October 22, 2014Tags: Ecuador, José Serrano, Human Rights Watch
In a televised interview Tuesday, Ecuador’s Minister of the Interior, José Serrano, denied allegations of torture and police abuse detailed by a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released on Monday, calling the report one-sided and an attack on progressive governments.
The HRW report details police brutality that took place on September 17 and 18 when thousands of people staged demonstrations in Quito and across the country to protest increased transportation costs, policies concerning extractive industries, and access to education. According to the report, 270 individuals were detained with dozens more subject to beatings and other physical abuse such as electric shocks and pepper spray to the face.
“Correa has shown no concern for the rights of protesters. On the contrary, he applauded the police who hit them, and threatened lawyers and journalists who exposed this brutal mistreatment,” said Jose Miguel Vivano, the Americas Director at HRW.
However, Serrano responded by saying that the report fails to take into account that members of the police force were attacked by students with rocks and sticks. According to Serrano, the police did not even use tear gas against attackers, and of the 2,600 police officers participating in the operation only three are being investigated for alleged attacks against protestors.
“What Vivanco says [in the report] is a series of lies—manipulations of human rights,” said Serrano during the interview, who also called on the organization to reveal the origin of its funding for such reports.
October 21, 2014Read More Tags: Mid-term Elections, United States elections 2016
As the U.S. nears its mid-term elections, primetime U.S. media events—the recent debate on the war against ISIS, global terrorism, the international Ebola scare, and the pending approval of the Keystone Pipeline—are making top news fodder in Canada as well. The upcoming U.S. elections on November 4, 2014 are no exception.
With President Obama’s low approval rating, will the Republicans take control of the Senate? If so, Obama enters the real lame duck period of his presidency because speculation about the 2016 race will begin immediately after election night ends.
On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is clearly in the lead for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. Not even Vice President Joe Biden comes anywhere close. Other potential candidates, such as Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, former Virginia Senator James Webb and Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley are marginal, at best. The lack of a real primary contest for the Democrats will make the path to nomination a fait accompli for Ms. Clinton, but it will have the disadvantage of keeping her regularly out of the news cycle. Republicans, on the other hand, are expected to have a real contest with no front runner emerging until late in the campaign.
The paradox is that the Republicans have consistently won the House of Representatives in every election since 1994 with the exception of 2008, when the Obama victory wave swept both houses of Congress. The Senate, however, has been more contentious.
October 21, 2014Read More Tags: Brazil elections, Polling, Nate Silver
Even famed statistician Nate Silver couldn’t have forecast the first-round results of Brazil's presidential election, which heads to a final runoff vote this Sunday. And not just because the campaign has unfolded with Dickensian complexity—down to the colorful cast of characters, tragic death, and political rebirth. From a scarcity of polling data to the very way elections are held in Brazil, political forecasters here face unique challenges, the results of which have been on display during this volatile election season.
Much of the unpredictability is a product of Brazil being a young democracy. The country's lack of historical election data makes it especially difficult to divine voters' intentions, according to Clifford Young, President of U.S. Public Affairs and former Managing Director for Brazil at Ipsos, a global market and public opinion research firm.
“Nate Silver would have had the same troubles here,” Young said in a telephone interview.
October 21, 2014Tags: Leopoldo Lopez, United Nations (UN), Lilian Tintori
On Monday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called for the release of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López and former mayor of San Cristóbal Daniel Ceballos, as well as other prisoners detained over protests in February. Commissioner Zeid stated yesterday that “the prolonged and arbitrary detention of political opponents and protestors in Venezuela […] is only exacerbating the tensions in the country." He urged the government to release the prisoners, which number at least 69, and adhere to international standards of due process in all trials.
The High Commissioner had previously spoken with Leopoldo López’ wife, Lilian Tintori, and their lawyer, Jared Genser, in Switzerland last Friday, regarding the delicate human rights situation in the country. Tintori told reporters after the meeting that she described to the High Commissioner the murders, disappearances and the overwhelming sense of helplessness that Venezuelans are currently facing. The UN Human Rights office has information indicating that more than 3,300 hundred people were detained between February and June 2014, and that over 150 cases of abuse have been reported.
In early October, a UN working group released a document determining that the detention of López was arbitrary and urging his release. In response, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Rafael Ramírez gave a press conference during which he asserted that working groups should not interfere with the legal process taking place in Venezuela. However, last week the country won a temporary seat on the UN Security Council, making it all the more important that Venezuela complies with the organization’s demands.
A public hearing for Leopoldo López has been set for October 28.
Monday Memo: Cuba's Ebola Response – Petrobras Scandal – Morales' Third Term – Federal Police in Guerrero – Hurricane Gonzalo
October 20, 2014Tags:
Cuba to ramp up Ebola response: Cuba is expected to host the leaders of the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Bolivarian Alliance for Americas—ALBA) countries today to strategize an increased response to the Ebola crisis. Cuba, which was among the first to respond to the crisis in West Africa with human resources, has deployed 165 medical professionals throughout Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone—the largest medical response of any single country. In a rare move, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry commended Cuba on Friday for being one of the “nations large and small stepping up in impressive ways to make a contribution on the front lines.” The small island-nation of 11 million plans to send 300 more medical professionals to the affected countries.
Petrobras scandal ignites debate in Brazil: In a televised debate this weekend, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff admitted that there was evidence substantiating a claim that the national oil company, Petrobras, illegally diverted funds to her Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT). The allegations surfaced when Paulo Roberto Costa, a former senior Petrobras executive who was arrested in March on money laundering charges, recently accepted a plea deal from prosecutors to testify about the illegal funds. While Rousseff has called the accusations an attempt to deface her campaign for reelection, opposition candidate Aécio Neves said that the scandal shows proof of corruption and negligence in Rousseff’s governance. Polls indicate that both candidates, who made it through the first round of voting on October 5, are neck-and-neck with voters, with no clear winner. The final debate between Rousseff and Neves will air on TV Globo on Thursday before the second round of voting on October 26.
Electoral officials confirm Morales’ third term victory: Bolivia’s top electoral court, the Tribuno Supremo Electoral (Supreme Electoral Tribunal—TSE), has officially confirmed Evo Morales’ reelection to a third consecutive term, which will last through 2020. Morales’ Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement for Socialism—MAS) party collected 61 percent of the vote, routing his closest rival, Samuel Doria Medina of the Unidad Demócrata (Democratic Unity—UD), by more than 30 percentage points and winning eight out of nine departments across the country. Although there will be a recount in the Oruro and Santa Cruz providences, it is unlikely to have an impact on the final result. Amidst allegations of authoritarianism, Morales maintains that he has no intentions of amending the constitution to allow for the possibility of running for a fourth term. Instead, Morales has said that he will focus on reducing poverty by sustaining the popular social programs from natural gas export revenues.
Federal police sent to Guerrero State: Nearly a month after 43 students went missing in the town of Iguala, Guerrero, after clashing with local police during a demonstration, federal forces have taken control of 12 municipalities across the state. According to National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido García, a recent federal investigation found that municipal police in these jurisdictions had “presumed links to organized crime.” As a result, federal forces will take over security operations in the controlled municipalities, while municipal officers are interviewed. Meanwhile, the incident has provoked division within the left Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution—PRD), which is the party of Guerrero’s Governor, Ángel Aguirre. On Sunday, PRD Senator Alejandro Encinas declared that “the governor no longer is in control of the state.” Nevertheless, a national council for the PRD voted on Saturday to continue the party’s support for Aguirre.
Second Storm Rocks Bermuda: Hurricane Gonzalo hit Bermuda on Friday, causing flooding and power outages in 31,200 homes, and damaging buildings. The storm was the second to affect the Caribbean island this month, after Tropical Storm Fay damaged homes and knocked down trees and power lines on October 12. Gonzalo is considered to be the worst storm in ten years and touched down on the island with winds of 110 miles per hour. However, what started as a category 4 storm was reduced to category 2 before hitting the island, and Bermudan Premier Michael Dunkley noted that citizens were relieved to find less damage than originally anticipated. Dunkley stated that the cleanup has gone well, although over 18,000 homes were still without electricity on Saturday night.
October 17, 2014Tags: Venezuela, UN Security Council, Human Rights
Venezuela Wins UN Security Council Seat
Venezuela secured a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council in the first round of voting yesterday, earning 181 votes in support of its candidacy—52 over the 129 vote threshold it needed to clinch the seat. The win was trumpeted by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro as a sign that the broader international community holds the country—which is caught in dire economic straits and has been roundly criticized for its record on human rights—in high esteem. “We are a country beloved and admired by the whole world,” Maduro is reported to have said upon receiving news of the ballot results.
Venezuela’s last bid for a non-permanent seat on the Security Council, in 2006, was strongly opposed by the U.S. and ultimately foundered. This year the country ran unopposed to fill the one available seat on the council from Latin America, and received unanimous support from a caucus of 33 Latin American and Caribbean nations. Significantly, the Obama administration did not mount a diplomatic campaign against the country’s bid, despite calls by U.S. lawmakers for such an effort.
However, Venezuela’s win has provoked some criticism. After the vote, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, said in a statement that “Venezuela’s conduct at the UN has run counter to the spirit of the UN Charter, and its violations of human rights at home are at odds with the Charter’s letter.” According to the UN Director of Human Rights Watch, Philippe Bolopion, “The security council’s new membership could prove more problematic on human rights issues, with several generally rights-friendly countries leaving and others coming on board with poor voting records.” Venezuela’s election to the Security Council comes just weeks after the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions called on the country to release opposition political leader, Leopoldo López.
October 16, 2014Tags: Brazil, Guarapuava, Prison Rebellion
After a 48-hour uprising, inmates at Guarapuava prison in the Brazilian state of Paraná yielded to authorities yesterday and released the 13 hostages that were being held in protest of poor prison conditions. Authorities reached an agreement with the prisoners, complying with at least one of their requests to move 29 inmates to a different penitentiary in Santa Catarina. Other demands included improving facility conditions, such as better food and treatment by guards.
The rebellion began on Monday morning when over 30 prisoners overpowered guards and took other inmates and prison guards hostage, transporting them to the roof where many were hooded and beaten. Only one wing of the penitentiary was overtaken, but close to 80 inmates participated in the uprising over the two days, burning mattresses, among other things.
While the rebellion was the first major uprising at Guarapuava in 15 years, prison rebellions are becoming more common in Brazil, with this being the twenty-first penitentiary rebellion in the state of Paraná this year. According to the International Centre of Penitentiary Studies, 247 out of every 100,000 Brazilian residents are serving time in prison, and Brazil currently has the world’s fourth-largest incarcerated population with 550,000 total inmates—coming in behind the U.S., China and Russia.
October 16, 2014Read More Tags: Guatemala, Judicial Reform
This year has been important for Guatemala’s judicial system. A number of judicial posts are due to be filled in 2014, and so far this year, a new electoral tribunal and attorney general have already taken office.
In July, the selection process for Supreme Court and appeals court magistrates began. However, these two selection processes were rife with irregularities and controversy. On October 9, Guatemala’s Constitution Court (CC) issued a provisional ruling suspending the results of the two selection processes, thus taking an important step towards compliance with international standards and national law.
Although Congress generally appoints judges in Guatemala, the selection process for judges and magistrates involves special comisiones de postulación (selection commissions), which provide Congress with a shortlist of possible candidates. The commissions are made up of representatives from various areas of the legal community: law school deans, judges and lawyers.
This mechanism—which is unique to Guatemala—was designed to depoliticize the selection process. However, it is clear that the model is no longer working as intended. The commissions have been influenced by special interests—including deans from new, privately-owned universities —and there are currently no tools to adequately counteract them. Meanwhile, national and international organizations, such as DPLF, CEJIL and the Open Society Justice Initiative, have reported that Guatemala’s judicial selection process violates national and international norms.
Guatemala’s 2014 judicial selection processes demonstrate that a profound modification of the proceedings is overdue. The more robust selection criteria developed by the CC in judgment 2143-2014—which requires commissions to research the candidates’ qualifications, interview the candidates, and explain their votes—were largely ignored by the commission to select appeals court judges, and only marginally adhered to by the Supreme Court selection commission. The selection processes were also compromised by conflicts of interest, because some commission members were candidates in the other selection process.
October 15, 2014Tags: Bolivia, Evo Morales, Violence Against Women
On Tuesday, Bolivian President Evo Morales—fresh from his reelection to a third term on Sunday—moved to strengthen legal measures that would help reduce domestic violence against women in the Andean country. Law 348, titled Ley Integral para Garantizar a las Mujeres una Vida Libre de Violencia (Comprehensive Law to Guarantee Women a Life Free of Violence) was enacted on March 9, 2013, but lacked a regulatory provision causing the implementation process to stall.
The regulation, which President Morales enacted Tuesday, creates mechanisms and policies for the prevention of domestic violence and violence against women and care for victims and provides much needed funds for the creation of domestic violence shelters and enhancement of the Fuerza Esdpecial de Lucha contra la Violencia (Task Force to Combat Violence—FELCV). The president acknowledged that the law alone would not curb violence against women and advocated for education, which he sees as a major contributing factor to the violence.
A 2013 report from the World Health Organization found that more than half of Bolivian women had experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. While justices have been criticized for their handling of domestic violence cases, District Attorney José Ponce drew attention to the lack of resources and the caseloads of overburdened districts. In the Max Paredes district of La Paz alone, each prosecutor has more than 500 cases a year, with only 10 prosecutors who are specially trained for domestic violence cases available.
October 14, 2014Tags: Guerrero, protests, missing students
On Monday, hundreds of demonstrators protested at the Palacio de Gobierno (Government Palace) in Chilpancingo, in the Mexican state of Guerrero, demanding that the government take further action to locate the remaining 43 students that went missing on September 26. The demonstrators called for the resignation of Governor Ángel Aguirre, vandalized various government buildings and set fire to the Palacio and the town hall, prompting the deployment of anti-riot police.
Protesters threatened more extreme actions if the authorities do not speed up the investigation, but Chilpancingo Mayor Mario Moreno Arcos urged the protestors to remain peaceful and reminded them not to lose sight of their goal of finding the missing students. Among the protesters were the families of the missing individuals, as well as other students and employees of the Coordinadora Estatal de Trabajadores de la Educación Guerrero (State Coordinator for Education Workers of Guerrero). Governor Aguirre denounced the attack on the Palacio and claimed that the protests and acts of violence yesterday had a political motive.
The students originally went missing following clashes with the police last month that led to the death of six students in Iguala. Protesters accused police of finding the missing students and then giving them up to Guerreros Unidos (Warriors United), a local drug cartel. Police have arrested 34 people allegedly connected to the disappearance of the students, including 26 police officers and four Guerreros Unidos members. Last week, the Attorney General’s Office reported that authorities are examining new graves that were recently discovered in Iguala, to determine if any of the bodies belong to the missing students.
October 14, 2014Read More Tags: Colombia, EITI, Transparency, Natural resource extraction
The extraction of natural resources, such as oil, gas, metals and minerals, is supposed to boost the economy and improve the quality of life of the residents of resource rich countries. However, in too many cases, resource extraction has led to social inequality, environmental degradation and corruption. In places like Colombia, it aggravates conflict.
The global Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative Standard (EITI Standard) is an international standard for the mining and hydrocarbon industries. By establishing a participatory approach that ensures the collaboration of governments, private sector actors, and civil society organizations, the EITI Standard promotes a fairer, more transparent accounting of resources.
The EITI was launched in 2002 by then-Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom to promote accountability and transparency in both the mining and hydrocarbon sectors and to the fight against the so-called “resource curse.” According to EITI Board Chair Clare Short and the head of the EITI Secretariat, Jonas Moberg, “public understanding of government revenues and expenditure over time could help public debate and inform choice of appropriate and realistic options for sustainable development.”
As of September 2014, 46 countries—working in collaboration with more than 80 private supporting companies and 21 partner organizations such as the Inter-American Development Bank—had implemented the initiative.
October 10, 2014Read More Tags: Mexico-U.S. Relations, Border security, U.S.-Mexico border
From an influx of Central American minors to concerns about ISIL and Ebola, the public image of the U.S.-Mexico border has taken a beating in recent weeks. Fortunately, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson rebutted some of the most common misperceptions in an important speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC yesterday.
While heart-rending images of unaccompanied children in detention centers remain vivid in our collective memory, Johnson made clear that the number of migrants is dramatically lower than it was when the surge began several months ago. As his deputy secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, said at a separate event at NDN last month, ultimate victory requires addressing the root causes of migration—namely, serious insecurity in the Northern Triangle of Central America—but at least the numbers are moving in the right direction. Johnson also discredited claims that four terrorists had crossed the border, and said that the government is intensifying efforts to protect U.S. citizens from Ebola.
In addition to dispelling these fears, Johnson declared a commitment to “more transparency about our border security,” delivering a thorough review of the huge investments made over the last 15 years in the Border Patrol, which has grown to become one of the largest agencies of the U.S. government (within the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security). Illegal migration peaked in 2000, with 1.6 million apprehensions that year, but has dramatically declined since then to around 400,000 apprehensions a year in recent years—a trend that Johnson credited in part to economic conditions in both the U.S. and Mexico, but also in large measure to the “deterrent factor” of border security.
October 10, 2014Tags: Leopoldo Lopez, Nicolás Maduro, United Nations (UN)
The family of imprisoned Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López announced yesterday that the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled in Opinion No. 26/2014 that López is being held illegally, and called for his release. The Working Group consists of five members appointed by the UN Human Rights Council that investigate possible cases of arbitrary detention, and they have been working on the Lopéz case since he was arrested on February 18 for the alleged incitement of violence during widespread protests.
López, the national coordinator of the opposition party Voluntad Popular (Popular Will), is being held at the Ramo Verde military prison in Miranda state. In addition to determining that López’ detention was “arbitrary,” the Working Group asked the Venezuelan government for reparations for his detention. President Nicolás Maduro’s government had previously met with the Working Group to defend its treatment of López and argue against López’ claims, although they were unsuccessful. The group further noted that his imprisonment appeared to be motivated by political opinion.
The government detained hundreds of demonstrators involved in the anti-government protests that erupted in February, including Mayors Daniel Ceballos and Enzo Scarano from San Cristobal and San Diego, respectively. The government is currently facing numerous allegations of human rights violations surrounding both the arrests and the treatment of its prisoners. International criticism of the detentions has increased in recent weeks, with calls for the release of prisoners from U.S. President Barack Obama and OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza.
October 10, 2014Read More Tags: Stephen Harper, Coalition against ISIS, ISIS, Barack Obama
On Tuesday, the Harper Conservative government decided with its majority in the Canadian House of Commons to engage Canada in the U.S.-led mission against ISIS. In so doing, the Canadian government will carry out a mix of air strikes, surveillance, training and humanitarian aid. The mission is meant to last six months, but will be subject to assessment and review within that period. There is, however, the possibility that it could be extended or expanded.
The New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Liberals opposed the move. As requested, the opposition was able to have a full-throated debate, as a sovereign and healthy democracy should.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the case for the ISIS mission using arguments similar to those of U.S. President Barack Obama. Given its senseless violence and genocidal actions, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is a brutal, murderous force that has a total disregard for the rule of law and basic humanitarian principles. With some ISIS recruits coming from Western countries such as Canada, Harper argued that it has become imperative for the Canadian government to either collaborate with the coalition abroad or face a more serious problem at home with homegrown terrorism.
The mission is UN-sanctioned, and involves over 50 countries, including key Arab states and our traditional allies, such as the U.S., France and Great Britain. Doing nothing would have been unthinkable: on this, most Canadians could agree. The real question was to determine the nature and the extent of Canadian involvement.
October 9, 2014Read More Tags: Bolivian Elections, Evo Morales, Indigenous Rights
Bolivian President Evo Morales is expected to be elected to a third term in office on October 12—and not by a small margin. A September 30 poll conducted by French global market research company Ipsos predicts that the incumbent will receive a comfortable 59 percent of the vote.
Meanwhile, opposition candidates Samuel Doria Medina of the Unidad Demócrata (Democratic Unity—UD), Jorge Quiroga of the Partido Demócrata Cristiano (Democratic Christian Party—PDC), Juan del Granado of the Movimiento Sin Miedo (Movement without Fear—MSM) and Fernando Vargas of the Partido Verde de Bolivia (Bolivian Green Party—PVB) are each expected to receive less than 15 percent of the vote individually.
Among opposition circles, speculation is rife that the increased number of eligible Bolivian voters (totaling 6.5 million) and the alleged pro-Morales bias of the Tribunal Supremo Electoral (Supreme Electoral Tribunal) indicate a fraudulent electoral process. Doria Medina, earning an estimated 13 percent of the vote in the recent Ipsos poll, has also claimed that the ruling Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement for Socialism—MAS) government is manipulating television advertising allocation in favor of the president.
“They have aired up to 60 negative spots on television against us, and when we tried to respond to them with our own spots, the Electoral Tribunal denied us permission,” Doria Medina told Andres Oppenheimer of the Miami Herald in September. “Likewise, we put campaign signs on the streets, and the government ordered police to remove them. The government has a monopoly of public signs,” Medina said.
However, opposition members attempting to make sense of Morales’ expected win should look no further than the president’s overwhelming support from the country’s historically marginalized Aymara and Quechua populations, which form an important percentage of Bolivia’s population. Morales’ presidency has been marked by mass Indigenous political participation in government affairs, an achievement unheard of in previous administrations.
October 9, 2014Tags: Mexican students, Guerrero Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto
Thousands took to the streets across Mexico on Wednesday over a group of 43 students that have been missing since September 26, when student protestors clashed with police in the town of Iguala in the state of Guerrero. The incident left six dead—including three students and three locals—and 56 students reported missing. As a result, the Peña Nieto administration has faced increasing criticism domestically and internationally.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticized the government in an 11-page letter to Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, Mexico’s Interior Minister, saying that despite attempts by the president to find missing persons and aid their families, success has been marginal, not only in the case of Iguala but in recent years with increased numbers of disappearances and an inadequate system for dealing with and preventing such cases. “Mexico is facing a national human rights and security crisis that demands a far more serious response from the federal government,” said José Miguel Vivanco, director of HRW’s Americas division. The Organization of American States and the United States government have also put pressure on Mexican authorities to locate the missing students.
Although 13 students have since returned home, the whereabouts of 43 are still unknown and some claim to have last seen those missing being driven away in police vehicles following the September clash. On Saturday 28 bodies were found in shallow, mass graves outside of Iguala, but were burned too badly to be identified, although many believe they are the remains of some of the missing students.
Earlier this week, President Enrique Peña Nieto deployed federal troops to Iguala and 30 people have been detained in relation to the incident. “Like all the Mexican society, I am shocked by this situation and I can assure you that there will be no impunity,” said president Peña Nieto on Twitter.
October 8, 2014Tags: Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, MUD, PSUV
Jesus Torrealba, the new chief of Venezuela’s Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Democratic Unity Roundtable—MUD) opposition coalition, has targeted Venezuela’s 2015 parliamentary elections as the opposition’s next strategic opportunity to end chavista rule. After narrowly losing the presidential election to President Nicolás Maduro in 2013, the opposition coalition is now looking to win a majority in the National Assembly next year in order to put pressure on the president and potentially force a recall referendum in 2016.
Although the ruling Partido Socialist Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela—PSUV) maintains control over the executive and legislative branches, Maduro’s administration has been beleaguered by a rapidly declining economy, 63 percent inflation, high crime rates, and shortages of basic goods.
In addition to the months-long protests against the Maduro government that engulfed several major cities in Venezuela earlier this year, the administration has also come under fire from a dissident faction on the Left critical of what it sees as a departure from the Bolivarian Revolution’s ideals. "What we have now is deterioration ...This is chavismo's worst moment ever," Gonzalo Gomez Frieire, leader of the dissident Marea Socialista (socialist tide) told Reuters.
While the MUD has historically been known as a fractured party—most notably when former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles and imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo López responded differently to the popular protests in February—many see an equally fractured PSUV as the primary explanation for Maduro’s lack of an adequate response to Venezuela’s recession.
President Maduro’s approval rate dropped to 35 percent in September in light of the continued economic crisis.
October 7, 2014Read More Tags: Brazil, Marina Silva, Religion
At the front of one of Paraná’s largest Pentecostal churches, beneath a ceiling of glowing neon tiles arranged in the pattern of a giant cross, are two ornately framed pictures: one is of a new $300 million, 10,000-seat temple in São Paulo, and another is of a future $122 million, 5,000-seat structure here in downtown Curitiba.
Brazilian evangelicals are looking to the future—but Marina Silva, despite being the sole Pentecostal presidential candidate in the election, is not a part of their plans.
“What we want is someone who can open doors for the church,” Alessandre Freitas, a lead pastor of this congregation of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, told me after delivering a fiery two-hour sermon Sunday night that left his voice hoarse. “I think with Dilma it will be better.”
That conviction bore out Sunday when many evangelicals voted for President Dilma Rousseff—who is nominally a Catholic, but also a strong ally to the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, the nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination after the Assemblies of God (to which Silva belongs). Both are charismatic Pentecostal faiths where pastors and laypeople alike invoke the name of Jesus to heal the sick and chase away demons.
Rather than being motivated by faith to support Silva, many evangelical Christians voted with the conviction that what’s best for the church is a strong and powerful ally in Palácio do Planalto. That meant voting for Dilma Rousseff, who won 41.5 percent of the overall vote, while center-right candidate Aécio Neves took 33.7 percent and Silva captured only 21.3 percent. Because no contender garnered an outright majority, Brazilians will return to the polls October 26 to choose between Rousseff and Neves.
October 7, 2014Tags: Supreme Court, LGBT Rights, Same-Sex Marriage, Social inclusion
The United States Supreme Court yesterday refused to review a series of appeals court decisions that overturned same-sex marriage bans in five states. The decision effectively legalizes same-sex marriage in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin, bringing the total number of U.S. states where same-sex marriage are legal to 24. That number could soon rise to 30, given that the same appeals courts whose decisions the Supreme Court declined to review have jurisdiction over another six states with same-sex marriage bans.
While the high court’s action was lauded by LGBT rights advocates, the decision to put off a review of the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans leave the country without a coherent, national policy on the issue. “[…T]he court’s delay in affirming the freedom to marry nationwide prolongs the patchwork of state-to-state discrimination and the harms and indignity that the denial of marriage still inflicts on too many couples in too many places,” said Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, a marriage equality advocacy organization.
According to a report by the Pew Research Religion & Public Life Project, the only other country to share such a patchwork approach to same-sex marriage legalization is Mexico. In the Americas, four countries have legalized same-sex marriage at the national level—Argentina, Brazil, Canada, and Uruguay. With the exception of Canada—which is not included in the report—these countries all scored higher than the U.S. on LGBT rights in the latest AQ Social Inclusion Index, published in the Summer 2014 issue.
Monday Memo: Brazilian Elections – Gay Marriage – Renewable Energy – Missing Mexican Students – Peruvian Elections – Mining in Argentina
October 6, 2014Read More Tags: Brazilian elections, Peruvian Elections, Same-Sex Marriage
Brazil’s presidential elections lead to runoff: As predicted, Brazilians will return to the polls on October 26 to vote for president in a second round of elections—but in a last-minute surprise, challenger Aécio Neves of the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (Brazilian Social Democracy Party—PSDB) will face Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. In Sunday’s first-round election, Rousseff earned 41.5 percent of the first-round votes, while Neves won 33.7 percent and Marina Silva of the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (Brazilian Socialist Party—PSB)—widely thought to be Rousseff’s main challenger—captured only 21.3 percent of the vote. Since Rousseff failed to capture more than 50 percent of the vote, she and Neves will continue to campaign, as will gubernatorial candidates in the states of Rio Grande do Sul, Ceará, and Rio Grande do Norte. Former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who supports Neves, said Sunday that he hoped Silva would throw her support behind Neves to unseat Rousseff.
U.S. Supreme Court rejects appeals of gay marriage: In a surprising judicial decision on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected appeals of lower court decisions reversing same-sex marriage bans in five states—Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. As a result of the decision, the number of U.S. states permitting same-sex marriage increases to 24, plus the District of Columbia. The court’s decision will likely also permit same-sex couples to marry in Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wyoming, where appeals courts have already struck down the states’ same-sex marriage bans. Although the U.S. Supreme Court could still hear future cases on same-sex marriage, its decision today sends a strong message to lower court judges that “rulings striking down marriage bans are consistent with the U.S. Constitution.”
Domestic renewable energy market opens in Chile: This week, new legislation in Chile that opens up the country’sdomestic renewable energy market to Chilean homeowners is now in effect. In late September, the Chilean Controller approved regulatory language to implement Law 20.571, which provides incentives for Chilean homeowners to install renewable energy sources and will allow “residential generators” in Chile to connect their energy systems to the grid and receive payments for surplus electricity. Last month, Chile also became the first South American country to tax carbon dioxide emissions in an attempt to encourage cleaner sources of energy and cut greenhouse gas emissions. Presently, about 80 percent of Chile’s energy is generated by fossil fuels.
Missing Mexican college students may be buried in mass graves: Mexican authorities have discovered six mass graves in Iguala, Mexico that may contain the bodies of dozens of college students who were training to be teachers and who went missing last week after deadly protests in Guerrero state. While 15 of the missing students were later located alive, another 43 students are still missing. So far, at least 28 bodies have been recovered from the mass graves, but Guerrero state Health Minister Lázaro Mazón said it could take weeks before the remains are identified. Meanwhile, two hitmen interrogated by authorities admitted that they killed 17 students on orders from a leader of the Guerreros Unidos gang shortly after the protests.
Peruvian elections marred by violence and corruption: Sunday’s municipal and regional elections in Peru have highlighted political corruption and drug violence in the Andean nation, where at least seven gubernatorial candidates are currently under investigation for drug trafficking or related crimes. The Friday before the elections, Shining Path rebels ambushed a four-vehicle police convoy, killing two and wounding five officers tasked with protecting election materials in the Apurimac and Ene River Valley in Ayacucho, where over half of Peru’s cocaine is produced. Before the election, two mayoral candidates from coca-growing towns were also assassinated. According to independent watchdog group Transparencia, 1,395 of the 126,000 candidates running in Sunday’s elections were convicted of a crime.
New mining district to be created in Catamarca: The government of Catamarca province in Argentina will create a provincial mining district to help advance two mining projects in the region—the Agua Rica and Cerro Atajo projects. Catamarca's government has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Canada-based Yamana Gold, which has a stake in both mining projects. The agreement would establish a working relationship between Yamana and the government, create a combined entity that includes the Agua Rica and Cerro Atajo projects, and would enable the state-owned provincial mining company CAMYEN to own a maximum 5 percent stake. Yamana is considering devloping the Agua Rica project in conjunction with others, though the project is currently 100 percent owned by Yamana.
October 3, 2014Read More Tags: Chico Mendes, Marina Silva, Brazilian elections
Entry into the Casa Chico Mendes Museum is free, but it’ll cost you $20,000 to visit the environmental activist’s assassin. He lives down the street—if you’re interested.
I was. I recently visited Brazil’s dusty Wild West town of Xapuri to look into the legacy of Francisco “Chico” Mendes, most famous defender of the Amazon rainforest and an inspiration to a generation of environmentalists—most notably Marina Silva, who may be the next president. How Brazil treated the memory Mendes—and his assassins, who have brazenly returned to their nearby ranch like characters from an old cowboy film—might provide a glimpse into the nation’s concern for environmentalism and activism, and maybe also into the candidacy of Silva.
In the 1980s, Mendes had rallied rubber tappers and Indigenous people in the Amazon to forcefully resist the encroachment of farmers and cattle ranchers, who were clearing a football field-sized swath of forest every second and spewing carbon dioxide pollution into the atmosphere. Mendes is an official national hero and a world-recognized activist, so I thought it was reasonable to also expect him to be revered in Xapuri.
“Chico Mendes has been a symbolic force for people all over the world,” the international environmental advocate Casey Box told me. “Other nations see him as a major force against industries and pushing back against aggression. He’s had a global reach.”
But in Xapuri itself, I couldn’t even find a postcard of Mendes for sale. While Box said he recalled seeing an Indigenous activist in Indonesia wearing a Chico Mendes t-shirt, the only Brazilian I’ve ever seen wearing a Mendes t-shirt was a staff worker at the Casa Chico Mendes Museum, which is where the activist was blasted by a twenty-gauge shotgun in front of his wife and children days before Christmas in 1988.
October 3, 2014Read More Tags: Brazilian elections, Dilma Rousseff, Marina Silva
The result was conclusive from Brazil’s fifth and final presidential debate last night, which started at 11 pm so as not to conflict with the soap opera “Imperio”: Sunday’s election is too close to call. (And also, candidates’ plans for Brazil’s future are less important to Brazilian telenovela fans than the fictional future of Rio de Janeiro’s rich and famous.)
So to get a sense of what voters are thinking ahead of Sunday’s vote, I ambushed a few Brazilians filling up their vehicles at the gas stations here in Curitiba. In any democracy, the choice at the ballot box often reflects which candidate is best for a voter's wallet, and many of Brazil’s 143 million voters will be directly affected by what the next president does to the price of government-regulated gasoline and oil.
The number of cars in Brazil grew by 123 percent over the past decade to 80 million, meaning that the price at the pump increasingly influences Brazilians’ choice on the ballot. Drivers can directly attribute today’s pump price to President Dilma Rousseff, who in 2011 set an artificially low sales price for gasoline that cost state oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA (Petrobras) tens of billions of dollars a year, but kept many of her constituents happy.
That includes Aminadabe Marcante, an attendant at Presidente gas station in central Curitiba, who told me that he’ll be voting for Rousseff because he doesn’t want change in this election. “I don’t have time to watch TV or debates,” Marcante said. “I’m voting for Dilma because she’s been good for the poor.”
October 3, 2014Tags: Drug war, PAN, PVEM
Germán Goyeneche Ortega—an alleged financial operator for the Beltrán Leyva cartel—may be linked to a number of local and national politicians in Mexico, according to reports in the Mexican news media. Since Goyeneche’s arrest on Tuesday with cartel leader Héctor Beltrán Leyva, news reports have surfaced linking Goyeneche to members of the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN) and the Partido Verde Ecologista de México (Ecologist Green Party of Mexico—PVEM)—including the current and former municipal presidents of San Miguel de Allende and two members of the federal Chamber of Deputies.
Goyeneche was a member of the PVEM and reportedly was close to the party’s secretary general and federal deputy from Querétaro, Ricardo Astudillo. Astudillo recommended Goyeneche for the presidency of the Querétaro chapter of the Parlamento Ciudadano de México (Citizen's Parliament of Mexico—Pacime), a position Goyeneche ultimately received. According to the PVEM’s leader in the Chamber of Deputies, Arturo Escobar, Goyeneche’s political rights within the party have been suspended.
In addition his links to the PVEM, Goyeneche is alleged to have ties to prominent politicans in the PAN. On Monday, two days before his arrest, Goyeneche—who had invested in a real estate development in San Miguel de Allende—attended a pre-campaign event for federal Deputy Ricardo Villareal García of the PAN. La Jornada has reported that Villareal admitted to knowing Goyeneche in a phone interview with its reporters yesterday. “San Miguel is a very small municipality and when someone comes and invests a lot of money, everyone knows about it,” Villareal said. “I have no reason to deny knowing him, but I have no relationship to him, none.”
If a closer relationship between the panista and Goyeneche is confirmed, it would represent yet another blow in what has been a difficult summer for the party that broke Mexico’s history of single-party rule—and for the Villareal clan. Earlier this year, Villareal’s brother, Luis Alberto Villareal, was replaced as party leader in the Chamber of Deputies after a video emerged that showed him dancing with young women described as “table dancers.”
October 2, 2014Tags: Evo Morales, Bolivian Presidential Elections, IPSOS
An election poll released on Wednesday—conducted by Ipsos, a France-based global market research company—showed that Bolivian President Evo Morales is on course to be elected to a third term on October 12. Morales is predicted to receive 59 percent of the vote—over 40 points more than his closest opponent, Samuel Doria Medina, a business man representing Unidad Demócrata (Democratic Unity—UD) party, who followed with 13 percent. Of the remaining three candidates vying for the office, Jorge Quiroga of the Partido Demócrata Cristiano (Democratic Christian Party—PDC) is predicted to receive 8 percent of the vote, Juan del Granado, leader of the Movimiento Sin Miedo (Movement without Fear—MSM) to receive 3 percent and Fernando Vargas of the Partido Verde de Bolivia (Bolivian Green Party—PVB) to receive 1 percent, according to the poll.
Despite the predicted victory, opposition candidates have accused the election process of being highly fraudulent—with the Supreme Electoral Tribunal being biased in favor of the incumbent, and the government favoring Morales propaganda and television air time over the opposition. Moreover, Doria Medina accused Bolivian polls of being biased and having a margin of error of over 30 percent. Morales would need to win at least 50 percent of the vote, or 40 percent of the vote if the margin is at least 10 points above his closest opponent.
The survey was conducted between September 8 and 23, interviewing 3,000 men and women 18 years or older across the nine departments of the country. The margin of error was +/- 1.79.
October 1, 2014Tags: Nicaragua, United Nations, Security Council reform
Samuel Santos López, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nicaragua, called for a reform of the United Nations system, and specifically of the Security Council, in his address during the last session of the UN General Assembly yesterday. The foreign minister joined several other regional leaders who called for reform of the UN’s most influential body.
In his address, Santos asked the Council to take into account the “voices and votes of developing countries in the categories of permanent and non-permanent members.” While many leaders of developing countries believe that the time is right to add new permanent members to the Council, obstacles to the inclusion of these countries remain. Some have pointed to competing regional interests—such as Brazil and Mexico, and India and Pakistan—as well as Brazil and India’s voting records on human rights and democracy, as impediments to moving forward with reform.
The Security Council currently has 15 seats with five permanent members—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.—that have veto power. There are also 10 rotating members—currently Argentina, Australia, Chad, Chile, Jordan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Nigeria, Rwanda, and South Korea—without veto power.
October 1, 2014Read More Tags: Welcoming Cities, The Politics and Business of Immigrant Integration, Comprehensive Immigration Reform
Last October, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed announced that Atlanta would be the first major city in the South to join a growing network of cities across the country recognizing the vital contribution of immigrants. At an event in October 2013 organized by the Americas Society/Council of the Americas (AS/COA), Mayor Reed publicly acknowledged that it was time to change the way Georgia—whose 2011 HB 87 law makes it one of the most anti-immigrant states in the country—is perceived. While he acknowledged that “being forward-leaning on immigration is a little tougher in the South,” he committed his city to joining Welcoming America’s Welcoming Cities and Counties network.
The mayor did not waste any time. Slightly less than one year later, at the recommendation of the Welcoming Atlanta Working Group he created this May, Mayor Reed announced that his administration will establish a Mayoral Office of Multicultural Affairs for the city of Atlanta. The creation of this office—one of the first of its kind in the South, and one of fewer than 20 nationwide—came as the top recommendation among 20 that he accepted from the Working Group. Other recommendations ranged from creating a one-stop shop to guide immigrant small business owners through city bureaucracy to improving access to adult language learning programs and improving cultural competency within city agencies.
Suddenly Georgia was making news again—not for an immigration policy that is backwards-looking and inhumane, but for taking leadership in changing the narrative around immigration and creating an environment that is welcoming and inclusive of immigrant communities.
Why take this on? The answer is in the numbers. Immigrants are critical to the economic competitiveness of the U.S., especially in rapidly-growing cities like Atlanta. According to the Partnership for a New American Economy (PNAE)—an organization that has helped make the economic case for immigrant integration—immigrants started 28 percent of all new U.S. businesses in 2011, employing one in 10 U.S. workers. In Georgia, Latino-owned businesses contributed $6 billion to the state economy and employed 25,874 people in 2013. Mayor Reed gets this. As he told members of the media at a press conference on September 17, “As Atlanta positions itself to be a global leader, attracting and retaining talent is imperative.”
September 30, 2014Tags: Hector Timerman, Thomas Griesa, Argentine debt
At a hearing yesterday, U.S. Federal Judge Thomas Griesa decided to hold Argentina in civil contempt of court, asserting that the country’s recent efforts to circumvent his ruling on debt repayment are illegal. Argentina’s Congress passed a law on September 11 that would replace Bank of New York Mellon Corp. as a bond trustee with a branch of Banco de la Nación. This would allow the country to pay the bondholders that agreed to restructuring in 2005 and 2010 in country, while avoiding payment to creditors that rejected restructuring.
Griesa’s ruling came the same day that the Kirchner Administration sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry requesting that the U.S. avoid holding Argentina in contempt and asking for support against the federal judge. After yesterday’s decision, Argentine Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman released a statement claiming that Griesa’s decision was a “violation of international law,” and called for the U.S. to allow the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to preside over the case. The Argentine government filed a suit at the ICJ in August, claiming that the New York court ruling violated their national sovereignty, but no action will be taken by the ICJ until the U.S. agrees to its jurisdiction in the case.
Argentina is scheduled to make a $200 million deposit of an interest payment on restructured debt today in the Banco de la Nación Fideicomiso, and a Central Bank source has indicated that the deposit will be made in spite of the ruling. Timerman affirmed yesterday that the country will continue to fight the blatant violation of Argentina’s autonomy as a nation.
Griesa previously warned Argentina about the potential ramifications of refusing to pay the holdout creditors the approximately $1.5 billion owed to them. However, when NML Capital Ltd. lawyer Robert Cohen called for a daily $50,000 penalty until Argentina pays in full, Griesa declined and stated that potential penalties will be considered at a later, as yet unspecified date.
September 29, 2014Read More Tags: Stephen Harper, ISIS, Iraq
Resisting the rush to war has been a characteristic of the Obama administration since its election in 2008. Avoiding the Bush-Cheney approach, which led to the Iraq invasion in 2003, Obama has been criticized for indifference, detachment and sometimes weakness in dealing with international crises. Even former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta are engaged in some historical revisionism regarding their positions in the Obama administration on Syria’s civil war, where they purportedly recommended arming rebel groups against Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.
The complex situation in the Middle East makes it highly risky to rush into any conflict. Obama’s reserve regarding events in Syria is understandable when U.S. intelligence has been less-than-reliable in the Middle East for the last forty years. Besides, America has had its fill of carrying the load and “putting boots on the ground.” This is why President Obama’s recent efforts to pluralize the Iraqi government under new leadership, to build a coalition of Arab states against the Islamic State (ISIS), to support ground forces in Iraq (the Iraqi army and the Kurdish Peshmerga), and to train vetted Syrian rebels are welcome.
Granted, a war strategy without an exit plan is far from reassuring at this stage, and this war has, as of yet, no definable exit strategy or time limit. The alternative is believing that isolated and defensive measures will be sufficient to beat a group like ISIS—which recruits foreign nationals from the West—and the al-Qaeda-affiliated Khorasan group, which is bent on hitting Western targets, including airplanes in full flight. The ideology underlying the tactics of these terrorists will not end without a coordinated multinational effort requiring years.
Monday Memo: Canadian Executive Jailed – Missing Mexican students – Venezuelan Bolivar – Murder Suspects in Peru – Colombian Hackers
September 29, 2014Tags: Cy Tokmakjian, Colombia Peace Talks, Venezuelan economy
This week’s likely top stories: Canadian businessman Cy Tokmakjian is sentenced to 15 years in Cuba; Mexico searches for 58 missing students; Venezuela’s bolivar hits a new low; Peru arrests two suspects in the murder of Indigenous activists; Colombian peace negotiator Humberto de la Calle says his e-mail was hacked.
Canadian executive jailed in Cuba: A Cuban court sentenced the president of the Ontario-based Tokmakjian Group, Cy Tokmakjian, to 15 years in jail for bribery, and sentenced two other Tokmakjian Group employees to eight and 12 years in prison. Company lawyers were notified of the sentences on Friday. Tokmakjian, who denies the charges against him, was detained in 2011 as part of an anti-corruption investigation carried out by the Cuban government. The court has also seized the assets of The Tokmakjian Group, which sold transportation, mining and construction equipment to Cuba. The company is now suing Cuba for $200 million through the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris and Canada’s Ontario Superior Court.
Mexican students go missing after protest: Mexican authorities are searching for 58 students from the Ayotzinapa teacher training college who went missing in Guerrero state late last Friday. The students were protesting discriminatory hiring practices for teachers when a group of armed assailants accompanying the police shot at the protesters, resulting in the deaths of at least six people, including two students. The students apparently went missing in the aftermath of the shootings, and authorities said they may have fled into the surrounding hills. The Mexican prosecutor’s office has arrested 22 policemen thought to be involved in the violence, and Guerrero’s public security ministry is searching for the students. Guerrero’s state government has said that the students are not believed to be in the custody of the municipal, state, or federal government, nor under the custody of the army.
Venezuelan bolivar hits a new low: The Venezuelan bolivar’s value on the black market has sunk to a new low of 100 bolivares to the U.S. dollar, according to dolartoday.com, a website that tracks the currency on Venezuela’s “parallel” currency market. Venezuela’s currency control system has three tiers, with the best exchange rate of 6.3 bolivares to the dollar available only for critical goods like medical supplies and important food staples. As of Friday, the dollar is 16 times more expensive on the black market than it is on Venezuela’s official currency market. At this time last year, the dollar was worth 41 bolivares on the black market.
Suspects arrested for murder of Indigenous activists in Peru: Peruvian authorities have arrested two suspects in the murder of four Asháninka tribal leaders and environmental activists who fought illegal logging on their land. The leaders—Edwin Chota, Leoncio Quintisima, Francisco Pinedo, and Jorge Ríos—were shot and killed earlier this month in a remote part of the Amazon jungle near the Brazilian border, despite asking both the Peruvian and Brazilian governments for protection. According to Peruvian prosecutor Eder Farfan, the two suspects arrested are loggers; more arrests are expected as the investigation continues.
Colombian peace negotiators hacked again: Colombian government negotiator Humberto de la Calle said on Saturday that his e-mail and cellphone had been hacked by people looking to sabotage Colombian peace negotiations with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC). The negotiators had just released copies of three preliminary agreements made during the peace talks in Havana to make the discussions more transparent. Earlier this year, the Colombian media revealed that a secret military intelligence unit was also spying on Colombian government negotiators in Havana and intercepting their e-mails.
September 26, 2014Tags: El Salvador, Amnesty International, Abortion
In a report released on Thursday, Amnesty International stated that El Salvador’s total ban on abortion is killing women and infringing upon human rights progress. Enacted in 1998, the law makes any form of abortion illegal, even in cases of rape, incest, when the mother’s life is in danger, or when the fetus has serious defects.
The report was compiled after nearly two years of infield research and interviews with women and children who have been affected by the law, as well as with health care professionals and social workers. It details the effects of the abortion ban, including the number of women that have died as a result, and misappropriated charges of abortion in cases of miscarriages.
According to the report, El Salvador has a lethal combination of high rates of teen pregnancy and clandestine abortions, lack of maternal education, and a paternalistic society that discriminates against women and girls. In fact, with 23 percent of teenage girls getting pregnant at least once between the ages of 15-19, El Salvador has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the region and suicide is the cause of death for over half (57 percent) of pregnant teenage girls.
Despite over 74 percent of Salvadorans in favor of selective abortion, those women and girls found guilty of abortion face two to eight years in prison, and those accused of aggravated homicide as a result of an abortion can face up to 50 years. “The ban on abortion reflects the low position of women in society and discrimination and violence against women in El Salvador,” said Erika Guevara, the Americas director at Amnesty International.
Four other Latin American countries currently have a full ban on abortion, including Chile, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic.
September 26, 2014Read More Tags: Infrastructure, Central America, Climate change
This week, New York City hosted the Climate Summit 2014, an event aimed at shaping the world’s future developmental policies. Just one month earlier in Nicaragua, delegates from the Mesoamerican region met to analyze the social, environmental and economic impacts of severe droughts this year.
Proyecto Mesoamérica (Mesoamerican Project), launched in 2008 by heads of state from Mexico, Central America, the Dominican Republic, and Colombia to promote regional integration and economic development, reported last month that 2.5 million people in Central America suffer from the impact of food insecurity and economic losses due to the severe droughts in the region. Guatemala’s agricultural losses this summer were estimated at around $ 57 million. El Salvador lost 90 percent of its bean harvest. Nicaragua reported 88,000 hectares of corn and beans lost and 600,000 livestock affected with malnutrition. Costa Rica reported losses of $19.5 million in the agricultural and livestock sectors, and Colombia reported agricultural losses of $ 28.2 million.
Regionally, water is a scarce, valuable commodity. Nicaragua possesses the largest source of fresh water in Central America, but Lake Nicaragua’s future is now the center of controversy—due to a contract awarded to the Chinese company HKND to build an interoceanic canal that would pass through this reservoir.
Pollution has been a big problem for Nicaragua’s lakes for many years. With technical and financial assistance from the German government, water treatment plants built in Lake Managua have been purifying its waters since 2009. Local farmers are using the abundant dried sewage sludge as an alternative fertilizer to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs). This ultimately improves the lake ecosystems and proves that infrastructure projects can be used to protect the environment—demonstrating that “green infrastructure” is a lot more than just green roofs or walls on urban buildings.
September 25, 2014Read More Tags: Brazilian elections, Dilma Rousseff, Marina Silva
Dilma, Dilma, Dilma, Neves, Sil-.
The letters in this sentence roughly represent the proportion of free TV airtime that each of Brazil’s three major presidential candidates—President Dilma Rousseff and challengers Aécio Neves and Marina Silva—receives to advertise, based on their party’s representation in government.
Because Silva’s Partido Socialista Brasileiro (Brazilian Socialist Party—PSB) has minimal representation in the lower house of Congress, she only gets a two-minute window in the 25-minute block of free campaign advertising that’s broadcast on TV twice a day every day. President Dilma Rousseff gets nearly six times as much, thanks to the popularity of her Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT). Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (Brazilian Social Democratic Party—PSDB) candidate Aécio Neves, the other top challenger, gets about four and a half minutes.
Yet while Brazilian electoral rules for political TV advertising give Rousseff a clear advantage in her bid for re-election on October 5, the latest polls show Rousseff in a statistical tie against Silva, whose political rise has drawn parallels to the 2008 candidacy of Barack Obama.
By many comparisons, however, Obama had it easy. He was not battling an incumbent, and he had plenty of time to build up the largest campaign war chest in history, with few barriers on how to spend it. Silva, who would also be her country’s first black president, has the least campaign funding of any major candidate and a major disadvantage in advertising on TV, which is how most Brazilians consume their news.
September 25, 2014Tags: United Nations General Assembly, Enrique Peña Nieto, Peacekeeping Missions
In his first address to the UN General Assembly, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced yesterday that Mexico is prepared to participate in UN Peacekeeping Missions. He noted that Mexico’s collaboration would be limited to “humanitarian work,” nevertheless qualifying the announcement as “a historic step in [Mexico’s] commitment to the UN.” According to the Mexican news site Animal Político, such collaborations could involve deploying military or civilian personnel. In a separate announcement, the Mexican Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores (Ministry of Foreign Affairs—SRE) said the country will step into this new role “gradually.”
The announcement marks the clearest reversal so far of Mexico’s decades old policy of non-intervention in foreign matters. The last time the country participated in a UN Peacekeeping mission was in Kashmir in 1949. Since then, Mexican forces have been deployed abroad to aid in humanitarian crises, such as after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 or the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. However, until now, the idea of Mexicans donning the UN’s blue helmets has been practically taboo.
In an editorial in El Universal that coincided with Peña Nieto’s announcement, the former Mexican ambassador to the U.S., Arturo Sarukhan called explicitly for Mexico's participation in UN peacekeeping missions. Framing the issue in terms of Mexico’s role as an emerging world leader, he wrote, “we cannot chart the future of our foreign policy out of a foreign policy from the past.” Meanwhile, the president of the Comisión de Derechos Humanos del Senado (Senate Human Rights Commission), Senator Angélica de la Peña, warned that, “a decision such as this cannot be taken unilaterally, and should obligate us to promote a public discussion about its ramifications vis-à-vis our pacifist tradition and vocation.” The senator also noted that any future participation in a UN Peacekeeping mission would require the Senate’s approval.
September 24, 2014Tags: FARC, Colombia Peace Talks, Ceasefire
Iván Márquez, the chief negotiator for the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC), accused Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ administration of negligence on Tuesday for refusing to agree to a bilateral ceasefire. The Santos administration maintains that doing so would provide the FARC with an opportunity to take advantage of the ceasefire to build up their forces, as the FARC has done in the past.
While the peace negotiations have faced criticism, most notably from former President Álvaro Uribe, the Colombian government and the rebels have reached several partial agreements on three points of their agenda—the political participation of the FARC after disarmament, eliminating illicit drug production and implementing agrarian reform. However, due to the lack of a ceasefire, Colombian military forces have continued to clash with the FARC in the Colombian countryside.
Throughout the peace process, which began in Oslo in November 2012 and has since moved to Havana, the FARC has declared four unilateral ceasefires. Victims of both sides of the conflict called for a bilateral ceasefire earlier this month.
September 23, 2014Read More Tags: Scotland, Federalism, Alex Salmond
The results are in and the United Kingdom “no’s” have won a modest but decisive victory in the referendum on Scotland’s independence. The choice was clear, as proven by the sudden resignation of First Minister Alex Salmond of the Scottish National Party (SNP). In his parting remarks, Salmond closed by saying the “dream shall never die;” proving that the tension about whether Scotland will remain a part of the U.K. has not completely disappeared.
No one expects the Scottish nation to abandon its heritage, its pride and its hope for a better future. The SNP believed that this better future would be guaranteed through an independent, sovereign Scotland, rather than as part of the U.K. However, opponents of this option, acting under the umbrella of “Better Together,” made the case for continuing the union. And when opinion polls began to tighten in the latter half of the campaign, U.K. political leadership promised extensive reforms.
It was not long before other constituent parts of the U.K.—Wales and Northern Ireland—jumped at the occasion, asking to be a part of the process for reform. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron responded positively by referring to a wide-ranging constitutional reform effort. Considering that the U.K. has no written constitution and is organized as a unitary state (with one level of government, as opposed to two levels of government with sovereign powers as in a federation), intensive and prolonged discussions regarding the extent of the reforms and some acrimonious debate about jurisdictions are to be expected.
In Canada, we have had our share of constitutional battles, largely provoked by the pro-independence Parti Québécois, including two referenda on Québec independence in 1980 and 1995. While the Canadian model has had little success in stopping the quest for independence by the Parti Québécois, the fact that Canada has had a successful go at making a federal state work for nearly 150 years may be a useful reference for the post-Scotland referendum period.
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