After weeks of unrest, the Venezuelan government and the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Democratic Unity Roundtable—MUD) opposition coalition agreed on Tuesday to “formal talks” to end the anti-government protests.
The two sides have tentatively planned to meet on Thursday for a discussion mediated by the Vatican and the Unión de Naciones Suramericanas (Union of South American Nations—UNASUR). The foreign ministers of Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador are also expected to attend Thursday’s meeting.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro praised the preliminary talk on Tuesday, but said his government is not willing veer away from the Bolivarian Revolution. “Neither will we try and convert them [the opposition] to Bolivarian socialism, nor will they convert us to capitalism,” Maduro said.
Leopoldo López, the recently-imprisoned leader of the Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) party and member of the MUD, expressed skepticism about the talks, saying in a message published by his wife on Twitter, “I believe deeply in dialogue, but in a dialogue of equals, not [with one side] on its knees.” A new round of protests erupted on Friday after Venezuela’s attorney general charged López with inciting violence, arson, damage to property and conspiracy.
The announcement of formal talks comes two weeks after Venezuelan government troops cleared the western city of San Cristobál, where the countrywide protests began in February. Since then, 39 people have died and over 600 have been injured in the unrest.
Brazil’s Minister of Ports, Antônio Henrique Pinheiro Silveira stopped in Washington, D.C. last week on his hemispheric road-show to present the details of Brazil’s latest port modernization efforts. In June of 2013, the Brazilian government passed new regulatory reform laws for ports, in hopes of modernizing current infrastructure, increasing efficiencies and driving competition.
Since 2005, Brazil has experienced a boom in commodity exports such as soy, sugar, meat, coffee, tobacco, orange juice, and minerals. Much of this demand stems from China, who became Brazil’s largest trading partner in 2012. But the outdated ports and other trade infrastructure in Brazil has become a hindrance to economic growth.
The private sector is concerned about the bottlenecks in Brazil’s trade infrastructure as well as the costs in getting products to the global markets. One of the biggest problems facing exporters in Brazil is the country’s reliance on trucks and poor highway systems to connect goods to ports. In 2013, a truck gridlock stretched for 31 miles outside of Santos, a major port in São Paulo that accounts for 25 percent of all agricultural exports. A lack of railway and waterway infrastructure forces companies to rely on a limited number of roads to transport goods from farms and mines to the ships at port.
Another obstacle for the private sector is port capacity. There is rising demand for additional ports and terminal capacity in states like Pará, home of the Amazon River basin. As the Panama Canal upgrades are completed, Pará is will be a key port for increased trade in the north.
Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli publicly defended his decision to declare a year-long state of emergency, on Monday. The decree was announced Saturday in response to a wave of violence, including attempted lynching, sweeping across Argentina that is seen as a result of a perceived absence of the state.
In a move that has been criticized by human rights groups, Buenos Aires province, which represents 35 percent of Argentina’s electorate, immediately recalled retired police officers to increase the law enforcement forces to 5,000 agents. The state of emergency also calls for the establishment of eight new detention centers and four new prisons and a 600 million-peso investment in police equipment. It also requires that the provinces’ Security Council to be in permanent session.
According to a new poll by Management & Fit, nine out of 10 Argentines feels that insecurity is the main problem facing the country, ahead of inflation, unemployment and corruption. Moreover, 38.7 percent of those interviewed blame President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner for crime wave.
Unchallenged Costa Rican Candidate Wins Presidency: Luis Guillermo Solís of the Partido Acción Ciudadana (Citizen Action Party—PAC) won Sunday’s presidential election in Costa Rica, claiming 78 percent of the vote. The challenging candidate, Johnny Araya of the Partido Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Party—PLN), dropped out of the running after a March 5 opinion poll ranked his support at 22 percent, compared to Solís’s 64 percent, but remained on the ballot due to constitutional law. The monumental vote marks the first time in 44 years that a third-party candidate has been elected. Solís has vowed to strengthen small businesses and social and environmental programs through an activist government, however passing new legislation may prove difficult as PAC holds just 13 of the 57 seats in the National Assembly. Solís will be sworn into office on May 8.
Pressure Increases on Obama Administration over Deportations: A New York Times report has shown that two-thirds of the nearly two million undocumented immigrants deported under the Obama Administration—a record number of deportations—had either committed minor infractions or had no criminal record at the time of their removal. Only 20 percent of those deported had been convicted of serious offenses, the demographic the Obama Administration has purported to target for removal. The President has typically side-stepped executive authority to act on this issue—with the exception of the 2012 passage of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which temporarily suspends deportation and authorizes approved applicants to work in the U.S. legally—in order to allow Congress time to move forward with comprehensive immigration reform. Yet pressure is mounting on his administration to halt deportations and fix the country’s broken immigration system.
Venezuela Slams Spain for Halting Export of Riot Gear: The administration of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro questioned the “moral authority” of the Spanish government after it halted the export of anti-riot and police equipment to Venezuela. Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Garcia Margallo said on Saturday that his government suspended sales in order to stop adding “fuel to the fire when there is a conflict.” The decision comes after weeks of violence between protesters, police and armed militia that have killed 39 people and injured over 600. A new round of protests erupted on Friday after Venezuela’s attorney general charged opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez with inciting violence, arson, damage to property and conspiracy.
FIFA Admits Brazil Is Still Behind Schedule: With less than 70 days before the 2014 World Cup kicks off in Brazil, FIFA’s Secretary General Jerome Valcke said that preparations are still behind schedule. During a press conference in South Africa on Wednesday, Valcke said, "If you want me to summarize... we are not ready.” Two stadiums, the Itaquerão in São Paulo and the Estadio Beira Rio in Porto Alegre, remain unfinished. Construction at Itaquerão, the venue for the opening match on June 12, has been delayed due to the death of a worker two weeks ago—the third to die while working on that stadium and the seventh preparing for the tournament countrywide. Still, Valcke guaranteed that Brazil would be ready for the start of the tournament, insisting that “there is no Plan B.”
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) covertly created “ZunZuneo”—a Cuban version of the online messaging network Twitter—to cause civil unrest in Cuba, the Associate Press reported on Thursday. The program functioned through cell phone messaging to avoid the Cuban government’s controls over internet use, and planned to build a network that could mobilize quickly and potentially “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society."
The program was activated in 2010 shortly after USAID subcontractor Alan Gross was arrested for distributing communications equipment in Cuba. It ended in 2012 and, at its peak, drew more than 40,000 Cuban subscribers. According to the Cuban press, ZunZuneo disappeared suddenly in 2012 when its funding ran out, and its users were unaware that the network had any ties to the U.S. government.
White House spokesman Jay Carney has denied that the program was covert, stating that it was “discrete” in order to ensure long-term success of the mission and that it was debated in Congress. According to Carney’s statement, the White House supports "efforts to help Cuban citizens communicate more easily with one another and with the outside world."
With production rates continuing at their current level Colombia will run out of oil within 6.9 years unless new, major oil fields are found. As of 2013, the country had 2.3 billion barrels of proven crude oil reserves, ranking fifth after Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, and Argentina in total reserves in South America.
Most of these reserves are allocated to the export market, which is currently the fourth most significant in Latin America. Export growth has been nothing short of staggering in the last nine years and since 2004 Colombia has fed its oil exports by increasing production by 79 percent (equivalent to 400 thousand barrels per day).
This year’s target is 1.2 million barrels per day and will again predominately feed into the export market–a fact supported by the production-to-(national) consumption ratio published by The Oil & Gas Journal last year, which indicates that for every 3.31 barrels produced, only one stays in Colombia.
Unlike Venezuela—which, even at a production rate of 2.7 million barrels per day, has enough oil to last for more than 250 years, according to the June 2013 BP Statistical Review of World Energy - Colombia’s current level of export surplus means that its oil wells will run dry in only six years. If daily production increases to the target of 1.2 million barrels with current reserves—as predicted by Ecopetrol, the largest oil company in Colombia—then six years will be more like five and half. Furthermore, the Colombian government’s mining and energy planning unit, the Unidad de Planeamiento Minero Energético (Mining Energy Planning Unit—UPME), states that Colombia will be a net oil importer within two election campaigns.
In 2013, Morris, the Candigato (Cat Candidate) gained notoriety in Mexico’s social networks and news outlets after launching a successful online campaign via Facebook and Twitter, in a mock run for the position of Mayor of the city of Xalapa, Veracruz. The Candigato’s comedic slogans, such as “Tired of voting for rats? Vote for a Cat,” became popular among the online community and almost instantly his account on Facebook gained close to 250,000 followers. Morris, the Candigato, is a perfect reflection of Mexico’s idiosyncrasy: many Mexicans will laugh at their tragedies.
The online campaign lasted for two months and only cost as much as the registry for the web domain. Yet after the votes were counted, CNN reported that Morris had bested at least 3 of the 8 actual candidates running for office. The creators the Candigato were recognized by the Victory Awards, winning the “Best Political Innovator” during the 2014 Marketing Político en la Red (Political Online Marketing) Conference—an unusual selection for an award usually won by political consultants.
Unfortunately, while the Candigato’s online success may be amusing, it is also points to Mexican society’s apathy and callousness for its political leaders. Now Morris is back with a different mission.
Argentina celebrated the thirty-second anniversary of the Guerra de las Malvinas (Falklands War) on Wednesday with a rally lead by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and the release of a new 50 peso bill picturing the islands.
The commemoration the 74-day conflict between Argentine and British forces took place at the Malvinas Argentinas Hall at the Casa Rosada, with government officials, union leaders and war veterans in attendance, among others. The new banknote pictures a map of the Malvinas Islands in the national colors of Argentina—blue and white.
On April 2, 1982, in the final years of the Argentine military dictatorship, Argentina launched a failed invasion to repossess the islands, resulting in a bloody war where 649 Argentine and 255 British soldiers were killed. Argentina surrendered on June 14 of the same year.
The United Kingdom has maintained control of the territory since then, and a clear majority of island residents supported British rule in a March 2013 referendum vote. Still, disputes have resurfaced in recent years, as Argentina continues to claim the territory as its own, with Fernández de Kirchner saying at the rally “I have endless confidence that we will recover these islands.”
UK Prime Minister David Cameron has attested that the he will not negotiate over the sovereignty of the islands.
Since Hillary Clinton’s visit to Montreal on March 18, Montrealers are convinced that we were in the presence of the next President of the United States. She was her usual, poised self, inspiring with her thoughts, and reassuring with her experience and knowledge. Most polls that make it to Canadian media indicate strong support for Hillary against all potential Republican challengers. So, what can stop her from becoming the first female President of the United States?
For one thing, it is likely that she will face a heavily funded Republican Party and also endure a barrage of attacks ranging from the scandals associated with Bill Clinton’s presidency to the events in Benghazi. Considering the criticisms by more hawkish GOP members like Senator John McCain on Obama’s foreign policies, it will not be long before Hillary’s tenure as Secretary of State is associated with such criticisms.
It is clear that the Republicans expect to win both Houses in the 2014 midterm elections, leaving the 2016 victory over the White House as their next target. While factions such as the Tea Party and Libertarians get most of the media’s attention, it is likely that the GOP is already planning to support a more moderate standard bearer to challenge Mrs. Clinton in 2016. With New Jersey Governor Chris Christie embroiled in the Bridgegate scandal, the name of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is already beginning to surface.
The Republican brand has taken a beating in recent years—the Bush Presidency ended poorly and the party seems out of the mainstream on issues such as gay marriage, abortion and immigration reform—and was also decisively beaten by Obama in 2008 and 2012. However, in recent months Republicans in congress have reached deals with their Democratic colleagues and compromised on a budget to avoid another government shutdown. This illustrates a willingness to adopt more moderate positions, which can only help the Republican presidential nominee of 2016.
An 8.2-magnitude earthquake hit 62 miles northwest of Iquique, the capital of the Tarapacá region of Chile, on Tuesday night. The earthquake trigged a tsunami and small landslides, killing five people, evacuating tens of thousands and cutting power to some areas of Iquique and Arica.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said on Tuesday night that the government was unsure of the extent damage, but that “the country has faced these first emergency hours very well.” The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issues several warnings for other pacific coastal cities in Chile, Peru and Ecuador on Tuesday night, but cancelled all of them by Wednesday morning.
In the hours after the earthquake, 300 female prisoners escaped during an evacuation of an Iquique prison, but more than a dozen of the inmates were recaptured shortly thereafter.
Chile occupies one of the most earthquake-prone zones in the world known as the “Ring of Fire." The country has experienced about 300 of varying magnitudes in recent weeks. And in 2010, a 9.5-magnitude quake—the sixth-largest ever recorded—killed 525 people and trigged a massive tsunami that devastated several coastal towns in central and south Chile.
Uruguayan opposition lawmakers denounced what they called threats to ousted Venezuelan Congresswoman María Corina Machado’s “liberty and security” on Monday. Machado, an opposition lawmaker representing Miranda, Venezuela was stripped of her seat in the National Assembly as well as her parliamentary immunity for testifying before the Organization of American States (OAS) about the unrest in Venezuela as a guest of Panama.
In a letter released yesterday, Uruguayan senators and congressmen called Machado’s expulsion a violation of “fundamental legal guarantees” accusing Venezuelan authorities of ignoring “basic democratic and republican rules.” The Uruguayan lawmakers pledged to support Machado and ensure her safety and freedom. Influential signers included former president and current Senator Luis Alberto Lacalle.
Machado has been accused of violating the Venezuelan constitution by addressing the OAS as well as “acting as a Panamanian ambassador” and inciting violence by National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello. The majority Socialist Party legislators have requested that the state prosecutor investigate Machado for treason and inciting a civil war for her role in the nearly two-month-long street protests.
Con Rafael Pardo como alcalde interino, el ex-alcalde Gustavo Petro destituido y en campaña por una Asamblea Constituyente, y unas elecciones atípicas en ciernes pero sin fecha definida, Bogotá—la ciudad más importante de Colombia—padece un viacrucis como consecuencia de una serie de malas decisiones administrativas, políticas y de abuso de poder nunca antes vistas.
El 19 de marzo, Bogotá fue protagonista del fin de una larga batalla judicial que comenzó cuando el Procurador General, Alejandro Ordoñez—un católico empedernido que gobierna con crucifijo y creencias anticomunistas de antaño—declaró la muerte política para Gustavo Petro, el único ex-guerrillero que había logrado llegar a la jefatura de gobierno de la capital del país por voto popular. Es cierto que fueron 730 mil votos, una mayoría simple por los volúmenes de abstención en Colombia, pero fue elegido por voluntad popular al fin y al cabo.
El procurador destituyó a Petro de la Alcaldía y le decretó inhabilidad para ocupar cargos públicos por 15 años, como sanción por el caos y la improvisación en el esquema de recolección de basuras de Bogotá implementado por el ahora ex-mandatario. En Colombia el Procurador emite fallos de esta envergadura porque la procuraduría se encarga de castigar faltas disciplinarias y la Constitución así se lo permite. El asunto es que durante el mandato de Ordoñez, sus resoluciones parecen más una cacería de brujas contra opositores políticos—como en los casos de la ex-senadora Piedad Córdoba y el ex-alcalde de Medellín Alonso Salazar—que sanciones contra malos gobernantes por mal ejercicio del poder.
Cuba Approves New Foreign Investment Law: The Cuban government on Saturday unanimously approved a law that provides new incentives for foreign investment in the island. The law will reduce taxes on profits from 30 to 15 percent in most areas, will speed up the approval process for foreign investment, and will exempt new investors from paying taxes for eight years, among other incentives. The government hopes that the new law, which will come into force in three months, will help triple the country’s economic growth. However, the law will not become official until the full text is published in the Gazeta Oficial, which is expected to happen sometime this week.
Troops Clear Venezuelan Protest City: Venezuelan troops retook control of the western city of San Cristóbal this weekend, according to a top military commander. General Vladimir Padrino said that troops cleared barricades throughout the city and reported that no one was hurt in the operation. Meanwhile, San Cristóbal’s mayor, opposition member Daniel Ceballos, has been removed from office and sentenced to 12 months in prison for failing to order the removal of the barricades himself. The countrywide protests began in San Cristóbal nearly two months ago, and since then, at least 39 people have been killed. Last Friday, the Vatican said that it was willing to help facilitate a dialogue between the Venezuelan government and the opposition to resolve the crisis.
Solís Lacks Opponent in Costa Rican Presidential Runoff: Costa Rican presidential candidate Luis Guillermo Solís still has no opponent in Sunday’s presidential runoff between the ruling Partido de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Party—PLN) and Solis’ Partido de Acción Ciudadana (Citizen Action Party—PAC). PLN candidate Johnny Araya dropped out of the race on March 5 due to financial troubles and a poor showing in the polls, where PAC candidate Solís enjoyed a 44 percent lead. However, Araya’s name will still remain on the ballot, and he said he would accept the presidency if voters gave him a majority—though Solís’ victory seems assured.
Brazilian Troops Occupy Maré Favela: Brazilian security forces raided the Maré favela in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday in an effort to take control of the neighborhood, which is home to 130,000 people. More than 1,000 troops entered with tanks and reportedly took control of the area in 15 minutes, seizing guns and drugs. But later that day, more violence erupted between rival gangs, a 15-year-old boy died, and three other people were taken to a hospital. Maré is located near Galeão/ Antônio Carlos Jobim International Airport, a major transit hub that will bring thousands of tourists into the country for the FIFA World Cup in June.
Chinese Mining Company Halts Toromocho Project in Peru: Chinalco Mining Corp. International has halted its operations at the Toromocho copper project after the national environmental agency said on March 28 that the company had failed to adhere to environmental standards. Inspections carried out by the Organismo de Evaluación y Fiscalización Ambiental (Environmental Evaluation and Fiscalization Organism—OEFA) earlier this month detected contaminants in Lake Huacrococha and Lake Huascacocha, which are located near the mine. Mining work, which began in December 2013, will be suspended until the issues are resolved.
Recuerdo que, hace algunas décadas, las palabras más temidas por alumnos de secundaria eran: “preparen papel y lápiz para una prueba sorpresa.” Confieso que en alguna ocasión, en silencio elevé una plegaria para pedir una intervención divina que no dejara al profesor enunciar esas palabras.
Jamás me pasó por la mente que existiese la posibilidad de que otro docente, por ejemplo, ante los potencialmente devastadores resultados de las “pruebas sorpresa,” pusiese a alumnos dispuestos a hacer trampa en contacto con un conserje corruptible (con llave maestra de las instalaciones), con la finalidad que negociasen un intercambio de beneficios a través del cual se accedería a las preguntas de los exámenes con anticipación.
El que una figura de autoridad facilite el contacto y la coordinación entre dos actores “malos” para hacer algo indebido, implica una dosis de inmoralidad que hace que la situación antes planteada sea poco relacionable para la mayoría de personas y, por lo tanto, inimaginable. Esta torcida dinámica es la realidad que opera detrás de la iniciativa central de seguridad pública instaurada por el gobierno de El Salvador durante los últimos años.
In December 2013, Bogotá’s Secretaría Distrital de Movilidad (District Mobility Secretariat) reported that there were 1,447,335 private vehicles registered in the city, representing a 76 percent increase in vehicles in only seven years.
Yet the number of vehicles operating in the public service is predicted to decline from 18,482 in 2007 to just 12,333 in 2018, due to urban transport policies that will put older public vehicles out of service in order to promote the TransMilenio integrated public transport system, which was inaugurated in 2000.
As Bogotá’s 7.6 million residents await the introduction of new public transportation, they will still have to deal with the big, black plumes of smoke funneling out of the traditional, independent and disorganized buses. Since, under the new transport policy, operators must legally surrender their bus to the public system by the end of this year, there is now no incentive to make repairs or even undertake basic maintenance checks on old buses.
Opting to travel on foot may be one way of escaping the serpentine lineup of bumper-to-bumper vehicles on just about every major road, but there is really nowhere to hide from Bogotá’s air pollution.
A UN report that was released on Thursday criticizes the United States for a poor performance on 25 human rights issues, ranging from torture and National Security Agency spying, to life sentences for juvenile offenders and the death penalty.
The report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was critical of the U.S. policy both at home and abroad. The report cited the use of torture by the U.S. armed forces and other government agents and called on the U.S. to “take all feasible measures to ensure the protection of civilians” in drone strikes. It also said that the U.S. must close its detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. President Barack Obama has made it a goal to shut down the detention facility by the end of his term, but 154 detainees remain imprisoned there.
At home, the report argued that the U.S. must reduce racial disparities in the prison system and end racial profiling, solitary confinement and the death penalty. It also expresses concerns about the deportation of undocumented immigrants “without regard to…the seriousness of crimes and misdemeanors committed, the length of lawful stay in the U.S., health status, family ties…or the humanitarian situation in the country of destination.”
However, the report also praised the U.S. in some areas, such as executive orders to ensure “lawful interrogations,” review detention policy options, and eventually close Guantánamo Bay, as well as support for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
José Luis Díaz, the Amnesty International representative at the UN, said that the U.S. must implement the recommendations of the Human Rights Committee “without delay.” The country has one year to provide information on how it is implementing several key recommendations, and until 2019 to provide specific information on all the recommendations made in the report. The last such report was published in 2006.
Monday marked the conclusion of “Round Zero,” a yardstick in a process initiated as part of the Mexican energy reforms. During Round Zero, Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), the Mexican state oil company, sent regulators a list of which fields it wants to keep for its own development.
Pemex currently owns and operates all oil and gas assets in Mexico. After the reform, private companies will theoretically be able to partner with Pemex after the fields are auctioned to private investors.
While Pemex’s exact wish list was not released publically, the company proposed to keep 83 percent of proven and probable reserves (known as “2P”), and 31 percent of proven, probable and possible reserves (known as “3P”). The 3P fields are potential hydrocarbon resources. Much of the acreage that Pemex left aside contained deepwater and shale resources, where it does not have as much expertise and experience.
In declaring that it would like to hold on to most operating fields, Pemex is showing that it will keep its most profitable onshore and shallow-water fields, as well as the few deepwater fields where it has already drilled. As it will now operate as a profit-seeking business, it makes sense that Pemex would aim to hold on to its most productive assets.
After six days of mining protests the Peruvian government finally announced an agreement with mining representatives on Tuesday, only to have it turned down by protesters.
Over the past week over 20,000 unlicensed gold miners in Arequipa and Lima protested through marches, road blocks and sit-ins, denouncing a 2012 regulation that would require informal miners to register their work with the government by April 19, 2014. According to the regulation, those that fail to register would face charges, which could include jail time. However, since the registration process began, less than half of the estimated 70,000 informal miners in the country have been documented.
Officials, including deputy environment minister Mariano Castro, mining commissioner Daniel Urresti and deputy mines minister Guillermo Shino met with mining representatives from different regions of Peru for eight hours on Tuesday to discuss new terms on the registration process. A new phase in the regulation was established; however mining representatives’ demand for an extended deadline was refused. President Ollanta Humala, who attended the meetings, affirmed that the deadline for the formalization of miners would not change. “We will support those that are in the process (of registering)… We believe in dialogue. We will not accept blackmail from anyone,” he said.
Informal and industrial mining is an ongoing source of tension in Peru, and the practices are often blamed for increased damage done to the environmental, including almost 45,000 acres of the Amazon rainforest. However, mining is the livelihood of many Peruvian families, accounting for at least 100,000 jobs nationally. The Secretary General of the National Federation of Peru’s Artisanal Miners has accused the government of terminating informal mining in favor of foreign mining corporations.
Stay tuned for Americas Quarterly’s Spring 2013 issue for in-depth analysis of mining, land rights International Labour Organization Convention No. 169.
Thirty executives from a dozen international companies were charged on Tuesday with price-fixing during the construction and maintenance of subway and train systems in São Paulo, Brasilia, Belo Horizonte, Porto Alegre and Rio de Janeiro. The companies named by the São Paulo State Prosecutor's Office include Siemens of Germany, CAF of Spain, and Alstom of France, among others.
Investigations into the allegations began last week, when Brazil's Conselho Administrativo de Defesa Econômica (Administrative Council for Economic Defense—CADE) accused the companies of forming a cartel to fix the prices of the construction projects. According to CADE, the 18 companies were involved in 15 projects valued at $4 billion from 1998 to 2013, with contracts in the Brazilian Federal District and the states of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Minas Gerais and Rio Grande do Sul. According to CADE’s investigations, the companies allegedly prearranged prices through bidding and bribing officials to secure the contracts.
Bombardier and Siemens have said they will cooperate with the investigations. Brazilian judges still have to decide if they will accept the charges and bring the executives to trial. The companies named in the investigation will present their defense at an undisclosed date.
The Venezuelan bolivar was devalued on Monday to be sold for 55 bolivars per U.S. dollar after currency controls were loosened, representing a weakening of 89 percent for the Venezuelan currency. The move was billed as a tactic to alleviate the shortage of staple goods including medicine and toilet paper, countering the black market rate of 58.6 bolivars to the dollar.
For the first time in over 10 years, Venezuela decreased regulations by creating a new currency exchange called Sicad II. Despite the positive step, only 20 percent of the oil-rich nation’s dollars will be offered at the new exchange rate, with the remaining currency traded at the official exchange rate of 6.3 bolivars per dollar.
Venezuela’s shortages and severe inflation have led to a month-long protest from students and opposition parties. In a broadcast on Monday, Luisa Ortega, the country’s state prosecutor, admitted to wide-spread abuse on the part of security forces sent in to control the demonstrations. At least 34 people have been killed since the protests began in February.
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.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.