Jamaican lawmakers debated a proposal on Tuesday to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana for personal use. Though no bill has been drafted, the preliminary discussion comes as a response to a motion introduced in January by lawmaker Raymond Pryce of the governing People’s National Party (PNP), who believes there is great economic and social potential in decriminalizing the drug.
Jamaicans have become increasingly opposed to the island’s drug policy, which results in the arrest of about 300 youth each week, limiting their future employability. “For personal use, the punishment of a criminal record is too much,” said Minister of State for Tourism and Entertainment Damion Crawford.
Government regulation and taxation could also be a boon for Jamaica’s struggling formal economy, with the promotion of marijuana-related tourism.
A 2001 government-appointed commission found that marijuana was “culturally entrenched” in Jamaican society and recommended legalization of recreational amounts. But given staunch opposition from the United States, such efforts were never realized. Now that several U.S. states—as well as Uruguay—have begun regulating marijuana use, Jamaican lawmakers feel emboldened to finally take on drug policy reform.
With the U.S. administration now engaged in trade talks regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and President Obama’s intention, expressed in his last State of Union address, to embark on a free trade arrangement with the European Union, it is clear that trade policy in the U.S. is in for a major shift. The Canada–U.S. commercial relationship, as we know it, will surely be in for a change. When you trade $1.5 billion of goods daily, neither country can remain indifferent if new commercial arrangements modify the status quo.
If we add to this the emerging energy revolution—related to shale gas and shale oil—that is bound to influence the U.S. economy, we can conclude that the U.S.’ major trading partners will soon face new challenges. It is becoming more apparent that the U.S. is heading toward energy self-sufficiency. By 2017, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the U.S. is expected to be the largest oil producer in the world. By 2020, it could be a net exporter of natural gas, and in 2030, the U.S. could be a net exporter of petroleum. This will have a direct impact on prices of those commodities, the cost of doing business and the potential growth of the U.S. manufacturing sector.
No one doubts the ingenuity and the innovative character of the U.S. economy. With a competitive advantage sparked by this new energy picture, one can conclude that the American economy may be in for important, positive and significant growth. Despite the uncertainty often associated with its domestic politics regarding deficit and debt issues, the U.S. economy is certain to be gradually transformed. The current Canada–U.S. commercial relationship, which is the largest in the world, will also be directly affected. Canada cannot afford to ignore what this new American challenge represents for its own future.
For Canada, this will require an even greater effort to diversify and pursue more aggressively new or alternative markets. It will also have to engage in more research and development, aim for greater productivity, attract more immigrants, and invest in greater manpower training. With our energy, our multiple natural resources , and our competitive high-tech sectors, Canada has already engaged with moderate success in diversifying its markets.
Leaders from throughout the hemisphere will convene in New York City today for the opening of the sixty-eight session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). For the third year in a row, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff will deliver the first address. In her speech, she is expected to propose global measures against cyber-espionage—a practice considered by Rousseff as a violation of human rights—following recent revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) monitored e-mails and phone calls of the presidential team and of Brazilian oil company Petrobras.
In addition to President Rousseff, other heads of state from the Americas that will be addressing the General Assembly today include U.S. President Barack Obama, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes, Uruguayan President José Mujica and Argentinian President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala have also confirmed their attendance.
A number of high-level meetings will take place throughout the week, covering topics that range from updates in the sustainable development agenda to more pressing political issues such as the crisis in Syria, U.S. diplomatic relations with Iran and the future of Israel-Palestine peace talks. The schedules and speakers for the following days of the General Debate will be announced on the night before of each daily session.
Human trafficking in Latin America has become a serious problem that can no longer be ignored. According to a 2012 estimate by the International Labour Organization (ILO), Latin America and the Caribbean account for the third largest number of forced laborers, at 1,800,000 victims. This number does not include trafficking for the removal of organs or for forced marriage/adoption.
Louise Shelley, a leading U.S. expert on transnational crime and terrorism, provides an explanation for this high number in her book Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective. According to Shelley, the region’s sordid history of colonialism and slavery “has created a permanent underclass in many countries that is ripe for exploitation by traffickers.” Furthermore, the region’s unstable cycles of military rule, democracy and populism has increased the vulnerability of its poor citizens.
Latin America has a notorious reputation for its high rates of inequality. While human trafficking is a very complicated international and intersectional phenomenon, one of the biggest factors behind trafficking is a lack of economic opportunities. In a region where around 167 million people live in poverty—66 million in extreme poverty—there is plenty of room for its citizens to be exploited.
Almost as disheartening as Latin America’s human trafficking problem is the lack of empirical research to help prevent it. Why is there such a paucity of regional research on the topic, when seven of the top-10 countries of origin for documented human trafficking cases in the U.S are from Latin America and the Caribbean?
Likely top stories this week: the UN General Assembly kicks off in New York; Peru’s minister of mines is optimistic about controversial projects; Mexico assesses damage from Tropical Storm Manuel and Hurricane Ingrid; Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro travels to China after sparring with the U.S.; a Brazilian rancher is sentenced in the murder of American nun and activist Dorothy Stang.
Latin American Leaders Attend UN General Assembly: On Tuesday, at least eleven Latin American heads of state are expected to attend the 68th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations. As of Sunday, the presidents of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay had officially confirmed attendance. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who will arrive in New York City on Monday, will open Tuesday’s general debate. Rousseff is expected to propose global measures against cyber-espionage after recent revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) monitored the e-mails and phone calls of Rousseff and Brazilian state oil company Petrobras.
Peruvian Mining Projects Expected to Resume: Peruvian Minister of Energy and Mines Jorge Merino said at a conference in Arequipa last week that Newmont Mining's $4.8 billion Conga copper and gold mine and Southern Copper's $1 billion Tia Maria copper project should be able to overcome community opposition and resume operation. Peruvian President Ollanta Humala suspended Tia Maria in 2011 and Conga in 2012 due to deadly mining protests. Protesters were concerned that the mining would impact the local water supply. The next large-scale mining project expected to start production is Minera Chinalco, Peru’s Toromocho copper project, which should begin before the end of the year.
Mexican Storm Death Toll Rises as Cleanup Begins: Mexican authorities said that approximately 115 people had died in from widespread flooding and mudslides in the wake of Tropical Storm Manuel and Hurricane Ingrid, which struck both sides of the country last week. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said on Sunday that the Mexican Congress will be forced to revise its 2014 budget to deal with the catastrophic damage. A mudslide in the town of La Pintada likely killed all 68 of the residents who remain missing.
U.S.-Venezuela Plane Incident Heightens Tensions: After the U.S. hesitated to grant Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro permission to fly through U.S. airspace on his way to China last Thursday, Maduro called the move a "serious offense" and Bolivian President Evo Morales said he would sue the United States for "crimes against humanity." Roberta S. Jacobson, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs said Friday that the U.S. had granted permission for Maduro's plane to fly over Puerto Rico after only one day, when it usually requires advance notice of three days for diplomatic flight requests. On Sunday, Maduro met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and signed 12 agreements to strengthen economic ties.
Mastermind of Amazon Murder Sentenced to 30 Years: A rancher who ordered the murder of American nun and longtime Amazon protection advocate Dorothy Stang was sentenced to 30 years in prison on Thursday night. Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura had already been tried three times and his last sentence was annulled by the Supreme Court. His lawyers plan to appeal the latest conviction. Of five people charged with involvement in the crime, only Bastos and another man are currently in prison.
Casi desde el principio de su período, el presidente Enrique Peña Nieto comenzó a presentar una serie de reformas que—de acuerdo con el discurso oficial—permitirán que México avance. Las dos primeras, las reformas laboral y bancaria, suscitaron grandes controversias y provocaron la oposición de algunos segmentos de la población, aunque muchos otros no se dieron por enterados. En la laboral, se estableció el pago por hora, y en la bancaria, decidieron penar con cárcel a los deudores de los bancos, entre otras cosas más.
Pero fue la presentación de la reforma educativa la que detonó una seria oposición de parte de los maestros agrupados en la llamada CNTE (Coordinadora Nacional de los Trabajadores de la Educación) y de algunos segmentos de los maestros agrupados en el SNTE (Sindicato Nacional de los Trabajadores de la Educación), quienes se han manifestado en diversas ciudades del país, pero especialmente en la ciudad de México, donde permanecieron en el Zócalo por varios días hasta que fueron desalojados el viernes 13 de septiembre por la policía federal, después de haber sufrido un linchamiento mediático sin precedentes por parte de las dos televisoras del país.
Pero, ¿qué es lo que reclaman los maestros? De acuerdo con la reforma, se establece un sistema de evaluación que ellos deberán cumplir para continuar desempeñando sus labores. Hasta aquí, todo bien. El problema viene en la forma en que dichas evaluaciones se llevaran a cabo, pues más bien parece que con ello el gobierno busca recuperar el control del magisterio, pues fuera de la evaluación, no cambian en nada las condiciones en que se imparte la educación en México.
What’s more important to a Brazilian than allegations of U.S. spying on their president? Not the stuttering economy, rising inflation, preparations for next year’s World Cup and 2016 Olympics, or even the looming presidential election—all of which factored into recent nationwide demonstrations still reverberating in outbursts of violent protest.
Futebol. And with it comes one of the most important questions in Brazil, impacting every Brazilian day to day and how they interact with each other and the world.
Who’s your futebol club?
As a recent transplant to Rio de Janeiro, I expected deep conversations about democracy and rule of law. More often, I face existential questions about why one is loyal to a losing team, forcing me into a dilemma that Brazilians rarely confront. Most Brazilians are born into fandom, their allegiance to one of the nation’s futebol clubs received at birth from their parents and grandparents and seemingly all the way back to the founders of the Brazilian futebol league in the early 20th century.
But I would have to choose a club—which, in Brazil, is like choosing a religion itself. It means community, belonging, and—for a newcomer like me—arrival. For a gringo to speak Portuguese is good; to support a Brazilian futebol club is divine.
Panama and Colombia are expected to sign a bilateral free trade agreement in Panama City today, finalizing a commitment that was reached by the two countries last June. Panamanian Minister of Commerce and Industry Ricardo Quijano and Colombian Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism Sergio Díaz-Granados will participate in the official treaty-signing ceremony.
During a television interview yesterday, Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli expressed optimism about the agreement, saying that it is pivotal for Panama’s integration into the Pacific Alliance. Panama currently has free trade agreements with Chile and Peru and seeks to establish bilateral trade agreements with other Pacific Alliance member states—including Mexico, Chile and Colombia.
Martinelli also confirmed that the agreement will end what he has deemed an "unfair and detrimental” aspect of Panama’s trade relationship with Colombia. Currently, Colombia imposes a 10 percent “re-exportation” tariff on Panamanian-produced textiles and footwear before they are shipped internationally from Colombia’s free trade zone, Zona Libre de Colón. Last year, Colombian exports to Panama amounted to $2.857 billion, 80 percent of which was accounted for by crude oil. In contrast, Panama only exported $72 million of goods to Colombia, represented mainly by apparel shipments.
Powerful Tropical Storm Manuel—which together with Tropical Storm Ingrid has already killed at least 81 people across 11 states in Mexico—was upgraded to a category one hurricane today. Hurricane Manuel has sustained winds of 75 mph (120km/hour) near Acapulco, with projections it will continue to travel northwest along the coast of Sinaloa state for the next several days.
Meteorologists called the weather “unusual,” noting that the hurricane is hitting Mexico at the same time that tropical storm Ingrid has made landfall on the opposing Gulf Coast. This is the first time the country has been affected by two tropical storms within less than 24 hours since 1958.
Fifty eight civilians are still missing after a massive landslide left by Hurricane Manuel in the remote village of La Pintada. Governor Angel Aguirre of the state of Guerrero said that it is “very likely that these […] people lost their lives.” Mexican Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong echoed the comments, saying rescue workers have not yet been able to search the area for survivors due to unsafe land conditions.
The civilian airport in Acapulco was flooded and lost electrical power, prompting cargo ships to make emergency food deliveries to the isolated area. Ten thousand tourists have since been removed from the area by emergency military airlifts, with an estimated 30,000 remaining stranded. Mexican Transportation Secretary Rodrigo Ramírez Reyes said authorities would not be able to reopen highways connecting Acapulco to other major roads before Friday.
RIO DE JANEIRO—How quickly it all unraveled.
Less than four months ago, U.S. President Barack Obama sent his vice president to Brazil to personally deliver an invitation for President Dilma Rousseff to visit Washington this October. It was the only such invitation extended to any foreign leader in 2013, and the first for a Brazilian president since 1995.
To be sure, Rousseff had already met with Obama in Washington in 2012—following Obama’s visit to Brasília in 2011—but this official state visit was to include a welcome ceremony, 21-gun salute, dinner at the White House, and meetings on trade. In delivering the invite in May, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden called 2013 “the beginning of a new era of relations between Brazil and the United States.”
This year has indeed turned out to be the beginning of a new era, but now for all the wrong reasons.
On September 17, Rousseff canceled her October 23 visit, a decision forced by two months of drip-drip revelations in local media O Globo that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has been monitoring millions of phone calls and emails sent by citizens across Brazil, including those of Rousseff herself and the state-owned oil giant Petrobras. Not even an 11th-hour phone call from Obama to Rousseff on Monday night could salvage the trip.
Who bears the responsibility?
Roberto Izurieta, head of the Latin America Department at George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management, places the fault at the feet of Rousseff for allowing the spying allegations to drive a wedge.
“In any kind of relations, you can focus on what unifies us all, or on the problems that divide us,” he said. “In my opinion, the president of Brazil chose the second.”
Brazilian media, meanwhile, praised Rousseff’s response to the White House’s reported failure to adequately investigate the allegations of espionage. In an official statement, Rousseff cited “the absence of timely investigation of the incident” as a reason for canceling. The White House said yesterday that an ongoing review of its intelligence posture “will take several months to complete.”
In the wake of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff officially postponing her October state visit to Washington on Tuesday, Brazil is planning to increase its online independence and bolster its cyber security in the coming months. The decision comes in response to leaked evidence that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) had spied on the Brazilian government and the Brazilian national oil company, Petrobras.
To lessen Brazilian’s vulnerability to spying, Dilma intends to store more online data domestically and rout web traffic away from U.S. servers. However, some experts warn that the new measures could lead to a balkanization of the Internet, threatening its current open, interconnected structure. Critics fear that Brazil’s cyber-isolationism could also embolden repressive regimes to control their citizens’ online access.
Ironically, Brazil is in the midst of scaling up its own surveillance system ahead of the 2014 World Cup. Launched in April, the Integrated Command and Control Center (CICC) will not spy on personal communications like the NSA did, but it will monitor all roads and public spaces through 560 camera across Rio de Janeiro. The CICC is also requesting permission from the federal aviation body to use drones for surveillance during the World Cup as they were used during the Confederations Cup in June.
Last week’s address to the nation by U.S. President Barack Obama showed the complexity of the debate regarding Syria and the chemical attack of August 21. Military strikes were still on the table during Obama’s address, but at the end of week Russia and the United States had come to an agreement regarding chemical weapons in Syria and the renewed role of the United Nations in eventually eliminating them. While still open to doubt and debate about its impact and its results, it is easier to deal with diplomacy, even if it fails, than a potential war with no clear objectives or exit strategy.
Less than a month after the atrocious use of such weapons against a civilian population, Bashar al-Assad’s government now acknowledges the possession of such weapons when he spent years denying he had them. This is no small feat, since Russia—the prime supplier of such armaments—began the process with the U.S. after days of attributing the attack to the rebels.
U.S. domestic politics, being what they are, are once again the subject of renewed partisanship (the GOP still has no coherent policy on Syria), division on means and objectives, and a general lack of public support for any military enterprise against Syria. Obama’s decision to ask Congress may have been in line with his campaign rhetoric of 2008, but it had a lot to do with the British government losing a vote for the first time in 150 years on military action. Since then, Obama’s detractors in Congress have given Russian President Vladimir Putin the credit for getting Obama “off the hook.” They go a step further by calling Obama weak.
The fact is that the U.S. population is war-weary and skeptical about its leaders in both parties, as well as claims about the national interest. When we go back to Lyndon Baines Johnson and the Vietnam War, Reagan and the Iran-Contra saga, or Bush’s claims of weapons of mass destruction to bring about regime change in Iraq, it is not surprising that Obama was facing an uphill battle with the general public to get an endorsement for military strikes.
Recent discussions when in Caracas and Maracaibo have made clear that as soon as the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez died, the strategy of Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA) became “pragmatism” in the face of “necessity.”
My August 29 AQ Web Exclusive described PDVSA’s scramble for production by enlisting the private sector and by meeting the tough new constraints on loans imposed by Beijing and major foreign oil companies.
Several Venezuelans, on condition of not being quoted as they do business with PDVSA, related a consistent picture differing only in amount of detail: PDVSA has had to allow delivery of loans directly to large joint ventures (JVs) with major foreign oil companies, surrendering much operational management. To guarantee timely payment and repatriation of profits, PDVSA delivers oil produced to a third party for marketing abroad, with proceeds put in offshore accounts with JV partners. 
But for a near-term production boost, “re-invigorating” tens-of-thousands of mature fields is crucial. Venezuelan oil executives and analysts generally say investments must begin in a few months, yielding new production six to 12 months thereafter. And, most feel the state has dollar wiggle room to muddle on for another one to two years.
For example, the Central Bank was given the right to inspect the books of PDVSA, its subsidiariesand social funds—finding perhaps $24 billion in off-budget funds, while controlled prices and/or taxes could also be raised. But this assumes no big shocks such as natural disasters, mass demonstrations against food and medicine shortages, inflation, insecurity, or prolonged blackouts.
The devastated private sector is clearly anxious to provide goods and services as PDVSA proposes (to cut its dollars spent for imports) and to invest in the mature fields PDVSA is offering (which means finding foreign investors when PDVSA cannot).
U.S. and Cuban representatives held a second round of talks in Havana on Monday to discuss a pilot project to re-establish direct mail service between the two countries, five decades after it was cancelled amid Cold War tensions.
The U.S. delegation was led by Lea Emerson, executive director for international postal affairs at the U.S. Postal Service, and several State Department officials. A State Department communiqué called the talks "fruitful" and said delegates would tour Cuban mail facilities on Tuesday. Cuba also said in a statement that the discussions were "respectful." Both sides agreed to meet again in the coming months.
Monday's meeting followed similar negotiations to discuss direct mail service in June. U.S. and Cuban officials also held migration talks in July. The resumption of talks this year is seen as a positive sign for relations between the two countries after being put on hold following the arrest in 2009 of U.S. contractor Alan Gross. In 2011, Gross was sentenced to 15 years in prison for acts against the state after he brought restricted communications equipment on to the island.
Direct mail service between the United States and Cuba has been suspended since 1963. Despite the two countries’ geographic proximity, letters and other mail currently flow between the U.S. and Cuba through other countries, such as Canada, Mexico and Panama.
Brazil’s Comissão Nacional da Verdade (National Truth Commission—CNV), responsible for investigating human rights violations committed by state agents under the country’s military dictatorship between 1964 and 1985, was inaugurated on May 16, 2012 with much fanfare.
At the time, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff emphasized the importance of democratic progress, calling the ceremony “a celebration of transparency of truth of a nation that continues in its democratic path.” But not everyone has agreed with Rousseff’s optimism.
Many military and police officials have raised questions about the Commission’s partiality, arguing that it fails to consider the “war” Brazil endured during the dictatorship against an “infiltrated enemy, [who was] armed, unknown, and used false identities.” Some have even claimed that Rousseff designed the entity in retaliation for the torture she endured as a political prisoner during the military dictatorship. The Clube Naval (Naval Club), a private association for members of the Brazilian Navy, created a "parallel truth commission" to shield military officials who may be called to testify at the CNV and to present a countermeasure to possible criticism of the Armed Forces.
Non-military criticism also exists. Many human rights groups allege that, lacking the ability to punish the accused, the CNV will not provide adequate justice to victims and their families. Other critics argue that the CNV could "reopen wounds" in Brazilian society and "divide Brazilians," thus threatening the country’s democratic progress. Some suggest that two years—the period the Commission has been granted to execute its mandate—is an inadequate period of time for a commission of only five members. Others claim that the Brazilian government should have consulted the public before determining the role of the CNV.
Likely top stories this week: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s U.S. visit remains pending; Hurricane Ingrid and Tropical Storm Manuel hit Mexico; U.S. Vice President Joe Biden cancels Panama trip but will still go to Mexico; Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles visits Miami; Peruvian congressman files a bill to approve same-sex civil unions.
Dilma Still Weighing State Visit to United States: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's office said in a statement on Sunday that the president has not yet decided whether she will cancel a visit to the United States that was scheduled for October 23. A spokesperson said Sunday that Rousseff is awaiting a report from Brazilian Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figuereido, who traveled to Washington DC last week to seek an explanation for alleged U.S. spying on the Brazilian government by the U.S. National Security Agency. Figuereido is expected to meet with Rousseff on Tuesday to discuss the visit.
Hurricane, Tropical Storm Batter Mexico: Hurricane Ingrid and Tropical Storm Manuel have killed at least 21 people in Mexico as thousands of people were evacuated, starting on Friday, to avoid flooding and mudslides. While Manuel hit Mexico's Pacific coast, Hurricane Ingrid battered the Gulf Coast and is expected to make landfall on Monday in the State of Taumaulipas. The Mexican government said Sunday that the State of Guerrero has been hardest-hit, with 14 confirmed deaths. A number of Mexican towns and cities have cancelled Monday’s Independence Day celebrations in light of the dangerous weather conditions.
Biden Cancels Trip to Panama, but not Mexico: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will make a planned trip to Mexico at the end of the week but has cancelled a visit to Panama, where he was expected to visit the Panama Canal expansion project and meet with Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli. Instead, Biden will return to Washington DC mid-week to focus on Syria, and then travel to Mexico as scheduled on September 19 and 20 for a meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. This will be Biden’s fifth trip to Latin America since he became vice president.
Capriles Visits Miami: Venezuelan opposition leader and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles addressed thousands of Venezuelans living in the U.S. during a speech at Miami Dade College on Sunday. He was also presented with a key to the city of Doral, Florida, which has the largest population of Venezuelan citizens outside of Venezuela. The local Venezuelan population overwhelmingly supported Capriles in the April 14 presidential election. Meanwhile, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro accused Capriles of conspiring against his government from abroad.
Peru’s Congress May Consider Civil Unions: After Peruvian lawmaker Carlos Bruce presented a bill to legalize same-sex civil unions last Thursday, Peru’s Comisión de Justicia (Justice Commission) must decide whether to approve the bill for a vote in Peru’s Congress. Bruce says that the bill will not consider same-sex marriage, and is intended to grant same-sex couples the same inheritance, pension and social security rights granted to heterosexual couples. Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, whose approval rating has hit the lowest point in his two-year presidency at 27 percent in September, has so far declined to comment on the proposed bill.
On Thursday, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff asked legislators to quickly approve a bill that would require technology companies to store private user data on Brazilian-based servers and comply with Brazil’s digital privacy laws. This comes as members of Brazil’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee also announced yesterday that they would seek meetings with Edward J. Snowden, the former NSA contractor and leaker who is currently living under asylum in Russia.
The actions in Brazil come shortly after President Dilma Rousseff’s departure from the G20 summit. There, she spoke with U.S. President Barack Obama who agreed to formally respond to allegations that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) had conducted mass surveillance activities in Brazil. New reports released on September 8 revealed that the agency also spied on Brazil’s national oil company, Petrobras.
Rousseff expressed further concern after learning that Petrobras, which is currently developing technology to dramatically expand offshore oil exploration, was a primary target of NSA surveillance. In an official statement released Monday, she wrote, "Without a doubt, Petrobras does not represent a threat to any country. But it does represent one of the world's largest oil assets and the property of the Brazilian people.”
U.S. Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper defended the program and said the U.S. routinely collects intelligence for insight into other countries’ economic policies. He added that U.S. intelligence agencies do not share the information with U.S. companies.
These latest developments follow Rousseff’s repeated statements that she has not decided whether she will move forward with a planned state visit to Washington in October.
Mexican Foreign Minister José Antonio Meade arrived in Cuba yesterday to discuss a new bilateral agenda—the first visit to Cuba by a Mexican minister under the Enrique Peña Nieto administration.
The two-day visit follows a formal agreement in January between Peña Nieto and Cuban President Raúl Castro in Santiago de Chile to work toward promoting bilateral relations. Meade’s trip will include meetings with high-level Cuban officials to discuss trade and investment, as well as matters such as “tourism, migration, cooperation, education, culture, health, [and] energy.” Officials also plan to discuss the two countries’ participation in the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).
Mexico’s move to reinvigorate diplomatic ties with Cuba comes after bilateral relations suffered tensions under President Vicente Fox (2000-2006) and President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012).
Under Fox, diplomatic ties were nearly severed over disagreements on human rights and accusations that Cuban diplomats had interfered in Mexico’s domestic affairs. In 2004, Fox recalled the Mexican ambassador to Cuba and reduced relations to charge d’affaires status.
Seeking to ease relations, Calderón assigned a new ambassador to Cuba in 2007, but tensions arose again when Cuba stopped commercial flights to Mexico for a month during the peak of the swine flu outbreak in 2009. Calderón was the last Mexican president to visit the island, during a trip in April 2012.
Peña Nieto’s majority party, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI)—which governed Mexico continuously from 1929 to 2000 and returned to power in December 2012—has had historically amicable relations with the Caribbean nation. Notably, Mexico was the only Latin American country to maintain diplomatic ties with Cuba throughout the Cold War.
El quinto piso del edificio de la Organización de Estados Americanos (OEA) alberga la biblioteca Rómulo Gallegos, designada de esta manera para hacer un homenaje al primer presidente de la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH). Este es un significativo reconocimiento del rol que asumió Venezuela en el sistema hemisférico de derechos humanos, incluso décadas antes de que se adoptara la Convención Americana de Derechos Humanos y de que se instalara en Costa Rica una Corte encargada de protegerla.
Una larga relación, con altos y bajos, que a partir de ayer entró en una de sus principales crisis con el retiro de Venezuela de la jurisdicción de la Corte Interamericana. Un acto jurídico internacional que, a pesar de ser muy preciso, ha dado lugar a muchas conjeturas. Se ha dicho, por ejemplo, que ya no habrá más supervisión en derechos humanos para Venezuela o que ya no podrán llegar más casos ante la Corte IDH.
Ni lo uno, ni lo otro. En primer lugar, Venezuela seguirá siendo monitoreada en materia de derechos humanos tanto por la CIDH, como por los órganos políticos de la OEA. Se está retirando de la jurisdicción de la Corte, pero no del todo el sistema. Para eso tendría que dejar todo el órgano político de la OEA.
En segundo lugar, a la Corte ya no podrán llegar violaciones a derechos humanos que sucedan a partir de la fecha, pero sí podrán presentarse todos los casos anteriores a su retiro, lo cual incluye todos los casos que aun están pendientes de decisión en la CIDH.
En cualquier caso, la salida de Venezuela de la órbita de la Corte es un amargo retroceso en la consolidación de un sistema regional de derechos humanos. Y lo que es peor, es el tufo de disputa política de este retroceso, en donde los derechos humanos terminan como efecto colateral de una disputa político-ideológica.
El mayor riesgo ahora es que Venezuela se sienta habilitada para desconocer los fallos que hoy en día la vinculan o de dejar de proteger a aquellas personas que el sistema internacional le ha ordenado proteger. Una primera prueba de fuego se vivió hace unos pocos días ante la Corte IDH con motivo de la audiencia del caso Allan Brewer Carías. Con temor se esperaba que Venezuela no asistiera ante la Corte o que lo hiciera para hacer un ataque político al tribunal. Afortunadamente, nada de esto pasó.
Pero ese fue simplemente el comienzo. No es muy ingenuo pensar que el verdadero desagrado vendrá cuando la Corte notifique su sentencia. Cualquier tipo de reproche, nada más y nada menos que en el caso de Allan Brewer Carías—a quien el Gobierno venezolano considera como el ideólogo jurídico del fallido golpe militar a Hugo Chávez en 2002—será una afrenta mortal para el chavismo.
Las perspectivas políticas de acercar nuevamente a Venezuela y al sistema de derechos humanos de la OEA se ven lejanas. La disputa ideológica continúa con el uso maniqueo del discurso de los derechos humanos y su sistema de protección, y esta situación tiene lugar en todos los frentes. En una oposición que enardece los ánimos haciendo un show político la presentación de la denuncia de Henrique Capriles ante la CIDH por el presunto fraude electoral del que fue víctima. Y en un gobierno que sigue presentando los órganos internacionales como el agente de negocios del imperialismo.
Así que en lo interno parce haber poca salida al impasse. Sobre todo hoy en día cuando el margen político del Presidente Maduro es tan limitado que una medida como esta—ordenada por el propio comandante Hugo Rafael—sería aprovechada por los opositores de su propio partido para sacar réditos políticos.
Las soluciones tendrán que venir entonces del ámbito internacional. Y allí la respuesta ha sido tímida. Apenas se han escuchado los amistosos llamados de Perú, y los lamentos de las organizaciones de derechos humanos, para que Venezuela reconsidere su posición. Pero los actores claves e influyentes poco se han movido.
De hecho, los líderes regionales han perdido preciosas oportunidades para demostrar las contradicciones venezolanas. ¿Cómo explicar que Venezuela sea admitida como miembro pleno del Mercosur sin ser parte de la Convención Americana cuando éste es uno de los requisitos estatutarios? o ¿cómo defender que los países del Alba—incluyendo a Venezuela —y otros tantos firmen una declaración en Guayaquil sobre universalidad del sistema interamericano cuando uno de ellos está en proceso de aumentar el problema de la falta de universalización?
Brasil, Argentina y Uruguay, entre otros, tienen la llave en sus manos. Y en algo puede contribuir a esta salida la propia CIDH a través del comisionado electo Paulo de Tarso Vanucchi, antiguo ministro del Gobierno Lula y más cercano al bloque ideológico del gobierno venezolano. De estas gestiones realmente dependerá si la decisión de Venezuela es un adiós o un simple hasta luego.
Forty years since right-wing military generals swept socialist President Salvador Allende from office, Chile remains as divided as the day the bombs fell on La Moneda, the Chilean presidential palace.
In 2013, amid renewed social movements, the first presidential election since the coming in of the first right-leaning administration following the country’s return to democracy, the events of September 11, 1973 are as relevant as ever before.
Few Chileans were left untouched by the coup. Hundreds of thousands were killed, tortured, exiled or simply “disappeared” during the coup and the 17-year military rule that followed it. But even those born after the 1990 transition to democracy live under the shadow of General Augusto Pinochet.
The legacy of dictatorship is present in almost every facet of the country’s political and economic institutions, down to the very constitution that underpins it: its economy is rooted in the regime’s drastic free-market reforms; politics confined by the electoral system it pioneered; and schools, hospitals and pensions administered according to the model the constitution imposed.
To this day in Chile, that legacy remains disputed—even as thousands of protesters link stark economic inequalities to the years of military rule, others affiliate them with the country’s overall financial success.
But though the horrors of the military regime continue to haunt Chile, despite the fact that its political, economic and cultural reverberations continue to this day, change may be in the air.
For the first time, those involved in the military regime—many of whom, far from being punished, have gone on to positions of further authority—have begun to publicly address the issues of their past. The Chilean mainstream media is candidly addressing the dictatorship’s human rights abuses in a way it rarely had previously done. The issue of constitutional reform is forefront in the presidential race.
Much more needs to be addressed—and acted upon—before the wounds of the dictatorship can be healed and the stark divisions in Chile reconciled. But with dialogue finally beginning to open on the subject of human rights and a presidential campaign gearing toward full swing this year, 40 years after the coup that so drastically altered the course of a nation, Chile finally has the chance to put the horrors of September 11, 1973 behind it.
The United States, Argentina and Costa Rica secured their place in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil last night, becoming the first three teams in the Americas to do so. The U.S. and Costa Rica represent the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) and Argentina plays in the Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol (South American Football Confederation—CONMEBOL).
The U.S. beat archrival Mexico in Columbus, Ohio, to secure their place in the tournament, becoming the fourteenth team to qualify for seven consecutive World Cups. While the U.S. benefited from Mexico playing its first game under a new coach, Tuesday’s match came only days after the same U.S. team suffered a crushing 3-0 defeat to Costa Rica at the Estadio Nacional in San José—a game that was plagued by controversy and ended the U.S.’ 12-game winning streak. Costa Rica tied Jamaica to book their ticket to Brazil.
Argentina managed a convincing 5-2 away game win against Paraguay, with Lionel Messi scoring two penalties kicks to tie Uruguay’s Luis Suarez as the conference’s top goal scorer. Argentina is in first place in the CONMEBOL table with 29 points and two qualifiers left to play. Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela—all within 7 points of each other—are vying for the last three qualification spots from CONMEBOL.
The group stage of the World Cup begins on June 12 in the Morumbi Stadium in São Paulo.
Venezuela’s withdrawal from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights goes into effect today—a year after the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez officially notified the Organization of American States (OAS) that his country would withdraw from the human rights body. Chávez accused the Court, an autonomous branch of the OAS, of serving U.S. interests.
Venezuela is the second country to denounce the American Convention on Human Rights and withdraw from the Inter-American Court, following Trinidad and Tobago’s pullout in 1998. Two other countries in the hemisphere—the U.S. and Canada—have not ratified the American Convention. Once the withdrawal becomes official, the Court will no longer be able to recognize and denounce human right violations in Venezuela, but the Commission will continue to evaluate and issue reports about the state of human rights in the country. This means that Venezuela will still form part of the inter-American human rights system since the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights can still monitor the country.
According to Venezuelan constitutional lawyer Arturo Peraza, denouncing the American Convention and withdrawing from the Court breaches the Venezuelan Constitution and the spirit of the 1999 Constituent Assembly. The American Convention, or Pact of San José, is mentioned in Article 339 on the Venezuelan Constitution, establishing that state of emergency decrees must meet the requirements set forth in the Convention. Article 23 also awards the Convention a constitutional status; Article 31 recognizes that citizens can file human rights claims and requests with international human rights bodies.
José Miguel Vivanco , Americas director for Human Rights Watch, called on members of the Common Market of the South (Mercosur) to persuade Venezuela to reconsider its decision, which Vivanco said could have severe implications on the Inter-American human rights system. Venezuela is a Mercosur member along with Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay. However, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elías Jaua replied last weekend that “the inter-American system is the one that has to reconsider.”
Venezuela, along with Ecuador and other members of the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas—ALBA) bloc, supports an ongoing process to reform the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. This includes restricting its discretionary funding and the role of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, which reports on freedom of expression violations throughout the Americas.
Rural Colombians are winding down the national strike that has engulfed the country since August 19. Roadblocks are coming down and laborers are beginning negotiations with the government. But it appears unlikely that an overhaul of the country’s free trade policies—the bitter medicine that many rural Colombians are demanding—will be part of a compromise from Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.
The strike has mobilized Colombians from numerous sectors. Roadblocks in rural areas included groups like coffee growers—who staged protests earlier this year against the importation of coffee—and truckers, who have been struck by a recent price hike on petroleum. In Bogotá and other cities, health care workers and university students have called for a rollback of privatization in the health care and education industries.
Unifying the strike is dissatisfaction with Colombia’s free trade policies. A lack of investment in infrastructure and the importation of cheap foreign goods, such as coffee and powdered milk, have wreaked havoc upon the earnings of the rural poor. Protesters are also upset with other aspects of Colombian policy, including one law forcing farmers to buy certified seeds, offered exclusively by private corporations such as Monsanto.
Santos has struggled to manage the emerging political crisis as he focuses on beginning peace negotiations with the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Army—ELN), Colombia’s largest guerrilla group after the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC). Peace talks with the FARC began in November 2012.
The president ignored the strike during its first week, declaring that the “so-called national strike does not exist,” and blaming roadblocks and demonstrations on “10 or 15” agitators.
The story on the ground is different. On August 29, Neil Martin, director of the civic organization Paso Internacional, observed a large non-violent march in the capital that was met with violence from Colombia’s riot police, the Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios (Mobile Anti-Disturbances Squadron—ESMAD).
“What we saw was a relatively peaceful protest which was repressed by the riot police and then turned into a melee,” said Martin. “We witnessed several different instances of the riot police firing tear gas into crowds of peaceful protesters. We saw the riot police throwing projectiles like bricks into crowds of mostly non-violent protesters.”
On August 30, Santos ordered the military into Bogotá and other regions affected by the strike. Clashes so far have left at least five dead and hundreds injured, including protesters, police and civilian bystanders. ESMAD officers in padded uniforms and riot shields are now joined on the streets by military personnel armed with assault rifles.
As security forces clear roadblocks and disperse marches, the Santos administration is scrambling to negotiate an end to the strike. Agreements with various industries have coaxed individual sectors to take down roadblocks. A Gran Pacto Nacional (Grand National Pact) is set to be signed on September 12, but numerous groups have stated they have not yet agreed to join the statement.
The Colombian government has been uncompromising on its stance toward free trade policy. Despite Santos’ declarations that poverty alleviation would be a priority, 46.8 percent of rural Colombians are still poor and 22.8 percent remain in extreme poverty, according to a report by the Colombian national development agency, Dirección de Desarrollo Social (Social Development Office—DDS).
Without compromises from the government to protect the livelihood of farmers and other rural workers, the causes at the root of the national strike will not disappear for long.
With the G20 summit completed, the world is now focused on the United States Congress, and whether it will vote in favor of a resolution authorizing President Barack Obama to launch military strikes on Syria. Since the British Parliament voted down a similar motion by Prime Minister David Cameron to involve Britain with the U.S. in a military enterprise against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons, Obama decided to ask for Congressional support. The outcome for support in the war-weary United States is far from certain.
Normally, the United Nations would be the ideal forum to debate any contraventions to the 1925 Geneva Convention, which made the use of chemical weapons a war crime. However, both Russia and China have indicated they will use their veto power over any American resolution. With UN inspectors soon to divulge their findings following the chemical attack on innocent victims, it may be a wise course for the U.S. to share its intelligence with the UN on who perpetrated this heinous act. From all indications, the U.S. case is solid.
Clearly, President Obama understands the stakes. He, who made the whole Iraq war imbroglio a defining element of his candidacy back in 2008, knows that his countrymen would remind him of his views regarding the Bush years. To go to Congress was a wise and necessary choice. And it gives him needed time to explore backchannel diplomacy.
With polls showing little support for military action in Syria, the Obama administration will have to present a much more compelling case for engagement. International support, while significant in some quarters, remains elusive. Eleven of the G20 countries, including Canada, support the U.S. president’s intention to use military force, but a closer reading indicates the support is varied in tone and conditional in practice. History can also be a guide in making the case, but it cannot be a doctrine, a strategy nor a policy. It can only serve as a reference.
Likely top stories this week: Colombian government and striking farmers reach a deal; Henrique Capriles takes Venezuela’s election results to the IACHR; Enrique Peña Nieto outlines his plans for reform; Brazilians protest again; and the Colombian government and FARC resume peace talks.
Colombian Government Strikes Deal with Farmers: The Colombian government announced on Sunday that it had reached an agreement with protesting farmers that have been striking since August 19. The strike aimed to draw attention to the economic difficulties they face in competing with cheap imports from abroad. The farmers agreed to lift all road blockades by Tuesday and will join the government in negotiations to address their demands and reach a final agreement. The government has already agreed to cut fertilizer prices and provide cheap credit to farmers.
Venezuela's Capriles to Challenge Maduro's Win Before IACHR: Former Venezuelan presidential candidate and opposition leader Henrique Capriles will bring a case challenging Venezuela's April 14 election results before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on Monday. Venezuela's Consejo Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Council—CNE) confirmed in early June that President Nicolás Maduro had won the election by a slim 1.49 percent margin over Capriles, and the Venezuelan Supreme Court upheld the decision. The IACHR must first decide whether the case is admissible. This comes as Venezuela's withdrawal from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights is to become effective on Tuesday, September 10, a year after the government announced its withdrawal from the human rights body.1
Peña Nieto Champions Tax Reform: Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto outlined his plans for tax reform on Sunday in a speech from the presidential residence. The tax plan is intended to generate billions of dollars for social programs by closing tax loopholes for the wealthy and create a new universal pension for Mexicans over age 65. Meanwhile, Mexican opposition politician Andrés Manuel López Obrador led a demonstration of about 30,000 Mexicans on Sunday to protest Peña Nieto's tax, energy and education reforms.
Brazilians Protest on Independence Day: Brazilians in 150 cities took part in protests on September 7 (Brazil's Independence Day), interrupting a military parade in Rio de Janeiro, chanting outside Congress in Brasília as President Dilma Rousseff gave a speech, and clashing outside a soccer match in Mane Garrincha stadium in Brasília. Police fired tear gas at demonstrators in both cities, and at least 50 people in Brasília and 50 people in Rio were arrested. The protesters are continuing to demonstrate against poor public services, political corruption and public spending on the 2014 World Cup.
Colombian Peace Talks Resume in Havana: The fourteenth round of peace talks between the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) begin in Havana on Monday. The last cycle concluded on August 28, after nearly coming to a halt when the government proposed holding a public referendum on any peace accord. The rebels have said that they would like to incorporate the agreements into Colombia’s constitution, a demand that the government has rejected. However, the FARC confirmed that they are willing to restart the talks this week.
1Editor'sNote: Venezuela withdrew from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, not the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. See AQ's Daily Focus on Tuesdsay, September 10 for a complete explanation.
Brazilian authorities canceled a delegation trip to Washington that had been scheduled to lay the groundwork for President Dilma Rousseff‘s meeting with President Barack Obama in October. The decision was made on Thursday in response to allegations that the Brazilian president was a target of U.S. electronic espionage.
The allegations were made on September 1 by American journalist Glenn Greenwald, who obtained secret government documents on U.S. electronic surveillance programs from former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden. The documents revealed that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) monitored the communications network of the Brazilian president and her staff, including telephone, Internet and social network exchanges. According to Greenwald, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto was similarly targeted. Both presidents have demanded an explanation from Washington by the end of this week.
For Brazilian Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figuereido, “this represents an inadmissible and unacceptable violation of Brazilian sovereignty.” Brazil’s Senate is creating a special committee to examine the spying allegations and to seek federal police protection for Greenwald, who lives in Rio de Janeiro. Figuereido said that Brazilian authorities also will file a complaint with the United Nations and reach out to other developing nations to protest against this breach of national sovereignty.
According to former Brazilian ambassador to the U.S., Rubens Barbosa, though Brazil-U.S. relations have waned in recent years, the scandal won’t affect commercial ties between the two countries. “Rousseff will probably end up going through with the trip and speak out against the espionage in Obama’s face,” Barbosa said.
The October 23 trip would be Rousseff’s first state visit to Washington DC.
BOGOTA – It is somewhat ironic that Douglas MacArthur’s famous observation that “old soldiers never die, they just fade away” is also an apt description of the life cycle of terrorist organizations. At least, it certainly applies to the Shining Path organization.
Casual observers of South America might be surprised to discover that the Shining Path is still around. Yet the Maoist insurgent group, which in the 1980s and 1990s waged a bloody guerrilla war against the Peruvian government, is still kicking. In its heyday, Shining Path controlled large swathes of Peru´s central highlands and perpetrated terrorist attacks in the capital city of Lima. Today, the group is a shadow of its former self; effectively confined to the Ene, Apurímac and Mantaro river valleys in the southeast of the country, where it wages a guerrilla war against Peruvian security forces, traffics drugs and extorts companies operating in the area.
Last month, Peruvian security forces struck a heavy blow. A military operation north of the city of Ayacucho killed three Shining Path members, including two high-profile leaders: Martin Quispe Palomino (alias “Gabriel”) and Alejandro Borda Casafranca (alias “Alipio”).
The deaths will have a direct impact on the group´s operational capacity and its ability to maintain its current sources of revenue. Both Gabriel and Alipio are believed to have led extortion attempts targeting local and foreign businesses operating in southern Peru, including the April 2012 abduction of 36 workers on the Camisea gas pipeline. Furthermore, Gabriel reportedly spearheaded the group´s expanded involvement in the drug trade, opening new trafficking routes to the northern jungle region of Loreto and the southern border with Bolivia.
The media across the world has a knack for framing narratives in a way that perpetuates the status quo. This is true whether the subject is the rich, the poor, gays, lesbians, Africans, Americans, or Muslims.
I was yet again reminded of the power of the media to influence public opinion as I flipped through the Evening Standard and Metro (two dailies published in the United Kingdom) and read headlines about bombings and other acts of terrorism. From these, it was clear that the Western media treats Muslims in a particular way—the very same way the Jamaican media treats people who are poor, from marginalized communities or are homosexual.
As a result of their portrayal in the media, Muslims, lesbians and gays are often defined by their wrongdoing. Headlines often read “Muslim Terrorist” or “Muslim Extremist” just as Jamaicans are used to reading headlines such as “Gay Miscreant” or “Gays Wreak Havoc.”
During a recent visit to Washington DC, I spoke with a Muslim friend who is distressed by the fear and hysteria on people’s faces when they see people thought to be Muslim. The Boston Marathon bombing in April heightened this fear. Although she does not wear a hijab, my friend is still frightened by these incidents and the treatment that follows them. What is ironic is that the same media that generates anti-Muslim sentiment then goes ahead and criticizes the media in places like Jamaica for similarly biased treatment toward gays and lesbians.
The result is a contradiction in what is permissible in the media. Christians, whatever their wrongdoing, are rarely identified by their faith. Heterosexuals, whatever their wrongdoing, are rarely identified by their sexuality. The rich, whatever their crimes, are rarely identified by their socioeconomic status.
It is also a fact that people from the lowest income quintile struggle academically and that people of color are more likely to be unemployed. But that does not mean poor people and minorities lack interest in educating themselves.
We must begin to question our privileges and freedoms if we want to make our communities more hospitable. Be reminded that prejudice is interconnected and serves only one purpose: to maintain a status quo.
Mexican senators approved an education bill on Wednesday that will overhaul the country’s public education system, in a boost to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s goal of fixing a system many viewed as corrupt.
The vote—with 102 senators in favor and 22 opposed—follows Mexico’s lower house’s approval of the law on Sunday in a 390 to 69 vote.
The reform package establishes competency exams for teachers, promotions based on merit, and an evaluation system for hiring faculty. The Senate vote was the final step needed to move forward with Peña Nieto’s wider education bill, which was approved in December, although the secondary laws approved Wednesday remained pending for months.
On Monday, Peña Nieto gave his first State of the Union address, touting education reform as a means to attain greater academic achievement and allow Mexico to become more competitive. According to the OECD, only 47 percent of Mexican children graduate from the equivalent of high school.
Meanwhile, thousands of members of Mexico’s powerful teachers union have taken to the streets for weeks to protest Peña Nieto’s education reform package. The protesting teachers said that the reforms could cause them to lose their jobs and argued that the government should spend more money on underperforming schools. Teachers held strikes across Mexico in at least a dozen states and blocked traffic in Mexico City on Wednesday.
Peña Nieto is attempting a number of reforms that he says will help boost the Mexican economy, including a reform of the state oil company, Pemex, and a tax overhaul.
Power outages covered more than half of Venezuela’s territory on Tuesday, including nine of the country’s 23 states. According to Deputy Energy Minister Francisco Silva, the blackouts were due to the failure of several grid transmission lines. The blackouts also paralyzed Caracas’ subway system and shut down traffic lights, causing heavy traffic across the capital.
President Nicolás Maduro said that Venezuela’s oil industry was not affected by the outages and deployed the armed services to help maintain control until power could be restored. Maduro accused the opposition of orchestrating the blackout on his Twitter account: “At this moment, everything seems to indicate that the far-right has resumed its plan for an electrical strike against the country.”
The power outages come one day after Finance Minister Nelson Merentes said that while the chavista government has made great strides in eliminating poverty and inequality, it has yet to solve the “structural problems” with the Venezuelan economy. Despite its oil riches, Venezuela high inflation and a looming energy crisis pose a long-term dilemma for Maduro, who succeeded Hugo Chávez in April.
Sixteen members of Colombia’s Cabinet resigned on Monday ahead of a likely Cabinet reshuffle by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in the wake of a growing crisis in Colombia’s farming sector.
As a nationwide farmers’ strike stretches into its third week, Santos is reportedly working on an accord with farmers to deal with the protests, which turned violent last week in the capital city of Bogotá. Last Thursday, protests in Bogotá left at least two people dead and hundreds injured. Santos responded by sending 50,000 soldiers into the streets to patrol the city.
Colombian farmers say that the country’s free trade agreements (FTAs) with the U.S. and Europe are making it impossible for domestic agriculture to compete with cheaper imports. The farmers, who installed roadblocks across the country two weeks ago in protest, agreed to lift some of the blockades last Friday after Santos said he was dissatisfied with his officials’ handling of negotiations with the protesters. The roadblocks had cut off some towns from shipments of fuel and food.
Santos emphasized his committment to improving rural development in Colombia and in working with all sectors of the Colombian economy. "We will work to construct a grand national pact for agriculture and rural development and we will include all interested parties in that process," he said on Friday.
The resigning Cabinet members offered full support to Santos in a statement on Monday. This will be the second time that Santos has shuffled his Cabinet since taking office in 2010. Since then, his approval rating has fallen from a high of 74 percent to below 50 percent in July. He has until November to decide whether he will run for a second term as president in the May 2014 elections.
Often referred to as “games for good” or “games for change,” a new generation of socially- and environmentally-oriented online simulation games aims to go beyond entertainment by raising awareness of global issues and securing funds for projects—making a real-word difference.
Over 10 million people worldwide have played World Food Programme’s (WFP) “Food Force,” for example, spending money that goes to fund WFP-sponsored school meals projects. However, few simulations have been useful at the policy-making level—until now. Today marks the release of “SimPachamama,” a new game from Bolivia that could influence international, national and local-level policy decisions that affect forest communities.
SimPachamama—“Pachamama” means “Mother Earth” in the local Aymara language—was developed by a multidisciplinary team of researchers from British and Bolivian institutions.* The simulation is modeled on data collected in a real-life Bolivian forest town, and in the game, the player becomes the mayor of an Amazonian rainforest community. The goal of the mayor’s 20-year term is to increase citizens’ wellbeing and reduce deforestation through a variety of policies: levying a tax on deforestation, making conservation payments, creating green jobs in the ecotourism sector, and adjusting public spending.
One proposed way to curb global deforestation is to transfer money from rich countries to poor ones via the UN Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (UN REDD). SimPachamama takes this kind of mechanism into account by including one additional important policy lever: the decision of whether or not to accept international payments to reduce local deforestation.
It is notable, however, that the simulation’s developers are not supporting UN REDD per se—or its REDD+ and REDD++ versions that include initiatives for forest conservation and, sustainable forest management and enhancement of forest sinks. This is because the UN REDD mechanism has been vigorously opposed by the Bolivian government, in part because it links emissions reductions payments to volatile carbon markets. It is also not likely to help the poor—one of Bolivia’s major policy concerns. The researchers found that under the kind of payments system proposed by UN REDD, less than 5 percent of the population—mainly the richer large-scale farmers—would reap more than 90 percent of the financial benefits. Bolivia’s proposed Joint Mitigation and Adaptation Mechanism for the Integral and Sustainable Management of Forests (Joint Mechanism) addresses some of REDD’s worst issues and is presented as a practical alternative. The researchers involved in developing SimPachamama are working with the Bolivian government in an advisory capacity to help get funding to start the mechanism.
The first nine months of Peña’s administration have kept the press busy and all of the country’s eyes and ears focused on what will happen next. He’s been characterized as bold, action-oriented and dynamic but clearly, not a team player.
He was celebrated by many (yours truly included) in February when he presented an ambitious and much needed education reform but disappointed just as many after having this effort easily thwarted by militant and disgruntled unionized teachers from the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (CNTE), which has taken Mexico City hostage in the last week to avoid needed secondary laws to enact the reform passing through Congress.
The inability to prevent and the lack of resolve to disperse a non-justified blockage of Congress as well as a blockade of the city’s main arteries—including those giving access to the airport and the Zócalo—has proven once again that political leaders are making decisions not based on the greater good, the rule of law or the citizenry’s interests, but on a political agenda serviced by interest groups holding more power than they should and unable to cooperate with each other.
Mismanagement of this situation could soon spark violence and create a larger-than-ideological divide. The affected citizenry in Mexico City will only stand so much. In a recent poll by BCG-Excelsior, 52 percent of Mexicans stated that they are so fed up with the CNTE’s irrational resistance to the education reform and their militant actions that they would justify use of public force to disperse the picketers.
And while the teachers take to the streets, both Peña Nieto and the city’s government cower from taking necessary action because of the political cost it would imply. Mexico City is not the only thing that’s paralyzed because of this—a broken education system puts the nation’s future talent pool at risk.
The other current hot topic in the president’s agenda is energy reform. As recently described by Christian Gomez on AS/COA, “the proposal includes constitutional changes that would open up Pemex, the 75-year-old state oil monopoly, to profit-sharing contracts and foreign investment.”
This new notion of natural resources no longer belonging exclusively to the nation poses a huge shift in paradigm. Reactions from the nation’s Left include accusations related to autonomy, national patrimony and the role of government vs. private investors in extraction and having access to revenues from one of the nation’s most important sources of income. The opposition understands that PEMEX’s inefficiencies and the plague of corruption need to be addressed, but they propose that a problem should not be fixed by creating another one.
One of the most respected voices from the Left, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, has recently stated that both PEMEX and CFE (federal electricity company) can become highly productive without having to edit the Constitution and without allow foreign and/or private hands in the nation’s riches. If national patrimony is challenged due to reforms to articles 27 and 28 of the Mexican Constitution, Cárdenas has warned he would call for nationwide protests and he would even take to the streets along with López Obrador’s Morena (National Regeneration) movement.
Given its current party composition, Peña can easily get approval for the energy reform in Congress but he would be naïve to think that this is the only hurdle he needs to jump and he is doing a terrible job at trying to get public buy-in to this proposal through vague infographics on TV.
If there is a possibility for effective energy reform, an open and inclusive debate needs to take place. This topic is not one that his team should be discussing behind closed doors and the hard questions will require real answers, not 20-second TV spots.
Peña’s government has been characterized by a “my way or the highway” attitude, which is an easier temptation to fall into than trying to build consensus in a country as complex and fragmented as Mexico. This dictatorial style is only possible because of the fact that PRI has a stellar position both in Congress and in the State governments to push its agenda forward, something neither former Presidents Fox nor Calderón had. However, Peña would do well in understanding that his constituency is not limited to the political parties or even the power elites.
Organized teachers have already proven what they can do in Mexico City given enough motivation. Sparked by national patrimony rhetoric, larger, non-organized social mobilizations could easily flare up in different key cities in Mexico and cause larger havoc. As former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza recently wrote, “these red flags, so to speak, are especially relevant given the influence and disruptive potential of many of today's social movements. The eruption of mass street protests in Brazil is just one recent example of a government being forced to change direction on a policy initiative and find a way to rapidly and constructively respond to the desires, often inchoate, of a newly emboldened and empowered population. It's a cautionary tale that begins with frustration and finds expression in mass action.”
Even when theoretically, Peña could powerball his reforms forward, both him and the PRI need to wake up and understand that they cannot be the only voice to determine the nation’s destiny. Vargas Llosa sarcastically called the previous PRI era “the perfect dictatorship” but today’s Mexico will not stand for a return of that so-called “perfect” model. Peña needs to learn to play well with others.
The Constitutional Court of Colombia, the country’s highest court, ruled yesterday that peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—FARC) are constitutional, rejecting a legal challenge that would have stalled negotiations in ending over 50 years of conflict.
The decision comes after several weeks of the court listening to intense debates over the Legal Framework for Peace, an amendment approved in Congress last year that modified the constitution to lay the groundwork for a negotiated peace with the FARC. Human rights groups have challenged this framework, with concerns that the reform will lead to institutionalized impunity for many guerilla fighters responsible for kidnappings, massacres and attacks. Gustavo Gallon, a lawyer with the Colombian Commission of Jurists, had presented the formal legal challenge that was up for debate.
The law formed the basis of the peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian government. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos says that the court’s decision allows the country to move forward with these important peace negotiations. He emphasizes that the country will need to find the “middle point between justice and peace that enables us to put a definitive end to this conflict.”
Colombia’s second-largest rebel group, the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Army—ELN), released a Canadian engineer on Tuesday after holding him hostage for seven months. Gernot Wober, vice president of exploration for the Toronto-based Braeval Mining Corporation, was turned over to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The ELN captured Wober in January along with five other Braeval employees in the Bolivar Department, demanding that mining company abandon its gold and silver mining project in the north of Colombia. In July, Braeval announced it was terminating all mining activity in Colombia due to “unfavorable market conditions,” opening the door for Wober’s release. In a video message posted Tuesday, ELN leader Nicolas Rodriguez hailed Wober’s release as a humanitarian act, saying that “this outcome proves that conflicts can be solved through negotiation."
After waging a 48-year armed conflict with the Colombian government, the ELN has expressed its willingness to negotiate peace accords, similar to the negotiations taking place with the Fuerzas Amradas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) in Havana. However, government authorities insisted that the ELN release all of its hostages before the two parties can begin dialogue.