Likely top stories this week: Chileans protest in Santiago; Brazil sends the military into Rio’s favelas; Uruguay will receive five Guantánamo prisoners; Venezuela will investigate abuses during protests; Colombia sends troops to Buenaventura.
Chilean Protests: Newly-elected Chilean President Michelle Bachelet faced the first major protest of her new administration on Saturday, which was organized to remind the president of her commitment to constitutional reforms and to protecting Indigenous and LGBT rights and the environment. The demonstration, which convened anywhere between 25,000 to 150,000 people, depending on the source, was dubbed “the march of all marches” and was largely peaceful, though isolated clashes led police to deploy tear gas and water cannons. At least 50 people were arrested and three policemen injured, according to authorities.
Brazil to Deploy Military in Rio de Janeiro Favelas: Rio de Janeiro’s state governor, Sérgio Cabral, has requested military reinforcements to contain the recent upswing in violence in sections of Rio de Janeiro, six years after the city launched a campaign to reduce crime in the city ahead of the World Cup and Olympic Games. On Thursday, three police pacification units (Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora—UPP) were set on fire in apparently coordinated attacks. Human rights abuses by police have also added to the recent tension and eroded public trust in the police forces.
Uruguay Will Take in Guantánamo Prisoners: Uruguayan President José Mujica said that there are various job leads for the five Guantánamo prisoners from Syria that Uruguay said it would take in last week. Mujica, a former political prisoner, last week accepted a request from U.S. President Barack Obama to allow the five prisoners to live in Uruguay, since they cannot return to their country of origin. Currently, there are 154 detainees still in Guantánamo. Mujica also said he would likely cancel a May 12 meeting he had scheduled with Obama, in order to focus on Uruguay’s October elections.
Venezuela to Investigate Abuses: a 28 year-old pregnant Venezuelan woman was shot and killed this Sunday in Miranda state, adding to the list of casualties in the country’s recent protests. The woman, Adriana Urquiola, was not actually protesting, but was reportedly near a protest barricade when she was shot by gunmen in a dark car. Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz said that Venezuela will investigate 60 cases of human rights abuses. According to Díaz, 31 people have died since the protests began, and at least 15 officials have been imprisoned for links to the violence.
Gang Violence in Buenaventura, Colombia: Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón deployed an additional 700 troops to the port city of Buenaventura on Friday, a day after Human Rights Watch issued a report condemning the death and disappearance of hundreds of residents in the last three years. The crimes are attributed to powerful criminal groups with paramilitary backgrounds, such as the Urabeños and La Empresa. More than 19,000 people fled Buenaventura in 2013, according to official numbers.
On Tuesday former Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo plead guilty to a money-laundering case in New York City federal court and will be sentenced to four to six years in federal prison on June 23.
In exchange, prosecutor Preet Bharara has agreed to drop additional charges against Portillo that could result in a life-long sentence behind bars in the United States.
Portillo was extradited in a surprise morning operation in May 2013, one that he was unaware of until an hour before he was flown out of the country. Since then, he has been held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in New York.
U.S. District Judge Robert P. Patterson will officially announce the sentence later this year, but Portillo’s lawyers are hopeful that his sentence will account for time served, given that he has spent the last 50 months in jail. However, as the majority of his jail time was spent in the Guatemalan system, the final outcome rests in the hands of Judge Patterson.
A far cry from the initial charges of misappropriating an excess of $70 million dollars, current charges indict Portillo for receiving five checks from the Taiwanese Embassy in Guatemala, totaling $2.5 million dollars.
“I am guilty. I knew at the time that what I was doing was wrong, and I apologize for my crimes, take responsibility for them, and accept the consequences of my actions,” Portillo told the court through an interpreter.
"I understood that, in exchange for these payments, I would use my influence to have Guatemala continue to recognize Taiwan diplomatically," the former president said.
Speaking in defense of his client, David Rosenfield told the court, “He is a good and decent person, with an abiding love for the people and country of Guatemala. [This is] an aberration in an otherwise unblemished life.”
However, Rosenfield’s statement will be highly suspect to biographers of Portillo’s life, given that he remains the lead suspect of a double murder case in Mexico that took place in 1982. During the fiesta de la Reina de Independencia, a homecoming party in Zumpango del Rio, Portillo was involved in a disagreement during a late night trip to buy alcohol. The confrontation left two students dead, another injured and the future Guatemalan president on the lam, back to his native country. A Mexican judge declared the case “inactive” in 1995 but Portillo’s claims of innocence by virtue of self-defense are difficult to uphold given that the case never went to trial.
Astonishingly, Portillo went on to make political capital out of the situation in his 1999 presidential campaign, claiming that strong, no-nonsense leaders are able to make tough decisions, such as fleeing from country to country to avoid capture.
A month after Portillo’s presidency finished in January 2004, he made his second escape from prosecution. With the Ministerio Publico (MP) looking to pick him up on corruption charges, he fled to Mexico with four passports in his possession.
He was eventually captured in Puerto Barrios in 2010, hiding in a boat about to set sail for Belize. Since then he has been in military prison, from where he successfully beat the 2011 case of embezzlement of the Ministry of Defense brought against him.
The scandal has placed Guatemala’s relationship with Taiwan in question. Foreign minister Fernando Carrera has admitted that there is a $1 million annual rolling fund from the Taiwanese financing the redecoration of the ministry and the purchase of new vehicles. However, there have been calls to ditch ties with Taiwan and attempt to open diplomacy with mainland China, a relationship that currently does not exist.
Journalist Oscar Clemente Marroquín revealed that Portillo had been receiving gifts from the Taiwanese since the 1970s, including luxuries such as all-expenses-paid trips to five star hotels in Taiwan. “Almost all (Guatemalan) ambassadors told me to accept the offers. I never accepted these invitations because I always thought it was stupid for our country to allow itself to be used as a pawn in Taiwan’s political struggles with China,” said Marroquín.
Although Portillo was the one eventually caught, the question of the day is: how many other Guatemalan presidents have taken similar bribes over the past 40 years?
The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) condemned the removal of leftist Mayor of Bogotá Gustavo Petro from office Thursday, saying it will have a negative impact on the peace negotiations.
Last December, Petro, a former member of the demobilized guerrilla group Movimiento 19 de Abril (19th of April Movement—M-19), was removed as mayor and banned from holding office for 15 years by Colombian Attorney General Alejandro Ordoñez, for alleged mismanagement of the garbage collection system. A backlash of protests and lawsuits filed by Petro's supporters suspended his removal until Wednesday, when the Council of State reviewed and rejected the lawsuits and President Juan Manuel Santos approved Petro’s removal.
Iván Márquez, the FARC’s second in command, said that the decision to oust Petro affects the trust that has been built between the FARC and the government throughout the peace talks, and casts doubt on the promise of political participation for demobilized guerrillas.
Petro accused Santos of staging a coup on the city and showing his inability to achieve peace. Márquez stated that it will be impossible to achieve an agreement with the Colombian government if it continues to make decisions that undermine Colombian democracy, like the forced removal of a popularly elected official. “We can very respectfully say that the mafia of the right has taken the power,” Márquez added.
It may not be as dramatic as “Mr. Smith goes to Washington,” but Hillary Clinton’s conference at the Montreal Board of Trade Leadership Series on Tuesday had all the trappings of someone on the move towards the big prize in Washington. Unlike Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Nicholas Sarkozy, Tony Blair, and Rudy Giuliani, who participated in the Series after their active political careers, Mrs. Clinton was seen as a “leader with a future.” Will she or will she not run in 2016?
The event attracted over 4,000 patrons as well as the three major Québec political party leaders, who interrupted their election campaign to listen to Secretary Clinton, whom most of the attendees hoped will be the next President of the U.S.A. She won over the room with her presence, garnering a standing ovation before she even spoke. The conference was composed of an address given by Mrs. Clinton followed by a question and answer session.
In her speech, she spoke about women’s issues and the impact of integrating women into the economy, illustrating how studies show a marked increase in a country’s GDP if women are fully integrated and become active economic participants. It is clear that her work in philanthropy will continue to be focused on helping women in all spheres of human activity. Needless to say, her message was well received by the audience.
During the Q and A session two women, Mrs. Clinton, and the CEO of GazMétro, Sophie Brochu, spoke at length about economic issues, covering topics such as paid maternity leave in the U.S., relations between Canada and the U.S., the crisis in Ukraine, and civic engagement. The discussion was undoubtedly inspiring for many in the room.
The Cuban Council of State called an extraordinary session of the National Assembly in order to debate and approve a new foreign investment law on Saturday, March 29, the state-run Granma newspaper announced Wednesday.
The new law is meant to replace that current cumbersome 1995 law that requires foreign companies to pay both a profit tax and a labor tax and is seen as a part of massive reforms taken under President Raúl Castro to aid the ailing Cuban economy. Along with the upgrading of the Mariel Port and the creation of the Special Development Zone that will exempt businesses from the 12 percent profit tax for 10 years, the Communist Party Congress approved over 300 economic reforms in 2011, including moving 20 percent of state workers into the non-state sector and authorizing the sale of homes and cars.
While details of the law remained unclear, it is expected to make Cuba more attractive to investors who have pulled out of the island over the past 12 years due in part to Cuba’s burdensome tax system. Cuba’s economy only grew 2.7 percent in 2013, and with its commercial relationship with Venezuela at risk due to ongoing protests in the South American country, the Cuban economy could contract 4 to 7.7 percent this year.
Qatar’s World Cup 2022 Bid Committee said on Tuesday that it was not aware of alleged bribes paid by the former head of the country’s football association, Mohamed Bin Hammam, to former FIFA Executive Committee member Jack Warner. The statement comes as a response to a March report in the London-based Daily Telegraph that claimed that a company owned by Bin Hamman paid Warner $1.2 million for his vote as a member of the bid selection committee.
Qatar's organizing committee said in a statement that "The 2022 Bid Committee strictly adhered to FIFA's bidding regulations in compliance with their code of ethics," and that it was unaware of “any allegations surrounding business dealings between private individuals.”
Months after the December 2010 vote that granted hosting duties to Russia and Qatar in 2018 and 2022, respectively, FIFA President Sepp Blatter admitted that the governing body had made a “bad mistake” in the bidding process, and suspended two FIFA Executive Committee members—Oceania representative Reynald Temarii and African executive committee member Amos Adamu—due to bribery allegations.
Bin Hammam later ran against Blatter in the 2011 election for FIFA president, but days before the vote, Bin Hammam was accused of bribing Caribbean FIFA officials to vote for him in a plot allegedly involving Warner. As a result, Blatter ran unopposed and was elected to a fourth presidential term, while Bin Hammam was banned for life from FIFA activities and Warner resigned from the executive committee and as president of CONCACAF, the North American football governing body.
Qatar will become the smallest nation to host the tournament, though its bid has drawn criticism from human rights groups, as 1,200 Indian and Nepalese migrant laborers have died in recent months due to substandard work conditions.
Read a debate in Americas Quarterly about whether FIFA’s corruption has hurt the beautiful game.
Manuel Mondragón y Kalb, Mexico’s head of the National Security Commission, resigned on Monday. He had served in the position since 2013 and was in charge of crime control and prevention.
Although the motive for Mondragón y Kalb’s resignation is unclear, sources speculate that it was in part because Mondragón was far behind schedule on heading an anti-drug National Gendarmerie paramilitary force that was to be organized by September of 2013 with 10,000 officers. As it stands, the group will now will have an estimated 5,000 officers in its ranks. President Enrique Peña Nieto appointed Mondragón y Kalb as part of his promise to crack down on crime and drug related violence. However, while homicide and murder rates have decreased, other forms of violence have spiked. Between January and November of 2013 there were 32 percent more kidnappings in Mexico than during the previous year.
Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong is expected to make an official announcement of Mondragón’s resignation today. No replacement has been named yet. A trained plastic surgeon, Mondragón y Kalb held several federal positions prior to becoming the national security commissioner, including Police Chief of Mexico City.
El Salvador's Supreme Electoral Tribunal announced a winner of the March 9 presidential runoff a week after the election, leaving half of the country overjoyed and the other half in despair.
Salvador Sánchez Cerén, of the governing Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (Farabundo Marti Liberation Front—FMLN), won by a mere 0.22 percent of the general vote—equivalent to just over 6,000 votes. The final results (50.11 percent for the FMLN and 49.89 percent for the Alianza Republicana Nacionalista, or Nationalist Republican Alliance—ARENA) exemplify a nation divided in two.
The runoff result was a surprise to all. The first round election had given the FMLN a ten percentage point advantage over ARENA. How was ARENA able to cut the difference by so much in just three weeks? What implications does the result have for the FMLN, and what will governing El Salvador look like in the next presidential term?
El Salvador's recent presidential election represented the last possibility for ALBA expansion in the short term, since Cerén, a former leftist guerrilla, campaigned on possible ALBA adhesion.
Likely top stories this week: election results are sustained in El Salvador; Venezuelan protests continue; Santos is optimistic about peace with FARC; young immigrant protesters cross back into the U.S.; Gustavo Petro’s future as mayor is uncertain in Bogotá.
Cerén Declared Next President of El Salvador: El Salvador’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal officially rejected presidential candidate Norman Quijano’s calls to annul the country’s March 9 presidential elections on Sunday. Last Friday, the court declared Vice President Salvador Sánchez Cerén the next president of El Salvador, but Quijano claimed electoral fraud and demanded a vote-by-vote recount. The court said Sunday that there was not enough evidence to back up Quijano’s claims. Cerén won by a narrow margin, capturing 50.11 percent of the vote—or just 6,364 votes, according to the final count. Cerén will take office on June 1 and govern for five years.
Death Toll Mounts in Venezuelan Protests: After another day of protests on Sunday, Venezuelan security forces cleared demonstrators on Sunday from Plaza Altamira, a square in Caracas that has served as a center of the protests in Venezuela. A day after Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro issued an ultimatum to protesters on Saturday, troops entered the square on motorcycles, firing water cannons and tear gas into a crowd armed with rocks and homemade bombs. Government supports also rallied on Sunday, marching to the presidential palace to show support for Maduro. As of Thursday, Venezuelan state prosecutor Luisa Ortega Díaz announced that 28 people had been killed in the violence in the last six weeks.
Santos Says Colombia Could Reach Peace Deal by End of Year: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos maintains that the government could sign a peace agreement with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) by the end of 2014. The success of a peace deal has been called into question following the country’s legislative elections, which saw former President Álvaro Uribe’s new party, the Democratic Center, win the second-largest number of seats in the Senate. Uribe is deeply critical of the peace talks, and accuses the government of offering the guerrillas impunity for their crimes. Santos said that a deal would likely lead to efforts to eradicate coca crops and drastically reduce Colombia’s production of cocaine.
Mexican Immigrants Organize Mass Border-Crossing into U.S.: Approximately 60 immigrant protesters were detained on Sunday as they participated in a mass border-crossing into the United States to protest U.S. immigration policy. The protesters, most of whom are undocumented young people who entered the U.S. as children, crossed at the Tijuana-San Diego border in the third such crossing in a week. All of the protesters had been deported or left the country before President Barack Obama signed an order to defer deportation for childhood arrivals into the U.S. in June 2012. The protesters who attempted to cross the border this week have applied for asylum hearings.
Petro’s Fate Still Uncertain in Bogotá: Colombia’s Consejo de Estado (Council of State) must decide soon if Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro can remain in office after Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez ordered his removal in December. The Council of State is expected to convene on Tuesday to resolve the remaining appeals, and its decision will ultimately end up on the desk of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who is running for re-election in May. Meanwhile, even if Petro remains mayor, he could face a recall election on April 6.
Este mes, parte de Caracas y varias ciudades del país se volvieron campos de batalla entre estudiantes, ciudadanos de todas las edades y los cuerpos de seguridad del Estado. Organizaciones no gubernamentales, como el Foro Penal Venezolano, aseguraron el miércoles 12 de marzo que habían registrado 1.313 detenciones relacionadas con las protestas estudiantiles durante el mes de febrero.
En Caracas y Valencia, hay denuncias y documentación de maltratos de más de 34 jóvenes, y el Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Prensa denunció que más de 89 periodistas (algunos corresponsales extranjeros), han sido agredidos: 22 fueron detenidos temporalmente cuando cubrían las manifestaciones y a más de 20 les robaron sus equipos.
Para el 7 de marzo de 2014, la Fiscal General de la República, Luisa Ortega Díaz, ofreció nuevas cifras del conflicto: “Tenemos 318 personas lesionadas y 19 fallecidas. De las 318 lesionadas, 217 son civiles y 81 son funcionarios policiales y fiscales.”
Las elecciones del domingo pasado no sólo generaron un nuevo equilibrio de fuerzas en el Congreso sino que también reflejaron varias tendencias políticas.
El senador Uribe y 18 más
El resultado más destacado de la jornada electoral del 9 de marzo fue la irrupción del Centro Democrático como segunda fuerza política en el Senado. El estreno de un partido con más de 2 millones de votos—representando el 14 por ciento del total de los votos depositados—se convirtió en la noticia principal de las elecciones. A pesar de haber denunciado el Congreso como “ilegítimo” y corrupto en su cuenta de twitter, el nuevo senador Uribe confirmó que se posesionará en su escaño desde el Legislativo. La llegada de una bancada de 19 opositores de derecha al Senado no sólo reduce las amplias mayorías de la Unidad Nacional—el partido del presidente Juan Manuel Santos—sino que también obliga a recomponer las alianzas dentro la Cámara Alta. Los senadores conservadores y de la Opción Ciudadana (antiguo Partido de Integración Nacional—PIN) también subirán su cotización como nuevos “fieles” del Centro Democrático en el Senado.
A trial against former guerrilla leader Fermín Felipe Solano Barrillas of the Organización del Pueblo en Armas (Revolutionary Organization of Armed People—ORPA) began on Thursday for the massacre of 22 farmers in the town of El Aguacate, Chimaltenango, in 1998. Captured in May of 2013, Solano is charged with homicide and crimes against humanity. This is the first time that an ex-guerrilla is charged with participation in a massacre during Guatemala's 1960-1996 civil war.
The charges against Solano were filed by human rights organization Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo (The Mutual Support Group—GAM) on behalf of the victims’ families. Solano is the only one in trial for the massacre, although GAM has requested that authorities continue their investigation to find the role that Pedro Palma Lau, "Commander Pancho," played in the massacre. Palma is known by human rights activists to have been Solano’s superior.
Until now, attempts to uncover the atrocities from Guatemala’s civil war have focused on the Guatemalan Military. Most recently, former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was found guilty of genocide of the Maya Ixil people and sentenced to 80 years in prison. The sentence was later annulled by Guatemala’s highest court over claims that Montt’s due process was violated. Rios Montt’s trial is set to continue in January 2015.
Two-thirds of the 345,000 remaining World Cup tickets were sold within three hours of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA)’s final sales phase on Wednesday.
Tickets were made available for 60 of the 64 World Cup matches set to take place in June and July. The fastest selling tickets were to Brazil matches, followed by games for England, Germany, and the United States. Countries with the most purchases were Brazil (143,085), the United States (16,059), Australia (5,357), Colombia (4,574), and Argentina (3,800). Due to the influx of online customers, fans had to wait almost an hour in some cases to place their virtual purchases. Ticket sales will close on April 1 and a final round of last-minute ticket sales will open on April 15.
Prior to the final sales phase, 2.3 million of the total 3.3 million tickets had already been sold and distributed, including all tickets to the opening and closing matches in São Paulo and at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana, as well as the semifinals.
Brazil passed the 100 days to the World Cup mark last Monday and currently is still awaiting final construction on three of its stadiums. The ninth World Cup stadium, Arena da Amazônia, was inaugurated on Sunday, leaving Itaquerão, the Arena Pantanal, and the Arena da Baixada stadiums in São Paulo, Cuiabá and Curitiba, respectively, to be finished.
If there is one election campaign that usually resonates across Canada outside of a national election, it is the one held in the province of Québec (a federated state). This has been the case since the 1960s when the modern age of Québec politics and the growing impact of television converged. A strong thrust for major progressive reforms advocated by the Liberal government of the day, and the emergence of a strong nationalist fervor dominated the campaigns. The political effervescence of the day resulted in the creation of pro-Québec independence party with a social democratic agenda in 1968. It was named the Parti Québécois (PQ).
In the early 1970s the pro-independence and highly nationalist PQ became a growing force. By 1976, they formed a majority government and committed to have a referendum that would result in an independent Québec and the breaking up of Canada as we know it. Since then, the PQ has been in (1976-1985/1994-2003/2012-) and out of power but when in power, they tend to promote Québec’s political separation from a federal Canada. There have been two referenda in Quebec (1980,1995) and the pro-independence forces have lost both.
In September 2012, the PQ formed a minority government and has worked since then to win a majority by building up support. On March 5, Québec Premier Pauline Marois asked Québec’s Lieutenant Governor to dissolve the National Assembly for an election to be held on April 7. A majority would give the PQ the reins to push for Québec independence and possibly stronger advocacy of language legislation to protect the French language (Québec’s official and majority language).
La estabilidad interna de Venezuela es un tema relevante a la agenda política latinoamericana. La revolución bolivariana, cargada del ímpetu de su discurso anti-imperialista, puso a la disposición de la región recursos y voluntad para la materialización de un proyecto conjunto. Sin embargo, hace más de un mes que la violencia política y la represión aumentan en Venezuela. El fracaso económico del país petrolero se manifiesta en una inflación galopante y desabastecimiento, alta criminalidad y un próspero mercado de armas ilegales. La desesperación de la clase media comienza a permear a los más pobres, y la ausencia de un líder carismático ya no puede ser compensada con incrementos del gasto público.
Era de esperarse que este mes los principales mecanismos internacionales encargados de gestionar este tipo de crisis—o bien la Organización de Estados Americanos (OEA) o la Unión de Naciones Sudamericanas (UNASUR)—se activasen.
Suramerica aparenta estar paralizada: El embajador panameño, Arturo Valliarino, convocó ante la OEA una reunión de cancilleres para tratar el tema de Venezuela. Rápidamente, el embajador venezolano, Roy Chaderton, bloqueó los intentos de reunión. El canciller venezolano, Elías Jaua, entonces acusó a Panamá de seguir la agenda de Washington para perjudicar la imagen del gobierno de Venezuela y alentar una intervención. Justo después de una reunión privada del consejo permanente de la OEA—y coincidiendo con los actos del primer aniversario de la muerte de Hugo Chávez—Nicolás Maduro rompió relaciones con Panamá.
Salvadoran presidential candidate Norman Quijano demanded a recount of individual votes on Wednesday after preliminary results from Sunday’s elections showed that Quijano lost to former rebel and current Vice President Salvador Sánchez Cerén by fewer than 7,000 votes.
“We are not going to permit fraud of the chavista or Maduro type in Venezuela. This is El Salvador,” said Quijano, responding to the close vote that favored Cerén 50.11 percent to Quijano’s 49.89 percent.
The electoral council has denied Quijano’s request for a vote-by-vote recount, but the Supreme Electoral Tribunal is verifying that polling station records are in line with electronic tallies. Final results are expected to be announced on Friday.
Quijano’s Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (Nationalist Republican Alliance—ARENA) and Cerén’s Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (Farabundo Marti Liberation Front—FMLN) were the main protagonists of El Salvador’s bloody 1979-92 civil war, and this week’s election results showed how divided the country remains more than two decades later.
Quijano, the former mayor of San Salvador, ran on a law and order platform and campaigned against the country’s high crime rate and notorious street gangs. If the results stand, Cerén, the current vice-president, would become the first former guerilla president of El Salvador.
Los venezolanos siempre se han vanagloriado de su “sentido del humor” para superar adversidades. No es una sobrevaloración: vivir en una crisis perenne, a pesar de la riqueza nacional, requiere mucho más que un simple buen talante.
Es comprensible, entonces, que el 5 de marzo, en el primer aniversario de la muerte del presidente Hugo Chávez, una de las noticias más tuiteada fuese: “Se cumple un año del día que dijiste ‘cualquier cosa es mejor que Chávez,’” parodia del site de notas falsas “El Chiguire Bipolar.” Fiel a su estilo, “El Chiguire”–como es conocido en Venezuela–puso el dedo en la llaga con la sátira, claramente crítica a la oposición radical.
El chiste viene como anillo al dedo en el contexto actual. Durante un mes, centenas de personas han salido a las calles para mostrar su descontento con el Gobierno nacional. En manifestaciones improvisadas, golpeando ollas, administrando barricadas, quemando basura o simplemente elevando carteles, los manifestantes sólo piden una cosa: la salida inmediata de Nicolás Maduro, presidente y heredero político de Chávez.
No es que no existan motivos de sobra por los qué protestar en Venezuela. Su capital, Caracas, es la sexta ciudad más cara del mundo, según reveló el reciente análisis Costo de Vida Mundial 2014, producido por la revista inglesa The Economist. El informe evaluó los precios de 160 productos y servicios en 140 ciudades, y concluyó, entre otras cosas, que Caracas es tan cara como Tokio.
Finalmente las sospechas se cumplieron: el expresidente Álvaro Uribe llegó al Senado de la República de Colombia convirtiéndose en el mayor elector de la jornada, y logró que 19 candidatos de su nuevo movimiento, Centro Democrático, ocuparan sillas en el congreso. Aunque los más optimistas dentro de sus filas pronosticaban hasta 35 sillas, lo cierto es que el Centro Democrático solo fue superado por el Partido de la U—que logró 21 sillas—un movimiento paradójicamente creado a su imagen y semejanza ocho años atrás, cuando sus integrantes apoyaban a quien hoy es su principal enemigo: el presidente Juan Manuel Santos.
Aunque Santos conserva la mayoría en el congreso—pues los partidos Liberal, Cambio Radical y Conservador que hacen parte de la Unidad Nacional, en suma lo dejan con el 65 por ciento del Congreso—lo cierto es que se vienen debates álgidos con Uribe como el gran opositor a la paz, que es el caballito de batalla de Santos. Y, continuando con las paradojas de la política, el partido de Uribe se queda en una esfera que hasta hace dos días era ocupada sólo por el izquierdista Polo Democrático, el único contrapeso que el oficialismo tenía en el hemiciclo.
Lo que puede resultar esperanzador, en medio de la falta de legitimidad de un Congreso que lleva años eligiendo a parapolíticos y que en estos comicios no fue la excepción—33 electos tienen relaciones "non sanctas" con grupos armados, según la Fundación Paz y Reconciliación—es que figuras de gran peso político pueden generar debates sesudos y plurales. Pesos pesados como Jorge Robledo e Iván Cepeda (Polo Democrático), Claudia López—un fenómeno electoral con 80.000 votos de opinión—y Antonio Navarro (Partido Verde), Horacio Serpa, Viviane Morales y Juan Manuel Galán (Partido Liberal) y Carlos Fernando Galán (Cambio Radical), han ocupado altos cargos en el Estado. Estas figuras tienen trayectoria política, se les conoce por su seriedad y pocos cuestionan su transparencia.
On Tuesday, March 11, in her first act as senate president, Senator Isabel Allende will place a red, white and blue sash over the shoulder of Michelle Bachelet, officially making her the first re-elected president of Chile’s modern era.
It will be a moment loaded with symbolism of the country’s struggle to break the shackles of a recent dictatorship and age-old traditions of patriarchy and machismo. Both Allende and Bachelet lost their fathers in the days following the country’s September 11, 1973 military coup
Salvador Allende, Senator Allende’s father, was the first democratically-elected Marxist head of state in Latin America. He took his own life in the presidential palace, rather than submit to the military forces that bombed La Moneda palace and maintained power for the next 17 years with a reign of terror and unimaginable atrocity. His daughter escaped with her life and was forced into exile for the duration of the dictatorship. She returned to pursue a long-standing and distinguished career as a parliamentarian and champion of progressive causes.
Brigadier General Alberto Bachelet died from torture at the hands of his former military colleagues for remaining loyal to President Allende. His daughter was captured and imprisoned before she, too, made it out of the country and lived in exile.
Michelle Bachelet returned to Chile to practice medicine and eventually went on to become health minister, then the first female defense minister in Latin America and, later, Chile’s first female president. She left office with an enviable 84 percent approval rating. During the Piñera years, she became the inaugural head of UN Women, earning the praise and esteem of world leaders. She returned, triumphant, to sweep first the primaries, followed by the first round of general elections and finally the runoff vote.
But these potent and evocative narratives obscure another reality—just how difficult this term will be for Bachelet.
As tensions between the United States and Russia over the future of the Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula continue to rise, Moscow officials may look to beef up their country’s stronghold in Latin America.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced on February 26 that his country is planning to expand its long-standing military presence in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, possibly bringing the U.S. and Russia’s icy diplomatic standoff into the Western Hemisphere.
Although Shoigu mentioned that Russia would also boost its armed presence in Vietnam, Singapore, the Seychelles and several other countries, Moscow’s anticipated embankment in Latin America will surely be perceived as a threat to U.S. defense policymakers.
“The talks are under way, and we are close to signing the relevant documents,” Shoigu said in a press conference in Moscow. “We need bases for refueling near the equator, and in other places,” he explained.
It is still unclear, however, whether Russia will construct new Moscow-owned bases in the proposed countries. Russia may only seek permission from already-existing naval defense ports to increase its access to military stations with refueling, maintenance and repair capabilities. The country’s only naval base outside the country is located in Tartus, Syria.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will be cancelling the second leg of his Latin American trip that was announced last month in order to meet with Ukrainian interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and President Obama in Washington this week. The Vice President, who is currently in Chile for Michelle Bachelet’s inauguration, will no longer meet with Dominican president Danilo Medina to discuss regional cooperation, AFP reported yesterday.
Biden took advantage of his time in Chile to meet with Presidents Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico and Ollanta Humala of Peru to discuss the recent conflict in Venezuela. In written comments to Chile’s daily newspaper El Mercurio, Biden denounced President Nicolás Maduro’s administration’s handling of the largely peaceful student protests. The comments came after the Organization of American States voted 29 to 3 last Friday to not send a mission to Venezuela, standing in solidarity with the government. Only the U.S., Canada and Panama opposed the declaration.
Biden’s aides confirmed that the vice president intends to reschedule his trip to the Dominican Republic in order to meet with President Medina.
Likely top stories this week: Salvadoran presidential candidates are running neck-in-neck; former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe wins a Senate seat; Chilean President-elect Michelle Bachelet meets regional leaders before her inauguration; UNASUR countries gather in Chile to discuss Venezuela; Brazil inaugurates its ninth World Cup stadium, with three more to go.
Salvadoran Elections Remain “Too Close to Call”: Salvadorans went to the polls on Sunday in a runoff election between presidential candidates Salvador Sánchez Cerén and Norman Quijano. The country’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal asked both candidates to refrain from claiming victory until the results have been fully calculated—which may take until Thursday, according to officials. Vice President Sánchez Cerén, of the Farabundo Martí Liberation Front (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional—FMLN) and a former guerrilla, was just ahead of Quijano, of the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (Alianza Republicana Nacionalista—Arena) party, in the latest polls, with a razor-thin .22 percentage point lead.
Uribe elected to Senate in Colombian Elections: In Sunday’s legislative elections, President Juan Manuel Santos’ coalition claimed 47 out of 102 Senate seats and 92 out of 166 seats in the Lower House, while voters elected former President Álvaro Uribe of the Democratic Center (Centro Democrático) to a seat in the Senate. Uribe has been highly critical of Santos’ government’s peace talks with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) in Havana. Santos congratulated Uribe and said, “I hope that we can leave aside the hatred and resentments, and can work for the country.” Santos is running for re-election in May’s presidential elections.
Bachelet to Meet with Maduro Before Inauguration: Chilean President-elect Michelle Bachelet will have an intense day of meetings before her inauguration on Tuesday, including a meeting with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and other regional leaders. More than 20 countries are sending representatives to the inauguration. Vice President Joe Biden will represent the United States, and met with Bachelet this morning.
UNASUR Meeting in Chile: Latin American foreign ministers and heads of state in the Union of South American Nations (Unión de Naciones Suramericanas—UNASUR) will meet in Chile on Wednesday to discuss the political unrest in Venezuela, where an estimated 21 people have died in continuing protests. This morning, the Venezuelan National Guard reportedly dismantled barricades in the city of San Cristobal. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa announced the UNASUR meeting last Thursday, adding that the Venezuelan president “would never be capable of repressing his own people.”
Brazil Inaugurates World Cup Stadium: On Sunday, Brazil inaugurated its ninth World Cup stadium in the Amazonian city of Manaus. The stadium, Arena da Amazonia, was inaugurated a month later than expected and is still not yet fully completed, but 20,000 people attended a regional championship match there on Sunday. Three workers were killed in the stadium’s construction, and it cost $70 million more than expected. Brazil still needs to complete construction on three stadiums before June: Itaquerão in São Paulo, the Arena Pantanal in Cuiabá, and the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba.
Las campañas electorales en Colombia parecen calcadas una de la otra: los partidos políticos quedan expuestos en la picota pública por avalar a personajes sospechosos; los grandes barones electorales o sus herederos vuelven al curul; las regiones escasamente proponen caras nuevas; y aquellas colectividades que por no alcanzar el umbral requerido de votos en los anteriores comicios perdieron la personería jurídica, respaldan movimientos ciudadanos avalados por firmas, pocas veces nacidos de una genuina intención ciudadana, y en cambio, con una fuerte maquinaria de los políticos tradicionales detrás.
Si las cosas continúan así, tras la jornada electoral a la que Colombia asiste este domingo 9 de marzo para elegir 262 parlamentarios entre Cámara y Senado, el Congreso no tendrá mucha renovación. Salvo a la inquietud de saber finalmente cuántas curules obtendrá la lista cerrada del partido Centro Democrático, encabezada por el ex presidente Álvaro Uribe (entre 15 y 36, según el grado de optimismo y cálculo político de uribistas o antiuribistas), el camino carece de sorpresas.
Nadie duda la llegada de Uribe al Senado y el escenario de álgido debate que este promete en el Congreso. Después de todo, muchos de sus más grandes contradictores estarán allí esperando cuestionarlo por temas tan álgidos como las chuzadas del DAS, la persecución política y judicial de oponentes políticos y periodistas, y las acusaciones públicas que el ex mandatario solía hacer contra sus opositores. En esta lista, figuran senadores que seguro serán repitentes como los del Polo Democratico—Jorge Robledo e Iván Cepeda, los del Cambio Radical como Germán Varon, y los nuevos aspirantes como la investigadora Claudia López de la Alianza Verde, reconocida por su papel en la revelación de los más oscuros pasajes de la parapolítica en Colombia. Habrá que ver si sólo el voto de opinión—es decir, sin la maquinaria clásica que amarra el sufragio en Colombia—le permite a ella y a otros partidos chicos alcanzar el umbral de 450 mil votos para poder participar en estos debates.
This week, AQ entered our Fall 2013 Media in the Americas: Threats to Free Speech cover in the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) Readers’ Choice Award contest on Facebook. We are currently in first place in the "Brainiest" magazine category—which includes publications like The Atlantic, Wired, and Business Week, among others—and we need your help to win it!
Please click here and “Like” on Facebook to vote for our Fall cover. We are the only Latin American title in the running. In doing so, you'll be supporting us, the region, our community, and our work for quality journalism, writing and public debate.
You have until Sunday, March 9, at midnight to vote by clicking “Like” on the ASME Facebook page. We only have a few days left: now more than ever, your vote counts!
The penal system does not work; criminals that do jail time do not reform. We’ve heard these arguments in Mexico before—and for the most part, they seem to be true.
Stories abound of drug lords continuing to run their operations from within their cells by using unauthorized mobile phones, and of youth that are imprisoned for minor crimes, only to turn into full-blown criminals once they enter the penal system.
However, one case in Baja California sheds a beacon of light that could be a sign of better things to come in the Mexican penitentiary system.
Pedro Antonio Gerardo Acosta is a 29-year-old inmate in the El Hongo jail near the city of Tecate in Baja California, serving a 20-year sentence for kidnapping. This convicted criminal also recently obtained the highest score in the country on the national academic test for higher education (public and private), administered by the Centro Nacional de Evaluación para la Educación Superior A.C. (National Evaluation Center for Higher Education—CENEVAL).
Gerardo Acosta is one of the first inmates to graduate from a pilot program run by the Baja California State Penitentiary and the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California (UABC), which allows people serving a sentence in El Hongo to receive higher education while incarcerated. Along with Gerardo Acosta’s amazing achievement, two of his inmate classmates also received special recognition for outstanding academic performance in 2013.
At least seven military police were injured in a confrontation with Indigenous Mapuche in the Araucania region of Chile on Wednesday.
The clash began on Monday when 30 hooded individuals, presumed to be Mapuches took over the privately-owned El Canelo farm in an act to reclaim land they believed to be theirs by ancestral rights. After the perpetrators set fire to the land, military police intervened and were met with pellet guns, resulting in seven wounded officers, who are currently in stable condition at the Talcahuano Naval Hospital.
General Ivan Bezmalinovic, head of the police force in the eighth region of Chile where the conflict occurred, stated that a special operations group was sent in to prevent further fire outbreaks from land invaders. However, according to the Mapuche community, the fire at El Canelo was not an ambush, but rather an act of self-defense against new police assaults on land the group claims as their own.
The incident comes days after a Mapuche leader was sentenced to 18 years in prison for arson and the resulting deaths of the property owners. Conflicts between indigenous communities and private land holders and extractive corporations are ongoing, particularly in southern Chile where there is a population of nearly one million Mapuche. The International Labor Organization's Convention 169 went into full effect in Chile on September 15, 2009, which recognizes the land rights of such communities; however tensions remain high.
Stay tuned for Americas Quarterly's Spring 2014 issue for in-depth analysis of ILO 169, land rights, and previous consultation.
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Diplomacy during the Cold War, wrote Sam Tanenhaus in last Sunday’s New York Times, may have been more of a high wire act than a chess match—but diplomacy, neither then nor now, is a tug of war.
Unfortunately, that’s the way it’s being conducted in the U.S.’ delinked Cuba-Venezuela policies—hostages to age-old vendettas, anachronistic policies and the persistent failure to develop policy in the hemisphere through a broader geostrategic lens.
In this case, our ability to play a larger, more constructive role in the deteriorating political situation in Venezuela is being held back by our utter lack of leverage over Cuba.
Since Hugo Chávez took the oath of office in 1999, the former lieutenant colonel’s Bolivarian Revolution has been a beneficiary of Cuban intelligence and planning services that have helped the movement reorganize the intelligence services, gut the electoral council and create community militias (the now-infamous colectivos).
A U.S. federal judge ruled in favor of Chevron Corp. yesterday, dealing a blow to the 30,000 Amazonian villagers who successfully sued the California-based oil company for $9.5 billion over environmental damage in 2011.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan wrote that U.S. courts could not be used to collect the $9.5 billion sum, citing wrongful conduct on the part of the prosecution. The court found that New York City lawyer Steven Donziger and Ecuadorian lawyers corrupted the case in Ecuador by submitting fraudulent evidence and bribing an Ecuadorian judge with $500,000 to rule in their favor.
Donziger responded that his team would quickly appeal the decision, while Chevron called the ruling a “resounding victory for Chevron and our stockholders.”
In 2011, a judge in Ecuador awarded $18 billion to five Amazonian tribes suing Chevron for environmental damage caused by Texaco—which was later bought by Chevron—between 1972 and 1990 in the Lago Agrio region. Ecuador’s highest court upheld the judgment, but reduced the amount to $9.5 billion.
Chevron claims that a 1998 agreement it signed with Texaco absolves it of liability for any the 18 billion gallons of toxic waste and 17 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the rainforest.
The Ecuadorian Embassy in Washington, which is not involved in the case, issued a statement saying that yesterday’s ruling "does not exonerate Chevron from its own legal and moral responsibilities resulting from its decades of contamination of the rainforest that has endangered the lives, culture, and environment of countless poor, indigenous people."
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The Sochi Games are over and Russian President Vladimir Putin is back to business as usual. The decision to use Russian troops following the Ukraine’s establishment of a new government is reminiscent of Cold War politics and Putin’s disregard for international law.
In reaction, the Canadian government has already chosen to recall its ambassador to Russia. Through President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, the U.S. government has also warned that there will be consequences to Putin’s response to the change of government in Kiev.
In recent weeks, the Western world has seen the street reaction in Kiev’s Independence Square to now former President Victor Yanukovich’s decision to choose a Putin-directed economic deal over one from the European Union. The violence ordered by Yanukovich to quell the protesters only intensified and inflamed the degree of opposition. Many in the West following the Olympics in Sochi were stunned by how quickly the ‘’street revolution’’ replaced Yanukovich and installed a new government in accordance with the Ukrainian constitution (impeaching Yanukovich and releasing a prominent political opponent were both legal and constitutional).
Certainly, Putin’s objective to present the best face of Russia to the world during Sochi suffered a major setback. While invading and taking control of Crimea may give him the upper hand against a cash–strapped Ukraine with a new provisional government, it does little to show the emergence of a new Russia. Already, the anti-gay law and the release of political opponents from prison depicted the calculation of a ruthless and inward–looking leader.
What’s the best way to protect a seven-month-old girl from the effects of tear gas? Is it dangerous for her to breathe the smoke from a pile of burning garbage in front of this building? Can a 9-millimeter bullet pass through the walls of our apartment? Will I find food for my family next week in our densely populated middle-class neighborhood, or should we stock an emergency reserve of groceries?
These are some of the questions that my wife and I have been asking ourselves since February 12, when members of Venezuela's political opposition marched on downtown Caracas and were attacked by supporters of the recently deceased president, Hugo Chávez. Two students were shot in the head and killed, and the subsequent rage pushed the opposition to continue the most recent series of protests against the régime that inherited Chávez’s idea of power.
We live in an apartment half a block away from Plaza Altamira in Caracas, one of the main sites of the upheaval. Several times, the tide of the struggle has penetrated the borders of our private life.
The origins of all this mayhem date back to Venezuela’s surreal chavista experiment, but the immediate trigger was a protest following an attempted rape at a college campus in San Cristóbal, the capital of the state of Táchira, on the Colombian border. The National Guard responded with extreme force, the demonstrators multiplied, and two opposition politicians—the youthful and charismatic former Caracas mayor Leopoldo López and congresswoman María Corina Machado—claimed that the only way to save the country was to occupy the streets and to build up the pressure against Chávez’s chosen heir, President Nicolás Maduro, who took office after winning by less than 2 percent of the vote in contested elections last year. In Maduro’s first year, Venezuela has continued to experience the levels of urban violence, inflation and scarcity of basic goods usually associated with wartime.
The U.S. Supreme Court signaled that it would leave contentious immigration issues to the jurisdiction of the legislative branch on Monday when it decided against hearing appeals from Farmers Branch, Texas and Hazleton, Pennsylvania.
The two towns had sought to overturn decisions by appeals courts that struck down ordinances that criminalized the occupation of property by any individual who did not have a license certifying that he or she is a U.S. citizen. The local laws also allowed towns to fine landlords who rented property to tenants without licenses as well as businesses that knowingly hire undocumented immigrants.
The lengthy legal battle cost Farmers Branch more than $6 million over an eight-year period. Five out of six similar housing ordinances have been struck down by U.S. District Courts.
There is speculation that a similar ordinance from Fremont, Nebraska, which was left untouched by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last June and was adopted via a new vote last month, will be appealed in the Supreme Court. The United States’ highest court hasn’t heard a major case on immigration since 2012.
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Likely top stories this week: Nicaraguans vote in local elections; protests continue in Venezuela; the FARC says it will continue peace talks during elections; a Mapuche leader is sentenced to prison; Chileans no longer need visas to enter the United States.
Nicaraguan Elections: Nicaraguans overwhelmingly supported the ruling Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (The Sandinista National Liberation Front—FSLN) Sunday in elections for regional councilmembers in the country’s two autonomous regions—the North Atlantic Autonomous Region and the South Atlantic Autonomous Region. Opposition leaders alleged that Sunday’s elections were marred by irregularities as well as violence, but the FSLN said that the elections were conducted in an orderly and peaceful manner and attributed five deaths in El Tortuguero on Sunday to common crime. 300,000 Nicaraguans of African, mestizo or Indigenous descent were registered to vote in the elections.
Protests Continue in Venezuela Despite Carnival: Protesters marched through the streets of Caracas on Sunday to protest the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, as the death toll from three weeks of conflict has risen to at least 17 people. Maduro encouraged Venezuelans to observe the Carnival holiday, hoping to dampen the protests. On Sunday, the Venezuelan state prosecutor’s office announced that it had released 41 detainees. The anniversary of Hugo Chávez’ death is on Wednesday, March 5, and may spark more clashes.
Peace Talks to Continue During Colombian Elections: Peace negotiators for the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) confirmed on Sunday that the guerrillas will continue to negotiate with the Colombian government even as elections take place on March 9. Colombians will elect legislators next Sunday, and vote for president and vice president at the end of May. On Friday, members of the FARC said that they had invited the United States government to join in the peace talks, but the U.S. State Department said it was unaware of efforts to make the U.S. a party to the peace negotiations.
Chilean Indigenous Leader Sentenced: Mapuche leader Celestino Cordova was sentenced to 18 years in prison on Friday for his role in an arson attack in southern Chile that killed an elderly couple last January in a dispute over Indigenous land rights. The attack coincided with the five-year anniversary of the death of Mapuche student Matias Catrileo, who was killed by policemen in a land dispute in January 2008. Cordova’s lawyers plan to appeal the ruling, saying that there is no evidence to prove that he was involved in the attack.
Chile, U.S. Waive Visa Requirements: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced on Friday that Chilean citizens do not need a visa to enter the United States, making Chile the only country in Latin America to join the list of 38 countries in the U.S. visa waiver program (Mexico enjoys its own special status). U.S. citizens will now also be able to avoid a $160 “reciprocity fee” that they paid upon entering Chile. Chileans will no longer need a visa to enter the United States starting on May 1.
El pasado sábado 22 de febrero de 2014, en el estado mexicano de Sinaloa, fue capturado en el puerto de Mazatlán Joaquín “el Chapo” Guzmán, el narcotraficante más buscado del mundo.
Nadie en su sano juicio podría estar en contra de su captura. Como líder del cartel de Sinaloa, se le achacan infinidad de muertes desde su fuga en 2001, además de ser el responsable de la introducción de gran parte de la droga que cruza la frontera hacia los Estados Unidos.
Sin embargo, la forma en que se llevó a cabo su detención ha generado muchas suspicacias, algunas sin fundamento y otras que mueven a la reflexión.
Lo que más extraña es el hecho de que el famoso capo estuviera acompañado tan solo por un guardaespaldas, además de su familia, siendo que era conocido que tenía un grupo de más de 300 personas para cuidarlo. Sorprende mucho que ni siquiera hubiera algunos de sus hombres, de los llamados “halcones,” apostados en las cercanías para avisarle de la llegada de las autoridades.
The United States released the second member of a group of five Cuban prisoners—known as the “Cuban Five”—from an Arizona prison on Thursday. Fernando González, 54, was convicted in 2001 of spying on military bases and Cuban exiles in South Florida, and is expected to be deported back to Cuba within days.
René González, a native of Chicago with dual citizenship, was the first member of the group to be freed in 2011, and returned to Cuba last year. The other members, Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labaniño, will complete their terms in 2017 and 2024, respectively. The last member, Gerardo Hernández, is serving a double life sentence for conspiracy to commit murder after two planes flown by a Cuban exile group, Brothers to the Rescue, were shot down in 1996.
Over the last decade, the “Cuban Five” have been at the center of diplomatic tensions between the U.S. government and the Castro regime. The Cuban government allegedly offered to release the jailed USAID contractor Alan Gross in exchange for the freedom of the five Cuban prisoners, but Washington rejected the deal, saying that Gross did not engage in any intelligence-gathering on the island. The Cuban government jailed Gross on charges of committing crimes against the state, and he remains in prison.
González’ release comes two weeks after a national poll found that the majority of Americans support normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro invited opposition leaders to the presidential palace on Wednesday for a peace conference in an effort to quell the worst unrest in in the country in a decade that has claimed 13 lives thus far.
Some have questioned the sincerity of Maduro’s peace conference efforts. Henrique Capriles, the presidential opposition candidate who lost by a narrow margin to Maduro in 2013, called the meeting an empty appeal and nothing more than a photo opportunity. Jorge Arreaza, vice president of the opposition group Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Democracy Unity Roundtable—MUD), slammed the conference saying that “we will not lend ourselves to a sham dialogue that would end in a mockery of our compatriots.”
Meanwhile, a number of international leaders, including Pope Francis and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, have called for an end to the escalating violence that began on February 12, and urged more dialogue between parties. Former U.S. President and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Jimmy Carter has urged Maduro and Capriles to retain the population’s right to peaceful protests and unbiased trails for those arrested and announced his hopes to meet with leaders from both sides during a trip to Venezuela planned for April 29.
Read updates on the crisis in Venezuela in AS/COA’s Venezuela Resource Guide.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.