Edited by Mable Ivory
Six months ago, if someone were to ask any Brazilian about the possibility of a massive protest happening in 100 cities in Brazil, the idea would most certainly have been met with laughter.
After all, the country—set to host two major sporting events in the coming years and profiled internationally because of its economic growth—has not seen mass demonstrations on its streets since the 1990s, when citizens forced the impeachment of then-President Fernando Collor. President Dilma Rousseff, already prepared for her re-election campaign in 2014, certainly didn't expect these demonstrations.
However, Brazil has reached a turning point. The 20 centavos increase in bus fare in São Paulo was the catalyst for a series of demonstrations that soon spread throughout the nation—a clear indication that Brazil’s economic boom has not reached all the people and that citizens feel that they deserve more from their government. The demonstrations reached a climax on June 20, with more than 1 million people protesting in all of Brazil’s major cities.
Thus far, analysts, journalists and even activists are trying to define the nature of these protests, their true agenda and how long they will continue. There are still many undecided factors. However, several things remain clear: the so called "Brazilian Autumn" is a movement that has its main base in social media and it is a movement of mostly young and middle-class people, with a broad agenda. However, many Afro-Brazilians and working poor people are also joining the protests because their economic situation is even worse.
Unlike the Arab Spring and protests in Turkey, which have a very specific agenda, the protests in Brazil encompass many issues—a risk for their long-term sustainability—much like the Occupy Movement.
It is natural to draw parallels between the protests in Brazil and other global movements—in India, the Arab world and most recently Turkey—which preceded them. Some comparisons may be relevant, like the use of technology to congregate mass protests. But in most other ways, Brazil’s protests are unique.
Did the protests really begin with the demand to rescind the 20 centavo increase in the minimum bus fare in São Paulo? No, and this is why.
It has been widely acknowledged that a non-partisan group, the Movimento Passe Livre (Free Fare Movement), initiated the June 2013 protest with the objective of rolling back the bus fare hike. The movement took inspiration from a decade-old mass protest movement in Salvador, Brazil—also triggered by an increase in the minimum bus fare, where nine of ten of the protesters’ demands were met.
More recently, in September 2012, a group of students appealed to city hall in Natal, Brazil, winning an endorsement from a city councilman who declared the 20 centavo fare increase both “illegal and without foundation.” In less than two weeks, the ordinance was repealed by a unanimous vote.
So, by the time the fare increase was announced in São Paulo, citizens and members of the Free Fare Movement were prepared. Subsequently, after more than 10 cities in the State of São Paulo and other parts of the country reversed the bus fares last week, the Free Fare Movement leaders announced that they would no longer protest the bus fares because their “initial objectives were met.”
Desde que comenzó el gobierno de Enrique Peña Nieto en diciembre de 2012, un curioso fenómeno se ha presentado en el mundo de la política mexicana. Al parecer, nuestros dirigentes no han comprendido el enorme poder de la tecnología y la impresionante capacidad de difusión que tienen las redes sociales, mismas que escapan completamente de su poder de control. La clase política puede pactar con los dueños de las televisoras, de la radio y de los periódicos sobre la información que se puede o no se puede transmitir, pero son incapaces de imponer el mismo control sobre Facebook, Twitter o YouTube.
Gracias a eso, en los últimos meses hemos podido presenciar una serie de escándalos que desnudan a la clase política en general. Los videos subidos a YouTube que muestran a políticos mexicanos de todos los partidos en situaciones comprometedoras se han vuelto algo común en los últimos meses. La sabiduría popular los ha bautizado como las “ladies” y los “gentlemen”.
Todo comenzó cuando la hija del Procurador Federal del Consumidor se enojó porque en un restaurante no le dieron la mesa que quería. De inmediato se fue a la oficina de papi y regresó con algunos inspectores que procedieron a clausurar el restaurante en cuestión, alegando diversas violaciones en el sistema de reservaciones. Los testigos que presenciaron el acto lo comentaron en Twitter y Facebook y de inmediato se le bautizó como la “lady Profeco”. Aunque el incidente le costó el trabajo a su padre, ninguna autoridad decidió investigar el hecho de que los inspectores hayan obedecido a esta señorita si ella no era ninguna autoridad. ¿Tan sólo por ser la hija del jefe?
Después supimos de la “lady del Senado”, una senadora del Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) que insultó a una trabajadora de una aerolínea después de que no le permitiera subir al avión por llegar tarde. La senadora aseguraba que ella era una autoridad y que por ello tenían que permitirle subir al avión. Poco después tuvo el descaro de pedir que se creara una “Fiscalía Especializada en la Protección de los Políticos,” pues éstos sufren del acoso de los medios de comunicación y de la ciudadanía.
A finales de los ochenta, la prosperidad venezolana se desintegraba dejando en evidencia la ilusión que era. Parafraseando a José Ignacio Cabrujas, uno de los mejores analistas políticos que tuvo el país, sólo un mago podía ser llamado para devolverle la esperanza a una nación cada vez más frustrada. Pero a Carlos Andrés Pérez—quien resultó electo como presidente—se le acabaron los conejos del sombrero, y a falta de trucos ofreció realidades, entre ellas el aumento de la gasolina, y por consecuencia, del pasaje del transporte público.
Nadie lo vio venir, pero en la primera mañana en que el aumento de 25 centavos comenzó a regir, una revuelta popular iniciaría en los terminales de autobús de la periferia capitalina. Durante dos días, miles de personas dejaron correr su ira por las calles del centro político de Venezuela, y El Caracazo—nombre que recibió la protesta espontánea—se convertiría en un estigma político que marcó un hito en la historia nacional. Desde 1989, cuando ocurrió la manifestación, los precios de la gasolina sólo fueron aumentados una vez. Ni Hugo Chávez, con su inigualable carisma y conexión popular, se atrevió a tocar el desfasado valor del combustible.
Dos semanas atrás, en otros tiempos, otro país y otro contexto, un aumento en la tarifa del pasaje urbano también desataría la ira nacional. “La gota que derramó el vaso” repetían decenas de brasileños que salieron a las calles para rechazar el incremento—que en ciudades como São Paulo equivalía a USD 10 centavos. El himno del momento fue “no son sólo los 20 centavos” en alusión al precio en moneda local que los usuarios del transporte público debían pagar a más en cada viaje. Las frustraciones se mezclaron con las insatisfacciones, y lo que comenzó con una manifestación de calle derivó en un proceso de reclamos, tan complejo, que requirió de creatividad periodística para dar cobertura a las decenas de movilizaciones que, espontáneamente se siguen desplazando por las calles del país de la samba.
Acostumbrado a captar los titulares internacionales con fútbol, novelas y música, Brasil entró en la escena extranjera con notas sobre reclamos contra corrupción, malos servicios públicos, salud y educación deficiente. Economistas, sociólogos, analistas políticos y periodistas han intentado explicar cómo la población saboteó su propio pre estreno en la Copa Mundial—el desarrollo de la Copa de Confederaciones—reclamando menos estadios y más hospitales.
Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, deputy secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and Juan Carlos Pinzón Bueno, Colombia’s defense minister, signed an Agreement on the Security of Information in Brussels on Tuesday. While the tailored cooperation treaty does not recognize Colombia as a NATO partner, it marks the first agreement of its kind between the Alliance and a Latin American country.
The Colombian government has faced considerable pushback from several Latin American countries including Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. The countries have expressed concern that Colombia would become a member of NATO and pose a threat to the region. Despite the allegations, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Minister Pinzón Bueno and NATO itself have all insisted that membership is not the goal of the agreement. “There are no plans to establish a formal association,” a NATO spokesman said. In fact, the Alliance has explained that Colombia does not meet the geographic criteria for membership since it’s not located in the North Atlantic.
Instead of membership, the agreement focuses primarily on consultation and cooperation, specifically when it comes to security. "What we seek is to learn from NATO and to share our experience in the fight against drug trafficking, terrorist groups and other crimes committed by transnational crime organizations," Pinzón Bueno said. Prior to agreement, only two Latin American nations had formally partnered with NATO. Both Argentina and Chile participated in the Stabilization Force in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Argentina was also involved in the Kosovo Force peacekeeping mission.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff met with governors and mayors on Monday to discuss the Pacto Nacional (National Pact), a package of reforms to improve public services that would respond to the wave of nationwide protests in Brazil over the past three weeks.
The president called for peace and proposed a national vote to amend the Brazilian constitution, which would be Brazil’s first political reform since 1988, when the current constitution was ratified at the end of Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship. "The streets are telling us that the country wants quality public services, more effective measures to combat corruption...and responsive political representation," Rousseff said.
The National Pact's main objective is to create a Plano Nacional de Mobilidade Urbana (National Urban Mobility Plan) to expand Brazil’s existing public transportation system. In response to the protests, public transport fares were reduced in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro last week, and Rousseff pledged to invest 50 billion reais ($25 billion) in improving the country's transport infrastructure.
But Brazilians' grievances go beyond public transportation. The protests reached their peak last Thursday, when more than 1 million demonstrators took to the streets to demand greater investment in health and education, and to complain against corruption and high government spending on sporting events such as the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games.
In addition to calling for a constitutional reform, Rousseff has laid out proposals to improve health services and impose tougher penalties for corruption. According to experts, amending the Brazilian constitution is a process that could take years, since it would require a public vote to debate the reforms.
Recent polls suggest that 75 percent of Brazilians are in favor of the protests, in which at least four people have already died. Due to rising inflation in the country, Rousseff's approval rating fell to 55 percent in June.
As the U.S. Congress continues discussions on immigration reform, every interest group is struggling to get their respective voice heard. As with everything in Congress, money talks. To that end, the Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan Congressional ombudsman, reported last week that the Senate bill currently under consideration could inject nearly $900 billion into the government's yawning budget deficits over the next 20 years.
But a more subtle provision of the immigration bill is more streamlined non-immigrant visa processing, including sweetheart constituency provisions and political favors for groups ranging from Polish tourists to Canadian retirees. But it must not be overlooked how Latin American tourists create real value for the American economy and expand the country's soft power in a crucial region.
Many tourists, particularly those from visa-waiver countries in Europe and select other countries, take for granted that they can hop on a plane to the U.S. with no more than a passport in hand and a brief online registration. In 2011, nearly 20 million of these visitors came to the United States.
But for tourists from across Latin America, the process involves a long wait for an appointment, a hefty fee to pay regardless of the visa decision, and a stressful interview about their intentions to visit. Many choose not to go through the process because of the arduous process, others sour on visiting the U.S. after being rejected, and still many more are unable to plan and pay for trips given the uncertainty and randomness of the visa process. Governments have soured too, with many countries in the region requiring visas and reciprocity fees for U.S. tourists, giving Americans a taste of their own medicine.
In 2012, more than 8 million nonimmigrant tourist visas (those not eligible for the Visa Waiver Program) were issued by the State Department, up significantly from previous years, making this a lucrative opportunity for tourist-oriented businesses in the U.S. to capitalize on the growth.
It only takes a brief look at the numbers to show how central Latin Americans are to the State Department's visa operations and to the value of foreign tourism in the United States. Last year, of the 8,000,000 nonimmigrant visas issued, nearly 50 percent of the global total were issued to Latin Americans. Compare that to Latin America's less than 10 percent share of world population, and the statistics become even more eye-popping.
Top stories this week: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff responds to national protests; The U.S. Senate will vote on immigration reform; Coca farmers clash with police in Colombia; Uruguayan voters uphold abortion law; Judicial leaders meet in Bolivia; Ecuador considers asylum request.
Protests Expand Across Brazil: Hundreds of thousands of Brazilians marched in cities across the country on Saturday and Sunday, in a third week of protests against corruption and public spending related to the country's upcoming mega sporting events. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff called on protesters to refrain from violence after demonstrators threatened to disrupt the Confederations Cup soccer tournament on Saturday. More than 1 million Brazilians protested last week, and there are no signs that the demonstrations will end any time soon: a major protest is scheduled for next Sunday’s Confederation Cup final in Rio de Janeiro.
Immigration Reform Up For Senate Vote: U.S. President Barack Obama urged Congress on Saturday to pass immigration reform as the U.S. Senate approaches a key vote on Monday. The Senate will consider an amendment containing enhanced border security provisions that was filed on Friday, doubling the number of border patrol agents along the U.S.-Mexico border in an effort to garner the bipartisan support necessary to pass the bill. Senators will decide on Monday evening whether to proceed to debate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that he hopes that the final vote will take place at the end of the week, and Republican Senator Mike Lee said he believed the bill is “likely to pass” with up to 70 votes. Opponents of the bill predict that it will die in the more-conservative House of Representatives.
Protests Turn Deadly in Colombia; President Santos Asks FARC to "Play Clean": At least two protesters in Norte de Santander were killed on Friday in clashes between thousands of protesting coca farmers and Colombian police. Police involved in the conflict claim that the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) have infiltrated the protests, which involved at least 10,000 farmers. Meanwhile, at a march on Sunday in Carmen de Bolívar for victims of Colombia's armed conflict, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos urged the FARC to "play clean" and respect the agenda for peace currently being negotiated in Havana between the guerrillas and the Colombian government. However, experts believe that land disputes and drug-related violence will continue in Colombia's southern and border zones, regardless of any peace deal.
Uruguayan Voters Uphold Abortion Law: Uruguayan voters elected to uphold South America’s most liberal abortion law by refusing to go to the polls in a consultation ballot on Sunday. If one-quarter of Uruguay’s voting population had participated in Sunday’s vote, they could have paved the way for a popular referendum on the law, which was passed last October and permits abortions in the first three months of pregnancy. However, only 226,653 of the necessary 655,000 voters participated in the election. Uruguayan President José Mujica defended the abortion law, saying it would save many women’s lives, and supporters of women’s reproductive rights celebrated across the country. However, the law’s political opponents vowed to remain active, and a number of doctors in Uruguay have refused to perform abortions.
Judicial Leaders from Six Countries to Meet in Bolivia: Lawyers from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Spain and Italy will meet in La Paz on Monday for a three-day forum on judicial independence organized by the European Union and the UN. The forum coincides with an effort by the Bolivian government to strengthen its judicial institutions in accordance with the country's new constitution.
Ecuador Considers Granting Asylum to Snowden: Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño confirmed on Twitter this weekend that former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden is seeking asylum in Ecuador after fleeing Hong Kong to avoid arrest for leaking classified documents about U.S. Internet and phone surveillance. Snowden is currently in Moscow, but this morning he reportedly did not board a flight he was expected to take to Cuba and his exact whereabouts remain unknown. Patiño said on Monday that Snowden's request for asylum in Ecuador is being analyzed. The U.S. government has revoked Snowden’s passport and has asked foreign countries not to grant him passage.
Foreign ministers from Mexico, Colombia, Dominican Republic, and select Central American countries are meeting today in the Mexican town of San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas to discuss security, narcotrafficking, bilateral trade, and agricultural production. The meeting is a follow-up to the commitments made at the December 5, 2011, Tuxtla Summit as well as the February 20, 2013, summit in Costa Rica that included Mexico and the Sistema de Integración Centroamericana (The Central American Integration System—SICA).
Mexican Foreign Secretary José Antonio Mead is leading the meeting that also includes representatives from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica (Central American Bank for Economic Integration—BCIE), and the Sistema de Integración Centroamericana (The Central American Integration System—SICA), among others.
The border discussion includes a focus on security and information sharing as well as the improvement of border posts and crossings. The head of Mexico’s Sistema de Administratcion Tributaria (Tax Administration Service—SATY), Aristóteles Núñez Sánchez, is presenting ongoing infrastructure projects being developed along the Mexican border.
On the agriculture front, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture is expected to highlight threats to the region’s agricultural development, including an epidemic of coffee leaf rust caused by a fungus that threatens the cultivation and harvest of coffee across Central America.
Those who never voted for Barack Obama when he ran for President in 2008 or when he sought reelection in 2012 will conclude that Obama’s current second-term blues are just a case of the “chickens coming home to roost.” They never liked him and may actually rejoice in his misfortunes. All of the Republicans’ post-2012 election defeat soul-searching has since given way to more of the polarization and the dysfunctionality associated with the political gridlock of recent years.
Important elements of Obama’s second term agenda—gun control, climate change and immigration reform—appear to be in trouble. Meanwhile, events in Syria—mired in its two-year sectarian civil war—have led a reluctant U.S. president to arm the different factions associated with the rebel forces against dictator Bashar al-Assad. Instability is spreading throughout the Middle East, leading some observers to question the effectiveness of U.S. foreign policy in the region.
Add to this context, the ongoing conflict over the Benghazi talking points, skepticism of the Internal Revenue Service decision to target Tea Party groups, and the controversy surrounding National Security Agency and its surveillance programs, and a growing perception emerges that Obama might have lost control of his agenda at a crucial period in a second term. We are often reminded of scarred second-term administrations since 1960—Johnson (Vietnam), Nixon (Watergate), Reagan (Iran-Contra), Clinton (Lewinsky scandal/impeachment), Bush (Hurricane Katrina/ financial meltdown).
The past two months have seen the Obama Administration go from alleged scandals, to defeat on key proposals—such as gun control—to controversy about privacy and security. Considering that the mid-term elections are but 18 months away and the 2016 presidential stakes will begin shortly after, time does not seem to favor the president.
Yet, despite this somber picture, many of Obama’s problems have to do with the normal course of events in any political mandate. Governing is not a picnic in the park and it is full of surprises and obstacles. Obama certainly understands from his first term that the Republicans will not make his life easier in a second term. But crisis management is very much a part of his job.
On Wednesday, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro met with his French counterpart, François Hollande in Paris, on the second stop of his first official trip to Europe, to discuss forging a “strategic alliance” between the two countries.
During the hour-long meeting in the Élysée Palace, Maduro and Hollande agreed to sign an accord before the end of the year that will build a stronger economic relationship between the two countries and ultimately serve as a platform from which to launch greater collaboration.
The leaders also discussed extending the countries’ collaboration beyond economic ties by creating new opportunities for science and technology exchanges. As part of the proposed strategic alliance, France will offer financial assistance to Venezuela to build up its technology industry and to support more efficient energy technology. The leaders will reconvene in Caracas in July, during which they will draw up and sign a formal accord.
In addition to encouraging bilateral ties, Hollande urged Maduro to promote greater integration among Latin American countries on security and economic issues, along the lines of early European integration.
During his visit to France, Maduro also met with entrepreneurs from the automobile company Renault and the oil company Total.
If you walk today through Complexo do Alemão—an enormous Rio de Janeiro shantytown, or favela, that was once the frequent scene of gun battles—you can see the changes. Last Christmas eve, the Brazilian Symphony performed a classical music concert in the community that, until recently, was so dangerous that police were afraid to enter it. People in the neighborhood, many of whom had never been to a concert before, were delighted.
To reach the neighborhood, you can now take the newly-installed cable car that resembles a gondola at an Alpine ski resort. Not only does it spare you the long climb in hot December weather—it offers a terrific view high above the 3.5 square kilometer neighborhood where 69,000 people live. The glass window reveals a giant and densely populated favela composed of poor houses unevenly distributed along narrow streets and small corridors. It is a unique and complex human map of haphazard paths and supply lines for water, electricity and gas.
The new cable car—which cost the Brazilian public $105 million—is part of the Brazilian federal government’s Programa de Aceleração do Crescimento (Growth Acceleration Program—PAC), a huge urbanization project that has taken place in Rio’s poor communities. The cable car was constructed to make Complexo do Alemão more accessible. “The lift is a blessing for the ones who live at the top of the community. Now we feel free,” said Teresinha Maria de Oliveira, a washerwoman who has lived in the favela for decades.
The government has also focused on housing, public health and sanitation, and improvements in these areas are clearly seen by anyone who visits Complexo do Alemão. Recently constructed apartment buildings, schools and health centers have changed the image of a place that for 30 years had been a living hell. But violence and fear are still powerful memories for most residents.
“We never knew when the conflicts would start,” remembered Mrs. Oliveira about the era when armed drug dealers dominated the neighborhood. “My sons couldn’t study. It was too dangerous to take them to school during the shootings between police and gangs,” she said.
The real depreciated to a four-year low (R$2.1815 per U.S. dollar) on Tuesday as protests against corruption and bad governance continued to swell in the streets of 12 Brazilian cities. The real has declined 9 percent since March forcing the Central Bank to take action to reduce inflationary pressure.
While the Brazilian police were preventing demonstrators from rushing government buildings, the country was bracing itself for the “adverse winds” caused by a stronger U.S. dollar, according to Central Bank president Alexandre Tombini. The bank intervened in the currency market for the eighth time this month, selling $4.6 billion in foreign exchange swap contracts to slow the currency’s decline. The Brazilian Treasury also worked to reduce inflation by holding its second unscheduled auction in five years, buying back approximately 2 million fixed-rate government bonds.
The real’s continued drop coincided with the second week of demonstrations, which originally began as a protest against increased bus fares. In the largest protest in 20 years, approximately 200,000 demonstrators marched in 12 Brazilian cities—including Brasilia, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro—to protest, among other things, high taxes as well as increased government spending on the World Cup and Olympic games instead of health care and education.
While Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff voiced her support for peaceful protests, the demonstrations have attracted negative international attention leading up to the 2014 World Cup.
With his signature in-your-face style, influential Argentine opposition journalist Jorge Lanata continued his quest on Sunday night to single-handedly take down the Argentine government.
Since April, Lanata’s weekly Sunday night news program, “Periodismo Para Todos” (Journalism for All–PPT) has aggressively reported on allegations that businessmen close to Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her late husband Néstor Kirchner were involved in a money laundering scandal.
The president, who does not publicly talk to journalists, has yet to acknowledge Lanata’s claims, effectively dismissing the allegations. Lanata’s program is run by the country’s largest media conglomerate, Grupo Clarín, which the government outwardly considers a monopoly and a pusher of false information. Lanata is characterized as sensationalist by government supporters, and pro-government media ignore his reporting.
The spat between Lanata and the Fernández de Kirchner administration is the latest manifestation of a polemic crisis in the Argentine press.
In 2009, the Argentine government introduced a communications bill to replace legislation enacted during the country’s 1976–1983 military dictatorship. The Ley de Servicios de Comunicación Audiovisual (Audiovisual Communication Services Law), more widely known as the “Media Law,” sought to decentralize the heavily concentrated broadcast market and facilitate the entry of new investors, nonprofit organizations and community media.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague and his Ecuadorian counterpart, Ricardo Patiño, met in London on Monday to discuss the unresolved asylum case of the Australian journalist and founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange. One year ago, Assange, 41, sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faces allegations of sexual assault and rape. Assange denies the charges and says that he fears he will be extradited to the United States to face additional charges for publishing thousands of confidential government documents on his website.
Patiño confirmed that the Ecuadorian government will continue to provide refuge to Assange inside the embassy. According to a press release from the British Foreign Office, Hague and Patiño “agreed to keep channels of communication open, but made no breakthrough on Julian Assange.” Any solution would have to fall within the laws of the United Kingdom. The British government has repeatedly said that Assange will be arrested if he decides to leave the building, and has spent almost $5 million dollars in around-the-clock guarding of the embassy.
During his visit to London, Patiño also met with Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy, where Patiño declared to the press that there will be no changes in the refugee’s circumstances. Ecuador granted protection to Assange last August, saying that the government feared for Assange’s safety because the journalist believes he might face the death penalty in the U.S. if he is extradited.
According to Patiño, Assange is willing to stay inside the Ecuadorean embassy for five more years. Patiño added that Ecuador would also consider granting asylum to Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old computer analyst who provided The Guardian with top-secret National Security Agency (NSA) documents. “If he applies to our government, then of course we shall analyze the situation,” Patiño said.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Brazilian protests expand across the country; Ecuador approves a controversial new media law; FARC negotiators aspire to Northern Ireland-style ceasefire; U.S. Senator Marco Rubio says immigration bill needs to contain stronger border security provisions; Ecuador’s foreign minister travels to London.
Brazilian Protests Grow: Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the national stadium in Brasilia on Saturday at the beginning of the opening Confederations Cup match between Brazil and Japan to protest the growing cost of living in Brazil, as well as public expenditures for major sporting events set to take place in Brazil, like the World Cup and Olympic Games. Brasilia’s new stadium reportedly cost $600 million to construct. Authorities said that at least 15 people were arrested in Brasilia on Saturday, but the match continued without disruption and ended with Brazil’s 3-0 victory over Japan. The protests come two days after protests against bus fare increases in São Paulo led to hundreds of arrests.
Ecuador Approves Media Law: Ecuador's congress approved a controversial new media law in a 108-26 vote on Friday. The law will create official media overseers and impose strict limits on the percentage of licenses granted to private radio and TV companies. The Ecuadorian government has called the law a “milestone” and said it would make media in the country more democratic. However, press freedom groups and members of the political opposition have said that the new measure, which they characterize as a “gag law,” will have a chilling effect on free speech and dissent.
FARC Aspires to Northern Ireland-Style Ceasefire: FARC negotiator "Andrés Paris" said Sunday that he hoped that the negotiated peace process between the guerrillas and Colombian government will be inspired by the ceasefire that the Irish Republican Army (IRA) agreed to in 1994, resulting in an official end to the conflict four years later. The FARC is calling for a major constitutional reform before they join the political process, and said they would not participate in the 2014 presidential elections unless this happens. So far, the Colombian government has resisted their proposal.
Rubio Calls Immigration Law "95 Percent Perfect": U.S. Senator Marco Rubio said in an interview Sunday that the comprehensive immigration reform bill currently being debated in the U.S. Senate is "95 percent perfect," but needs to contain stronger provisions for border security. Meanwhile, fellow Republican Senator Lindsay Graham said that a perception that the Republican Party is responsible for blocking passage of the bill would add to the party’s “demographic death spiral.” On Thursday, the Senate majority rejected a proposal to make border security a precondition for the legalization of undocumented immigrants.
Patiño to Meet With Hague, Assange in London: Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño is arrived in London on Monday and will meet with his British counterpart, William Hague, to discuss bilateral relations. Patiño also met with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who is still living in the Ecuadorian Embassy after more than a year in an attempt to avoid extradition on charges of sexual assault. Assange told Patiño that he was prepared to spend five more years living in the embassy if necessary. Meanwhile, Ecuador’s ambassador to the UK, Ana Alban, announced last week that she would leave her post before Ecuador decides whether to extend political asylum to Assange.
“The love ran out. It’s going to turn into Turkey here,” chanted thousands of protestors as they moved down Rio Branco Avenue in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday evening, closing the downtown’s main thoroughfare to traffic as three police helicopters swam overhead.
When Rio’s protestors returned home from Rio’s State Legislative Assembly after one arrest near Central Station, it was to televised images of violence between police and protestors in São Paulo, where tear gas and rubber bullets were fired into a larger crowd and over 230 people were arrested.
Protests occurred in seven capital cities across Brazil yesterday in response to a ten-cent increase in bus and subway fares. However, such protests have been occurring around the country for several months now. In Porto Alegre in April, protests over the fare increase eventually led to its cancellation. Protesters say that the fare hike, a routine item in Brazilian bus company contracts, has become a tipping point for citizens bearing the cost of Brazil’s public improvements before seeing the benefit.
“If the quality of bus service was improving in Rio, this would make sense, but the buses are overcrowded, they run infrequently and they are unsafe,” said Natane Santos, 25, a law student at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
Students made up a healthy portion of the Rio protestors, although there were also participants from different social movements in the city and the occasional political flag. “People are protesting the bigger vision of what’s going on,” Santos continued. “I’m glad to be hearing people chanting tonight, ‘We’re over the World Cup; we want more money for health and education.’”
Amid loud protest that President Daniel Ortega is “privatizing Nicaragua’s dream,” handing over the country to a Chinese businessman and indulging in the same type of “savage capitalism” that he has railed against during his entire political career, Nicaragua’s Sandinista government this week used its supermajority muscle in the legislative National Assembly to give a generous 50-year concession to an unknown Chinese company to design, build and operate an inter-oceanic canal to rival Panama. Ortega is scheduled to sign the bill into law tonight during a nationally televised event.
The Great Nicaragua Canal megaproject, with carries an estimated price tag of $40 billion, includes a combo of megaprojects: two deep-water ports, two international airports, a transisthmian oil pipeline, and an inter-oceanic freight railroad. “This will be one of the world’s most significant infrastructure projects ever,” claims the Chinese concessionaire, HKND Group, a company that was registered only a few months ago in the Cayman Islands. HKND is owned by enigmatic Chinese telecom tycoon Wang Jing, and has no ties to the Chinese government. Nor does Nicaragua, which instead maintains diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
“This is a totally privately held company …there is no government involvement whatsoever, not from China or any other country,” HKND Group spokesman Ronald MacLean-Abaroa, a former Bolivian politico and World Bank official, told me in an interview today. “The minute you have government involved in these kind of projects, the private investors fly away.”
If $40 billion sounds like a lot of money to invest in Nicaragua, that’s because it is. To date, the largest private investment projects in Nicaragua barely measure in the hundreds of millions. So $40 billion—a number that is four times larger than the country’s entire GDP—would seem to have too many zeros to even fit in such small economy.
On June 4, the Mexican Army raided a house in the border town of Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, Tamaulipas and rescued 165 people being held against their will by a 20-year-old identified as Juan Cortez Arrez. Testimonies from some of the victims show that they had been kidnapped for nearly three weeks.
News of their rescue has drawn praise for Mexico’s armed forces, which responded to an anonymous call and implemented an operation that resulted in zero casualties and one arrest. However, this event should also serve to bring attention to a problem which has become graver in recent years: trafficking in persons (TIP).
The group rescued comprised 77 Salvadorans, 50 Guatemalans, 23 Hondurans, one Indian, and 14 Mexicans, all of whom had contacted a supposed “pollero” (a person who assists unauthorized immigrants in crossing the border) in the hopes of reaching the United States. The pollero was really a member of a criminal gang who had other plans for the group.
After the rescue, the Mexican government’s spokesperson for national security, Eduardo Sánchez Hernández, stated that many aspiring migrants end up “being delivered to the hands of criminal organizations,” rather than taken safely across the border. These criminal groups then use their captives for sexual trafficking and prostitution, forced labor, as drug mules, and—as the narcofosas (clandestine mass graves) tragically show—execute kidnapping victims in initiation rituals of new gang members. In 2011, 236 bodies were discovered in narcofosas in the border town of San Fernando, Tamaulipas. Granted, there is no proof that all of the victims were intended migrants and some might have been killed in other gang-related activities, including inter-cartel wars, but the problem remains.
Human trafficking is not new to Mexico, but it was not until 2004 that the first anti-trafficking in persons law was passed, making this activity a crime punishable by up to 18 years of incarceration. In 2008, the Attorney General’s office created the Fiscalía Especial para los Delitos de Violencia Contra Las Mujeres y Trata de Personas (FEVIMTRA), a special prosecutor’s team designated to work on crimes against women and human trafficking and whose members have received training from international outfits specializing in these matters. And last year, then-President Felipe Calderón passed a new law making femicide a crime punishable by up to 60 years in jail. Some radio ad campaigns have been launched at a national level to focus on prevention.
El mensaje enviado por los Estados miembros de la Organización de Estados Americanos (OEA) durante su 43ª Asamblea General, realizada la semana pasada en la ciudad de Antigua, Guatemala, fue claro: después de dos años de reflexión y reformas a la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH), es necesario pasar a la implementación de las mismas.
Efectivamente, este año la reunión anual de cancilleres de todos los países del continente—menos Cuba—era de especial relevancia en materia de derechos humanos porque “tomaría el pulso” de los Estados en torno a la reforma del Sistema Interamericano de Derechos Humanos (SIDH), después de dos intensos años de discusión, debates, propuestas, reformas y una Asamblea General Extraordinaria realizada en marzo pasado con la que formalmente concluyó el proceso de reflexión sobre la CIDH.
Durante esta Asamblea General realizada en Guatemala, se esperaba la discusión y posible aprobación de una resolución que abordaría el tema—aunque no se conocía el contenido de la misma—y, quizás lo más importante, se elegirían tres nuevos miembros de la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos.
Los países que presentaron candidatos a la CIDH fueron Colombia y México (para la reelección), Brasil, Ecuador, Estados Unidos y Perú, quienes fueron muy activos en la promoción de los mismos. Llamó la atención la gestión particularmente proactiva del canciller ecuatoriano, quien—de acuerdo con información recogida en la página web de la Cancillería ecuatoriana—durante los últimos meses visitó buena parte de los países de la región para promover la continuación del diálogo sobre la CIDH y la aprobación de (más) reformas a este órgano, y—suponemos—para promover también su candidato a la Comisión.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff inaugurated a new safety system yesterday, the Integrated Command and Control Center (Centro Integrado de Comando y Control—CICC), that will increase security in several cities—and soccer stadiums—through a coordinated effort among the police (federal, military and civil), the armed forces, the fire brigade, and public utility companies. This new safety system became operational just two days before Brazil kicks off the Confederations Cup —a two-week soccer tournament expected to attract over 350,000 tourists—and that will serve as a test of the country’s readiness for the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016.
The first center became operational on Thursday in Brasilia, with the president’s announcement serving to inaugurate similar facilities in other Brazilian cities.
The command centers have been installed in the six cities hosting the Confederations Cup: Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza, Salvador, and Recife. Over the next six months, the enhanced security technology will also be installed in Manaus, Natal, São Paulo, Cuiabá, Curitiba, and Porto Alegre.
The centers are modeled after similar security technology in cities such as London, New York, Mexico City, and Madrid, and will receive real-time images of each stadium and the surrounding areas through fixed and mobile cameras installed on helicopters or police patrols. Unmanned aerial vehicles—small planes that flies over a stadium and monitor ground movement for up to 16 hours within a radius of 250 kilometers (155 miles).
Brazil Minister of Justice José Eduardo Cardozo emphasized that the centers will “allow Brazil to strengthen the fight against organized crime and provide greater security for all its people.”
Magdalena Pacheco lives in Chajul in the remote Ixil region of Guatemala. She is expecting a child and was recently hopeful about the direction of justice in Guatemala after former dictator Efraín Rios Montt’s genocide sentence. But her optimism has shifted after the guilty verdict was overturned.
“I am very bothered by this, it is very sad,” Pacheco, 30, says. “If we can’t make justice happen with one person, what can we expect?”
In May, a Guatemalan court sentenced the 86-year-old retired general to 80 years in prison for the deaths of 1,771 Ixil Indigenous people between March 1982 and August 1983— part of a counter-insurgency campaign directed at guerrillas in the region. Last week, Rios Montt’s re-trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity was postponed until April 2014.
Magdalena’s family was displaced to the mountains during the war, when she was seven years old. Her mother has physical scars and is disabled after being brutally raped by the army; her father was taken away and tortured in a military post, and her 17-day-old brother was burned alive when the soldiers set fire to their house.
Turbulentas han sido las relaciones entre Estados Unidos y Venezuela desde que Hugo Chávez dio rienda a su proceso revolucionario en 1999. En medio de altas y bajas, John Maisto, embajador norteamericano en Caracas entre 1997 y 2000, pareció entender con rapidez el fenómeno bolivariano y apuntó que “hay que fijarse en lo que Chávez hace, no en lo que dice”.
Desde entonces, Caracas y Washington han vivido cualquier cantidad de desencuentros políticos, especialmente entre 2001 y 2009, durante la gestión de George W. Bush. En esos años, Chávez no titubeó al desatar su oratoria y, con la acepción negativa del verbo, innovó en estilos diplomáticos al usar epítetos como “diablo” y “burro” para referirse a su homólogo norteamericano.
Algunos podrían pensar que una de las mayores frustraciones del ex presidente Hugo Chávez era que “el imperio”, como solía enunciar, era el principal socio comercial del país que proclamaba su segunda emancipación. Un cliente que recibe la mitad de los 3 millones de barriles de petróleo que Venezuela produce diariamente. También un proveedor que despacha la mayoría de los bienes que la nación caribeña consume. En síntesis, un aliado con quien la balanza comercial ha crecido durante cuatro años consecutivos.
Pero sin ánimos de entrar en el terreno especulativo, lo cierto es que uno de los grandes apegos de “la revolución bonita” era la oratoria de su líder, y gran parte de la, tan mentada, segunda independencia nacional no era otra cosa que una intachable clase improvisada de retórica. En la práctica, la Venezuela de nuevas instituciones y lemas patrióticos era tan pro americana como aquella que en los años 70 hacía gala de la bonanza petrolera comprando ropa y bienes en Miami.
Culturalmente, la afinidad entre ambos países es tan grande que, justamente, la motivación que llevó a Hugo Chávez a la Academia Militar no fue otra que el béisbol, el deporte bandera de los americanos. El sueño del, entonces, recluta era ser descubierto por un seleccionador e iniciar su carrera de ascenso hacia las grandes ligas. Años más tarde, la política le permitiría una mínima satisfacción personal: en 1999, durante su única visita oficial a Estados Unidos, fue invitado a abrir un juego en el estadio de los Mets de Nueva York.
Su admiración por el líder cubano, Fidel Castro, y sus coqueteos con China en busca de apoyo político a cambio de petróleo, no modificaron ni un ápice la relación comercial entre Caracas y Washington. Políticamente, el saldo de la retórica sí es constatable: ocho años desde la última reunión de cancilleres, cinco años sin embajadores, y apenas un encuentro oficial de mandatarios.
El apretón de manos que Obama y Chávez protagonizaron ante el frenesí de las cámaras, en 2009, durante la cumbre de las Américas de Trinidad y Tobago, fue un suerte de presagio, descartado dos años después cuando Venezuela rechazó las credenciales del embajador designado, Larry Palmer.
La semana pasada, nuevamente un apretón de manos figuró en la prensa nacional: el secretario de Estado, John Kerry, y el canciller venezolano, Elías Jaua, sonrieron ante los flashes, y con banderas de fondo, dieron garantía de que ambas magistraturas quieren un acercamiento.
Según Jaua, ésta fue una de las últimas instrucciones de Chávez. Esto a pesar de que el 5 de marzo, horas antes de anunciar la muerte del mandatario, su sucesor, Nicolás Maduro, expulsó dos agregados militares de Estados Unidos bajo acusaciones de supuestos intentos de “desestabilizar” el régimen. Los meses subsiguientes no fueron menos frenéticos: el Ejecutivo venezolano denunció que Washington no sólo podría ser el culpable del cáncer que afectó a Chávez, sino que además tejía planes para asesinar a Maduro, y, también, a su contendor Henrique Capriles Radonski.
En medio del vaivén discursivo, Calixto Ortega, actual encargado de negocios venezolano en Washington, aseguró que no existe aquello de “malas relaciones” con Estados Unidos, es sólo “una matriz mediática”, frase de efecto que emplean los seguidores de la causa revolucionaria para desmeritar un hecho y volverlo apenas una invención de la prensa opositora.
Paradójicamente, Ortega afirmó este miércoles que “hay una nueva etapa en las relaciones con Estados Unidos”, hasta adelantó que podría venir un encuentro Obama-Maduro. Tocará ver si esta nueva etapa se materializa, o si, por el contrario, la máxima de Maisto también se aplica a los herederos del proceso.
On Wednesday, representatives of the Bolivian and Chilean governments met for the first time at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague for a preliminary meeting to establish the timetable and other details for a case around a long-standing disagreement over the countries’ maritime borders.
Bolivia filed a formal lawsuit against Chile with the ICJ in April, demanding that the court force Chile to negotiate in good faith to provide land-locked Bolivia a sovereign outlet to the Pacific Ocean. Bolivia lost access to the sea in 1904, when it signed a treaty to end the War of the Pacific—a war sparked by conflict over mining rights. Bolivia is seeking land that is currently part of Chile’s Atacama region.
During Wednesday’s meeting—the first step in a long process before the case actually comes before the court—former Bolivian President Eduardo Rodríguez Veltzé met behind closed doors with Chilean Ambassador to the United States Felipe Bulnes to discuss dates and other logistics for the proceedings.
After the meeting, Chilean Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno denounced the lawsuit as unfounded, upholding Chile’s decades-long dismissal of Bolivia’s territorial claim. Meanwhile, the Bolivian government maintains that the 1904 treaty was signed under pressure from Chile and is therefore invalid.
If the case goes forward, this will be the first internationally arbitrated attempt to solve the dispute. Previous negotiations have failed and the two countries have never re-established diplomatic ties since they lapsed after a previous failed negotiation in 1978.
Four of Argentina’s main farm associations announced on Tuesday a five-day commercial strike that will begin this weekend to protest the Argentine government’s market regulations. Argentine farmers, one of the largest global providers of food, will stop selling livestock and grain from Saturday, June 15, through Wednesday, June 19.
The strike is motivated by rising production costs, export restrictions, high inflation, and high export taxes—up to 35 percent in the case of soybeans—and aims to get the attention of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner just months before the midterm elections. Currently, the Argentine government restricts the export of wheat, corn and meat to ensure a low domestic price.
The relationship between the Argentine government and agricultural workers has been strained for years, beginning with a four-month strike in 2008 that protested Fernández de Kirchner’s attempt to raise taxes on corn and soybeans. The strikes caused food shortages throughout Argentina and eventually halted the planned tax increase after the public showed broad support for the farmers.
Since exporting firms have had advance notice of the strike and will have several days to acquire the goods they need, the strike is not expected to affect commercial exports. Next Thursday and Friday are public holidays, so the strike will only affect the market for three days next week. According to a source from the export sector, “the effect on exports won’t be large, they’ll be relative. [The strike] is more a political move than anything else.”
Twenty years ago this June, the Québec government under Liberal Premier Robert Bourassa adopted legislation stipulating that all outdoor commercial signage should be in French, but lifted the ban on the presence of English and other languages. The media often refers to this as the return of bilingual signs since the 1981 Charter of the French Language (also known as Bill 101) made French the only language allowed in outdoor commercial advertising. While the issue was highly divisive throughout the 1980s and lead to court challenges, the decision in June 1993 by the ruling Liberals was significant enough to make international news. It has since withstood the test of time (in the interests of full disclosure, I was chief of staff to Premier Bourassa from 1989-94).
To better comprehend the significance and magnitude of this language chapter, it is useful to go back in history. The 1960s and 1970s were turbulent times in Québec as the Québec independence movement gained ground and became a legitimate and important component in consideringQuébec’s options for a future in or out of a federal Canada. Closely associated with the debate on Québec independence was the conviction within nationalist circles that the use of the French language (concentrated in Québec and spoken by over 80 percent of Quebeckers) was in danger, and that legislative measures were needed to protect and defend French in various walks of life—education, public administration, language in the workplace, and outdoor commercial signs.
When a Liberal (federalist party) government decided to make French the only official language of Québec in 1974, the hope was that it would calm fears about the future of French. The independentist Parti Québécois, however, came into power in 1976 promising to bring forward comprehensive language legislation. Bill 101, or the Charter of the French language, was enacted in 1977.
Yesterday, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala began a three-day visit to the United States, marking the first official visit since he took office two years ago. Today, Humala met with U.S. President Barack Obama as well as other U.S. officials; he will also visit the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to tour the school and sign agreements with school administrators.
Peruvian officials see the visit as coming at an opportune time, when Peru-U.S. relations are at a peak. Harold Forsyth, the Peruvian ambassador in Washington, called the visit “historic,” and said it “marks a new level of bilateral support between Peru and the United States.” Many Peruvians believe that the meetings will not only strengthen the two countries’ relationship, but will also help promote Peru’s emergence as a global player.
President Humala kicked off his visit yesterday with a public speech in Washington that highlighted the importance of Peru’s diverse natural resources, including agricultural and mineral exports, to the international economy. But he also acknowledged the country’s struggle with corruption and inequality.
“Today we are talking about creating a good government,” Humala said. “We’ve had to work to create trust, because Peru is in a place where the citizens do not believe in their government. They are not seeing the tangible results that will allow them to develop.”
Today, Humala met with President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and other U.S. officials. The conversations revolved around key topics such as education, security, energy and climate change, support for micro and small businesses, science and technology, and the fight against drug trafficking. Climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions are particularly pertinent to Peru, as the country seeks to solve its massive pollution and urban transport issues.
The peace negotiations in Cuba between the Fuerzas Armada Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) and the Colombian government, set to reconvene today, are not the only peace agreements being conducted in Latin America.
One year ago, the two main drug gangs in El Salvador, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18, agreed a halt to hostilities in a deal brokered by the Catholic Church.
And just over a week ago, the two main rival gangs in Honduras negotiated a similar pact, though not specifically a truce, again mediated by the Catholic Church. The Mara Salvatrucha and Mara 18 said they would commit to zero crime and zero violence on the streets.
Such mediations are not considered typical peace agreements in the traditional sense of international relations, but perhaps they should be. While policymakers and scholars argue that there is a conceptual difference between insurgency groups, rebel groups, organized crime, and terrorism, these peace agreements between different gangs suggest that such distinctions may inhibit sound policy. In fact, the peace agreement negotiated by the Catholic Church and the gangs in El Salvador does not look too different from the negotiations in Colombia.
On his first official trip to the United States since his 2011 election, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala is meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House today. According to a Peruvian government press release, Humala’s three-day visit is aimed at strengthening bilateral relations and mutual cooperation between the countries—particularly in the areas of education, capacity building, support to small businesses, and technology.
Humala will also hold private meetings with Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The Peruvian president is traveling with Foreign Minister Eva Rivas, Defense Minister Pedro Cateriano, and Foreign Trade and Tourism Minister José Luis Silva Martinot.
Humala is scheduled to give a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce later today. On Wednesday, he will travel to Boston to visit the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he will sign several cooperation agreements with the university.
Humala is the second Latin American president to visit the White House in a month, following Chilean President Sebastián Piñera’s visit on June 4. Obama and Piñera discussed opportunities for U.S.-Chile cooperation in areas such as economic growth and job creation, transparency, human rights, and the rule of law.
Obama also met recently with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla and other regional leaders during his trip to Central America in early May. Read AQ’s exclusive interview with President Obama about his trip to Mexico and Costa Rica here.
In the first days of his last year as president, El Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes was forced to make some changes in the country’s security cabinet. Following a ruling by the Supreme Court declaring the former security and justice minister’s term unconstitutional, Funes selected Ricardo Perdomo as the new security and justice minister.
Perdomo, a civilian who was the former director of the State Intelligence Agency, is a politically-savvy and experienced professional with a lot of political experience. In his first week, Perdomo fired the director of the penitentiary system, and the vice minister of security resigned precipitously.
It’s unclear what Perdomo’s tenure will represent for El Salvador’s unprecedented gang truce, which has helped reduce homicide rates significantly but left extortion rates barely altered. What is clear is that the discourse, at least, seems more coherent now that the security cabinet is led by Perdomo.
In the mix of resignations, police commissioner reassignments, new appointments and a waning presidency, Funes seems to be making a last effort to tackle the country’s insecurity. On June 6, Funes and Perdomo announced the creation of a new anti-extortion unit. The specialized unit will be comprised of 500 police officers and 500 military personnel and will be specially trained and equipped to reduce extortions.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Venezuela’s CNE confirms April’s presidential election results; President Humala arrives in the United States; U.S. senators visit Guantánamo prison; Brazil’s FUNAI director resigns amid Indigenous protests; Nicaraguan Congress expected to vote on building a canal.
Venezuelan Audit Backs April Election Results: Venezuela's Consejo Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Council—CNE) confirmed the victory of Nicolás Maduro in the country's tightly-contested April 14 presidential election. A CNE official on Sunday reported that Maduro beat rival Henrique Capriles by a narrow 1.5 percent of the vote. Capriles, whose request for a full recount of the results was denied, called the audit a farce and has challenged the election results at the Supreme Court. An official report of the audit results is expected to become available sometime this week.
Humala Visits Washington, Massachusetts: Peruvian President Ollanta Humala begins a three-day visit to the United States on Monday. He will meet with U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday, as well as Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and other U.S. officials and political leaders. Along with Humala’s trip to Washington, he’ll also travel to Massachusetts to visit the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). This will be Humala's first official visit to Washington since he became president of Peru two years ago.
U.S. Senators Visit Guantánamo: U.S. Senators John McCain of Arizona and Dianne Feinstein of California reiterated the need to close the Guantánamo Bay detention center in Cuba after the two made a surprise visit to the facility on Friday with President Barack Obama's chief of staff, Denis McDonough. The visit by McDonough was the first by an administration official since 2009. Currently, 104 of the 166 prison inmates are participating in a hunger strike to protest conditions and what they say are invasive searches by prison guards. Forty-one prisoners are currently being force-fed, according to military authorities. On Friday, McCain and Feinstein said prisoners were being treated in a "safe and respectful" way.
Brazil FUNAI Director Steps Down amid Indigenous Protests: Marta Azevedo, the president of Brazil's Fundação Nacional do Índio (National Indian Foundation—FUNAI) announced her resignation on Friday, citing health problems. Violent protests have erupted in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul over a dispute between Indigenous groups and landowners in which one person has already been killed. Last Thursday, 200 protesters demonstrated in Brasilia to call for a return of Indigenous ancestral lands, while landowners told the government that they expect to be paid at least $1 billion reais to leave the area. Brazilian troops were sent to the site of the dispute last week.
Nicaragua to Debate Alternative Canal: Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega hopes to gain congressional support this week for a canal that would connect the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans through a canal in Nicaragua. The project, in which the Nicaraguan government would partner with Chinese company HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment co. Ltd., would take approximately 11 years to build and is expected to cost $40 billion. The government would grant the Chinese company a concession for 100 years to run the canal. The proposed canal in Nicaragua would be three times longer than the Panama Canal, which is currently being expanded and is expected to be completed next year.
In recent months, Brazil has been portrayed increasingly as a beacon of support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals in Latin America. It received international praise after the Conselho Nacional de Justiça (National Council of Justice—CNJ) released a decision ordering the legalization of same-sex marriage across the country. Soon after, it garnered worldwide attention when it hosted the 17th LGBT pride parade in São Paulo, widely considered to be the world’s largest.
Yet in striking similarity to Carnaval, lavish pride celebrations in Brazil have come to mask a far deeper and more complex history of violence and oppression.
In a milestone event that garnered far less media attention than those mentioned above, LGBTI activists gathered last month with a group of progressive lawmakers at the 10th National LGBT Seminar to discuss their most pressing needs. Their main concerns included increasing rates of violence and a rise in “fundamentalism and religious intolerance” that has begun to seriously threaten their already limited rights.
Specifically, they have come under attack following the election of Federal Deputy Pastor Marco Feliciano (Partido Social Cristão-São Paulo) to preside over the Chamber of Deputies’ Comissão de Direitos Humanos e Minorias (Committee on Human Rights and Minorities—CDHM). A staunchly anti-gay social conservative, Feliciano has made inflammatory statements, including a claim that “AIDS is the gay cancer,” and that Afro-Brazilians are cursed by their ethnic heritage.
Representatives from Brazil, Mexico and the United States will join the four existing members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), following their election Thursday during the 43rd General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS).
Dr. José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez of Mexico was re-elected in the first round of voting with 22 votes, and will be joined by Stanford law professor and U.S. candidate James L. Cavallaro, who won 20 votes. Cavallaro will serve for four years before being eligible to seek a one-off re-election.
Receiving 18 votes each in the first round, Paulo de Tarso Vannuchi from Brazil and Colombia’s Dr. Rodrigo Escobar Gil faced a second round run-off, which the Brazilian won with 19 votes to Escobar Gil’s15 votes. Also defeated was Ecuadorian candidate Dr. Erick Roberts Garcés, whose ties to the Ecuadorian government and outspoken criticism of the IACHR likely affected his popularity. Roberts Garcés narrowly missed out on the run-off, with 17 votes in the first round.
Ecuadorian Minister of Defense María Fernanda Espinosa and her Brazilian counterpart, Celso Amorim, expressed their “concern” over Colombia’s ongoing discussions with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) during a press conference yesterday in Quito, Ecuador.
The defense ministers’ reaction came in response to a series of statements by the Colombian government over the past week regarding the country’s intention to pursue a closer relationship with NATO, which originally began with President Juan Manuel Santos saying last weekend that Colombia was “to start a process of rapprochement and cooperation” with NATO. Juan Carlos Pinzón, Colombia’s defense minister, later clarified that although the country would extend its “cooperation” with NATO, he ruled out the possibility of membership in the alliance. Instead, he explained that the government’s goal is to cooperate as a partner similar to the relationship that Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and other countries have with NATO. Those countries’ efforts are centered on areas such as terrorism, military training, conflict management, disaster relief, and intelligence.
A NATO official also clarified that Colombia does not meet the geographic qualifications for NATO membership since the alliance is only “open to states in the North Atlantic area.”
Still, the flurry of statements has provoked strong opposition from Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua. Bolivian President Evo Morales asked that Alí Rodríguez, secretary general of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), convene an emergency meeting. Colombia is a member of UNASUR.
Mexico and China have often seen each other as rivals as they compete for market share in the United States. However, this perception is outdated. Both countries’ economies have undergone transformations and now have the potential to play complementary roles. This was on full display this week when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Mexico and came away with stronger bilateral cooperation on a range of issues.
Still, mutually perceived rivalry remains a challenge for cooperation in other areas. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Cancún, Mexico, where resistance to the construction of the commercial complex known as “Dragon Mart” has flared. Dragon Mart is a joint venture between Mexican businessmen, Chengkai Investment Company, and the Chinamex Middle East Investment and Trade Promotion Centre—a business promotion company under the supervision of China’s Ministry of Commerce. The Dragon Mart complex will function as an exhibition center featuring Chinese products and goods from other countries, including Mexico. According to the Chinese media, the project represents a $1.54 billion investment.
Promoters of Dragon Mart have stated that the complex will add 8,550 jobs, but it offers even farther-reaching benefits as it can serve as a point of communication for Chinese and Mexican governments and private enterprises.
Mexican manufacturers have overlooked the fact that Dragon Mart would draw Chinese business at a point when Mexico’s capabilities to export high-value-added goods, such as telecommunications equipment and automobiles, have taken off.
The project’s critics have claimed that Dragon Mart would ease the flow of inexpensive Chinese imports into Latin America, the Caribbean and North American markets. Negative reactions from domestic producers have contributed to local authorities’ recent decision to deny the project’s license, which is likely to cause further delays in construction.