human Rights Minister Maria do Rosario called yesterday for a public debate on police reform, calling the case a new precedent in holding security agents responsible for human rights abuses.
The Brazilian government intends to hire 4,000 Cuban doctors by the end of 2014 through its newly established Programa Mais Médicos (More Doctors Program). An initial group of 400 doctors arrived in late August from Cuba, through a cooperation agreement brokered by the Pan-American Health Organization between the governments of Cuba and Brazil. The doctors will be sent to rural municipalities in the North and Northeast regions of Brazil, where systemic poverty and low rates of human development persist. These municipalities have been unsuccessful in attracting Brazilian and other foreign medical professionals who enrolled in the Mais Médicos Program but who are unwilling to work in the impoverished communities.
Criticisms of the Programa Mais Médicos are prevalent in Brazil. The Ministério da Saúde (Ministry of Health) has been criticized for indirectly hiring Cuban doctors through a brokered agreement with foreign government agencies, rather than hiring them individually. Contrary to foreign doctors who are in private practice in Brazil, Cuban doctors enrolled in the public health program will only receive 25 to 40 percent of their monthly salary), the rest of which will be sent directly to the Cuban government.
On August 23, the Associação Médica Brasileira (Brazilian Medical Association—AMB) and the Conselho Federal de Medicina (Federal Council of Medicine—CFM) filed a joint lawsuit in the Supremo Tribunal Federal (Federal Supreme Court—STF) to suspend the program, claiming that the Cuban doctors’ medical practice in the country was illegal. The AMB and CFM require foreign doctors to be certified by the Exame Nacional de Revalidação de Diplomas (National Diploma Revalidation Exam) in order to practice medicine in Brazil, a condition that was not u the Cuban doctors participating in Mais Médicos. Critics argue that disregard for the legal framework governing medical practice will have negative implications for the quality of health care in Brazil, and say that the entry of foreign professionals to the domestic market will not compensate for existing deficiencies in the Brazilian health care system.
Padilha responded to criticism of the program by saying that it generates controversy because it is "bold and courageous." In an interview on August 24 at a health center in the Estrutural favela of Brasília, he said the decision to hire foreign doctors is legally sound: "The government has won every legal action. We have a great deal of legal security in what we are doing. [Medical professionals] can criticize and now make suggestions on how to make improvements, but they will not threaten the health of our population, which lacks doctors."
The United States Department of State announced today that it is expelling the three top Venezuelan diplomats in Washington after Caracas ousted three of their American counterparts on Sunday. The Venezuelan officials, including charge d’affaires Calixto Ortega Rios, were given 48 hours to leave the country.
The State Department decision comes in direct response to the expulsion of U.S. charge d'affaires Kelly Keiderling, David Moo and Elizabeth Hoffman, who Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro accused of conspiring to sabotage the economy, alleging that the diplomats had bribed Venezuelan companies to cut down power production. The U.S. embassy immediately denied the allegations.
Maduro gave the U.S. diplomats a 48 hour timeframe to leave Venezuela, saying in a speech in Santa Ana, “Out of Venezuela! Yankees, go home!” A State Department official called the decision out of Caracas “counterproductive to the interests of both our countries and not a serious way for a country to conduct its foreign policy.”
The U.S. and Venezuela have gone without ambassadors in each other’s capitals since 2010, when former President Hugo Chávez denied a visa to would-be American Ambassador Larry Palmer—and the U.S. retaliated by expelling the Venezuelan ambassador to Washington. Borrowing a strategy from his predecessor, Maduro’s decision on Sunday may be an effort to turn Venezuelan’s attention away from the ailing economy, where inflation reached 45 percent, and the availability of basic goods is at a five-year low.
Peruvian writer and Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, released a public statement on Monday in support of a bill that would legalize same-sex unions in Peru. The statement, titled “Yes to equality,” was published in the main Peruvian newspapers such as El Comercio, La República, Perú21 and Diario 26 and calls for “equal rights for all Peruvians, the inclusion of all the sectors of society, and for non-discrimination based on sexual orientation.” Llosa was also joined by writer Santiago Roncagliolo and the president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Diego García Sayán.
The statement comes less than a month after independent Legislator Carlos Bruce introduced the bill to legalize same-sex unions. According to Bruce, “by failing to recognize same-sex couples, the Peruvian government is perpetuating discrimination and violating Article 2 of the Constitution.” The initiative was strongly opposed by the Catholic Church and some political figures who believe that same-sex unions should not be recognized by the law. The bill has not yet been discussed by the Congress.
According to a national poll by the firm GFK released on Sunday, 65 percent of Peruvian citizens oppose the bill, while 26 percent are in favor. The poll revealed that the greatest opposition to the project comes from men between 40 and 70 years old. For Harvard professor Steven Levitsky, the passage of same-sex unions in Peru is only a matter of time because just like women’s rights and minority rights, marriage equality is accepted as a basic right in the Western world. “In 1996, only 27 percent of Americans supported gay marriage; now 54 percent is in favor. Change is coming to Peru,” he said.
On September 18, only 11 companies signed up to participate in the auction of Brazil’s pre-salt Libra oil field, one of the largest offshore oil discoveries since 2007. This outcome fell sharply below the Brazilian government’s expectations. In fact, Magda Chambriard, head of the Agência Nacional do Petróleo (National Petroleum Agency—ANP), said the following day that she expected about 40 companies to sign up for the auction.
Because of its size and recoverable potential, the Libra field is known as one of the “elephants of pre-salt.” The field is estimated to contain between 8 to 12 billion barrels of oil, making it one of the largest in the world. Therefore, the Brazilian authorities placed a hefty price tag on registering for the auction—$2.05 million reais, or just over $900,000.
The companies that registered to participate included several Asian firms, such as Petroliam Nasional and Petronas from Malaysia; Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited (ONGC) from India; and China’s National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) and China National Petroleum Corporation. There were also joint ventures—such as the Chinese company Sinopec’s alliance with Spain’s Repsol—in addition to individual international oil companies that will bid, such as Total S.A., Royal Dutch Shell and Mitsui. The only Latin American company to register was Ecopetrol of Colombia.
Analysts have pointed to the absence of large international companies such as ExxonMobil, Chevron, and BP as representing the “failure” of the registration process. As stated in a recent AS/COA report, “Brazil’s Energy Agenda: The Way Forward,” government intervention in the bidding process may have deterred some companies from participating. One such deterrent, for example, is that Petrobras must be the sole operator in the pre-salt fields, and they must take at least a 30 percent stake in the project.
The relative lack of interest may spur Petrobras to change the terms of its participation, but it is unlikely to do so. Petrobras CEO Maria das Graças Foster recently stated that the company has the technical capacity to explore and produce all the oil from Libra, but needs financial backing to invest. Thus, Petrobras will need the winning bidder to put up a large share of the oil to sell from its own account in order to maximize its financial gain.
Likely top stories this week: U.S. legislators make a last push for immigration reform; Correa visits Bolivia; The Colombian defense minister travels to Panama; Juan Manuel Santos declines help from Jesse Jackson; a Chilean general involved in the “Caravan of Death” commits suicide.
Renewed Push for Immigration Reform in U.S. House of Representatives: Despite a looming government shutdown, House Democratic leaders said last week that they plan to introduce a comprehensive immigration bill similar to the one passed in the Senate in June. Meanwhile, some House Republicans have been working on a series of bills that would address individual aspects of immigration reform, such as border security, the legal status of young undocumented immigrants and the creation of a low-skilled worker visa program. Immigration reform advocates are expected to participate in rallies across over 80 U.S. cities on October 5, and to converge on Washington DC on October 8 to demand a vote on comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship.
Correa to Visit Bolivia, Morales to Visit Argentina: The Bolivian government confirmed Sunday that Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa will visit Bolivia this week, while Bolivian President Evo Morales is scheduled to visit Argentina the following week. Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said that he will receive Correa on Thursday, October 3, and will discuss ways to strengthen bilateral relations. Correa last visited Bolivia on July 4, and Morales returned the visit to Ecuador on July 23.
Colombian Defense Minister Begins Seven-Country Tour: Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón will begin a seven-nation tour this week to discuss security with Central American and Caribbean leaders. On Monday, he will meet with Panamanian Security Minister José Raúl Mulino to discuss security along the countries' shared border and in the jungles of the Darién Gap, where the FARC's "Frente 57" has been active. Pinzón’s trip will conclude on October 4, after visits to Panama, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Santos Refuses Jesse Jackson's Offer to Mediate Hostage Release: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos declined an offer from U.S. civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson on Saturday to help mediate the release of a U.S. marine held hostage by the FARC since June. While in Cuba on Saturday, Jackson said that he was willing to help mediate the release of Afghanistan war veteran Kevin Scott Sutay, who was kidnapped on a trek to the Venezuelan border. The FARC invited Jackson to participate in the negotiations in a statement on Saturday after Jackson called for Sutay's release. However, Santos has said that he will only allow the Red Cross to receive Sutay.
Chilean General Who Served Pinochet Commits Suicide: Eighty-seven year-old former general Odlanier Mena fatally shot himself this Saturday, a day before he was scheduled to return to a military prison where he is serving a six-year jail term. Mena was found guilty of involvement in the "Caravan of Death," a military operation that rounded up and murdered at least 100 Chileans across the country opposed to Pinochet's 1973 coup. Chilean President Sebastián Piñera had announced plans to close the Cordillera military prison, where inmates had access to a tennis court, gardens, and a barbecue area, and Mena's lawyer said that the general was upset by the proposed move.
No son tiempos fáciles para Venezuela. En el tercer trimestre del año, la escasez de productos básicos continúa siendo una piedra en el zapato del Gobierno, el dólar paralelo—que inició 2012 cotizando en 17BsF—pasó la línea de 40BsF, la inflación se ubicó en 42,5 por ciento para agosto pasado, y la inversión extranjera fue de -15 por ciento, uno de los índices más bajos de la región. Con la debacle económica marcando la opinión pública y, peor aún, la calidad de vida de los ciudadanos, el presidente Nicolás Maduro tomó un avión para China la semana pasada.
La primera visita oficial del heredero político de Hugo Chávez se produce antes de completar un semestre en el Palacio de Gobierno. Fue un viaje expreso, pero con los resultados esperados: en tres días, el mandatario cerró un nuevo préstamo de 5 mil millones de dólares, y la promesa de inversiones por 14 mil millones de dólares en el área petrolera.
Con esta inyección de dinero, Venezuela suma 43 mil millons de dólares en préstamos de China en apenas seis años. El esquema, establecido en 2007 a través de la creación del Fondo Mixto Chino Venezolano, se centra en blindar créditos con la entrega de petróleo a precio fijo por un plazo determinado de años. Fue la fórmula que el entonces presidente Hugo Chávez encontró para materializar su interés por China. Desde el comienzo de su gestión el mandatario buscó caminos para sustentar su retórica anti americana, y una China en plena ebullición parecía, sin duda, la más atractiva de las alternativas.
Asia era un destino tan poco considerado por Venezuela, que cuando Chávez fue electo en 1999 la balanza comercial entre ambos países sumaba 1,9 mil millones de dólares. En la primera década de la revolución bolivariana, el intercambio creció 10 veces, alcanzando los 10,3 mil millones de dólares en 2010. Ese año fue significativo para la relación binacional: China autorizó un préstamo de 20,8 mil millones de dólares, el mayor concedido por autoridades bancarias chinas a un único deudor.
El dinero chino motorizó la economía venezolana. En teoría, debía ser destinado a proyectos de infraestructura nacional, agricultura y a la construcción de dos satélites, sin embargo, la ausencia de una contraloría real en el país dificulta discriminar cuánto se invirtió en proyectos a largo plazo, y cuánto sirvió para sostener el sistema populista y paternalista de Chávez, ratificado en trece elecciones consecutivas. La negociación no sólo ofrecía un atractivo en materia de política externa para alguien necesitado de antagonizar con Washington, sino que también representaba ventajas a lo interno. El dinero entraba rápidamente, sin condiciones que exigieran ajustes económicos inmediatos, y si los venezolanos durante años han dilapidado parte de su presupuesto subvencionando gasolina para consumo interno, ¿por qué iban a cuestionar al Gobierno por comprometer, por lo menos, 11 por ciento de la producción petrolera a varios años?
Next up on the world’s stage of Theater of the Absurd: Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro. Like his predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez, Maduro has as his mentors—in things big and small—Fidel and Raul Castro of Cuba. Always the masters of deception, the Castro brothers were caught red-handed this summer trying to ship weapons to North Korea. Now it is Maduro whom might have been caught red-handed, or should we say “red-faced,” trying to sneak Cuban intelligence agents into the United States.
Maduro had planned a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York. He never made it. Traveling on Cubana Airlines with a Venezuelan delegation that included his wife, son and daughter-in-law, a hair dresser and a bevy of Cuban security experts carrying Venezuelan passports, his plane landed in Canada for refueling, on a return flight from China. ABC, Madrid’s daily broke the story reporting that the United States denied visas to the Cubans, part of Maduro’s entourage. But according to U.S. government sources, what happened was that Maduro ordered his aircraft “to turn away when the US wouldn’t give them assurances that they would not be denied entry.” The State Department spokesman said that “No visas have been denied for the Venezuelan delegation to this year’s UN General Assembly.”
Maduro left in a fury vowing retaliation and “drastic actions.” Caracas’ El Universal quoted Maduro saying that “he dropped his trip to New York in order to safeguard his physical integrity.” El Universal also reported that the Venezuelan president “fingered former US officials Roger Noriega and Otto Reich for allegedly planning ‘a provocation’”. The possibility of Noriega and Reich, two Republican political appointees, directing any initiative of any kind by the Obama administration is zilch.
There was also some speculation that the Venezuelans feared the Cuban 767 would be seized, as Cuban vessels have been detained in various foreign countries in the past due to Havana’s failures to fulfill financial obligations.
The Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic ruled on Thursday that anyone born in the country after 1929 to undocumented immigrant parents would lose their citizenship.
Formerly, the Dominican Republic granted citizenship to anyone born on its soil. But starting in 2007, electoral authorities began denying identity documents to Dominicans of Haitian descent. Three years later, the government approved a new constitution stating that citizenship will be granted only to those born in the country to at least one parent of Dominican blood or whose foreign parents are legal residents.
Citing the 2010 constitution, Thursday’s ruling deemed that any Haitian migrants that came to work in the Dominican sugarcane fields since 1929 were seasonal workers “in transit,” and that their children were not entitled to automatic citizenship.
The Court said officials are studying birth certificates of more than 16,000 people, and gave the Electoral Commission one year to produce a list of people to be excluded from citizenship. The ruling overwhelming affects the estimated 1 million individuals of Haitian descent, throwing them into legal limbo.
Reed Brody, a spokesperson for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement that the ruling “cuts against the rights of thousands of people born in the Dominican Republic, and could immediately undermine their access to education and health services.” Some activists have said that they will contest the ruling before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
The decision will likely exacerbate already sour relations between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, who share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola and have a long history of conflict, including a massacre of 20,000 Haitians that was orchestrated by former Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo in 1937. Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe did not issue a statement in response to the ruling.