The penal system does not work; criminals that do jail time do not reform. We’ve heard these arguments in Mexico before—and for the most part, they seem to be true.
Stories abound of drug lords continuing to run their operations from within their cells by using unauthorized mobile phones, and of youth that are imprisoned for minor crimes, only to turn into full-blown criminals once they enter the penal system.
However, one case in Baja California sheds a beacon of light that could be a sign of better things to come in the Mexican penitentiary system.
Pedro Antonio Gerardo Acosta is a 29-year-old inmate in the El Hongo jail near the city of Tecate in Baja California, serving a 20-year sentence for kidnapping. This convicted criminal also recently obtained the highest score in the country on the national academic test for higher education (public and private), administered by the Centro Nacional de Evaluación para la Educación Superior A.C. (National Evaluation Center for Higher Education—CENEVAL).
Gerardo Acosta is one of the first inmates to graduate from a pilot program run by the Baja California State Penitentiary and the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California (UABC), which allows people serving a sentence in El Hongo to receive higher education while incarcerated. Along with Gerardo Acosta’s amazing achievement, two of his inmate classmates also received special recognition for outstanding academic performance in 2013.
At least seven military police were injured in a confrontation with Indigenous Mapuche in the Araucania region of Chile on Wednesday.
The clash began on Monday when 30 hooded individuals, presumed to be Mapuches took over the privately-owned El Canelo farm in an act to reclaim land they believed to be theirs by ancestral rights. After the perpetrators set fire to the land, military police intervened and were met with pellet guns, resulting in seven wounded officers, who are currently in stable condition at the Talcahuano Naval Hospital.
General Ivan Bezmalinovic, head of the police force in the eighth region of Chile where the conflict occurred, stated that a special operations group was sent in to prevent further fire outbreaks from land invaders. However, according to the Mapuche community, the fire at El Canelo was not an ambush, but rather an act of self-defense against new police assaults on land the group claims as their own.
The incident comes days after a Mapuche leader was sentenced to 18 years in prison for arson and the resulting deaths of the property owners. Conflicts between indigenous communities and private land holders and extractive corporations are ongoing, particularly in southern Chile where there is a population of nearly one million Mapuche. The International Labor Organization's Convention 169 went into full effect in Chile on September 15, 2009, which recognizes the land rights of such communities; however tensions remain high.
Stay tuned for Americas Quarterly's Spring 2014 issue for in-depth analysis of ILO 169, land rights, and previous consultation.
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Diplomacy during the Cold War, wrote Sam Tanenhaus in last Sunday’s New York Times, may have been more of a high wire act than a chess match—but diplomacy, neither then nor now, is a tug of war.
Unfortunately, that’s the way it’s being conducted in the U.S.’ delinked Cuba-Venezuela policies—hostages to age-old vendettas, anachronistic policies and the persistent failure to develop policy in the hemisphere through a broader geostrategic lens.
In this case, our ability to play a larger, more constructive role in the deteriorating political situation in Venezuela is being held back by our utter lack of leverage over Cuba.
Since Hugo Chávez took the oath of office in 1999, the former lieutenant colonel’s Bolivarian Revolution has been a beneficiary of Cuban intelligence and planning services that have helped the movement reorganize the intelligence services, gut the electoral council and create community militias (the now-infamous colectivos).
A U.S. federal judge ruled in favor of Chevron Corp. yesterday, dealing a blow to the 30,000 Amazonian villagers who successfully sued the California-based oil company for $9.5 billion over environmental damage in 2011.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan wrote that U.S. courts could not be used to collect the $9.5 billion sum, citing wrongful conduct on the part of the prosecution. The court found that New York City lawyer Steven Donziger and Ecuadorian lawyers corrupted the case in Ecuador by submitting fraudulent evidence and bribing an Ecuadorian judge with $500,000 to rule in their favor.
Donziger responded that his team would quickly appeal the decision, while Chevron called the ruling a “resounding victory for Chevron and our stockholders.”
In 2011, a judge in Ecuador awarded $18 billion to five Amazonian tribes suing Chevron for environmental damage caused by Texaco—which was later bought by Chevron—between 1972 and 1990 in the Lago Agrio region. Ecuador’s highest court upheld the judgment, but reduced the amount to $9.5 billion.
Chevron claims that a 1998 agreement it signed with Texaco absolves it of liability for any the 18 billion gallons of toxic waste and 17 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the rainforest.
The Ecuadorian Embassy in Washington, which is not involved in the case, issued a statement saying that yesterday’s ruling "does not exonerate Chevron from its own legal and moral responsibilities resulting from its decades of contamination of the rainforest that has endangered the lives, culture, and environment of countless poor, indigenous people."
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The Sochi Games are over and Russian President Vladimir Putin is back to business as usual. The decision to use Russian troops following the Ukraine’s establishment of a new government is reminiscent of Cold War politics and Putin’s disregard for international law.
In reaction, the Canadian government has already chosen to recall its ambassador to Russia. Through President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, the U.S. government has also warned that there will be consequences to Putin’s response to the change of government in Kiev.
In recent weeks, the Western world has seen the street reaction in Kiev’s Independence Square to now former President Victor Yanukovich’s decision to choose a Putin-directed economic deal over one from the European Union. The violence ordered by Yanukovich to quell the protesters only intensified and inflamed the degree of opposition. Many in the West following the Olympics in Sochi were stunned by how quickly the ‘’street revolution’’ replaced Yanukovich and installed a new government in accordance with the Ukrainian constitution (impeaching Yanukovich and releasing a prominent political opponent were both legal and constitutional).
Certainly, Putin’s objective to present the best face of Russia to the world during Sochi suffered a major setback. While invading and taking control of Crimea may give him the upper hand against a cash–strapped Ukraine with a new provisional government, it does little to show the emergence of a new Russia. Already, the anti-gay law and the release of political opponents from prison depicted the calculation of a ruthless and inward–looking leader.
What’s the best way to protect a seven-month-old girl from the effects of tear gas? Is it dangerous for her to breathe the smoke from a pile of burning garbage in front of this building? Can a 9-millimeter bullet pass through the walls of our apartment? Will I find food for my family next week in our densely populated middle-class neighborhood, or should we stock an emergency reserve of groceries?
These are some of the questions that my wife and I have been asking ourselves since February 12, when members of Venezuela's political opposition marched on downtown Caracas and were attacked by supporters of the recently deceased president, Hugo Chávez. Two students were shot in the head and killed, and the subsequent rage pushed the opposition to continue the most recent series of protests against the régime that inherited Chávez’s idea of power.
We live in an apartment half a block away from Plaza Altamira in Caracas, one of the main sites of the upheaval. Several times, the tide of the struggle has penetrated the borders of our private life.
The origins of all this mayhem date back to Venezuela’s surreal chavista experiment, but the immediate trigger was a protest following an attempted rape at a college campus in San Cristóbal, the capital of the state of Táchira, on the Colombian border. The National Guard responded with extreme force, the demonstrators multiplied, and two opposition politicians—the youthful and charismatic former Caracas mayor Leopoldo López and congresswoman María Corina Machado—claimed that the only way to save the country was to occupy the streets and to build up the pressure against Chávez’s chosen heir, President Nicolás Maduro, who took office after winning by less than 2 percent of the vote in contested elections last year. In Maduro’s first year, Venezuela has continued to experience the levels of urban violence, inflation and scarcity of basic goods usually associated with wartime.
The U.S. Supreme Court signaled that it would leave contentious immigration issues to the jurisdiction of the legislative branch on Monday when it decided against hearing appeals from Farmers Branch, Texas and Hazleton, Pennsylvania.
The two towns had sought to overturn decisions by appeals courts that struck down ordinances that criminalized the occupation of property by any individual who did not have a license certifying that he or she is a U.S. citizen. The local laws also allowed towns to fine landlords who rented property to tenants without licenses as well as businesses that knowingly hire undocumented immigrants.
The lengthy legal battle cost Farmers Branch more than $6 million over an eight-year period. Five out of six similar housing ordinances have been struck down by U.S. District Courts.
There is speculation that a similar ordinance from Fremont, Nebraska, which was left untouched by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last June and was adopted via a new vote last month, will be appealed in the Supreme Court. The United States’ highest court hasn’t heard a major case on immigration since 2012.
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Likely top stories this week: Nicaraguans vote in local elections; protests continue in Venezuela; the FARC says it will continue peace talks during elections; a Mapuche leader is sentenced to prison; Chileans no longer need visas to enter the United States.
Nicaraguan Elections: Nicaraguans overwhelmingly supported the ruling Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (The Sandinista National Liberation Front—FSLN) Sunday in elections for regional councilmembers in the country’s two autonomous regions—the North Atlantic Autonomous Region and the South Atlantic Autonomous Region. Opposition leaders alleged that Sunday’s elections were marred by irregularities as well as violence, but the FSLN said that the elections were conducted in an orderly and peaceful manner and attributed five deaths in El Tortuguero on Sunday to common crime. 300,000 Nicaraguans of African, mestizo or Indigenous descent were registered to vote in the elections.
Protests Continue in Venezuela Despite Carnival: Protesters marched through the streets of Caracas on Sunday to protest the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, as the death toll from three weeks of conflict has risen to at least 17 people. Maduro encouraged Venezuelans to observe the Carnival holiday, hoping to dampen the protests. On Sunday, the Venezuelan state prosecutor’s office announced that it had released 41 detainees. The anniversary of Hugo Chávez’ death is on Wednesday, March 5, and may spark more clashes.
Peace Talks to Continue During Colombian Elections: Peace negotiators for the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) confirmed on Sunday that the guerrillas will continue to negotiate with the Colombian government even as elections take place on March 9. Colombians will elect legislators next Sunday, and vote for president and vice president at the end of May. On Friday, members of the FARC said that they had invited the United States government to join in the peace talks, but the U.S. State Department said it was unaware of efforts to make the U.S. a party to the peace negotiations.
Chilean Indigenous Leader Sentenced: Mapuche leader Celestino Cordova was sentenced to 18 years in prison on Friday for his role in an arson attack in southern Chile that killed an elderly couple last January in a dispute over Indigenous land rights. The attack coincided with the five-year anniversary of the death of Mapuche student Matias Catrileo, who was killed by policemen in a land dispute in January 2008. Cordova’s lawyers plan to appeal the ruling, saying that there is no evidence to prove that he was involved in the attack.
Chile, U.S. Waive Visa Requirements: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced on Friday that Chilean citizens do not need a visa to enter the United States, making Chile the only country in Latin America to join the list of 38 countries in the U.S. visa waiver program (Mexico enjoys its own special status). U.S. citizens will now also be able to avoid a $160 “reciprocity fee” that they paid upon entering Chile. Chileans will no longer need a visa to enter the United States starting on May 1.
El pasado sábado 22 de febrero de 2014, en el estado mexicano de Sinaloa, fue capturado en el puerto de Mazatlán Joaquín “el Chapo” Guzmán, el narcotraficante más buscado del mundo.
Nadie en su sano juicio podría estar en contra de su captura. Como líder del cartel de Sinaloa, se le achacan infinidad de muertes desde su fuga en 2001, además de ser el responsable de la introducción de gran parte de la droga que cruza la frontera hacia los Estados Unidos.
Sin embargo, la forma en que se llevó a cabo su detención ha generado muchas suspicacias, algunas sin fundamento y otras que mueven a la reflexión.
Lo que más extraña es el hecho de que el famoso capo estuviera acompañado tan solo por un guardaespaldas, además de su familia, siendo que era conocido que tenía un grupo de más de 300 personas para cuidarlo. Sorprende mucho que ni siquiera hubiera algunos de sus hombres, de los llamados “halcones,” apostados en las cercanías para avisarle de la llegada de las autoridades.
The United States released the second member of a group of five Cuban prisoners—known as the “Cuban Five”—from an Arizona prison on Thursday. Fernando González, 54, was convicted in 2001 of spying on military bases and Cuban exiles in South Florida, and is expected to be deported back to Cuba within days.
René González, a native of Chicago with dual citizenship, was the first member of the group to be freed in 2011, and returned to Cuba last year. The other members, Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labaniño, will complete their terms in 2017 and 2024, respectively. The last member, Gerardo Hernández, is serving a double life sentence for conspiracy to commit murder after two planes flown by a Cuban exile group, Brothers to the Rescue, were shot down in 1996.
Over the last decade, the “Cuban Five” have been at the center of diplomatic tensions between the U.S. government and the Castro regime. The Cuban government allegedly offered to release the jailed USAID contractor Alan Gross in exchange for the freedom of the five Cuban prisoners, but Washington rejected the deal, saying that Gross did not engage in any intelligence-gathering on the island. The Cuban government jailed Gross on charges of committing crimes against the state, and he remains in prison.
González’ release comes two weeks after a national poll found that the majority of Americans support normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro invited opposition leaders to the presidential palace on Wednesday for a peace conference in an effort to quell the worst unrest in in the country in a decade that has claimed 13 lives thus far.
Some have questioned the sincerity of Maduro’s peace conference efforts. Henrique Capriles, the presidential opposition candidate who lost by a narrow margin to Maduro in 2013, called the meeting an empty appeal and nothing more than a photo opportunity. Jorge Arreaza, vice president of the opposition group Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Democracy Unity Roundtable—MUD), slammed the conference saying that “we will not lend ourselves to a sham dialogue that would end in a mockery of our compatriots.”
Meanwhile, a number of international leaders, including Pope Francis and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, have called for an end to the escalating violence that began on February 12, and urged more dialogue between parties. Former U.S. President and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Jimmy Carter has urged Maduro and Capriles to retain the population’s right to peaceful protests and unbiased trails for those arrested and announced his hopes to meet with leaders from both sides during a trip to Venezuela planned for April 29.
Read updates on the crisis in Venezuela in AS/COA’s Venezuela Resource Guide.
Monterrey, one of the largest cities in Mexico, has recently become a hotspot for criminal activity and host to a number of violent incidents. An ambitious urban development initiative, however, is set to change the city’s deteriorating reputation.
Seventy years ago, an institution that transformed the educational system in Mexico was born, Tec de Monterrey, an icon of entrepreneurial spirit and industrial development success based in the city of Monterrey. Dubbed by many of its alumni as the “MIT of Latin America”, Tec was founded in 1943 by Don Eugenio Garza Sada, an MIT graduate himself.
Tec de Monterrey is much more than a university, it is a nation-wide system of high school, university and post-graduate campuses with a common mission: to develop human and professional potential in its students. Its headquarters and most important campus is the Campus Monterrey, located in the valley of the famous Cerro de la Silla of southern Monterrey, an area that has hosted violence, including the tragic deaths of two students in a 2010 shooting.
However, Tec de Monterrey recently presented a 500 million dollar urban development project which will, among other things, reclaim public spaces of 17 neighborhoods in the vicinity of the Monterrey Campus. The money funding the project will come predominately from donations and proceeds from the annual Sorteo Tec, a lottery system similar to state-run lotteries, that is privately organized by Tec de Monterrey.
A Mexican judge ruled on Tuesday that Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán will stay in Mexico to face drug-trafficking charges. The former head of the Sinaloa cartel will not be extradited to the U.S. in the near future and will remain locked up in the country's highest security prison while he awaits trial.
Guzmán, who was captured on Saturday after 13 years on the run, faces charges in at least seven U.S. jurisdictions. The U.S. attorney's office had announced on Sunday that the U.S. would seek the extradition of "El Chapo," whose cartel is said to be responsible for 80 percent of the drug trade in some of the U.S.'s biggest cities, and federal prosecutors in New York have indicted Guzmán for drug trafficking and money laundering. Mexican officials have announced that Guzmán must face local charges before they consider his extradition to the U.S.
"If and when we receive an extradition request, it will be analyzed by the appropriate Mexican legal authorities and if granted, Mexico will decide upon the right moment to execute that possible extradition request," Ambassador Eduardo Medina-Mora said in a statement on Tuesday. Guzmán escaped from a maximum-security prison in January of 2001, seven years into a 20-year and nine-month sentence. Mexican officials have said he must face his original sentence and new charges in Mexico. Guzmán's attorneys have filed a request to stop his extradition.
Widespread protests continue for a thirteenth consecutive day in Venezuela as the country’s president, Nicolás Maduro, faces increasing criticism—some of it from within his own ranks—for how he has handled the unfolding crisis.
The president’s recent crackdown on the remaining free media in Venezuela and an upsurge of State violence last week have led at least one member of Maduro’s Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela—PSUV) to criticize the government’s repression of the protesters.
In a radio interview on Monday, the governor of the state of Táchira, José Vielma Mora, an active member of the PSUV, criticized the use of excessive violence against protesters and said that Maduro should release political prisoners from the opposition to ensure peace.
“I am against treating peaceful protests with violence and abuse,” Vielma Mora said. “I support peaceful protests because they help us understand what is happening …Not a single protester has been wounded in Táchira. Not one of them has died.”
On Monday, however, authorities confirmed the death of a protester in Táchira state, which has seen some of the worst repression in the country.
Fifteen people have died so far in less than 13 days of protests across the country. Seven of those killed were shot in the head at political protests.
Hundreds of Mexican vigilantes held memorial mass in Apatzingan, Michoacán Monday, remembering those who died in the struggle to expel the Knights Templar (Caballeros Templarios) drug cartel and celebrating the one year anniversary of the creation of the autodefensas (self-defense) movement. The groups, which have no legal authority, have been credited with ridding mountain towns of the cartel’s influence after national security forces failed to do so.
The self-defense groups first emerged in Michoacán a year ago to combat the violent drug cartels, and just this month they reclaimed control of the city of Apatzingan with the aid of the military and local police. The groups’ tactics have since spread to neighboring Guerrero, where villagers have created the Council of Upper Towns to counter the La Familia cartel on Sunday.
After the capture of Knights Templar kingpin Dionisio Loya Plancarte late last month, the federal government announced that it would collaborate with the vigilantes and absorb qualifying members into the military controlled Rural Defense Corps. The move came after the government’s unsuccessful attempt to disarm the autonomous groups in the rural western region.
A debate dominates the end of my dinners at my parents’ house: how to get home? I live a mere seven blocks away, a brief walk across a park. Though I’m an independent urban type, in the labyrinth of subjective insecurity that is Buenos Aires these days, the answer is not as obvious as it seems.
When I walk to my bus stop in Buenos Aires, I zip my purse shut and clutch it tight to my body, like a football player running toward the end zone. When I play Candy Crush on the subway, I hold my phone in a two-handed death grip, lest it be snatched away. After a girls’ night out, I ask my friend to text me when she’s safely home. On warm spring days, my car windows remain shut because robberies have been known to happen at red lights.
And those deeper down the rabbit hole consider me foolhardily naïve in my lack of precaution. I know people who drive from their guarded apartment building garage to their office parking lot, and who avoid setting foot on the street even in broad daylight. Iron bars cover many ground floor windows on Buenos Aires streets, and increasingly the next floor up, too. Barbed wire wraps around some houses’ entrances like ivy. And then there are those who move to gated communities, where they can finally leave these quotidian safety measures behind—but instead end up living in a sort of custom-designed Truman Show of safety from “others.”
But the higher the walls, the more upper-middle-class porteños seem to be afraid. How necessary are these measures, and the correlated paranoia that seems to seep into every step we take?
Likely top stories this week: Venezuelans seek a solution to the escalating political conflict; Ecuadorians vote in municipal elections; young immigrants demand action from U.S. President Barack Obama; Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos says his e-mails were hacked; the U.S. seeks to extradite “El Chapo” Guzmán.
Venezuelan Leaders May Meet to Discuss Conflict: This week, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro may meet with political leaders from across the country to discuss the escalating political conflict. At least eleven people have died since February 12, when student protests set off violent clashes between opposition protesters, Venezuelan security forces, and government supporters. Meanwhile, Maduro, who has said that the United States is behind the current political unrest in Venezuela, has called for a dialogue with U.S. President Barack Obama to “put the truth out on the table.”
Ecuadorian Municipal Elections Conclude: Rafael Correa's Alianza País (Country Alliance) party lost mayoral races in Ecuador's three biggest cities—Quito, Cuenca and Guayaquil—on Sunday when Ecuadorians voted in municipal elections. According to the preliminary results from the National Electoral Council, former presidential candidate Mauricio Rodas of the Suma-Vive alliance was elected mayor of Quito with 58.9 percent of the vote and Jaime Nebot of the Partido Social Cristiano (Social Christian Party) was re-elected mayor of Guayaquil with 57.5 percent of the vote. Mauricio Cabrera, a former mayor who is part of the Igualdad-Participa (Equality-Participate) alliance, captured 44.4 percent of the vote in that city. In addition to mayors, Ecuadorians voted for governors and council members.
Young U.S. Immigrants Demand Presidential Action on Immigration: About 500 young immigrant leaders gathered in Phoenix, Arizona this weekend for an annual congress of the United We Dream Network, expressing frustration with both U.S. Republicans and Democrats for Congress’ inaction on comprehensive immigration reform. Members of the United We Dream network said that they would instead press President Barack Obama to act unilaterally through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to allow young undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States. However, the Obama administration has deported more than 1.9 million foreigners—more than any other president.
Santos Says His E-Mails Were Hacked: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said Sunday that unknown opponents have hacked more than a thousand of his personal e-mails, as well as e-mails of family members. Santos said he believed the hackers were “motivated by political reasons,” and vowed to investigate the incident as he campaigns for the upcoming May 25 presidential elections. Earlier this month, it was revealed that a Colombian military intelligence unit had been spying on government peace negotiators who were speaking with the FARC in Havana.
U.S. to Seek Extradition of "El Chapo" Guzmán: After Mexican authorities captured Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” (“Shorty”) Guzman in the resort town of Mazatlán on Saturday, U.S. judicial authorities said that they will seek his extradition to the U.S. to face drug smuggling charges. However, the Mexican attorney general’s office said that Guzman will have to serve the remainder of his Mexican jail sentence before he is extradited. Guzman escaped from prison in 2001. He is currently being held in a maximum-security prison outside the Mexican city of Toluca.
Venezuela will deploy military units to San Cristobal, Táchira, where demonstrators continue to protest the arrest of opposition leader Lepoldo López, government officials announced today. Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres said that the decision is a measure to restore public order.
In addition to the deployment of the military troops on the ground military jets have been flying over that state of Táchira and internet access has been cut following 16 days of protests. Rodriguez has denied knowledge of the cause of the internet blackout.
The Venezuelan attorney general, Luisa Ortega Díaz, confirmed that there have been 8 deaths and 137 injuries to date, resulting in what human rights activists have called the worst violation of human rights in Venezuela in 15 years.
Read updates on the crisis in Venezuela in AS/COA's Venezuela Resource Guide.
Venezuelan opposition leaders have condemned President Nicolas Maduro’s government for the violent backlash to what started as peaceful student protests last week. The National Police, National Guard and government-backed colectivos (armed militias) have filled the streets firing freely at protesters. At least eight people have died since the protests turned violent last week and many have been injured.
Although the Venezuelan media has not fully covered the violence, social media sites have been flooded with photos and videos of the clashes documented by protesters themselves. Maduro and his supporters have claimed that the escalation of the violence is part of an attempted coup by right-wing “fascist” opponents backed by the U.S. On Monday, Maduro gave three U.S. diplomats 48 hours to leave the country, after being accused of fomenting a coup against the Venezuelan government.
The leader of the opposition movement, Leopoldo López, turned himself in to police on Tuesday and is being held in Caracas' Ramo Verde jail on charges of terrorism. President Maduro has called López, a 42-year-old Harvard-educated economist, “the face of fascism.”
Among other voices condemning the repression of the protests are Henrique Capriles, former Venezuelan presidential candidate, and President Barack Obama, who urged Maduro to stop making “false accusations” and address the protesters’ demands during his recent visit to Mexico.
The opposition movement is planning more marches for Saturday.
Read updates on the crisis in Venezuela in AS/COA's Venezuela Resource Guide.
Con una inflación de 56%, un índice de escasez de alimentos básicos en 26,2%, una tasa de homicidio de 70 asesinatos por cada 100 mil habitantes, y un dólar que se cambia en el mercado negro por un precio siete veces mayor al valor oficial, Venezuela inicia 2014 con una crisis política que, temporalmente, parece opacar los problemas económicos y sociales que se han agudizado en el último quinquenio.
El reciente minuto a minuto de la historia venezolana parece una novela que se quedó acéfala, un guión cuyo escritor abandonó la historia a mitad de la trama y fue reemplazado con improvisación. El 12 de febrero, en el marco de festejos por el día de la juventud, centenas de estudiantes salieron a las calles a protestar contra un Gobierno con el cual no se sienten identificados. Nadie lo vio venir, pero en cuestión de horas, la protesta se volvió un polvorín que terminó con tres personas muertas—dos estudiantes y un simpatizante del oficialismo. La aclaratoria es necesaria para hablar de un país en el cual hasta la vida humana se cuenta a través de la polarización.
Leopoldo López, dirigente político de la oposición, participó activamente en la protesta estudiantil, defendiendo ir a la calle como un método de presión política contra el Gobierno nacional. Su liderazgo en esta manifestación fue calificado como “polémico” por quienes creen que la moderación debía imperar para evitar la radicalización de un movimiento que lleva 15 años cuestionando los designios de la llamada “revolución bolivariana.” El opositor Henrique Capriles Radonski, gobernador del estado Miranda, y ex candidato presidencial, afirmó dos días antes que el movimiento iniciado por López, bautizado como “La salida,” creaba “expectativas de cosas que no se iban a lograr.”
North American heads of state met in Mexico on Wednesday to discuss the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Presidents Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico and Barrack Obama of the United States, widely known as the "three amigos," commemorated two decades of NAFTA in Toluca, Mexico and discussed what's next for North American trade, among other issues.
Perhaps the most significant outcome of the meetings were the negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trading pact between 12 countries in Asia and the the Americas. "The Trans-Pacific Partnership is an opportunity to open our markets and to open ourselves to new markets in the Asia-Pacific region, one of the fastest growing and most promising in the world," President Obama said.
Among other issues, two that were anticipated hot-topics were travel and energy. A trusted traveler program was proposed, which would allow frequent travelers more ease when moving between borders. Also agreed upon was improvement in customs data and infrastructure to decrease drug movement across borders.
The energy discussion hit a snag, however, given that Obama and Harper still have yet to reach a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline project, which has been a source of tension between the two countries.
Read more about NAFTA in the Winter 2014 issue of Americas Quarterly.
In a recent interview with The Washington Post, Florida sugar magnate Alfonso Fanjul said he is ready to do business with Cuba “under the right circumstances.” The questions are: “what are the right circumstances?" and “who benefits when American companies ‘do business’ with communist Cuba?”
The Fanjul family left Cuba in 1959 when Fidel Castro confiscated all of its holdings. Eventually settling in Florida, the family rebuilt their lives and fortunes, benefitting from the price supports extended to American-grown sugar by Congress, and Fanjul corporations are now international in scope.
As reported in The Post, Alfonso Fanjul’s comments and meetings with Cuban government officials were promptly condemned by Cuban-American members of Congress who didn’t hesitate to point out that the interview included no discussion of the absence of civil liberties and labor and human rights in Cuba that foreign corporations already exploit.
Foreign companies “doing business” in Cuba are best described as “minority partners” of the Cuban government. Such companies don’t “do business” with Cuban entrepreneurs, they “do business” with the Cuban government, which obligingly “rents” those companies a compliant, uncomplaining labor force.
Cuba’s government sets the rental price that companies pay to the government. In turn, the government pays the employees somewhat less (usually a lot less), and keeps the difference. Complaining employees are fired —not by the company, but by the government—and replaced by someone “willing to work.” This is how Cuban communism works and finances the repression that sustains it.
Curitiba, Brazil narrowly avoided losing its spot as a 2014 World Cup venue city on Tuesday, after the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (International Federation of Association Football—FIFA) threatened to exclude the city from the tournament. The news comes one month after FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke said that the delays in construction of Curitiba’s Arena da Baixada amounted to a “emergency situation.”
With less than four months before Iran and Nigeria play the first group stage match in Curitiba on June 16, organizers have imported hundreds of extra workers to complete the 43,000-capacity stadium. After speaking with representatives the city of Curitiba, its local football club Atlético Paranaense, and the State of Paraná, Valcke confirmed yesterday that the stadium will be ready for the tournament, calling the Curitiba "a special city in terms of sustainability and passion for football” and confirming that it will remain part of the FIFA World Cup lineup.
However, Valcke made clear that the remaining construction must continue at the “highest pace,” and that the process will require “regular monitoring.”
Of the six stadiums that missed the December 31 construction deadline set by FIFA, Curitiba’s was the furthest behind schedule. Construction still has to be completed on four other stadiums, including the Arena de São Paulo, which will host the World Cup opener on June 12, even though the stadium is not expected to be finished until April.
In addition to the June 16 match, the Arena da Baixada is scheduled to host four group stage matches, including Honduras vs. Ecuador (June 20), Australia vs. Spain (June 23) and Algeria vs. Russia (June 26).
The three North American leaders—Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and U.S. President Barack Obama—will meet today in Toluca, Mexico.
Obama’s agenda is set to focus on trade, education, border security, and drug trafficking. Yet the elephant in the room is the Keystone XL pipeline, whose approval by the United States has been delayed for over five years. Last month, the State Department issued a report that declared that significant additional GHG emissions would not be released as a result of the construction of the final leg of Keystone XL.
The NALS summit has the potential to deepen hemispheric energy integration, if the three presidents can jointly take advantage of the windfall in regional energy. Increased integration leads to lower costs, higher efficiencies and greater technology transfers.
History and geography have linked the North American countries through significant energy reserves. In recent years, these reserves have been developed with timely policy choices that have increased each country’s potential. In particular, the shale gas and oil revolution in the United States, the oil sands in Canada, and energy reforms in Mexico are all new developments that have put each country on a path towards becoming an energy superpower.
As the North American leaders Stephen Harper, Barack Obama and Enrique Peña Nieto meet in Mexico City this week, we can expect smiles and all the rhetoric about intensifying the relationship between the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) partners. While the trade numbers justify applauding and celebrating the NAFTA agreement 20 years after its inauguration (January 1994), there remains a lot of “behind the scenes” tension, conflict and unresolved issues.
For Canada, NAFTA has been a positive development. In 2010, trilateral trade represented $878 billion, which is a threefold expansion of trade since 1993. Mexico now represents Canada’s first Latin American partner in trade, and we are Mexico’s second most important trade partner in the world. Bilateral trade has expanded at a rate of 12.5% yearly to attain $30 billion in 2010. Canadian investment in Mexico is now estimated at over $10 billion. In short, both countries have benefitted from the deal.
This being said, it is generally acknowledged that both Canada and Mexico invest more time, energy, and resources in pursuing bilateral relations with the world’s number one economy, the United States. As a result, some outstanding issues such as Canada’s imposition of visas on Mexican tourists continue to be a major irritant for the Mexican government. The continuing disputes on respective beef import bans also continue to create tension between the two countries.
Just this past weekend, Canada’s highly respected Globe and Mail had the following headlines: “Mexico has stern messages for Harper” and “Canada-Mexico relations merit more than forced smiles”. Clearly, the relationship is strained.
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The Bolivarian Revolution of Venezuela, currently led by Hugo Chávez’s handpicked successor, Nicolás Maduro, is facing the most significant wave of social discontent with its policies in more than a decade.
Over the past six days, daily spontaneous protests across the country have diluted the government’s ability to maintain social order and address the concerns of millions of Venezuelans who oppose its socialist project.
Today, Caracas will be the site of yet another round of political protests. This time, the protests will be far from spontaneous. They will concentrate in two opposing marches that will take city streets simultaneously.
One side will march in defense of Maduro’s regime and against what the government has called “an unfolding coup attempt” against the Revolution. The other side will accompany opposition leader Leopoldo López to the Ministry of the Interior, where López will make a set of demands and probably be apprehended by the State for his supposed involvement in the violence that has shaken the country.
Student protests in Venezuela intensified as they entered their fifth straight day on Monday. Thousands of anti-government protestors flooded the streets of Caracas denouncing the nation's deteriorating economy, inflation, shortages of staple supplies, and security issues. Pro-government protestors are expected to counter-protest today.
Three protestors—two anti-government and one pro-government—were killed and hundreds were injured last Wednesday in the largely student-led protests that took place in cities across Venezuela. Over a dozen anti-government protestors have been arrested since the protests began.
The arrests and violence at the protests have drawn international scrutiny; U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called on protestors on both sides to work together peacefully, while publicly worrying about anti-government protestors' freedom of expression. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has stated that he will not allow further protests to take place in Caracas.
Three American diplomats were expelled from Venezuela on Sunday after Venezuelan authorities accused them of meeting with the students who led he demonstrations. American officials deny the claim.
As the two-day CELAC Summit closed in Havana at the end of January, leaders of the 33 Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) nations that compose this body adopted a triumphant pose for the assembled photographers.
Why the celebratory atmosphere? One might be forgiven for thinking it was connected to the various grand ambitions articulated at the summit–the second since CELAC was created in 2011–in the spheres of education, disaster management, combating corruption and similar hot-button regional issues. But as far as the leaders present were concerned, the greatest triumph was in declaring CELAC a "zone of peace."
"Peace," in this case, is understood as "non-interference." In the words of the summit declaration, each CELAC member state has the "inalienable right to choose its political, economic, social and cultural system as an essential condition to guarantee peaceful co-existence among nations." (My emphasis.)
Put another way, if you are running a one-party state, like the Cubans, or a mafia state that fixes elections, like the Venezuelans, you have nothing to fear. It's perverse, but it's true: even leaders of strong democracies, like Costa Rica, have had the temerity to adopt the language of rights in order to rationalize and justify their silence about the denial of rights to the opposition in non-democratic countries!
U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden is set to visit Chile and the Dominican Republic with his wife Jill in mid-March. The visits will mark his third trip to the region. Biden will attend Chilean President-Elect Michelle Bachelet's inauguration before traveling to the Dominican Republic to discuss bilateral relations and regional cooperation with President Danilo Medina.
The vice president has been seen as an integral part of President Obama's Latin America strategy. Despite visits by both leaders to the region last year, the administration's foreign policy has focused primarily on Asia and the Middle East. The U.S. was seen as taking a positive step towards strengthening ties with the region last November when Secretary of State John Kerry declared that the Monroe Doctrine had come to an end.
This year is critical for U.S. trade in the region as NAFTA turns 20 and the U.S. continues its participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.
I’m not a betting man, but if I were, this is what I’d bet. With a series of statements by leading Cuban-Americans, stories of change inside the island, and growing public pressure and attention to liberalize the U.S. embargo toward Cuba, I’d wager that soon the Cuban government will do something to halt the process.
Further, I’d wager that when it does, hardliners in Congress and the dwindling number of groups that advocate for the embargo will react predictably: denouncing those who argued for more freedom in the restrictions as naïve, and insisting that now is not the time to open up—that in fact, now is the time to close down even those small, but effective, openings that have already been made.
Why do I think this? Because this has been the pattern for decades, whether it was the regime’s crackdown on the broad-based alliance of democratic activists, Concilio Cubano, in February 1996, in the tragic shootdown of two Brothers to the Rescue planes that same year, or the arrest of USAID contractor Alan Gross in 2009.
In each of these cases, talk of easing the embargo had grown just before the act of aggression by the Cuban government. And in each case, hardliners responded to ensure that the Cuban government got what it needs—isolation.
As surging inflation takes a toll on Argentine consumers, the Argentine government affirmed on Tuesday that it would levy fines against supermarkets who fail to respect voluntary price controls that many stores and wholesalers agreed to in December.
On Tuesday, Chief of Cabinet Jorge Capitanich said that the details of the new sanctions would be made public by the Secretary of Commerce this week. Meanwhile, he encouraged Argentines to act “rationally and effectively” and to not purchase overpriced items that would validate “product price increases due to speculation from industrialists, traders and entrepreneurs."
Initiatives to freeze the costs of common goods at supermarkets, accompanied by ongoing criticism of business owners and banks, have increased as the Argentine government tries to confront rising inflation. The government has also encouraged citizens to report overpriced items to officials by using a free app for smartphones called “Precios OK” (Okay Prices).
Despite the measures, however, analysts have questioned whether attempts to tackle inflation without implementing tighter fiscal and monetary policies will be sufficient. “If the government decides to maintain the interest rate below the rates of inflation and devaluation, mechanisms will arise that increase the demand for dollars,” read a report published in late January by the Instituto Argentino de Analisis Fiscal (Argentine Institute of Fiscal Analysis—IARAF).
Student-organized protests against the Nicolás Maduro Administration turned violent yesterday when pro-government groups began shooting into the crowd in Caracas.
Several thousand students and protesters took to the street with more protests cropping up throughout the country as the day went on. Anti-government groups denounced the administration for current economic and widespread crime, demanding the constitutional removal of President Maduro. At the same time, pro-government groups set to the streets to show their support of the Venezuelan socialist government. Amongst gun shots, fire and chaos, at least three people were killed, including 24 year old Bassil da Costa, a student protester, and Juan Montoya, a government supporter. Many more were injured and detained as the demonstrations escalated.
Leaders from both sides of the protests riled up street crowds, including former mayor and opposition supporter Leopoldo Lopez, who addressed a group of nearly 10,000 people in Caracas’ Plaza Venezuela. “All of these problems--shortages, inflation, insecurity, the lack of opportunities--have a single culprit: the government” said Lopez. The Venezuelan government, however, has retaliated, calling the protest groups “Nazi-fascists” and assuring supporters that they won’t back down to attempts to destabilize the government. Diosdado Cabello, the president of the national assembly, threatened over state television that the murderers of comrade Montoya would pay.
Protests against the Maduro Administration have been occurring in smaller numbers since he took over the presidency in April 2013, after the death of former populist leader Hugo Chávez. Wednesday’s protest occurred on Youth Day, a commemoration of student participants in the fight against colonial power in the nineteenth century.
Last week’s decision by Guatemala’s Corte de Constitucionalidad (Constitutional Court—CC) to reduce Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz’s term in office has been met by a wave of criticism and legal challenges.
The internationally-recognized Paz y Paz, who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2013, is credited with improving the investigative work of the Ministerio Publico (Public Ministry) and reducing the rate of impunity in Guatemala from 95 percent in 2008 to 70 percent in 2013 (measured by the amount of cases that end in a prosecution, not necessarily a conviction). Paz y Paz also created Guatemala’s Cortes de Alta Riesgo (High Risk Courts), permitting vetted judges with international training to receive certain protections and resources so they can preside over difficult cases.
On February 5, however, the CC ruled that Paz y Paz must step down by May 2014, though her term would not have ended until this December. The court justified the decision by claiming that Paz y Paz’s term officially began in May 2010, when former Attorney General Arnulfo Conrado Reyes Sagastume was removed from office due to irregularities in his selection process. Paz y Paz took his place in December 2010.
Supporters of Paz y Paz claim that the CC’s decision—initiated by the prominent lawyer and businessman Ricardo Sagastume Morales , who is a member of the right-wing Frente de Convergencia Nacional (FCN)—is in itself illegal, based on transitional guidelines handed down in 1993. Article 251 of Guatemala’s Constitution clearly states that the attorney general’s term will last four years and that the attorney general can only be removed from office by the president for “duly established cause.”
Americas Quarterly's Nafta @20 and in 20 event on Thursday, February 13 has been postponed due to inclement weather and will be rescheduled at a later date. We apologize for the inconvenience.
Welcome and Introduction:
Registration Fee: $10 for all registrants*. Prior registration is required.
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A new poll by the Atlantic Council released yesterday found that a majority of Americans are now in favor of stabilizing U.S.-Cuba relations. Of those sampled nationwide, six out of 10 said they favor policy changes that would allow more business transactions between the two countries, as well as the lifting of restrictions that don’t allow Americans to travel and spend money in Cuba as a result of the embargo.
According to the poll, 56 percent of Americans favor changes in U.S.-Cuba policy. Sixty-three percent of adults in Florida—which holds the largest concentration of Cuban-Americans in the country—and 62 percent of Latinos favor removal of all travel restrictions. Although support is stronger among Democrats, the poll found that 52 percent of Republicans are also in favor of normalizing relations with the country. Sixty-one percent of Americans, and 67 percent of Floridians, also believe that Cuba should not be considered a state sponsor of terrorism.
The poll points to growing disapproval of the U.S.’s economic embargo on Cuba, which has been condemned by the international community 22 years in a row. The trade embargo aimed to collapse the Castro government more than 50 years ago, but has been unsuccessful.
“The Cuba embargo is hampering the United States’ ability to maximize cooperation with allies in the hemisphere at a moment when there is increasing stability, growth, and opportunity,” says the report. Based on the findings, the poll suggests that although the U.S. should demand reciprocal gestures from the Cuban government, such as the release of imprisoned USAID contractor Alan Gross, naming a special envoy for Cuba could be a first sign by the Obama Administration of its willingness to begin deepen ties with the country.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.