The Colombian attorney general’s office announced yesterday that authorities have arrested a hacker suspected of spying on communications belonging to the government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) as they conduct peace talks in Havana.
Andrés Sepúlveda was arrested in a raid on a Bogotá office for allegedly running an illegal spying ring. Attorney General Eduardo Montealegre said that Sepúlveda’s operation was selling information to a third party in an attempt to “sabotage, interfere and affect the peace process in Havana.” Investigators believe that President Juan Manuel Santos’ emails may have been intercepted.
Sepúlveda is linked to the political campaign of Óscar Iván Zuluaga, the Centro Democrático (Democratic Center) candidate who is running against Santos in Colombia’s May 25 presidential election. Zuluaga acknowledged yesterday that Sepúlveda has been providing social network and security services for his campaign since February, but insisted that the spying ring had nothing to do with his campaign.
A prior spying scandal unveiled in February also targeted the peace talks in Havana, but Montealegre said that the latest scandal was not linked to Operation “Andrómeda,” in which members of the Colombian military set up a special intelligence unit to spy on the government, the FARC, and journalists’ communications.
The raid comes days after Santos’ chief campaign strategist, J. J. Rendon, resigned amid allegations that he received $12 million from drug kingpins in exchange for mediating a negotiated surrender.
The botched April 29 execution of Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett made headlines throughout the world, leading to appeals to either abolish capital punishment in the United States or revisit the methods used to execute by lethal injection (in this case, the nature of the drugs).
Since 1976 (after a brief suspension of the death penalty by the U.S. Supreme Court), over 1,000 people have been executed and over 3,000 are currently on death row. Presently, there are only 18 U.S. states that have abolished the death penalty altogether.
U.S. President Barack Obama has asked Attorney General Eric Holder to look into the circumstances surrounding the execution in Oklahoma. However, there will likely be little change resulting from this initiative. Obama is not an abolitionist himself, and individual states have the upper hand on this issue.
Proponents for or against capital punishment weighed in on Sunday talk shows, such as “Meet the Press” and “This Week”. The views ranged from limiting the categories of murders subject to the death penalty to the use of drugs tested and approved to avoid future botched executions—not too encouraging for those who oppose capital punishment and want a wider debate.
The Venezuelan executive’s approval rating dropped from 46.8 percent in February to 37 percent in April amid chronic consumer shortages, high inflation, increased violence, and street protests that began in February.
The poll, conducted by public opinion group Datanálisis, also found that 79.5 percent of Venezuelans have a negative view of the country’s current state. The economic conditions—including an inflation rate rapidly approaching 60 percent—as well as the violence and extreme shortages that sparked the nation-wide protests in February continue to be the biggest factors affecting Maduro’s popularity. A third of Venezuelans polled cited these as the country’s main problems.
Venezuela has also faced international scrutiny for its response to the three-month-long demonstrations that have paralyzed major cities across the nation. A recent Human Rights Watch report highlighted the unlawful use of force perpetrated by security forces against unarmed, nonviolent anti-government protestors, who have been shot at point blank range, severely beaten, and forced to undergo physiological and physiological torture.
Guatemala’s Comisión de Postulación, a national selection committee, announced the six nominees for country’s next attorney general last week, with the name of current attorney general Claudia Paz y Paz conspicuously absent from the list. Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina will make his choice after interviewing the remaining candidates, and must announce a new attorney general by May 17.
Paz y Paz’s exclusion has generated outrage in Guatemala and abroad from human rights groups who say the snub was politically motivated. “We knew that the prosecutor [Paz y Paz] had many enemies, but we hoped the Commission would be independent,” said Helen Myrna Mack, of the Myrna Mack Foundation. “I think everybody was surprised and disappointed. It shows the system lacks credibility, it means that there’s no autonomy.”
Diego Álvarez, the spokesman for the Comisión Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (Commission against Impunity in Guatemala—CICIG) said, “We are surprised that Paz y Paz is not on the list of six candidates, despite her excellent performance during her term, along with her classification in the process.”
After an intensive interview before the Comisión de Postulación, Paz y Paz’s score (69 out of 100, later amended to 73) placed her first among the 26 competing candidates. The Commission reviewed each candidate’s work experience and credentials and asked the candidates generic questions, followed by a round of more personal, specific questioning. The candidates also completed a written law exam.
However, Paz y Paz’s true test was whether the 14 members of the Comisión de Postulación would cast their vote for her. Milton Argueta, the dean of the faculty of law at Universidad Francisco Marroquin, reported that he had received death threats prior to making his vote, and two text messages to his cell phone suggested that his wife would be murdered if he remained on the Commission, but he remained.
This week’s likely top stories: Juan Carlos Varela will be Panama’s next president; talks between Haiti and the Dominican Republic are postponed; marijuana legalization goes into effect in Uruguay; a Colombian mine collapse kills at least 12 people; a Brazilian soccer fan is killed in Recife.
Juan Carlos Varela Wins Panamanian Election: Juan Carlos Varela of the Partido Panameñista won a highly anticipated election on Sunday as Panamanian voters elected their next president. With 80 percent of votes counted, Varela had gained a 7 percent lead over his closest rival, José Domingo Arias of the ruling Cambio Democrático (Democratic Change), with Partido Revolucionario Democrático (Democratic Revolution Party—PRD) candidate Juan Carlos Navarro in third. Both Arias and Navarro conceded victory to Varela on Sunday night, although the election results are not yet official. Varela will take office on July 1 with Isabel Sain Malo, who will become vice president.
Talks Between Haiti and the Dominican Republic Postponed Again: A third round of talks between the Haitian and Dominican government have been postponed a fourth time after Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elías Jaua, who is mediating between the two countries, asked to reschedule. Haitian and Dominican leaders were expected to discuss trade, health, tourism and migration on May 6—and to address last year’s Dominican Constitutional Court decision that has left hundreds of thousands of descendants of Haitian immigrants born in the Dominican Republic without citizenship. A first round of talks between the two countries took place on January 7, and a second round took place on February 3. The third round was originally scheduled for March 12, and is now expected to take place on May 8.
Uruguayan Marijuana Law Comes into Force: Uruguay’s marijuana legalization law will go into effect on Tuesday, permitting Uruguayan adults to grow up to six cannabis plants and to purchase up to 40 grams of the drug each month. All Uruguayan pharmacies that choose to sell cannabis must register with the national government, as do all individuals who wish to purchase marijuana from pharmacies. Diego Cánepa, head of the country’s drugs board, said that the sale of cannabis is not expected to begin until late 2014, but that the licensing process for companies to grow the plant will be rolled out within the next 15 days. Uruguayan President José Mujica, who will visit the White House on May 12, has criticized pot laws in the United States, saying that Uruguay’s policies will be more restrictive.
Death Toll Rises in Colombian Mine Collapse: At least 12 people were killed when an illegal gold mine in Colombia’s Cauca department collapsed last Wednesday night. After three victims were identified last week, rescue workers recovered more victims this weekend, and say that at least four other people who are still missing may have perished. The mine collapse was the second in less than a week in Colombia, after four miners in Antioquia department died after inhaling toxic fumes in an illegal mine.
Brazilian Soccer Fan Killed in Recife: A 26-year-old Brazilian soccer fan was killed outside the Estadio do Arruda in Recife on Friday, when unidentified fans ripped toilet bowls out of the stadium bathroom and threw them from the top deck in a match between Santa Cruz and Paraná. Brazilian authorities will bar fans from the stadium for the next two matches and said that Santa Cruz fans will be banned from all stadiums until those responsible for the death are identified. The Arruda stadium will not host any World Cup matches, which start next month.
In early March, The Washington Post ran an article on pending ambassadorial nominations worldwide, highlighting the fact that political maneuvering in the U.S. Senate was stalling numerous nominations and that, by implication, U.S. interests abroad were suffering.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the Western Hemisphere, which, at the time the article was written, hosted U.S. embassies with almost half of the ambassador slots vacant. Some of these vacancies—such as in Bolivia and Venezuela—are long-standing, owing to political difficulties with host nations. Others, including in Colombia, have subsequently been filled.
Still, a disheartening number of posts remain without fully accredited ambassadors. Of these, one in particular stands out: Peru, which has been without an ambassador since Rose Likins left in September 2013.
A qualified candidate to replace her, career official Brian Nichols, was nominated on June 24, 2013, and was unanimously approved by the Foreign Relations Committee in October and again in January 2014. He has yet to be confirmed, patiently waiting longer than any other nominee for any other ambassador post worldwide.
This is particularly strange—to say nothing of the personal toll that it takes on nominees and their families—because a prosperous, democratic Peru is a cornerstone of U.S. policy in the Americas. The trade and investment relationship is strong and growing. Peru is an important economic partner with a bilateral free trade agreement and a party to the ongoing TPP negotiations. Peru is also a founding member of the Pacific Alliance, consisting of four Latin American nations pursuing a new vision of economic integration that fits comfortably within a framework of U.S. interests.
Protesters in Haiti called for the resignation of Haitian President Michel Martelly as they closed a major road in Port-au-Prince on Thursday. Some 2,000 protesters accused Martelly of corruption and demanded that the government hold elections.
This is the third protest against the Haitian government this week after elections have been delayed for almost two and a half years. In March, a U.S. Congressional delegation to Haiti—including Florida Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart, and Frederica Wilson—voiced concern over Haiti’s delay to hold elections. UN Special representative and head of the UN Stabilization Mission to Haiti (MINUSTAH), Sandra Honoré, has encouraged the participation of all actors after the executive, the legislative and political parties reached the Accord of El Rancho in February, agreeing to combine parliamentary and municipal elections. If elections are not held by the end of 2014, the parliament will dissolve in January of 2015, allowing Martelly to rule by decree.
The protests on Thursday were broken up by riot police and UN peacekeepers after the blockade and the Associated Press reported that at least 10 protesters were detained. Demonstrations overtook the northern city of Cap-Haitien on Sunday, and protests in the capital turned violent on Monday after protesters smashed car windows in Port-au-Prince.
Brazil is betting on an eventual opening in Cuba. The bet is more than economic; it’s linked directly to a larger geopolitical project intended to draw Cuba toward its own model of economic and political organization as Cuba wakes up from its 55-year slumber under the Castro regime.
The process has already started with a series of market-oriented reforms initiated by Raúl Castro—brother to Fidel—and will only accelerate with the passing of the octogenarian Castro brothers and their guerrilla field comrades. Unfortunately, as Brazil engages in a wise game of hemispheric chess, the U.S. is playing solitaire: the result of the self-imposed embargo that has prevented economic, diplomatic and even routine contact with an island 90 miles away from the United States.
In the last five years, Brazil financed the majority of the $957 million deep water Mariel port project in the northwest of the island built by infrastructure giant Odebrecht. The port, and the 180-square-mile free-trade and development zone that surrounds it, is intended to service wide draft ships that will be able to pass through the expanded Panama Canal—a requirement that many U.S. ports won’t be able to meet when the updated canal completes its expansion by 2015. And it’s only the beginning. Recently, when he was in the country to tour the facility, former President of Brazil Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva announced the acquisition of the iconic beer company Bucanero by the Brazilian beer giant, InBev, and there is talk that Brazil’s recent investments in Cuba’s Mariel port facility and free trade zone are only the tip of the iceberg.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto proposed new rules yesterday aimed at increasing oil production and boosting the economy.
The proposed legislation includes the creation of eight new laws and the modification of 13 existing laws. Mexican Secretary of Tax, Luis Videgaray, and Secretary of Energy, Pedro Joaquín Coldwell, have said that, with the exception of public gasoline sale, the new rules would open the sale of energy resources to foreign and private firms while keeping them under state control. Videgaray maintained that the laws will reduce Mexico’s high fiscal dependence on oil revenues.
If the rules are approved by Congress, it would end a 75-year monopoly by the state-run oil company Pemex, which was created by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) under President Lázaro Cárdenas in 1938. While giving new businesses the opportunity to invest in Mexican oil, the laws would also lower taxes on Pemex from 79 percent to less than 65 percent. Pemex would also be guaranteed at least a 20 percent stake of business in oil deposits in defined territories.
Political opposition parties, the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN) and the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution—PDR) have both pushed back against the reform. The PAN has made its support of the new rules conditional on the passage of electoral reform that would weaken the PRI’s influence. The PRD is hoping to overturn the proposed reform altogether.
Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring announced on Tuesday that undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children and are granted legal presence through the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program would qualify for in-state tuition at the state’s public colleges and universities.
In a speech at Northern Virginia Community College’s Alexandria campus, Herring said, “Instead of punishing and placing limits on these smart, talented, hard-working young people, Virginia should extend them an opportunity for an affordable education.”
Under the new law, DACA recipients would qualify for in-state tuition at the University of Virginia, which is $12,998—as opposed to the out-of-state fee of $42,184. The Republican leadership in the state legislature responded in a statement saying, “We are deeply concerned by the attorney general’s actions today and what appears to be a continued willingness to ignore and circumvent the duly adopted laws of the Commonwealth.” Herring’s unilateral action comes four months after the wider-reaching Virginia State DREAM Act (SB 249) was voted down in the Senate Committee on Education and Health.
Virginia is now the nineteenth state to have enacted some form of in-state tuition for qualified undocumented immigrant youth. Herring previously drew the ire of Republicans in January, days after being sworn into office, when he refused to defend Virginia against lawsuits challenging the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
On April 7, 2014, Québec voters chose to elect a majority Liberal government, and handed the pro-independence Parti Québécois (PQ) its worst defeat ever. Since then, speculation has surfaced about the future of the Québec independence movement.
In his first post-election press conference, Québec’s new premier, Philippe Couillard, struck a positive note when he was asked whether the idea of Québec independence (separation) was over. An ardent federalist, Premier Couillard astutely responded that you could not kill an idea. And he’s right both in fact and in tone.
The dream of an independent Québec has its origins in history, from the early settlers who followed Québec’s founder, Samuel de Champlain, to the British Conquest of 1760—where the struggle for survival and identity became the central theme within French Canada’s polity for the next two centuries, and beyond.
By the early 1960s, pro-independence political parties surfaced in Québec, in line with the progressive forces dominating the political debate of the day. The so-called “Quiet Revolution,” led by the progressive Liberal Party of Premier Jean Lesage, ushered in dramatic reforms in the economic, health, cultural, and educational sectors. With it came the rise of a democratic pro-independence movement that in 1968 merged into a political party—the Parti Québécois, led by former prominent Liberal minister René Lévesque.
The Cuban government announced a process of decentralization as part of what President Raúl Castro termed Cuba’s “most complex” series of reforms, in the state-run Gaceta Oficial on Monday. The new reforms allow the more than 2,800 state-run enterprises—which represent 80 percent of Cuba’s economic activity—to open secondary businesses outside of the enterprises’ primary focus, retain 50 percent of their profits, sell excess goods at market prices, and set their employee’s salaries independent of the state.
While state-run enterprises will still be subject to government production quotas, Granma—Cuba’s official newspaper—reports that the reforms are part of a “gradual decentralization process” that transfers more responsibility to the companies’ directors. The new reforms come on the heels of Cuba’s much-anticipated Foreign Investment Law approved by the National Assembly on March 29.
These changes represent a series of economic reforms championed by President Castro since 2011, meant to stimulate the island’s stagnant economy and attract foreign investment. While the effects of the reforms have been modest—the economy grew by just 2.7 percent in 2013—the non-state sector has grown to 450,000 workers who now make roughly $100 a month, five times that of state employees.
This week’s likely top stories: Panamanian voters go to the polls on Sunday; Colombian farmers launch another strike; Venezuelan dialogue enters its third week; protesters demonstrate against Mexican telecom reform; the murder of a former colonel could challenge Brazil’s truth commission.
Panama Prepares for Presidential Election: Panamanians will go to the polls on Sunday, May 4 to vote for their next president in one of the country’s most competitive races in recent memory. Cambio Democrático (Democratic Change) candidate José Domingo Arias faces former Panama City Mayor Juan Carlos Navarro, of the Partido Revolucionario Democrático (Democratic Revolution Party—PRD) and current Vice President Juan Carlos Varela, of the Partido Panameñista (Panamañista Party). Arias’ running mate is Marta Linares, wife of outgoing President Ricardo Martinelli, who is running for vice president despite a constitutional challenge that is expected to be dismissed. According to an Ipsos poll last Thursday, 34.2 percent of voters plan to vote for Arias, while 33.9 percent plan to vote for Navarro.
Colombian Farmers Prepare to Strike: Ahead of next month’s presidential election, Colombian farmers have launched a strike to denounce what they say are unmet promises made by the government last year during a prior round of strikes. The farmers are protesting the country’s free trade agreements, calling for subsidies, and demanding that the government lower production costs in the agricultural sector. Last August, farmers in departments across Colombia halted production and blocked interstate highways before reaching a preliminary agreement with the government.
Dialogue in Venezuela Continues: The Venezuelan government and the opposition Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Democratic Unity Coalition—MUD) say that they expect to form working groups this week to investigate the violence that has rocked the country since protests began on February 12. More than 40 people have died since the protests began, while regional leaders have pressured the Venezuelan government to meet with the opposition and resolve the current crisis. This week marks the third week of dialogue between the government and the opposition.
Mexican Telecom Reform Protests: Protesters gathered in Mexico City this Saturday to protest President Enrique Peña Nieto’s telecommunications bill, which would regulate and implement constitutional reforms passed last June that aimed to promote greater competition and improve telecom services, according to the government. Opponents of the bill say that portions of the bill would limit freedom of expression by blocking Internet access and censoring content, but PRI Senator Emilio Gamboa promised to cut those provisions from the bill. Congress is expected to debate the bill in June.
Retired Colonel’s Murder May Dissuade Witnesses: A former Brazilian army colonel’s violent death may complicate the efforts of Brazil’s National Truth Commission to receive witness testimony about the country’s 1964-1985 dictatorship. Paulo Malhães, who confessed to the commission in March that he had tortured and killed political prisoners and attempted to hide their identities, and named two other officers who gave him orders. Malhães was found dead in his apartment late last week after intruders entered his home outside Rio de Janeiro. It is not clear whether the death was an act of revenge, and the murder is being investigated. Rosa Cardoso, a lawyer who works on the Commission, said the murder “will make our work more challenging.”
The lower house of Argentina’s congress agreed to pay Spanish oil company Repsol $5 billion in bonds in compensation for its expropriation of the company’s 51 percent share of Argentine oil company Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (Treasury Petroleum Fields—YPF). After YPF was nationalized in 2012, Repsol’s share in the company was seized and reduced to 12 percent without any compensation. The settlement had been pending since the company’s expropriation.
The settlement with Repsol is essential in order to attract long-term investors to Argentina’s Vaca Muerta shale deposit in the Patagonia region, potentially one of the world’s largest deposits of natural gas. Since Repsol’s expropriation, YPF has had difficulty attracting partners to the project, which would be a crucial boost to Argentina’s struggling economy, currently dependent on fuel imports.
The settlement is less than Repsol’s original demand of $10.5 billion. The dollar bond payment—which had been previously approved by the senate—will mature between 2017 and 2033, and guarantees a minimum market value of $4.67 billion. If the market value of the bonds does not amount to the minimum, the Argentine government must pay an additional $1 billion in bonds.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff signed an Internet Bill of Rights into law yesterday—the first of its kind in the world. The new bill ensures the privacy of its users by restricting the amount of metadata that can be collected and also prohibits companies from restricting certain services by requiring the user to pay more, such as paying additional amounts for access to videos or email
Since its proposal in 2009, hundreds of individuals and organizations, including Google and Facebook, have supported and contributed to the content of the law. After over three years in the Chamber of Deputies, the bill moved to the Senate where it was approved on Monday. Following the signing of the new bill, President Rousseff delivered a speech at the NetMundial conference in São Paulo where she said, “The rights that people have off-line should also be protected on-line.” Participants at the forum represented 85 different countries and discussed the future of the internet. The conference was co-hosted with the U.S. and ten other countries.
One of the participants, Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, encouraged other countries to follow Brazil’s lead, stating that they should “develop positive laws that protect and expand the rights of users in an open, free and universal Web.”
Tensions rose last September after the Wikileaks revealed that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) was spying on foreign governments, including Brazil. As a result, Rousseff canceled a trip to the U.S. and requested action to require companies hosting data to Brazilians to do so from with-in Brazil.
After a 14 year hiatus, there are signs that Cuba is ready to re-enter the world of international finance by reopening debt negotiations with the informal group of wealthy creditors known as the Paris Club, Reuters reported yesterday. Any negotiations would involve the restructuring of nearly $18 billion in debt—which does not include about $18 billion worth of Soviet-era debt forgiven by club-member Russia in 2013—and increased transparency on the part of Cuban government officials.
While the Paris Club includes the U.S. amongst its 19 members, the a special working group on Cuba that would participate in debt negotiations excludes the United States. Since 2011, Cuba has restructured its debts with China, Japanese commercial creditors, Mexico, and Russia, meeting its debt repayment obligations to those countries under the new plans.
Although the U.S. will not be able to participate in the debt negotiations, a recent report released by Americas Society/Council of the Americas’ Cuba Working Group details steps that President Obama can take to ensure that the U.S. isn’t excluded in financially supporting Cuba’s emerging non-state sector, despite the constraints of the 54-year-old embargo.
On March 24, Enrique Peña Nieto presented the Mexican Senate with a bill for a new telecommunications law that complements the constitutional reforms he approved in 2013. The legislation proposes, among other things, to promote competition in the sector, improve telecom services, and regulate the radioelectric spectrum through the new telecommunications regulator, the Instituto Federal de Telecomunicaciones (Federal Telecommunications Institute—IFETEL). The bill is now being revised, and is expected to be approved in the coming days.
However, the proposal is already raising eyebrows and creating waves in the digital sphere, where it’s being labeled as a form of government censorship.
According to Article 2 of the bill, the legislation is intended to “protect the nation’s security and sovereignty,” and the most controversial articles in the initiative are preceded by mentions of criminal prosecution and promoting the public interest. There is room for discussion on the potential effectiveness of this objective, but much like the current debate in the U.S. over the NSA’s capabilities vs. individual freedoms and privacy, citizens in Mexico are worried about ceding too much power to the federal government. The far-reaching legislation has created a number of trending topics on Twitter, under hashtags like #EPNvsInternet #ContraElSilencioMx and #NoMasPoderAlPoder (roughly translated to #PeñaNietoV.Internet, #AgainstSilenceMx and #NoMorePowerToTheOnesInPower).
One of the most popular bloggers in Mexico, “Sopitas,” criticized Peña Nieto’s proposal by stating that social media has been the only widespread communication channel where the public can express its dissent with the current government. On April 21, #EPNvsInternet became a worldwide trending topic on Twitter and, as these words are being written, “netizens” in Mexico City are organizing a massive demonstration at the Ángel de la Independencia monument in downtown Mexico City, which also hosted many of #YoSoy132’s protests against Peña Nieto’s alleged alliance with Televisa in the 2012 presidential elections. When the neutrality of the largest news media conglomerate in the country is in question, citizen journalism becomes crucial.
Attempts to control speech on the Internet are not new. One need only consult Global Voices’ Advocacy project to see that, when given the power to do so, governments unequivocally use Internet restriction as a means to block and control dissent.
But how would the president’s telecom law proposal trample on free speech? What are netizens protesting against? Here are some highlights:
Supporters of the proposed telecom law might argue that these new attributions would allow government to better combat organized crime, but the other side of the story shows that if the legislation is approved as-is, any government would be legally awarded the power to read emails exchanged between its detractors, know their location and cut off their communications.
Would the government consider a mass protest on Avenida Reforma to be an event against public security, and thus block cell phone communications in the area? Those opposing the new law seem to think this is a possibility.
This developing story has caused outrage on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks. Will this outrage help write a different conclusion—one in which the proposed telecom bill is overturned? Or will Mexico join the ranks of censorship-friendly countries such as Cambodia, Turkey and Venezuela?
The AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the U.S., released a memo on Monday outlining steps that the Obama administration can take to alleviate the burden of immigration enforcement on immigrant workers and families in the absence of congressional action on comprehensive reform.
The memo, titled Recommendation on Administrative Action on Immigration, calls on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to take four concrete steps: grant work permits to undocumented immigrants; reclaim federal authority over enforcement policy from the states; reform the removal process; and protect undocumented workers who file workplace grievances.
President Barack Obama has resisted calls to unilaterally reform immigration policy, insisting instead that comprehensive reform should come from Congress. But legislation has reached an impasse in the House of Representatives, despite Speaker John Boehner claiming that he is “hell-bent” on passing reform this year. As a result, reform advocates are increasingly pointing to executive action as the only way to slow the rate of deportation, which, under President Obama, has been higher than under any previous president.
The memo was released at the same time that the new secretary of DHS, Jeh Johnson, is conducting an internal review of immigration enforcement policies and considering limiting deportations of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally who don't have serious criminal records.
This week’s likely top stories: María Mercedes Maldonado becomes Bogotá’s new mayor; the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in the Republic of Argentina v. NML Capital case; the deadline passes to regulate illegal mining in Peru; rallies in Venezuela turn violent; Gabriel García Márquez’ memorial service is held in Mexico City.
Santos Names Interim Mayor for Bogotá: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos named María Mercedes Maldonado the interim mayor of Bogotá on Monday, weeks after former Mayor Gustavo Petro was officially removed from his post in March. Petro’s removal by Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez—on the grounds that Petro had mismanaged an overhaul of the city’s garbage collection system—was accompanied by a wave of protests and lawsuits, but the decision was ultimately approved by Santos. Maldonado, a lawyer and professor who has worked in both the public and private sector, was secretary of planning for six months in Petro’s administration.
Argentine Debt Case Reaches U.S. Supreme Court: The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Monday in Republic of Argentina v. NML Capital, the case that pits the Argentine government against U.S.-based holdout creditor NML Capital, which is attempting to enforce a $1.4 billion judgment against Argentina. To collect the judgment, NML must be able to enforce subpoenas against Bank of America Corp. and Banco de la Nación Argentina to access Argentina’s non-U.S. assets. NML Capital won the right to subpoena the banks in an August 2012 decision by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court, but the U.S. government has sided with Argentina in arguing that the ruling violates the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act by forcing a sovereign national to reveal assets held outside the U.S.
Deadline Passes for Illegal Gold Miners in Peru: Saturday marked the deadline for illegal gold miners in Peru to legalize their status as part of a government effort to eradicate illegal mining in the country. Currently, some 40,000 illegal gold miners are active in the southeastern part of the country, where they have clashed with police and blocked highways to protest government efforts to crack down on their livelihood. Illegally mined gold accounts for some 20 percent of Peru’s gold exports and the trade has serious environmental, social and economic consequences, but miners say that the government has offered few alternatives to the lucrative trade, and that the actual process of registering with the government through the national tax agency was overly burdensome.
Violence Continues in Venezuela: A rally on Easter Sunday in Caracas took a violent turn as protesters against the government of President Nicolás Maduro clashed with security forces. Troops used tear gas and water cannons against demonstrators, who burned effigies of Maduro in the street and set up barricades in the district of Chacao, which they defended with homemade bombs. Supporters of the government also protested and burned effigies of opposition leader Henrique Capriles. Maduro completes his first year as Venezuela’s president this week, while more than 40 people have died in protests that began on February 12.
Memorial Service for García Márquez: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto will attend a public memorial service on Monday for the Nobel Prize-winning Colombian literary icon Gabriel García Márquez, who died of a lung infection last Thursday at the age of 87. The service will be held in Mexico City, where the author spent his final days, though his final resting place is not yet known. García Márquez spent much of his adult life in Mexico. The Colombian government declared three days of national mourning for the author, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1982.
According to a newly released report, logging concessions in Peru are causing increasingly widespread illegal logging, which in turn is having a detrimental effect on the environment, biodiversity and hardwood resources of the Amazon.
Scientific Reports published the report on Thursday, detailing the geographic and legal violations related with logging violations specific to concessions—contracts for public land for up to 40 years and for 10 to 125 acres of land. The report found that 70 percent of government inspected logging concessions have major violations or have had their contracts revoked, leading to an increase in unregulated logging.
Despite several attempts to control logging through legislation, there is still pervasive corruption and abuse. Peru’s 2000 Forest and Wildlife Law No. 27308 established a process for regulating permits, concessions, and authorizations of logging in an effort to promote sustainable logging in the area. The U.S.-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement of 2009 included a Forestry Annex that attempted to create a new legal system for logging, but failed to eliminate exploitation. And the most recent Forestry Law, passed in 2011, has not yet been executed.
While the report focused on concessions and their environmental effects, the researchers also mentioned the social effects of unregulated logging. “The Peruvian people will get less economic return than they could, particularly those who depend more directly on the forest such as some indigenous communities, while Amazonian biodiversity will continue to decline,” said Clinton Jenkins, one of the report’s authors.
The Brazilian government sent 2,500 troops to the city of Salvador on Wednesday after a police strike led to looting and attacks on public transportation. Salvador, the capital of the northeastern state of Bahia, is set to host six matches during the World Cup this June.
The police strike, over higher pay and better working conditions, began on Tuesday. Marco Prisco, president of the Police and Firefighters Association of Bahia state, said the police will end the strike when Bahia’s government responds to their demands. 27,000 police officers, represented by six unions, joined the strike after nine months of unsuccessful talks with the state government.
Bahia Governor Jaques Wagner’s request for assistance from the military was authorized by President Dilma Rousseff, said the defense ministry.
This is not the first time that the Brazilian government has sent troops to Salvador. In 2012, a 12-day police strike led to an increase in murders and violence, with at least 80 homicides registered during the strike. The defense ministry has said it will send more troops to the city if they are needed.
This week, two mayors in the state of Michoacán were arrested by the Procuraduría General de Justicia del Estado de Michoacán (Attorney General of the State of Michoacán—PGJE ). Uriel Chávez, the mayor of Apatzingan and a member of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI), and Noé Aburto Inclán, mayor of Tacámbaro and a member of the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN), were detained on suspicion of extortion and embezzlement, respectively.
As if Mexicans needed more reasons to distrust their elected officials, two other cases this month, coming from the PRI, show just how low some publicly elected officials are willing to stoop in a country plagued by impunity.
Cuauhtémoc Gutiérrez was the president of the PRI in Mexico City until April 2, 2014. Gutiérrez is the son of the late Rafael Gutiérrez—a former council member for the PRI in Mexico City known as the “The King of Trash” because he led the capital city’s trash collectors’ union for more than 20 years. Rafael Gutiérrez’s wife, Martha García, confessed to having the “The King of Trash” murdered in 1987. She justified the murder by saying she had endured 11 years of physical abuse from her husband, and also said that Gutiérrez had sexually abused his underage niece.
Apparently Cuauhtémoc has followed in his father’s footsteps. A recent investigation by Noticias MVS radio journalist Carmen Aristegui reported that Gutiérrez’ office ran ads to hire 18 to 32-year-old women as hostesses that were also expected to provide Gutiérrez sexual favors in exchange for higher pay. In recorded testimonies, four victims mention performing sexual favors for Gutiérrez inside Mexico City’s PRI offices, as well as accompanying him on business trips and to nighttime events. The Procuraduría de Justicia (Justice Department) in Mexico City is now investigating the case.
In anticipation of the 2014 World Cup, the Brazilian government enacted a policy to have special units of police occupy favelas in Rio de Janeiro. As of last week, one of Rio’s most dangerous shanty towns, Complexo da Maré, was taken over by close to 3,000 Brazilian troops. The shift—from using the elite Unidade de Policia Pacificadora (Police Pacifying Unit—UPP) forces to bringing in the military—marks a new stage of Brazil’s “pacification” policy. Up until now, the UPP had been responsible for sweeping and occupying the favelas.
Many of Rio’s 1,000 favelas are controlled by criminal groups like the Comando Vermelho (Red Command) and the Terceiro Comando Puro (Third Command), which are embroiled in a battle to control more of the city. Turf wars between rival gangs have consistently led to high levels of violence and crime. Brazil is fraught with crack cocaine use, and ranks second in consumer use of the drug and its derivatives. The country also has one of the highest homicide rates in the world.
To add to this, criminal gangs in Brazilian cities do not have a problem attacking law enforcement. For example, in 2009, a police helicopter was riddled with bullets by gangs from the Morro de Macaco favela. In order to control such aggressions, the government has increased the firepower of armed forces.
Before, when police were attacked, the UPP would be sent in. Now, when the UPP is attacked, the military is sent in. Consequently, Brazil’s policy toward its favelas has become increasingly militarized.
The mayors of the Mexican cities of Apatzingan and Tacámbaro, in the state of Michoacán, were arrested last night by the Procuraduría General de Justicia del Estado de Michoacán (Attorney General of the State of Michoacán—PGJE ) on suspicion of extortion and embezzlement, respectively.
Uriel Chávez, the mayor of Apatzingan and a member of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI), is accused of pressuring city council members to pay $1,500 out of their salaries to the Knights Templar cartel, which has a strong presence in the city. The prosecutors said they received a number of complaints by council members who allege that in January of 2012, Chávez took them to a rural area where armed men demanded money for weapons. Chávez denies the claims.
Meanwhile, Noé Aburto Inclán, mayor of Tacámbaro and a member of the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN), was also arrested last night for reportedly embezzling money from city coffers.
Michoacán has become a stronghold for the Knights Templar cartel. Last year, a number of civilians began organizing themselves into fuerzas autodefensas (self-defense forces) to combat the cartel’s infleucne. The Mexican government initially tried to integrate the groups into formalized units called the Rural Defense Corps under control of the military. But few of the self-defense forces obliged, causing the interior minister to set a May 10 deadline for autofedensas to register their guns and join the Corps or face arrest.
Since 2000, the Havana Film Festival in New York has been bringing Latin American cinema to New Yorkers—and after 15 years, it is still going strong.
Despite its name, the festival doesn’t limit itself to showing Cuban films. Its goal, said creative director Diana Vargas, is to place Cuba within a larger Latin American context and generate a better understanding of the region. This year’s festival includes 45 Latin American films—of which 26 are Cuban productions from the past 55 years. While the festival hasn’t always featured a majority of Cuban films, this year’s selection centered on films from the island as part of the festival’s 15th anniversary celebration.
Cuban and migrant-themed films dominated the closing night awards presentation at the NYC Directors Guild Theater on Friday. They competed for the Havana Star Prize in the categories of "Best Feature," “Best Director,” “Best Documentary,” “Best Screenplay,” “Best Actor,” “Best Actress,” and “Special Jury Mention.” No one seemed surprised when Conducta (Behavior), the newly released Cuban box office hit about a young boy and his sixth grade teacher, won the “Best Feature” award. Conducta filled the NYC Directors Guild Theater during the opening of the festival on April 3, as well as the Quad Cinema in its second showing the following Saturday evening.
Cuban director Jorge Perugorría's latest film, Se Vende (For Sale), also packed the Quad Cinema on Tuesday night. The audience laughed at the dark comedy’s morbid humor and social commentary. Se Vende tells the story of a young Cuban woman who is forced to sell her deceased parents’ bones for some extra cash. “It is a metaphor for Cuba’s recent economic changes taken to the extreme,” said Perugorría. “As Cubans, we have developed a great capacity for survival. Since we were born, we were in crisis [...] but that hasn’t taken away our will to live.”
Peace talks between President Maduro’s government and the Venezuelan opposition are scheduled to continue today, while the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática’s (Democratic Unity Roundtable—MUD) opposition coalition calls for the Central Bank to release March’s official inflation data. The bank generally releases the datain the first 10 days of the month.
The MUD claims that country’s inflation is 60 percent, an increase of 2.7 percent since February. Opposition leader and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles announced via Twitter that inflation increased more than 4 percent in March—higher than the annual inflation for several other Latin American countries. While no agenda has been set, financial transparency is expected to be a one of the topics in the peace negotiations that will continue today.
The country’s high inflation was one of the factors that sparked the deadly protests that erupted across the country in February killing at least 41 people. Venezuela’s military strategic command chief, Vladmir Padrino, recently admitted to “excesses” in policing, but maintains that less than one percent of security forces were responsible for the “cruelty and torture.”
A finales de 2002, después de meses de conflicto y de un golpe de estado que dejó al entonces presidente Hugo Chávez fuera del poder por dos días, Venezuela decidió apostar por el diálogo. César Gaviria, quien estaba al frente de la Organización de Estados Americanos (OEA), abrió el debate entre gobierno y oposición, representado por la Coordinadora Democrática, una coalición de partidos, ONGs y agremiaciones adversas al "proceso revolucionario."
En medio de las negociaciones se inició un paro nacional que buscaba presionar la renuncia del Presidente. Dos meses de inactividad comercial asestaron duros golpes a la economía nacional, especialmente a la industria petrolera, pero Chávez salió victorioso. Con la derrota de la oposición, el diálogo adquirió mayor fuerza y condujo a un acuerdo que se cristalizó con un referendo revocatorio presidencial que dejo a Chávez en el poder. Una vez más, Chávez ganó la batalla.
Desde entonces, la oposición y el gobierno han participado en una danza política que ha hecho imposible el consenso nacional. Ambos bandos se han negado a reconocer al otro lado y, ensimismados, parecen ignorar que el país colapsa. Ahora, después de un año de intenso enfrentamiento político, y después de dos meses de protestas con un saldo de 41 muertos y más de 2 mil detenidos, el gobierno, encabezado por Nicolás Maduro, y la Mesa de la Unidad Democrática—coalición opositora que defiende la vía institucional para resolver la crisis—aceptaron exponer sus puntos de vista, frente a frente, en la sede presidencial. La reunión fue obligatoriamente transmitida en cadenas de radio y televisión.
This week's likely top stories: a deadly fire ravages Valparaíso, Chile; French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius visits Cuba; Glencore sells Las Bambas mine to Chinese consortium; Venezuela investigates abuses during protests; a shipwreck spills fuel off the coast of Colombia.
Fire in Valparaiso, Chile: At least 12 people have died in a disastrous fire in Valparaíso, Chile that has forced some 10,000 people from their homes. The fire started on Saturday and rapidly engulfed the historic seaside city, whose town center is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many of Valparaíso’s buildings are perched on hillsides and susceptible to fire, posing a great challenge to the 1,200 firefighters that have been dispatched to the city. High winds fanned the blaze on Saturday night and the fires could still spread. The Chilean Red Cross has appealed for donations, and President Michelle Bachelet is in Valparaíso to oversee the emergency response. Meanwhile, a forest fire in the Colombian department of Boyaca has consumed at least 250 acres of land in the last three days, also due to high winds.
France’s Fabius Meets with Raúl Castro: French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius met with Cuban President Raúl Castro on Saturday to discuss politics, human rights and economic reforms in Cuba, just weeks after the European Union agreed to begin negotiations with Cuba. Fabius’ meeting with Castro was the first visit to Cuba by a high-ranking French official in 31 years. Talks between the EU and the Cuban government are expected to begin on April 29 in Havana.
Glencore Sells Las Bambas Mine to Chinese Consortium: A consortium of Chinese companies announced Monday that it will purchase Peru’s Las Bambas copper mine from Glencore Xstrata for approximately $6 billion. The deal is expected to be complete by the end of September, but the consortium has agreed to cover costs of developing the mine from the beginning of 2014 until the transaction closes. The open-pit mine is currently being constructed and is expected to initially produce two million tons of copper a year.
Venezuela Investigates Abuses During Protests: Venezuela’s strategic command chief, Vladimir Padrino, said that 97 members of the country’s security forces are being investigated for abuses committed during the country’s two months of protest. So far, at least 41 people have been killed since the protests began on February 12, and some 2,000 people have been detained. Padrino said that the Venezuelan military has committed “some excesses,” but added that the officers being investigated represent less than 1 percent of the force.
Drummond Says Diesel Spilled in Shipwreck: A barge carrying construction materials off the Northern coast of Colombia for Drummond Co. Inc—a U.S. based mining company and Colombia’s second biggest coal miner—was shipwrecked on Friday, causing diesel fuel to leak into the sea. Drummond said that the cause of the accident is being investigated, but did not provide an estimate of the amount of fuel that was spilled. The company was fined nearly $3.6 million in December for spilling tons of coal into the ocean in a prior accident off the coast of Santa Marta, and its port was shut down between January and April. The company is still working to comply with new infrastructure requirements designed to lessen spillage.
A delegation of foreign ministers from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) returned to Caracas on April 7 and 8, securing an agreement to hold peace talks to calm political polarization and protests in Venezuela. The talks are being mediated by the foreign ministers of Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador, plus a Vatican representative.
The UNASUR delegation first visited in late March, recommending that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and leaders of the opposition’s Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD) enter into a dialogue. The U.S. State Department had expressed support , as had Organization of American States (OAS) General Secretary José Miguel Insulza.
However, UNASUR’s plan will be complicated by Maduro’s reliance on paramilitaries within his Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela—PSUV), whose loyalty requires his polarizing words and deeds. This conundrum already wrecked a previous dialogue.
In early February, before protests broke out, a highly placed government official explained to me, on the condition of anonymity, that Maduro was pursuing dialogue and cooperation with the opposition. This was because Maduro had realized that citizen insecurity could sink his administration—and that chavismo could not solve this problem alone. “The opposition controls many of the largest states and municipalities," the official said, and "without the help of these governors and mayors, we cannot solve this problem. […] They are the ones that control the police and bureaucracy in these areas; we don’t.”
Maduro’s decision to approach Henry Falcón, a former chavista and governor of Lara state, as well as elected opposition officials in Caracas, appeared to be paying off. Successful meetings had also begun with Henrique Capriles, leader of the MUD and governor of Miranda state, Antonio Ledezma, the metropolitan mayor of Caracas, and opposition mayors of Caracas’ local municipalities.
Demonstrating Maduro’s seriousness, I was told that PSUV Federal District Mayor Jorge Rodríguez was "fully onboard” with the meetings, despite his reputation as a strident chavista. The “big problem,” according to the Maduro administration official, was Leopoldo López, the leader of the Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) party, who did not have any interest in talks.
Indeed, a section of the opposition was strenuously arguing that it was political suicide to cooperate with Maduro if his polarizing rhetoric and restriction of democratic opposition activity continued unabated.
This sparked "#LaSalida"—a call for protests against the Maduro administration. A bitter confrontation ensued between the pro-dialogue opposition and #LaSalida’s authors—López and María Corina Machado, a national assembly member. When #LaSalida led to protests on February 12, Maduro had Lopez thrown in prison, only reinforcing López’ warnings.
Why couldn’t Maduro restrain his seemingly counterproductive words and deeds? A major reason is that some members of the PSUV feel such antagonism to the opposition that Maduro dared not enter into a dialogue without continuing to vilify and restrict the opposition. Although he had good reasons to seek cooperation, Maduro’s base has been nurtured on highly polarized, class-antagonistic, black-and-white, good-and-evil rhetoric.
Sustaining polarizing rhetoric especially caters to the PSUV paramilitaries Maduro needs to stay in power. Chavismo was never very effective organizing on its own in barrios, and Chávez didn’t even launch the PSUV until 2008, so he turned to groups that already had control in the barrios before chavismo arrived. Today, chavismo’s very effective get-out-the-vote and loyalty-enforcement machine in Venezuela’s barrios relies on allied “ultra-Left” groups, local criminal groupings and motorcycle gangs that have become armed paramilitary groups, euphemistically called “colectivos”—a slander against most colectivos, which are non-violent barrio community groups.
But these paramilitary gangs could turn against Maduro without receiving the clientalist largesse and rhetoric that reifies their sense of solidarity with his administration. Chávez—who began enlisting them following the failed 2002 anti-Chávez coup as future street fighters to protect his government— occasionally spoke sharply to regulate these groups’ excesses, something Maduro lacks a similar authority to do. And, their effectiveness as extra-legal enforcers has been recently demonstrated as they’ve marauded in opposition middle-class neighborhoods, attacked demonstrations and barricades, invaded universities to beat students, and—most importantly for Maduro—prevented open protests in their home-turf barrios.
Maduro’s contradictory dependence on—and fear of—paramilitaries explains why he has called opposition protesters “fascists” and “coup plotters.” This deliberately evokes the romantic logic for paramilitaries, whom Chávez declared would “descend from the barrios” to defend the presidential palace against any future coup.
These PSUV dynamics clearly threaten UNASUR’s new peace dialogue. Especially if the government’s recent economic response to protests fails to produce timely reductions in food shortages and inflation, protests could spread into barrios—the Maduro administration’s worst nightmare—and further cement Maduro’s reliance on paramilitaries there.
Even though Maduro’s allies in UNASUR publically advised him in March to abandon inflammatory rhetoric, and former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva himself earlier advised Maduro to “… dialogue with all the democrats,” such steps could directly undermine the loyalty of the PSUV’s core get-out-the-vote, barrio-pacification and street-fighting apparatus. A difficult conundrum, indeed.
Upcoming presidential elections and ongoing peace negotiations demonstrate Colombia’s consolidation of rule and law and democracy.
President Juan Manuel Santos is seeking re-election, and free and fair elections have been a mainstay in the country since 1957—one of the longest stretches in Latin America. Moreover, the peace process, underway since October 2012, is a notable program which has attracted the attention and support of the international community.
Yet while the exercise of democracy and the progress towards a lasting peace are clearly some of the main stories in Colombia, they have overshadowed the country’s economic performance during the past decade. According to Capital Economics, a London-based economic research group, Colombia has surpassed Argentina to become the third-largest economy in Latin America, after Brazil and Mexico.
Colombia has enjoyed stable GDP growth (estimated at between 4 and 5 percent in 2014), diversification of exports, strong fiscal position, and lower unemployment. Poverty has declined with it, and a strong middle class has emerged. Colombia’s economic growth is notable in a country that is climbing out of an internal armed conflict.
Parts of Argentina were paralyzed on Thursday after the country's biggest unions shut down transportation and blocked entrances to Buenos Aires. The unions are staging a 24-hour strike to protest rising inflation and cuts to government subsidies, and are currently negotiating wage increases. Industrial unions—including metal and oil workers allied with President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner—did not participate in the strike.
Hugo Moyano, leader of the Confederación General del Trabajo de la República Argentina (General Confederation of Labor of Argentina—CGT) led the 24-hour strike, which included bringing transportation to a near stop in the capital city, and shutting down many businesses and public schools.
This is the second strike Moyano has organized against President Kirchner since she disregarded his union's demands for higher salaries and better representation in 2011. The first strike Moyano staged against President Kirchner took place in November 2012 and called for tax cuts and pay increases.
After years of spending on social programs and subsidies, Kirchner's government is facing high inflation, forcing the administration to devalue the Argentine peso and reduce subsidies for gas and water by 20 percent. In February, economists estimated that Argentina's inflation rate had risen to 34.9 percent from the same period last year. According to a March 29-April 3 Management & Fit survey, President Kirchner's approval rating fell to 25.9 percent in April of this year.
After just 18 months at the head of a minority government, Québec Premier Pauline Marois went down to a stunning defeat in Québec's April 7 elections. The governing Parti Québécois (PQ), hoping to form a majority government and leading in the polls in early March, dropped from 54 seats to 30, and saw its popular vote numbers decrease from 32 percent to 25 percent. Premier Marois also lost her seat and immediately resigned on election night. The Québec Liberal party will now form a majority government, and its mandate extends until October 2018.
While subscribing to the adage that “campaigns matter,” I must acknowledge that this is the most spectacular turnaround in Québec election campaign history. This marks the fifth consecutive election that the pro- independence PQ receives less than 35 percent of the popular vote, and it has suffered four defeats in the last five contests. With a leadership race now in the offing, the often fractious PQ is in for some trying times.
Ten individuals suspected of the kidnapping and sexual exploitation of Maria de los Ángeles “Marita” Verón were sentenced to prison in Tucumán, Argentina on Tuesday.
While walking to a doctor’s appointment in 2002, Verón, 23, disappeared, and was suspected to have been forced into a sex trafficking ring. All 13 individuals accused of being involved were cleared of charges in 2012. However, the ruling was overturned in December of 2013 and now 10 of the 13 originally accused have been found guilty.
Brothers Jose and Gonzalo Gomez were sentenced to 22 years in prison each, seven others received between 10 and 17 years sentences, and the last suspect will server 15 days of house arrest. Of the original 13 accused, two were acquitted and one passed away.
Marita’s mother, Susana Trimarco, is still searching for her daughter and is seeking new litigation on human trafficking in Argentina. Over the past twelve years, she has helped rescue 6,400 victims of sex trafficking, including establishing the foundation Fundación María de los Ángeles in 2007 and leading an initiative to have an anti-trafficking bill signed into law in 2008.
A 2013 report showed that Argentina is a trafficking hub and that 70 percent of human trafficking cases have some connection to drug trafficking. Most victims are between 15 and 17 years old, and while about half of the victims are from Argentina, 33 percent come from Paraguay.
After weeks of unrest, the Venezuelan government and the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Democratic Unity Roundtable—MUD) opposition coalition agreed on Tuesday to “formal talks” to end the anti-government protests.
The two sides have tentatively planned to meet on Thursday for a discussion mediated by the Vatican and the Unión de Naciones Suramericanas (Union of South American Nations—UNASUR). The foreign ministers of Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador are also expected to attend Thursday’s meeting.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro praised the preliminary talk on Tuesday, but said his government is not willing veer away from the Bolivarian Revolution. “Neither will we try and convert them [the opposition] to Bolivarian socialism, nor will they convert us to capitalism,” Maduro said.
Leopoldo López, the recently-imprisoned leader of the Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) party and member of the MUD, expressed skepticism about the talks, saying in a message published by his wife on Twitter, “I believe deeply in dialogue, but in a dialogue of equals, not [with one side] on its knees.” A new round of protests erupted on Friday after Venezuela’s attorney general charged López with inciting violence, arson, damage to property and conspiracy.
The announcement of formal talks comes two weeks after Venezuelan government troops cleared the western city of San Cristobál, where the countrywide protests began in February. Since then, 39 people have died and over 600 have been injured in the unrest.
Brazil’s Minister of Ports, Antônio Henrique Pinheiro Silveira stopped in Washington, D.C. last week on his hemispheric road-show to present the details of Brazil’s latest port modernization efforts. In June of 2013, the Brazilian government passed new regulatory reform laws for ports, in hopes of modernizing current infrastructure, increasing efficiencies and driving competition.
Since 2005, Brazil has experienced a boom in commodity exports such as soy, sugar, meat, coffee, tobacco, orange juice, and minerals. Much of this demand stems from China, who became Brazil’s largest trading partner in 2012. But the outdated ports and other trade infrastructure in Brazil has become a hindrance to economic growth.
The private sector is concerned about the bottlenecks in Brazil’s trade infrastructure as well as the costs in getting products to the global markets. One of the biggest problems facing exporters in Brazil is the country’s reliance on trucks and poor highway systems to connect goods to ports. In 2013, a truck gridlock stretched for 31 miles outside of Santos, a major port in São Paulo that accounts for 25 percent of all agricultural exports. A lack of railway and waterway infrastructure forces companies to rely on a limited number of roads to transport goods from farms and mines to the ships at port.
Another obstacle for the private sector is port capacity. There is rising demand for additional ports and terminal capacity in states like Pará, home of the Amazon River basin. As the Panama Canal upgrades are completed, Pará is will be a key port for increased trade in the north.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.