• UN Human Rights Experts Call for Review of Police Procedures

    December 5, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Human rights experts from the United Nations on Friday called for a review of U.S. laws permitting police to use lethal force, in light of the failure of grand juries to indict two police officers for killing unarmed black citizens in separate cases.

    The failure of a grand jury to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who fatally shot unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, stirred mass protests on November 24. Just days later, on December 3, a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer that put Eric Garner, another unarmed black man, in a fatal chokehold in July 2014.

    This second case set off another wave of protests across the country, with thousands of angry citizens demanding an end to impunity. On Thursday in New York City, the Holland Tunnel, Manhattan Bridge and the Westside Highway were temporarily closed, and police reported arresting over 200 protesters during a second night of demonstrations.

    U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has begun a civil rights investigation into the Michael Brown case, but human rights experts are still concerned over the decisions not to bring the officers to trial. UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues Rita Izsak said on Friday, "the decisions [of the grand juries] leave many with legitimate concerns relating to a pattern of impunity when the victims of excessive use of force come from African-American or other minority communities." UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary executions Christof Heyns criticized the  lenient state laws governing the use of lethal force by law enforcement in the United States.

    Experts not only urged a complete review of police procedures, but also demanded an end to racial profiling by U.S. police. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon pressed the U.S. to do “anything possible to respond to demands of greater accountability.”

    Tags: Michael Brown, Eric Garner, United Nations, police impunity, Human Rights

  • Peru Shares Proposal for Reducing Emissions

    December 5, 2014

    by Paula Dupraz-Dobias

    Peruvian Minister of the Environment Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, who is presiding over this year’s United Nations summit on climate change in Lima, said on Tuesday that building a national carbon inventory will be his country’s first step for reducing emissions and formulating an “intended nationally determined contribution” (INDC), which countries will submit March 2015.

    INDCs, developed at last year’s climate summit in Warsaw, are publicly presented national commitments to reduce carbon emissions. They provide an initial understanding of how limiting global temperature increases to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Farenheit) can be achieved collectively, prior to the Paris Climate Summit next December.

    The minister, speaking this week at a session at the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP20), said, “if INDCs are relative to mitigation, then we have to know what to mitigate and how quickly.”

    Read More

    Tags: COP20, Peru, PlanCC

  • Venezuelan Opposition Leader Charged with Conspiracy

    December 4, 2014

    by AQ Online

    The Venezuelan state prosecutor’s office formally charged former Congresswoman Maria Corina Machado with  treason and conspiracy for allegedly plotting to kill President Nicolas Maduro this Wednesday.

    The indictment comes after a chain of emails plotting to start a coup to overthrow the Maduro administration surfaced in May, allegedly between U.S. officials and Machado, an opposition leader who was kicked out of the National Assembly in March after she publically supported the protests against the government earlier this year. In one email Machado reportedly wrote, “I believe the time has come to join forces, make the necessary calls, and obtain the financing to annihilate Maduro […] and the rest will come falling down.”

    Machado denied all charges, claiming her email accounts were tampered with and that the accusations are an attempt to silence the opposition voice.

    Venezuela’s most publically known opposition leader, Leopoldo López, has been in jail since February, despite pleas for his release from international organizations, including The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD), who declared his detention illegal and ordered his immediate release. Arrest orders for conspiracy against the government were also ordered for opposition figures Henrique Salas Romer, Diego Arria, Ricardo Emilio Koesling, Gustavo Tarre Briceño, Pedro Mario Burelli, and Robert Alonso.

    The public prosecutor’s office released a statement threatening to punish anyone “from inside or outside national territory” with jail time should they seek to “conspire to destroy the nation’s republican political style.” If Machado is found guilty, she could face eight to 16 years in jail.   

    Tags: Maria Corina Machado, Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro

  • Is Peña Nieto Facing a Mexican Spring?

    December 4, 2014

    by Arjan Shahani

    Two years ago, Enrique Peña Nieto took office as Mexico’s president, under the banner of a renovated Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) and with a promise of a brighter economic, social and political future.

    Only two months after he took office, Thomas L. Friedman remarked on that promise in an article titled “How Mexico Got Back in the Game.” And who can forget Time magazine’s February 2014 cover, featuring Peña Nieto with the headline “Saving Mexico”? In that feature, author Michael Crowley said that on the security issues, “alarms are being replaced with applause” and that the social, political and economic reforms package steamrolled through a PRI-dominant Congress were preview of great things to come.

    The media prematurely started calling this era “Mexico’s moment.” Granted, we are living quite an interesting moment in Mexico’s history, but not for the reasons the 2012 optimists foresaw.

    A recent series of events and decisions stemming from the political elite at local, state and federal levels has detonated into what could evolve into a Mexican version of the Arab Spring. In Friedman’s piece, he quoted the president of Monterrey’s Center for Citizen Integration saying that “Once a citizen feels he is not powerless, he can aspire for more change. [...] First, the Web democratized commerce, and then it democratized media, and now it is democratizing democracy.”

    This is exactly what’s happening. A newly empowered Mexican civil society is reacting and saying enough is enough.

    Read More

    Tags: Ayotzinapa, Mexican protests, Enrique Peña Nieto

  • UN Climate Change Delegates Under Pressure to Reach Consensus

    December 3, 2014

    by Paula Dupraz-Dobias

    On assuming the presidency of the 20th Conference of Parties (COP20)  annual climate change conference in Lima on Monday, Peruvian Minister of the Environment Manuel Pulgar-Vidal reminded delegates from 194 countries that they should seize the opportunity to reach a global consensus to reduce emissions ahead of next year’s Paris agreement.

    “Never has it been so clear that a window of opportunity will soon close,” he said, citing a recent report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

    Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC, told COP20 delegates that preventing global temperatures from rising no more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) would require a 40 to 70 percent reduction in global carbon emissions by 2050.

    The IPCC’s recent synthesis report shows that human activity has been “extremely likely” to contribute to global warming since the mid-twentieth century.

    Last week, IPCC spokesman Michael Wadleigh told Peru’s foreign press association that global temperatures will soon rise by1.5 degrees Celsius unless people stop emissions immediately. Additionally, billions of tons of carbon would need to be removed from the atmosphere to stop the temperature rising by two degrees Celsius.

    For Allioaiga Feturi Elisaia, ambassador to the United Nations for Samoa—which is considered, along with other Pacific Islands, to be one of the places most vulnerable to climate change—“the reality for us is that we are not trying to philosophize about something that is going to happen in a few years. People have seen it happen, and it is going to be very difficult.”

    Christiana Figueres, secretary general of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said that global emissions should peak in the next few years. Figueres stressed the importance of decreasing emissions, rather than increasing them, to become “climate neutral” by the end of the century. “Achieving that balance, which we had prior to the Industrial revolution, is ultimately our goal,” she said.

    Read More

    Tags: COP20, Climate change, UN Conference on Climate Change

  • 34 Haitian Inmates Escape Overcrowded Prison

    December 3, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Haitian national police confirmed on Monday that nearly three dozen detainees escaped from a prison in the provincial city of Saint-Marc, 100 km (60 miles) north of Port-au-Prince. According to reports, the detainees sawed through a cell window and jumped out. The five guards on duty at the time have been detained on suspicion of aiding the escape, and one guard has been arrested.

    Police Commissioner Berson Soljour said four of the escapees had been recaptured and security measures around the city have been put in place in efforts to find the others. Authorities in the Dominican Republic have been working with Haitian police to prevent the fugitives from crossing the border.

    Similar prison breaks have occurred across Haiti in recent years. In August, 329 inmates escaped from a prison in Croix-des-Bouquets using weapons allegedly smuggled in by guards. Following the devastation of the 2010 earthquake, nearly all 4,000 inmates held in the National Penitentiary escaped. Many remain on the run. 

    Prisons in Haiti, like most in Latin America and the Caribbean, are notoriously overcrowded. The Saint-Marc prison held nearly 500 prisoners, with 36 prisoners occupying a cell designed to hold eight. Many inmates, including those that escaped, spend years in jail awaiting trial. In Haiti, 67.7 percent of the total prison population is pre-trial detainees, one of the highest percentages in the Americas.

    Tags: Haiti, Prison, Crime and Security

  • Government Announces Agreement to Combat Illegal Mining in Cauca

    December 2, 2014

    by AQ Online

    The Colombian government announced on Monday initial agreements to combat illegal mining in Cauca province, four days after Afro-Colombian women from the region took over the Interior Ministry to protest illegal mining operations in their communities.

    In recent years, there has been an increase in illegal gold mining in Cauca, which is controlled by gangs and guerrilla fighters. Protester Marilyn Mancilla said that she and other demonstrators were protesting the “over 200 backhoe excavators that are damaging our land, the mines that are contaminating our rivers with cyanide and mercury, and the death threats against leaders that denounce this.”

    Last week, over 100 women walked from Cauca province in southwestern Colombia to the Interior Ministry in Bogotá, a distance of approximately 400 kilometers (about 250 miles). On November 27, 22 women locked themselves in a room in the Interior Ministry and refused to leave until the government addressed their concerns about illegal mining and guaranteed their protection. 

    Yesterday, the government announced that it will “take actions” to end illegal mining, including the creation of a subcommittee to evaluate immediate measures that can be put in place. The national ombudsman’s office, the Catholic Church and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will act as guarantors, along with various senators and representatives from Indigenous groups.

    Tags: Illegal Mining, Cauca, Colombia protests

  • Uruguay’s Frente Amplio Extends Rule to 15 Years

    December 2, 2014

    by Stephen Kurczy

    For the third election in a row, Uruguayan voters flooded into the streets Sunday night to celebrate the win of the Frente Amplio (Broad Front—FA) party, a leftist coalition that has now extended its control of Uruguay’s parliament and presidential office to 15 years.

    But as President-elect Tabaré Vázquez delivered his victory speech on a stage in downtown Montevideo before thousands of supporters holding giant flags, supporter Isabella Antonaccio had to admit that this was the smallest victory party that she’d seen in the past three elections.

    “Ten years ago, the Frente Amplio’s win was a huge achievement,” she said Sunday night, celebrating despite being eight months pregnant. “It was so emotional, many people were crying.”

    For a younger generation of Uruguayans, the Frente Amplio has dominated politics for as long as they could vote. The leftist party’s mix of financial and social policies strengthened the economy, reduced poverty, and won international applause with schemes like the world’s first-ever legal marijuana market.

    But cracks are emerging. Vázquez, 74, and outgoing President José Mujica, age 79, are both unlikely to run again, meaning the party must groom a new leader over the next five years while also addressing education scores that are falling, petty crimes that are rising, and an economy that is slowing from 4.5 percent growth last year to 3.5 percent growth this year and on course for 2.5 percent in 2015, according to Gabriel Oddone of accounting and consultancy services firm CPA Ferrere.  Scotiabank, in its November outlook, forecasts GDP growth of 3.1 percent this year followed by 2.9 percent in 2015.

    Read More

    Tags: Uruguay, Frente Amplio, Tabare Vazquez

  • Beyond Ferguson

    December 1, 2014

    by John Parisella

    Like so many around the world, Canadians witnessed the coverage before, during and after the Grand Jury verdict in Ferguson, Missouri regarding the shooting death of a young African-American teenager by a white police officer.  To the outside observer, there was no middle ground—either police officer Darren Wilson should be indicted for the death of the young African-American victim Michael Brown, or he should not.  The Grand Jury decided against an indictment.

    The reaction was immediate and impassioned.  Demonstrations, some accompanied by rioting, looting and destruction of property, followed.  More fallout is expected in the days ahead.  Even in Canada, there were demonstration in Montreal and Toronto opposing the verdict of no indictment. 

    The narrative of Ferguson, however, went beyond the jury outcome.  The question of racism in America, excessive police force in communities of color, and the overriding issues of poverty within these communities dominated news analyses and debates.  Unwarranted police behavior—including excessive force and poor judgment—in addition to the effects of poverty within communities, however, does not stop at the borders of Missouri.    

    Read More

    Tags: United States, Ferguson, Race relations

  • Monday Memo: Peru COP20 — Uruguay Election — Colombia Peace Talks — Venezuela Oil — Cuba GDP

    December 1, 2014

    by AQ Online

    This week's likely top stories: Global leaders gather in Lima for the COP20 Climate Summit; Tabaré Vázquez wins the runoff presidential election in Uruguay; With FARC hostages released, Colombian peace talks are set to resume in Havana; Venezuela braces for impact as oil prices hit rock bottom; Cuba misses the mark on economic growth in 2014.

    Global Leaders Gather for COP20 Climate Summit in Lima: Thousands of government officials and environmental advocates will gather in Lima this week and next for the annual UN Climate Change Conference. The 20th annual session of the Conference of the Parties, or COP20, opens today and will conclude on December 12, bringing together delegates from 195 countries to draft an international agreement on reducing carbon emissions and global warming. Last month in Beijing, both China and the U.S. agreed to cut emissions by 2030, which could help advance the talks. If the talks in Lima succeed, a climate change agreement could be signed in Paris in late 2015.

    Tabaré Vázquez Wins Uruguayan Election: Former Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez will return to the presidency after he easily defeated challenger Luis Lacalle Pou of the Partido Nacional (National Party—PN) in Sunday’s runoff election. Vázquez, of the governing Frente Amplio (Broad Front—FA) earned 52.8 percent of the vote to Lacalle Pou’s 41 percent. Vázquez pledged to continue outgoing President José Mujica’s controversial marijuana legalization policy, and to focus on education reform and crime reduction, two major concerns of Uruguayan voters. The Frente Amplio has been in power since 2005, when Vázquez was elected to his first presidency; it won a narrow majority in Congress in October’s elections.

    Hostages Safely Home and Delegation Returns to Havana: With three FARC hostages released on Sunday, the Colombian government delegation will return to Havana, Cuba to meet with delegates from the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) to discuss the resumption of peace talks. Pastor Alape, a FARC negotiator, traveled from Cuba to personally coordinate the release of General Ruben Dario Alzate Mora, as well as his two companions, who were kidnapped in mid-November. The release “contributed to restoring a climate conducive to continuing the talks” said Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos. A two-day meeting in Havana to evaluate recent events will begin Tuesday. Santos ordered the suspension of the peace talks on November 17, shortly after the kidnappings took place.

    Oil Plummets to $65 Per Barrel, Rocking Caracas: The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ (OPEC) decision last week to maintain its current production ceiling of 30 million barrels per day caused oil prices to plummet to $65 per barrel—the lowest level since the global recession in 2008. Venezuela will be among those hit hardest by the recent price drop: according to an International Monetary Fund assessment, the country can only hope to break even with oil priced at about $120 per barrel. Already plagued by failing political and economic policies, Venezuela might be forced to avoid a default by pursuing any number of difficult choices: devaluing its currency, seeking a bailout from the Chinese, cutting imports, raising domestic energy prices, scaling back petroleum subsidies to PetroCaribe member nations, or even cutting the popular chavista social welfare programs. The decline in oil prices also dragged down other commodities, which sank to a five-year low as China’s demand for fuel and metals slows. The larger trend of stagnating commodity prices will cause stress on many national economies in Latin America which remain  dependent on commodity exports.

    Cuban Economy Hoping for Substantial Growth in 2015:  In spite of the economic reforms instituted by President Raul Castro in 2014, the Cuban economy failed to reach its projected levels of growth this fiscal year. Before presenting Cuba’s budget and economic plan for 2015 at a cabinet meeting on Friday, Vice President and Minister of Economy Marino Murillo Jorge announced that the Cuban economy will grow by 1.3 percent instead of the state’s initial estimate of 2.2 percent. According to Murillo, the nation’s underperforming sugar and manufacturing sectors are responsible for the reduction in projected growth. By increasing capital investment in renewable energy production, infrastructure projects and food imports, and continuing to pave the way for expansion of its burgeoning non-state sector, the Cuban government is maintaining its  optimistic estimate that GDP will grow 4 percent in 2015.

    Tags: UN Conference on Climate Change, Tabaré Vásquez, OPEC, Cuban economy, Colombia Peace Talks

  • Uruguay Elects Successor to Mujica

    November 28, 2014

    by Stephen Kurczy

    It seems everyone in Montevideo has a personal story of crossing paths with Uruguay’s folksy sandal-wearing president, José “Pepe” Mujica.

    Romina Tortorella recalled the time she looked out her Montevideo house window to see Mujica’s light-blue 1987 Volkswagen Beetle, which he recently refused to sell for $1 million to a wealthy sheik. Mujica was eating at a corner deli, so Tortorella, not wanting to disturb the presidential lunch, wrote him a small invitation to see her husband’s home construction work.

    Soon the 79-year-old was standing in her parlor and saying he knew her father, who was also a former member of the left-wing urban guerrilla group, the Tupamaros.

    “He has six bullets in his body,” Tortorella said of Mujica, who was shot six times while resisting arrest by Uruguay’s old military government, which would imprison him for 13 years. “He has no reason to fear. He is close to the people.”

    Even the homeless now have tales of meeting Uruguay’s president. Just this week, during a television interview, Mujica was confronted by a panhandler. When Mujica gave the man a 100 peso bill ($4.25), the panhandler yelled: “I want you to be president forever!”

    Mujica is constitutionally barred from seeking a second consecutive term in Uruguay’s presidential runoff election on Sunday (November 30). As Uruguayans go to the polls to elect a new leader, there’s already a sense of nostalgia for this portly flower-farmer who has become a global symbol of modesty and tolerance—even if he is criticized at home for failing to reform a flagging education system, reverse the rise of petty crime, or invest in much-needed infrastructure projects such as harbors and roads.

    Read More

    Tags: Uruguay, José Mujica

  • Happy Thanksgiving from Americas Quarterly!

    November 27, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Happy Thanksgiving! The AQ team is on vacation for Thanksgiving and will return on Monday, December 1. Until then, readers eager for analysis on the region can always catch up on our recent Fall 2014 issue.

    Tags: Thanksgiving, happy holidays

  • Why I Wasn’t a Fat Kid in Mexico

    November 27, 2014

    by Arjan Shahani

    I grew up in Manzanillo and Monterrey, two Mexican cities that are opposites in many ways. Manzanillo is on the southwest coast of Mexico; Monterrey is in the dry northeastern desert. Manzanillo is a small town; Monterrey is one of the country’s most important urban industrial centers. In Manzanillo, people are laid back and relaxed, whereas Monterrey’s citizens are famous for being laborious, high-strung and dynamic.

    When I was growing up, Monterrey and Manzanillo did have one thing in common, though: the general rule was that children played outside. Without even asking for permission, we would leave the house (which was always unlocked), and the world was our playground.

    We did have some rules: don’t talk to strangers, don’t go farther than two blocks from home—but that was about it. We rode bikes and skateboards, played soccer in the street, set up a lemonade stand, and played tag and hide-and-seek. We also had videogames and TV, but they were limited to a couple of hours a day, and we really didn’t complain about it (mostly because TV programming and videogames were so limited back then).

    In 2013, Mexico surpassed the United States as the most obese nation in the Americas. Because I was born with asthma, I wasn’t the most active kid. Yet I still grew up extra-skinny, and so did most of my friends.

    What happened to Mexico’s children in the last 30 years? Based on my personal experience and observations, here are a few of the multiple causes of child obesity in Mexico today.

    Read More

    Tags: Mexico, childhood obesity, Children's Health

  • UN Calls for End to Gender-Based Violence

    November 26, 2014

    by AQ Online

    The United Nations kicked off its 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign on Tuesday with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The campaign—which includes a marathon in Mexico City and the “Orange Your Neighborhood” initiative, asking supporters to wear and display the color orange to raise awareness of violence against women—culminates on December 10 with Human Rights Day.

    According to UN Women, approximately one in three women will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, and in Latin America, the numbers are stark. The World Health Organization found that between 17 and 53 percent of women in 12 Latin American countries have been the victims of physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner.

    Guatemala registered 4,104 cases of gender-based violence in 2014 alone, 532 of which were homicides. In Colombia, 74 percent of women reported experiencing some type of violence, with 37 percent reporting physical violence in the 2010 Census. “Together, we must end this global disgrace,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

    The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women was established in 1999 to commemorate Patria, Minerva and María Teresa Mirabal, three activist sisters who were assassinated on November 25, 1960 for opposing the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic.

    Tags: United Nations (UN), Violence Against Women

  • Luis Suárez: Vilified Worldwide, Beloved in Uruguay

    November 26, 2014

    by Stephen Kurczy

    On November 13, as Uruguay’s national soccer team, La Celeste (The Sky Blue), ran onto the pitch at Montevideo’s Estadio Centenario, the biggest cheer came for the most scandalous of soccer heroes.

    Luis Suárez, who has earned the enmity of players, fans, and at least one prime minister for his race-tinged language and taste for opponents’ flesh—gave a wave and a big, toothy grin as tens of thousands of fans applauded his first match at home since being suspended from competitive international soccer for biting an Italian opponent at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

    I was in the bleachers for the Nov. 13 match against Costa Rica, which Suárez could join because it was a non-competitive “friendly,” and I was taken aback by the popularity of the No. 9 jersey and the unwavering conviction of Uruguayans to stand by their man—even after his bizarre behavior crippled the national team’s quest for the Cup. Without its star scorer, La Celeste was subsequently knocked out of World Cup play, and now its ability to defend the Copa América championship title next year has also been compromised.

    Surely Suárez had bitten off more than he could chew on stage at the world’s largest sporting event, but in Uruguay, Suárez is loved more than ever.

    “His popularity increased after the World Cup,” Ignacio Zuasnabar, the Director of Public Opinion at the Montevideo-based consulting firm Equipos Mori, told me in his office not too far from Estadio Centenario itself. “Suárez made goals against England and Italy; it was impressive. When he came back, all the people were waiting for him the airport. He was a national hero.”

    Read More

    Tags: Uruguay, Soccer, 2014 World Cup, Luis Suarez

  • The Non-Trade Trade

    November 25, 2014

    by Tom Long

    At the beginning of President Barack Obama’s first term, moves toward normalization between the United States and Cuba briefly seemed possible. Restrictions on travel and remittances were loosened, and Obama hinted at bigger changes during the April 2009 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.

    However, the political space in the United States quickly closed after USAID contractor Alan Gross was detained by Cuban authorities in late 2009. Meanwhile, the continued detention of three members of the “Cuban Five” since 1998 by the United States remained a major irritant for Cuba.

    This is not the first time that the fate of prisoners has played a significant role in U.S.-Cuban relations. During the 1960s, Cuban authorities detained four CIA agents who were engaged in covert activities on the island. Their status was a sticking point during discussions between the two countries about repairing relations. Carter administration officials met with Cuban counterparts, including Fidel Castro. When the administration inquired about the release of the CIA agents at the end of the 1970s, Castro pressed the United States to release Puerto Rican nationalists imprisoned for violent attacks during the 1950s.  [Editor’s note: This is not to imply that Alan Gross was a CIA agent or that he was engaged in espionage.  The blog is simply drawing a parallel between to roughly similar moments in U.S.-Cuba relations and history and their relationship to the late Bob Pastor, who had been a contributor to Americas Quarterly.]

    A new, 27-minute documentary entitled “The Non-Trade Trade,” explores the similarities between the prisoner releases of the late 1970s and the status of the prisoners being held today. Produced by Soraya Castro, a professor at the University of Havana, the film draws heavily on an oral history with the late Robert A. Pastor. Early in his career, Pastor served as the senior director for Latin America on President Carter’s National Security Council. [Disclosure: While I was not involved in the making of the documentary, Pastor was my dissertation supervisor at American University.] Both Pastor and the documentary argue for releasing the prisoners and improving U.S.-Cuban relations.

    Read More

    Tags: Cuba-U.S. relations, Alan Gross, Bob Pastor

  • FARC Releases Two Hostages in Colombia

    November 25, 2014

    by AQ Online

    FARC delegates in Havana released two hostages today in an apparent effort to revive peace talks suspended since last week. The two soldiers, Paulo César Rivera and Jonathan Andrés Díaz, were captured on November 9 in Arauca department and were released to the Colombian army this morning.

    The FARC has said that it plans to release General Rubén Darío Alzate and two other hostages on Thursday, although the rebels warned earlier this week that the release could be cancelled due to the significant military presence in the region where the hostages are being held. General Alzate was captured along with corporal Jorge Rodríguez and lawyer Gloria Urrego on November 16 while travelling unarmed and without bodyguards in Chocó. Alzate and his companions are allegedly still there.

    The November 16 kidnapping led President Juan Manuel Santos to suspend peace talks in Havana, ongoing since 2012. There is some controversy as to how a general could have stumbled on to FARC territory without any security, but the talks will remain suspended until Alzate, Rodríguez and Urrego are released. 

    On Sunday, the defense ministry announced the temporary cessation of operations in part of the northeast of Colombia in order to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross access to the area where Rivera and Díaz were being held to assist with the process.

    As of yet, President Santos has denied the FARC’s offers for a ceasefire.

    Tags: FARC, Red Cross, Peace Talks, General Rubén Darío Alzate

  • Colombia: La paz y los militares

    November 24, 2014

    by Jenny Manrique

    Aunque los cálculos políticos y militares anunciaban una pronta liberación del general del Ejército Rubén Darío Alzate Mora, secuestrado por las FARC en el Chocó, el hecho que provocó la suspensión del proceso de paz entre el gobierno colombiano y esa guerrilla por primera vez en dos años de diálogo, todavía lo tiene en vilo.

    Las operaciones de rescate de la Cruz Roja Internacional, lideradas por los países garantes Cuba y Noruega e iniciadas el pasado 19 noviembre, podrían tomar más tiempo de lo esperado por la necesidad de cesar operaciones militares en el Chocó. Una versión del plagio habla de que el General y sus acompañantes, el cabo Jorge Rodríguez y la abogada Gloria Urrego, se subieron de manera voluntaria en una chalupa en el corregimiento de las Mercedes con dos guerrilleros vestidos de civil, y se fueron río abajo. Otra dice que los sujetos iban armados hasta los dientes y los obligaron a hacerlo.

    Cuando se de la esperada entrega del general, vendrá por primera vez la rendición de cuentas de un ex secuestrado: al militar le espera una citación al Senado para que explique qué hacía vestido de civil y desarmado, en una zona roja de alta presencia guerrillera, que él mismo conoce como la palma de su mano. No en vano estaba allí al mando de una fuerza de Tarea Conjunta antiguerrilla, en uno de los departamentos más golpeados por la violencia de las FARC.

    Las misteriosas circunstancias del histórico plagio de un General de la República, el hecho de que el ex-presidente Álvaro Uribe fue el primero en dar la noticia en su Twitter y el debate que el Congreso está dando sobre el proyecto del fuero militar, no son hechos aislados. Al contrario, ponen sobre el tapete la fuerte voz que quieren tener los militares y los sectores de ultraderecha en el proceso de paz, y la necesidad del gobierno—en particular a través de su ministro de defensa, Juan Carlos Pinzón—de hacerles sentir que nadie está claudicando en el terreno de la guerra. Que la moral de las tropas debe estar siempre en alto. Que las fuerzas militares, entregadas ellas mismas por 50 años a combatir al terrorismo, jamás serán equiparadas con los guerrilleros en términos de juzgamiento y condena—no importa cuántos excesos hayan podido cometer o con quién se hayan aliado para lograr la derrota de ese gran y único enemigo llamado FARC.

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    Tags: Colombia Peace Talks, FARC, Juan Manuel Santos

  • Monday Memo: Colombia Peace Talks — Mercosur and Pacific Alliance — Uruguay Elections — Walmart in Panama — Goldcorp in Argentina

    November 24, 2014

    by AQ Online

    This week's likely top stories: Colombia to resume peace talks with FARC once hostages are released; Mercosur and Pacific Alliance convene to discuss regional cooperation; Uruguayans return to polls on Sunday to elect president; Panama courts Walmart for its regional distribution center; Goldcorp to inaugurate Cerro Negro mine in Argentina.

    Hostages Released and Peace Talks to be Resumed: Peace talks between the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia- FARC) will resume after the two parties reached an agreement to free hostages kidnapped by the FARC over a week ago. The FARC will release a total of five hostages, including General Ruben Dario Alzate Mora, the highest-ranking military captive ever taken by the FARC. The Colombian delegation will return to Havana and resume peace talks as soon as the captives are liberated and the humanitarian operations by the Red Cross to return the captives home are underway. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos ordered the suspension of the peace talks on November 17, just after the kidnappings took place.

    MERCOSUR and Pacific Alliance Meet in Santiago: Chilean President Michelle Bachelet inaugurated a meeting today in Santiago between Latin America’s prominent regional integration blocs, the Alianza del Pacífico (Pacific Alliance)—comprising Chile, Mexico, Colombia, and Peru—and the Mercado Común del Sur (Southern Common Market—Mercosur)—which represents Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Venezuela. The meeting, a follow up to Chilean Foreign Relations Minister Heraldo Muñoz’s proposal last February to design a formal trade alliance between the entities, brings together representatives from both sides, including trade officials, academics, union members, and business leaders, in order to dialogue about opportunities for cooperation on climate change, infrastructural development, public health, tourism, and the export of manufactured goods. In her opening statement, Bachelet said, “We are hoping that this historic meeting sets us on our first steps down the shared path of developing our Latin America and each one of our countries.”

    Uruguayans Vote for President on Sunday: Uruguayan voters will return to the polls this Sunday, November 30, to elect the country’s next president in a runoff vote. Former president and Frente Amplio (Broad Front—FA) candidate Tabaré Vázquez is almost assured a victory after a November 12 Cifra poll showed that 52 percent of eligible voters plan to elect Vázquez, compared with the 35 percent of voters who plan to vote for challenger Luis Lacalle Pou of the Partido Nacional (National Party—PN). Other polls have made similar predictions, and Lacalle Pou recently said that he fully expects to be defeated by Vázquez in the second round. Vázquez just missed an outright victory after he won 47.8 percent of votes during Uruguay’s first round election on October 26, falling short of the 50 percent plus one required to avoid a runoff. Vázquez served as Uruguay’s president from 2005 to 2010.

    Panama Courts Walmart to Host Distribution Center: Panamanian business leaders have asked U.S. multinational Walmart to build a Latin American distribution center in Panama’s free trade zone, the Zona Libre de Colón (ZLC). ZLC Manager Surse Pierpoint said that Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela has sent a letter to Walmart executives asking them to consider the proposal, which Pierpoint said will “elevate the status and image of the ZLC” and attract additional companies to Panama. Pierpoint and other business leaders, including the head of the Consejo Empresarial Logístico (Business Logistics Council) and the Cámara Marítima  (Maritime Chamber) are seeking a meeting with Walmart executives, expected to take place in December or January, to pitch the proposal.

    Goldcorp to Open New Mines in Argentina: Today, the Argentinian Secretary of Mining, Jorge Mayoral, announced in a memo following an on-site meeting with Goldcorp’s Vice President and COO of Central and South America, Eduardo Villacorta, that the company’s Cerro Negro mine will be inaugurated in February 2015. In 2010, Canadian gold giant Goldcorp acquired the Cerro Negro mine, located in the Santa Cruz province of Argentina, and invested $1.67 million in its reconstruction. Cerro Negro is expected to forge between 130,000 and 180,000 ounces of gold before the end of 2014, and once fully operational, the mine will maintain a production capacity of 4,000 tons per day of concerted gold and silver throughout its 23 year lifespan. Cerro Negro marks the Vancouver-based miner’s second Argentinian venture, after its 37.5 percent share of the Alumbrera copper mine in Catamarca.

    Tags: Mercosur, Pacific Alliance, Colombia Peace Talks, Argentina

  • The Continuing Politics of Keystone

    November 21, 2014

    by John Parisella

    U.S. Republicans did not wait long after their midterm gains to provoke a congressional vote on the approval of the Keystone Pipeline project. 

    It was not the first such try.  Getting a strong and unequivocal vote in favor of Keystone in the House of Representatives, where the GOP has a strong majority, was easy.    The Senate, on other hand, was another matter.  The project narrowly failed to reach the needed 60 votes needed to make it to the president’s desk, with 59 votes in favor and41 opposed.  So once again, the Republicans failed.

    Obviously, this was a failed political ploy meant to embarrass the president. Republicans knew that President Obama would likely have vetoed Keystone, and would have had the votes to resist an override by Congress (two-thirds of both Houses are required to override a presidential veto). The new Senate, with 54 Republican senators (nine more than in the current Senate) will not be sworn in until early January 2015. 

    So it was all about politics—and the president expected as much, even in the current lame-duck Congress. 

    However, Obama is not beyond playing politics himself.  He has essentially given up the Louisiana Senate seat currently held by Democrat Mary Landrieu (who faces a runoff election on December 6) to her Republican adversary.  He repeated that he will not decide whether to approve Keystone until a Nebraska Appeals court rules on the pipeline’s route through the state.

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    Tags: Keystone XL pipeline, Canada-U.S. relations, President Barack Obama

  • Obama Announces Executive Action on Immigration

    November 21, 2014

    by AQ Online

    In a primetime address to the nation last night, President Obama announced sweeping executive action on immigration.  The president’s plans include a new deferred action program that will reportedly protect as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. “Our immigration system is broken, and everybody knows it,” Obama said.

    The announcement belatedly fulfills the president’s promise to issue executive orders on immigration in the face of Congress’s failure to pass a comprehensive reform bill. “I continue to believe that the best way to solve this problem is by working together to pass that kind of common sense law. But until that happens, there are actions I have the legal authority to take as president,” Obama said.

    According to statements by the Republican congressional leadership, the president’s action may have put Congress’s stalled efforts to pass a bipartisan, comprehensive bill into deep-freeze. “With this action, the president has chosen to deliberately sabotage any chance of enacting bipartisan reforms that he claims to seek,” said John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House.

    The action expands the scope of “administrative relief” first offered in June 2012 through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)—an action that gave temporary legal status to 1.2 million undocumented youth brought to the U.S. as children. Protection from deportation will now also include the parents of U.S. citizen children and legal permanent residents who have lived in the U.S. for at least five years, and expands eligibility of DACA by not including an age limit of those eligible, as long as they came to the U.S. before the age of 15. In addition to deferred action, Obama outlined plans to beef up border security efforts, recalibrate law-enforcement strategies around immigration violations, and reform specific authorizations and benefits associated with existing visa programs.  

    The president is due to attend an event at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas, Nevada on Friday afternoon to build support for his initiative. Obama unveiled plans for comprehensive immigration reform at Del Sol nearly two years ago.

    Tags: Obama, Immigration, executive action

  • Colombian Soccer Team Blacklisted for Money Laundering

    November 20, 2014

    by AQ Online

    The United States Treasury accused Medellin-based soccer club Envigado of laundering money for a drug trafficking group this Wednesday. According to the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, the soccer club, owned by Juan Pablo Upegui Gallego, worked together with the crime syndicate Oficina de Envigado to cover up drug trafficking money through the club’s balance sheets.

    The Treasury’s announcement comes after ten years of investigations, including the collection of testimonies from paramilitaries and narco-traffickers, to collect the necessary evidence against the soccer team, Upegui Gallego and others involved. The club and its associates have been placed on the U.S. "kingpin list," which prohibits any financial transaction with U.S. citizens and freezes the assets of those involved. A total of eight members of the syndicate, which was founded by Pablo Escobar, were blacklisted.

    “The Oficina de Envigado has played a significant role in large-scale drug trafficking and money laundering activities, and this action […] will strike at the financial core of this violent criminal network and impede its efforts to operate in the legitimate financial system,” said Adam Szubin, the director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control.

    Envigado is not the first soccer club to be blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury. In 1999, the club America de Cali was listed.​

    Tags: Envigado, Money Laundering, Juan Pablo Upegui Gallego

  • Why Our Businesses Need Executive Action on Immigration

    November 20, 2014

    by Leda Mora

    Over the past week, politicians have argued about whether or not President Barack Obama should take administrative action to protected undocumented immigrants and their families. But for small business owners like me, the case is clear: the president should act quickly and boldly.

    I’m the proud, tax-paying owner of Latina Beauty Variedades, a clothing and perfume store in Bushwick, Brooklyn. I’ve owned my business for four years, and I’ve been proud to be of service to my community and watch my business grow.

    When I first came to this country from Uruguay 12 years ago to find a better life for my family, it was hard to make ends meet. So I started working cleaning houses. After several years of doing this back-breaking work to just barely survive, in 2010 I decided that I would not let anyone else be my boss. I started my own small business. But, because I was undocumented, I could not access credit through banks, so I had to use my savings from cleaning jobs to get my business up and running.

    My business is now doing well, but my family lives with the constant fear of being separated. I live here with my husband and my two daughters. All but one of us are undocumented: one of my two daughters benefited from President Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, while the other missed the deadline by less than a month. But my children are American through and through. When the thought of going back to Uruguay comes up, my daughters simply say no. They’ve been raised here and this is their home.

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    Tags: Comprehensive Immigration Reform, immigrant entrepreneurship, executive action, Barack Obama

  • A Focus on Security Sidelines Education in Mexico

    November 19, 2014

    by Arjan Shahani

    This was supposed to be a banner year for Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. In the last quarter of 2013, his party was able to push through what were then called historical structural reforms to modernize the Mexican education system and boost the national economy and energy sector.  If 2013 was the year for lawmaking, 2014 was supposed to be the year for implementing reforms and beginning to reap their benefits.

    However, instead of the anticipated stability, the end of 2014 has proven to be one of most politically turbulent times in Mexico’s recent history. There are no stories of a buoyant economy or a modernized education system to speak of.  On the contrary,  a flurry of disturbing stories have dominated the Mexican news cycle: the state-sponsored mass murder in Guerrero;  strikes at the Instituto Politécnico Nacional (National Polytechnic Institute—IPN); protests and police violence at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (National Autonomous University of Mexico—UNAM);  a railway contract scandal implicating Peña Nieto;  and waves of viral videos showing police repression, abuse and violence throughout the country.  

    Against this clamorous background, the $4.7 trillion peso federal budget approved last week by Mexico’s Lower House of Congress allocates 188 billion pesos to police and security projects—a 3.3 percent larger investment than the government made in 2014. Congressman Pedro Pablo Treviño Villarreal, who presided over the budget committee, specified that a portion of these additional funds would help harmonize the police and security forces among the different states and municipalities of Mexico.

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    Tags: Enrique Peña Nieto, Education reform, Tourism in Mexico

  • Venezuelan Opposition Leader Denied Release

    November 19, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Leopoldo López, a Venezuelan opposition leader and founder of the Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) party, appeared in court on Tuesday for the first time since the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) found his detention illegal and called for his immediate release on October 9. He had refused to appear until presiding judge Susana Barreiro ruled on the recommendation.

    Judge Barreiro rejected the WGAD recommendation last week, saying that it was not binding. Using the same argument as Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, Barreiro argued that Venezuela is a sovereign nation and rejects international interference. López’ lawyers have appealed Judge Barreiro’s decision in the Court of Appeals.

    López has been in pre-trial detention since he was arrested on February 18 for his alleged involvement in inciting violence during widespread protests. President Maduro has said that he believes that López is “responsible for crimes, violence, destruction, (loss of) human lives,” and that “he has to pay, and he's going to pay.”

    Various high-profile world leaders have called for the release of López and the other political prisoners arrested during Venezuela’s tumultuous protests in February, including UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, U.S. President Barack Obama, Pope Francis I, and OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza. On Monday, Socialist International joined the growing lists of international groups and human rights organizations calling for López’ release.


    Read More

    Tags: Leopoldo Lopez, Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela protests

  • Argentina Creates New Regulatory Body for Foreign Trade

    November 18, 2014

    by AQ Online

    The Argentine government published a decree on Monday that establishes the Unidad de Seguimiento y Trazabilidad de las Operaciones de Comercio Exterior (Tracking and Tracing of Foreign Trade Transactions Unit), which will monitor the flow of goods, services, and currency into and out of the country. According to Decree 2103/2014, the new agency will operate under Chief of the Cabinet of Ministers Jorge Capitanich, and will be made up of representatives from the Central Bank, the Economy Ministry, the AFIP tax bureau, the Financial Information Unit, the Bureau for Economic Crimes and Money Laundering (Procelac), and the National Securities Commission (CNV).

    According to the government, the new agency is meant to “assure macroeconomic stability,” yet the decree also notes that it was created because of an increase in foreign trade as well as illegal operations like tax evasion. The government claims there have been 9,600 cases of suspected Criminal Foreign Exchange Regime violations. The regulatory body will monitor trade and currency flows in order to prevent tax evasion, especially by companies earning money on imports.

    In recent months, tax employees have carried out a number of raids in Buenos Aires and across Argentina due to a prosperous black market for U.S. dollars. The informal market started to flourish in 2011, when the Kirchner administration made it difficult for Argentines to get dollars through legal means in response to the alarming decrease in international reserves. After a devaluation of the peso in January 2014, the “blue” dollar exploded.

    Alejandro Vanoli, who took over as head of the Central Bank in October 2014, has been imposing measures to limit the fall in the Central Bank’s reserves, including raiding cuevas, the informal currency exchange houses, and arbolitos, people who sell dollars illegally on the street. At Tuesday’s Central Bank conference, Vanoli noted that Argentina’s reserves grew by $800 million in the last month and stressed that the government would continue to fight tax evasion and money laundering.

    Tags: Criminal Foreign Exchange Regime, AFIP, Jorge Capitanich

  • Monday Memo: Colombia Peace Talks — U.S. Refugee Status — Petrobras Arrests — Cuba Tourism — Pemex Investments

    November 17, 2014

    by AQ Online

    This week's likely top stories: Colombia’s peace talks suspended over kidnapping; U.S. will grant refugee status to select minors from Central America; Brazilian police arrest 27 in Petrobras corruption scandal; Cruise ship tourism is booming in Cuba; Pemex invests millions in hydrocarbon production and exploration.

    Kidnapping Halts Colombian Peace Talks: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has suspended peace talks with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) after the rebel group kidnapped a Colombian army general this weekend. General Rubén Darío Alzate Mora—who was apparently dressed as a civilian when captured—and two other people were reportedly abducted on Sunday by the FARC’s 34th front in the western department of Chocó, making General Alzate the first general ever to be kidnapped by the guerrillas. Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón deployed hundreds of troops to the area on Sunday. On Santos’ orders, Colombian government peace negotiators will not travel to Havana today to participate in the second round of the two-year-old peace talks with the FARC.

    Some Central American Minors to Receive Refugee Status: Vice President Joe Biden announced on Friday that the U.S. government will grant refugee status to minors from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador if their parent is a legal U.S. resident. The program, to be launched next month, will permit immigrant parents to request refugee status for any children under age 21 living in any one of the three Northern Triangle countries. Upon arrival, the children will be eligible to work and will eventually be eligible for permanent residency and citizenship. Currently, a maximum of 4,000 Latin American immigrants per year from Colombia and Cuba only are eligible for refugee status in the United States. Biden’s announcement comes amid growing concerns about the surge of unaccompanied Central American migrant youth who entered the U.S. illegally this year. The Obama administration is expected to announce further reforms to the immigration system in the coming weeks.

    Brazilian Police Arrest 27 in Petrobras Corruption Scandal: In response to mounting political pressure to resolve the Petrobras corruption scandal, Brazilian police made 27 arrests on Friday in connection with the investigation by order of federal prosecutors at the Ministério Público Federal (Federal Public MInistry). Those arrested included Renato Duque, the former director of engineering and services at the state-owned oil company, as well as nine executives from construction firms who signed fraudulent contracts with Petrobras. Authorities also froze $277 million in assets belonging to 36 suspects and three unnamed companies. Former Petrobras director Paulo Roberto Costa, arrested in March, first disclosed the details of the company’s alleged decade-long, $3.8 billion dollar kickback scheme to buy influence among the members of the ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT). Responding to the arrests, President Dilma Rousseff, who chaired the board of Petrobras from 2003-2010 while serving as energy minister, commented that “This will change forever the relationship between Brazilian society, the Brazilian state and private companies.” Following Petrobras’ statement that it would delay the release of its third quarter earnings, the company’s stock fell five percent on the IBOVESPA exchange.

    Hike in Cruise Ship Tourism Projected in Cuba: The state-run Cuban tourism agency, Cubatur, announced late last week that it is expecting the arrival of more the 200 cruise ships at ports throughout the island during the upcoming winter season, which ranges from late November to April. Tourism is the nation’s second largest source of income (after technical and medical expertise), and it brought 2.85 million visitors to the island in 2013. The resurgence of cruise ship tourism reflects the Cuban government’s attempt to diversify its tourist offerings. The cruise ship industry had been all but abandoned in Cuba since the Spanish firm Pullmantur was acquired by the U.S.-owned Royal Caribbean cruises in 2006 and subsequently shut down all operations to the island. The Cuban government has rejuvenated the cruise ship tourism sector by establishing joint operations with international companies. This was made possible by the Foreign Investment Law, inaugurated in 2014, which aims to attract foreign investment through concessions such as new tax breaks, more flexible labor policies, and a reinforcement of the offer of allowing 100 percent ownership.

    Pemex to Invest Millions in Upstream Oil Industry: Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) announced to investors today that it is planning to invest up to $161.7 million between 2015 and 2019—or 78 percent of its available capital—to its upstream search for potential underground and underwater sources of hydrocarbons. Pemex’s investment may cover shale gas extraction from the Agua Nueva deposit in the Tampico-Misantla Basin and deep-water drilling across the Perdido Fold Belt in the Western Gulf of Mexico. By comparison, only $34.4 million will be rerouted back into downstream activities—such as refining, marketing and distribution—to increase the efficiency of oil refineries like the complexes in Tula, Salmanca, and Salina Cruz. Since peaking in 2004, Pemex’s crude oil production has fallen by nearly one million barrels a day. Moreover, this past October, the state-owned oil company posted its eighth consecutive quarterly loss. Against this grim background, the redistribution of capital resources into upstream projects represents Pemex’s long term objective of achieving national energy security by diversifying the national energy portfolio.

    Tags: Petrobras, Colombia Peace Talks, Comprehensive Immigration Reform

  • Is the Western Hemisphere Ready for Ebola?

    November 14, 2014

    by Christine V. Gomes

    Over the past month and a half, the world has been challenged by the nimble Ebola virus, the latest outbreak of which has killed over 5,000 people. Even in the United States, a country with one of the best healthcare systems in the world, the Ebola virus infected two healthcare workers and claimed one life, revealing gaps in preparedness and protocol.

    If this level of uncertainty is present in the U.S., what does it mean for nations with fewer resources, like many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean?

    Although no case of Ebola has been confirmed in the region, Latin America and Caribbean leaders are already taking steps towards prevention. They are implementing travel restrictions, constructing quarantine centers, investing in biosafety equipment, training health professionals and re-evaluating infectious disease protocols.

    Take Brazil, for example, which had a suspected Ebola patient arrive last month to a public health clinic in the town of Cascavel, Paraná. The patient was immediately quarantined and transported by an Air Force plane to the Instituto Nacional de Infectologia (National Institute of Infectious Diseases) in Rio de Janeiro. The 64 people who had been in proximity to the patient were immediately alerted via contact tracing and monitored by Brazilian health officials. Though the patient eventually tested negative, the emergency response system and protocols appeared to be functioning well.

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    Tags: Ebola, Health care, Latin America

  • Latin American Leaders Seek Chinese Investment at APEC

    November 14, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Beyond seeking to deepen trade links with Asia, the leaders of Chile, Peru and Mexico—the three Latin American member states of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)—used their time in Beijing to push for greater Chinese investment in their countries. The three leaders also backed a Chinese-led proposal for a Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP).

    Peruvian President and Ollanta Humala and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet met with President Xi separately on Wednesday. In his meeting with Ollanta, the Chinese leader is reported to have proposed a bilateral trade agreement with Peru. The two leaders also reportedly signed a memorandum supporting the creation of a trilateral group with Brazil to plan the construction of a rail link between Peru and Brazil.

    While Bachelet left China empty handed in terms of signed agreements, she made her objectives clear. “We have a high level of trade, but we have not made any progress in investments,” she said at a meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang on Monday. However, both Xi and Bachelet expressed confidence that the establishment of a Chilean branch of the China Construction Bank next year will spur future Chinese investment in Chile.

    In a sign that the relationship between China and Mexico may not have been seriously damaged by Mexico’s recent cancellation of a bid awarded to a Chinese consortium for the construction of a high-speed rail link, the Chinese leader and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed 14 separate agreements and investment contracts at a meeting yesterday. Peña Nieto also announced plans to create a joint fund between three Chinese companies and the Mexican oil company Pemex, with the goal of raising up to US $5 billion for energy projects in Mexico.

    Tags: APEC, China, Foreign Investment

  • The Solitude of the Dominican Republic

    November 14, 2014

    by Daniel Cerqueira

    In his Nobel Prize speech in December 1982, Gabriel García Márquez described the heterodox habits of colonial conquerors, generals and dictators as the roots of “the solitude of Latin America.” During the laureate ceremony at the Swedish Academy, he made no mention of the Dominican Republic. He also refrained from pointing out examples of judges’ heterodox conduct, probably because he was a writer, not a lawyer. But if García Márquez were alive in November 2014, he might consider TC-0256-14, the recent ruling by the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Tribunal, to be a perfect example of “the solitude of Latin America” in the mindset of judicial officials in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean.

    Adopted on November 4, TC-0256-14 concluded that the Dominican Republic’s acceptance of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ (IACt-HR) jurisdiction in March 1999 by then-President Leonel Fernández marked a breach of Article 37, numeral 14 of the Constitution, which states that the National Congress is empowered to “approve or disapprove the treaties and international conventions signed by the Executive Branch.”

    It is worth mentioning that although the Dominican Congress ratified the American Convention on Human Rights on January 21, 1978, the country did not formally accept the IACt-HR’s jurisdiction until February 19, 1999. Over the past 15 years, the IACt-HR issued four judgments on the merits of cases and granted three provisional measures in the Dominican Republic, whose government had never challenged the jurisdiction of the Court on the grounds of the alleged supremacy of its national constitutional provisions. Indeed, the current Dominican Constitution was enacted in July 2002, three years after the acceptance of the IACt-HR’s jurisdiction—raising serious questions about whether national norms that regulate the ratification of international treaties can be applied retroactively.    

    Up until now, the only other country to attempt to withdraw the instrument of acceptance of the IACt-HR’s jurisdiction was Peru in July 1999. Can the Dominican justices who handed down the recent ruling be proud of sharing the same sense of commitment to human rights as Alberto Fujimori? They should at least be credited with authoring the Western Hemisphere’s first-ever judicial attempt to reject the IACt-HR’s jurisdiction.

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    Tags: Dominican Republic, Human Rights, Inter-American Court of Human Rights

  • Obama’s Executive Action on Immigrants in the Works

    November 13, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Today, U.S. officials said that President Barack Obama is planning to announce a broad overhaul of the national immigration enforcement system to protect up to 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation.

    The official announcement could come as early as next week, and Obama’s actions will be manifold. First, an enforcement memorandum would direct federal law enforcement and judicial agencies to deprioritize the deportation of undocumented immigrants with strong family ties and no criminal history. Another component of the executive order would allow many parents of children who are American citizens or have legal status to obtain legal work documents, thus quelling fears of family separation.

    Depending on the strictness of the White House’s final resolution, these protections would be extended to at least 2.5 million of these parents who have been in the country for at least 10 years—and potentially to 3.3 million more who have been in the country for 5 years, plus the 1 million unauthorized immigrant youth.  Lastly, Obama’s executive order would expand opportunities for immigrants with high-tech skills, reroute security resources to the border, and revive the immigration enforcement program called Secure Communities.

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    Tags: Barack Obama, Comprehensive Immigration Reform, Midterm Elections

  • Unrest Over Missing Students Escalates in Mexico

    November 12, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Demonstrations in Mexico intensified on Tuesday as protesters in Guerrero state took a police chief prisoner and set fire to the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) state headquarters in two separate protests related to the disappearance of 43 students missing since September.

    Protests have escalated after last week’s announcement that Guerreros Unidos (United Warriors) drug cartel members had confessed to killing the students after they were handed over to the cartel by municipal police in the southern city of Iguala. On Monday, thousands of protestors clashed with police and blocked access to Acapulco’s airport.

    Yesterday, the families of the missing students met with Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong and Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam for two hours to discuss the latest developments in the investigation. The presumed remains of the students have been sent to a specialized lab in Austria for identification. However, because the remains were burned for 14 hours, Murillo says that the chances for positive identification are slim. The parents of the students have repeatedly stated that they will presume their children alive until conclusive tests prove otherwise.

    The students’ disappearance has intensified the debate over the effectiveness of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s security strategy in the country. Both the UN and international human rights organizations have expressed concern over the government’s response to the crisis.

    Tags: Mexico, missing students, Crime and Security

  • Can the Democrats Recover from the Midterms?

    November 12, 2014

    by John Parisella

    For U.S. Democrats, hiding President Barack Obama and making the U.S. midterm elections about local politics was supposed to curtail the predicted gains of the Republican Party. 

    That strategy did not work, and the GOP gains turned into a wave. While midterms are not presidential elections, the new U.S. electoral map may favor the possibility of a trifecta sweep for the GOP in 2016.

    We can therefore expect a spirited race for the Republican presidential nominee in 2016.  And unlike the Democrats, who could claim Hillary Clinton as their nominee early in the primary season (if not before), the Republicans will dominate the news cycle once the Iowa caucuses meet in January 2016.  This could favor the GOP if the party veers closer to the political center.

    Is it over for Obama?  On November 6, Canada’s most respected daily, The Globe and Mail, published an editorial entitled “Obama is still alive and living in Washington.”  Yet despite the convincing GOP victory on November 4, U.S. pundits on the Sunday shows have been careful to avoid concluding that the Obama presidency is over.  Quite the opposite: spokespersons of both political parties recognize that political gridlock was likely uppermost in voters’ minds on Election Day.  Talk of bipartisan immigration reform, tax reform, and an infrastructure rebuilding project was heard on various news shows in the course of the week, thereby keeping Obama potentially relevant in the political mix.

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    Tags: Democratic Party, Barack Obama, U.S. presidential elections

  • São Paulo asks for $1.4 billion for Infrastructure Projects to Alleviate Drought Crisis

    November 11, 2014

    by AQ Online

    São Paulo Governor Gerardo Alckmin presented a $1.4 billion plan for eight infrastructure projects to mitigate the state’s drought crisis in a meeting with President Dilma Rousseff in Brasília yesterday.

    The meeting took place at the Palácio do Planalto between Rousseff, Alckmin, Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira and Planning Minister Miriam Belchior, with Belchior voicing concern over how the projects would be implemented. Some of the projects will not be done until the end of 2015, and others will take up to three years to complete. Governor Alckmin acknowledged that the projects do not create an immediate solution to the drought, but will alleviate water shortages in the longer-term. 

    Brazil is currently experiencing its worst drought in over 80 years. In São Paulo, the Cantareira reservoir system, which provides water for many of the city’s approximately 20 million inhabitants, had fallen to below 11.3 percent of its usual capacity as of November 9. Critics have complained that the presidential elections only served to deepen the crisis, as São Paulo’s opposition politicians were afraid to advocate for fines and regulations regarding water use for fear of losing votes. Given that Brazil produces 12 percent of the world’s fresh water, a lack of planning is a key source of the problem.

    The federal government indicated that it was willing to assist the São Paulo state financially with the drought crisis, but is awaiting further details before approving the payments. Next Monday, November 17, a new working group will meet to further discuss the projects and define how many people each project aims to benefit.

    Not only have residents had trouble getting water for personal consumption, but the economy is also starting to feel the adverse effects, with industrial as well as agricultural production dropping. Scientist Antonio Nobre has warned that deforestation of the Amazon is related to the current drought and said that continued deforestation could cause an even worse crisis. He has urged the country to act now to stop deforestation.

    Tags: Brazil Drought, Cantareira System, Sao Paulo

  • Is Dilma Rousseff the Answer for Brazilian Women?

    November 11, 2014

    by Shari Wejsa

    Brazil’s October 26 election was undoubtedly contentious. As incumbent Dilma Rousseff edged out centrist opposition leader Aeció Neves in a runoff with only 51.6 percent of the vote, it was one of the closest elections in Brazilian history.

    Ultimately, the Brazilian people opted for another four years with the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT). So what does Rousseff’s re-election mean for the political representation of Brazilian women? In what way do Brazilian women perceive Rousseff to be advancing their calls for progress and opportunity in a society in which “machista” ideals have traditionally disregarded women’s political and social prowess?

    Prior to the runoff, Pesquisa Datafolha published  research data revealing that women were more inclined to vote for Rousseff than men. Women in the North and Northeast—where poverty is highly concentrated among the predominantly Afro-Brazilian population—and less educated Brazilians were also significantly more likely to vote for Rousseff.  Rousseff’s overwhelming support in the North and Northeast led to claims that the PT “bought votes” through the conditional cash transfer program Bolsa Familia and other social programs. Meanwhile, the Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil, Secção Bahia (The Bahian Section of the Brazilian Bar Association—OAB-BA) received numerous human rights complaints about hate crimes against Brazilians from the Northeast after the election.

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    Tags: Women's Political Representation, Dilma Rousseff, Gender Equality