Ending a seemingly unbreakable deadlock, the U.S. Congress has made tremendous inroads toward passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Several weeks ago, a bipartisan group of senators popularly known as the “Gang of Eight” released their highly anticipated reform proposal. Days later, tens of thousands descended upon Capitol Hill in a “Rally for Citizenship,” demanding a legal framework for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the United States. Public support is at an all-time high, with bipartisan polls showing as many as 77 percent of Americans in favor of a path to citizenship.
Despite tremendous advancements, divisive tensions have persisted around a series of proposals to ensure that the legislation is inclusive of all immigrants. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced an amendment last week to extend existing citizenship and residency benefits to binational same-sex couples. Inspired by the proposed United American Families Act (UAFA), the measure seeks to benefit an estimated 24,700 couples by granting foreign-born same-sex partners access to legal permanent residency through green cards. Although it is a seemingly sensible measure to ensure that the comprehensive reform bill serves all immigrants, conservative opponents have said it would threaten Republican support and derail hopes for bipartisan consensus.
Opposition against UAFA stems from a moral objection to marriage equality for same-sex couples. Pundits have labeled it a “wedge issue” and prominent reform advocates such as Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) have said it would cost their support. Yet despite this rhetoric, the bill makes no change to existing definitions of marriage, which are decided by states and are currently under review by the U.S. Supreme Court as they pertain to same-sex couples. Furthermore, UAFA boasts bipartisan support from numerous Republicans, including the bill’s co-sponsor, Senator Susan Collins of Maine and former Congressman Jim Kolbe of Arizona. During a recent visit to Costa Rica, President Obama joined a chorus of supporters and called the measure “the right thing to do” in guaranteeing equality for all Americans.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Rios Montt convicted of genocide; Venezuelan military to fight insecurity; Panama announces continued electricity rationing; FIFA expresses concerns over Brazil’s World Cup stadium; and China’s vice president travels to Venezuela.
Rios Montt found guilty: On Friday, a three-judge tribunal sentenced the 86-year-old former dictator of Guatemala, Efrain Rios Montt to 80 years in prison. Rios Montt was convicted of genocide for ordering the deaths of nearly 2,000 people of the Ixil Maya ethnic group between 1982 and 1983. He is expected to appeal the court’s decision, a process that promises to drag on a trial that, over the course of two months, has been beset by numerous delays. The conviction is seen as a victory not only for Guatemalans who endured the violence, but also for international human rights more broadly. It marks the first time a former head of state had been found guilty of genocide by a court in his or her own country. A hearing on Monday will focus on compensation for the victims.
Venezuela’s military deployed to fight crime: Today, some 3,000 military troops will deploy to the streets in several neighborhoods throughout Venezuela as part of President Nicolás Maduro’s efforts to tackle the country’s daunting and rising crime rate. Venezuela has the highest number of homicides per capita in Latin America and polls during the recent presidential election revealed that insecurity tops the list of citizen concerns. Troops will be concentrated in the municipalities of Sucre and Baruta—both areas dominated by opposition supporters and, according to the government, two of the most dangerous regions of the country. Critics say the move violates the constitution, but Maduro maintains that the troops are necessary to protect the Venezuelan people.
Strict electricity rationing to remain in place in Panama: On Sunday, Panama’s government announced that most of the restrictions on electricity use that went into place last week will continue until further notice. The rationing, which curtailed business hours and drastically limited the use of electricity-intensive devices, comes amid a severe drought that has dried up the water sources that power the country’s hydroelectric plants. While other restrictions will remain—and in some cases tighten—schools, which were closed last Wednesday to Friday, will reopen today. However, the government has instructed schools to keep the air conditioning off and to use lights sparingly. Over the course of the week, the government will monitor energy supply and modify restrictions as necessary.
FIFA warns Brazil about construction timeframe: As Brazil prepares to host the World Cup in 2014, FIFA, the games’ governing body, issued a warning about delays in the construction of six soccer stadiums. FIFA’s concern came after as second test at the Maracanã stadium was cancelled due to unpreparedness. The Maracanã stadium, along with the others in Cuiabá, Manaus, Natal, Curitiba, Porto Alegre, and São Paulo must be handed over to FIFA and tested twice by December, according to FIFA. Yet, the current timeline is that the stadiums are unlikely to be completed before February or March.
Vice President of China travels to Venezuela: China’s vice president, Li Yuanchao, arrived in Venezuela on Sunday, beginning a four-day visit focused on deepening the bilateral relationship and establishing alliances with the new administration of President Nicolás Maduro. On Monday, Li will participate in a memorial to former President Hugo Chávez, followed by a series of meetings over the course of the week with Venezuelan leaders, including the minister of science and technology. Li hopes to prioritize educational and technology exchanges between the two countries. He will also meet with the ministers of energy and economy, President of Petróleos de Venezuela Rafael Ramírez, and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, among others. The two countries are expected to sign accords on issues such as oil and mining. Li will then travel to Argentina on May 16.
Guatemala City, Guatemala - Former Guatemalan president Efraín José Ríos Montt was found guilty on Friday of genocide and crimes against humanity and sentenced to 80 years in prison. His co-defendant, former intelligence chief José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, was acquitted of all charges.
With the threat of the trial regressing to November 2011, Judge Yasmín Barrios pressed on with the closing arguments on Friday morning before retiring to consider a verdict with the three-judge panel.
Upon returning, Judge Barrios delivered her verdict, threatening the Ríos Montt attorneys with jail should they interrupt or attempt to leave again.
In a 30-minute monologue Judge Barrios agreed that the prosecution had proven that genocide against the Mayan Ixil had occurred and had been carried out by the Guatemalan Army. She blamed the Cold War anti-Communist context of the conflict as the underlying factor for the genocide, exacerbated by institutional racism.
Con seis años consecutivos al frente de la Cancillería venezolana, si algo podía esperarse del estreno de Nicolás Maduro como presidente era fluidez en la política exterior. Sin embargo, en sus tres primeras semanas al mando del país, el heredero del fallecido líder, Hugo Chávez, ya acumuló cuatro desencuentros internacionales manejados con reacciones poco diplomáticas.
Al canciller español, José García Magallo, lo mandó a “sacar sus narices de Venezuela” cuando manifestó su disposición a “hacer algo” para “garantizar una Venezuela en paz”. Al representante de la diplomacia peruana, Rafael Roncagliolo, le dijo haber “cometido el error de su vida” al presentar un pedido a la Unión de Naciones Suramericanas (Unasur) para evaluar un comunicado que solicitara a Caracas “tolerancia y diálogo”. Tildó al mandatario americano, Barack Obama, de ser “el jefe mayor de los diablos” y acusó, sin formalizar su denuncia, al ex Jefe de Estado colombiano, Álvaro Uribe, de encabezar un “complot” para asesinarlo.
En medio de una crisis de legitimidad nacional, debido a que su contendiente, Henrique Capriles Radonski, solicitó la impugnación de las elecciones del 14 de abril que le concedieron la victoria con un estrecho resultado electoral de 225 mil votos, Maduro se embarcó en su primera gira internacional. Escogió países amigos: Uruguay, Argentina y Brasil, y fijó visitas breves que tuvieron, entre los objetivos centrales, garantizar alimentos para paliar la persistente escasez registrada en Venezuela.
“Parte de la gira que arranca es para garantizar y fortalecer nuevamente la reserva alimentaria de productos básicos de nuestro país a tres meses”, comentó Maduro el pasado martes antes de abordar el avión que lo llevaría a Montevideo, su primera parada.
Hugo Chávez, oriundo de la región ganadera del país, enfatizó en sus discursos la importancia de librar a Venezuela del yugo petrolero, impulsando el agro nacional y garantizando la “soberanía alimentaria”. Pero, en la práctica, su gestión estuvo marcada por expropiaciones, nacionalizaciones y experimentos económicos que desarticularon y afectaron de forma severa la cadena productiva.
Al tiempo que el presidente Nicolás Maduro se reunía con sus pares en Uruguay, Argentina y Brasil, la oposición venezolana preparó una gira paralela, en cuya parada en Buenos Aires sus miembros fueron recibidos por legisladores opositores al gobierno de Cristina Kirchner.
“No hay manera de ocultarle al mundo que somos mayoría, durante años el chavismo dijo que Venezuela era una lucha entre ricos y pobres, y hoy la mitad votó por nosotros y claramente la mitad de los venezolanos no son ricos. No vamos a retroceder”, resumió el líder opositor y ex alcalde del municipio Chacao, Leopoldo López, para definir la cruzada que emprendió la oposición con el ánimo de contar la realidad de esa otra Venezuela que impugnó las elecciones.
Confiados en que sí hay un acompañamiento internacional a sus denuncias, estas prosperarán y se podrán repetir las elecciones, López y los asambleístas venezolanos Nora Bracho y Freddy Guevara estuvieron esta semana en la Cámara de Diputados en Buenos Aires.
"La mejor manera de definir las elecciones que pasaron [el 14 de abril] es una pelea de David contra Goliat", disparó López en momentos en que Maduro, a quien llaman "El ilegítimo" se encontraba a pocas cuadras en la Casa Rosada con su homóloga Cristina Kirchner.
Ese Goliat representado por la estatal petrolera PDVSA, ministerios, gobernaciones, alcaldías y la Fuerza Armada nacional fue el aparato que, según López, dedicó todo su poder a “contaminar el proceso electoral entero”, razón por la cual la impugnación que interpuso Henrique Capriles esta semana no se debe sólo a los resultados.
“Nuestra queja comienza sobre la mancha anticonstitucional y manipuladora que ocurrió el 9 de enero cuando permitieron la continuidad del gobierno de Chávez [en su ausencia], sólo para que quien iba a ser candidato del chavismo, pudiera ser presidente mientras era candidato”, expresó López.
Con cifras en la mano, López relató todas sus quejas: en 10 días de campaña, el oficialismo tuvo 65 horas de cadena nacional, versus los 23 minutos de publicidad a los que tuvo derecho Henrique Capriles; se reportaron en total 230 violaciones a leyes electorales, y 5.623 irregularidades ocurrieron en las mesas de votación.
Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro marked the end of his three-day trip through Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil yesterday with a meeting in Brasilia with President Dilma Rousseff to highlight Venezuela’s strategic alliance with Brazil.
Maduro traveled to Mercosur member countries for his first trip post-presidential election in an effort to consolidate bilateral ties. In Uruguay, his first stop, the Venezuelan president met with President José Mujica, as well as former Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez, and pledged a “permanent” supply of petroleum. He continued on to Argentina, where he signed 11 bilateral agreements with President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and gave a public address at a soccer stadium where he invoked the legacies of deceased Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez as well as deceased Argentine President Nestor Kirchner.
In Brazil, his final stop, Maduro received a firm endorsement from President Rousseff. The two leaders announced that Brazilian construction and engineering conglomerate Odebrecht will construct a 1.5-million-tonne-a-year urea plant in Venezuela. Venezuela is the second largest market, after Argentina, for Brazilian manufactured goods.
The international trip also carries domestic implications. Eduardo Viola, International Relations professor from Universidad de Brasilia said that “with this trip to Mercosur member countries whose leaders have demonstrated support, Maduro seeks to legitimize his situation, highly questionable in his country, not only because of the tight electoral results questioned by the opposition but also because of the grave economic and public safety conditions which are bleak.”
While an audit of Venezuelan election results began this week, nearly every nation in the region has accepted Maduro's presidency.
A four-month drought has crippled Panama’s electricity supply, prompting the government to close schools and impose strict limits on electricity use on Wednesday—a day after declaring a state of emergency in four of the country’s nine provinces.
In addition to closing schools, new restrictions curtail operating hours for late-night businesses such as supermarkets, bars and restaurants, forcing them to close between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. Wednesday’s restrictions come after orders on Monday for businesses to cut air-conditioning use by four hours each day, among other measures.
Current restrictions will last through Sunday, when officials will determine whether the electricity supply will allow for a loosening of restrictions and re-opening of schools next week. However, a rainless forecast hints of little relief in the coming days.
Panama relies on hydropower for 60 percent of its electricity supply and the dry-spell that began in December has dried up two of the largest basins that feed hydroelectric plants.
In recent years, electricity demand has grown sharply. Between 2011 and 2012, electricity consumption increased nearly 6 percent, according to government statistics, yet supply has hardly grown.
Panama is Latin America’s fastest growing economy with growth exceeding 10 percent in 2012, according to the government. This growth has resulted in the construction of new business, office buildings and shopping centers throughout the country, taxing the energy supply.
Officials hope current measures will cultivate more conservative energy use even after the restrictions are officially lifted. Besides emergency restrictions, Panama has focused on diversifying its electrical grid to incorporate more geothermal sources of electricity to complement existing hydroelectric sources. It is also pursuing initiatives to integrate its electricity grid with other countries in the region, including an ambitious project to connect the transmission networks of six Central American countries and a separate bilateral effort that would link Panama and Colombia with one large power line.
The drought and power rationing have not affected trade on the Panama Canal, which produces its own energy.
Roberto Azevêdo, Brazil’s current ambassador to the World Trade Organization (WTO), will succeed Pascal Lamy as the director-general of the organization on September 1, 2013, becoming the first Latin American to head the WTO since its creation in 1995. A formal announcement is expected today.
Azevêdo claimed the spot over Herminio Blanco, Mexico’s former Trade Minister and chief negotiator for the North America Free-Trade Agreement, in the final round of the six-month selection process which began in December. While Blanco had the support of the influential members such as the European Union, a majority of the WTO’s 159 member-states voted in favor of the Brazilian. Some analysts believe that Brazil’s active role in protecting the interests of developing countries during global trade negotiations contributed to Azevêdo’s popularity.
Azevêdo, who first joined the Permanent Mission of Brazil to the WTO in 1997, will face several challenges as director-general. He will be responsible for reviving the Doha round of talks, which were officially launched in 2001, and maintaining the organization’s relevance as regional and bilateral trade agreements grow in scope. Azevêdo will head his first biennial meeting in Bali, Indonesia this December.
It’s not hard to imagine what was behind Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota’s announcement yesterday that Brazil will hire 6,000 Cuban doctors to work in rural parts of Brazil.
As the situation in Venezuela continues to teeter in uncertainty, the Brazilian government has thrown the Cuban government another lifeline. Doing so provides a cushion for a sinking Castro regime that has been kept afloat by the roughly 100,000 barrels of oil per day that Venezuela has sent to Cuba since 2005.
In return, the Cuban government has provided over 30,000 doctors, sports trainers, and advisors at terms very favorable to Cuba. (You think U.S. healthcare costs are high? Imagine the cost of Cuban doctors. Assuming 30,000 of them at $100 per barrel of oil, those guys are worth the equivalent of $333 per day!) The artificially-inflated cost of doctors aside, it’s the sports trainers and advisors that are the concern. I must confess, I have no idea what a Cuban sports trainer is (though I assume he would look something like this.) In reality, they likely provide a service very similar to the advisors: the political counseling, intelligence and military training, propaganda dissemination, and intelligence gathering that has been key to the chavista government’s ability to consolidate its power.
For those advisors, President of Venezuela Nicolás Maduro’s unexpected poor showing in the election presents a zero-sum game. If they cannot shore up the anointed heir of former President Chávez, they may very well lose their lifeline. For that reason, many have speculated that the Cubans are working overtime to help President Maduro. (Though, quite frankly, Maduro’s recent vitriolic attacks on the opposition and the United States seem more like those of a wounded animal than an expression of the subtle, strategic advice one would expect from seasoned intelligence agents.)
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro embarked today on a three-day tour of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, all members of Mercosur (The Common Market of the South). Following Paraguay’s suspension from the free-trade group, Venezuela joined Mercosur last year and will assume the bloc’s temporary presidency for the first time on June 28 during a summit in Montevideo.
During a ceremony on Sunday to commemorate the two-month anniversary of the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Maduro announced that he would visit the other Mercosur countries to “continue bringing forward a perfect equation of financial, energy, cultural and political integration.”
In Uruguay, Maduro will meet with Uruguayan President José Mujica, as well as former Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez, union leaders and the electrical transformer company Urutransfor. Members of the Uruguayan opposition have criticized Maduro’s visit as “tactless and inconvenient” because of the current political tensions that exist in Venezuela. Later this week, Maduro will meet Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Buenos Aires and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in Brasilia to discuss the next steps for the regional bloc.
The contentious relationship between Indigenous communities, mining companies and the state came to a head last week in Peru. Mines and Energy Minister Jorge Merino persuaded Peruvian President Ollanta Humala to exclude Quechua-speaking communities from a law that gives Indigenous groups the right to be consulted about major mining and infrastructure projects that would directly affect them.
At issue is the country’s consulta previa (prior consultation) law—based on ILO Convention 169—which requires that Indigenous and native communities be consulted prior to the establishment of any policy and development processes that would directly affect them. President Humala formally signed ILO 169 into national law in 2011 in a symbolic ceremony in the town of Bagua—the location of the fatal 2009 clash between law enforcement and native communities in the Amazon that killed 33 people and cast a shadow on then-President Alan García.
Yet just one and a half years after ILO 169 became Peruvian law, it appears the state is rolling back what was once a win for the Indigenous communities. The cabinet battle being led by Merino prompted Deputy Culture Minister Iván Lanegra to resign from his post on Friday. Lanegra, who was responsible for overseeing the implementation of consulta previa and improving relations with Indigenous communities, announced his resignation via Twitter.
President Obama’s recent visit to Costa Rica focused on enhancing competitiveness and deepening economic ties with the Central American Integration System (SICA) through a U.S.-SICA partnership based on human and economic development. The visit also served as a pressing reminder of the need to improve integration efforts within the region.
For this partnership to succeed, the countries involved should recognize that most regional challenges arise in part because of poverty. Young men and women don't see a brighter future ahead and institutions are not working for their people.
President Obama’s trip provided a renewed perspective on the relationship between the U.S. and Central America—especially for a region more used to talking about its problems than coming up with solutions and more used to asking for assistance than offering mutual cooperation. In that spirit, here are the three main themes that Central American leaders must follow up on after this visit.
It’s been said that Canada has usually “punched above its weight” on the international stage. Whether we refer to the world wars of the twentieth century, the creation of the United Nations, the bipolar era of the Cold War, the conflict in Korea, or the reaction to Afghanistan after 9-11, Canada’s contribution in blood, sweat and tears is well documented. In addition, we have constantly played a role in peacekeeping and economic liberalization that is a model to the developed world.
Our close alliance with our neighbor to the south, the United States, has usually kept us in the loop on the major currents in world politics. However, the recent announcement by Foreign Minister John Baird that Canada would not seek a seat at the UN Security Council was met with criticism from many long term adherents of Canada’s traditional foreign policy and with derision by the growing chorus of critics who oppose the values associated with the Harper government’s foreign policy and its ideological stance on international cooperation. Rightly or wrongly, it was interpreted as one more step toward Canada’s declining reputation in foreign policy matters.
Withdrawing from Kyoto, opposing international NGOs that provide abortion services, actively supporting Israel’s right wing coalition government and its approach to the Palestinian issue, and withdrawing from some UN projects have led proponents of traditional Canadian foreign policy to question whether Canada’s international reputation is now so damaged that Baird’s announcement was more an admission of certain defeat for the Security Council seat rather than a point of principle. Some veteran observers of UN politics interpreted Canada’s defeat two years ago for that very seat as a vote against this new orientation under the Conservative government of Stephen Harper.
To be fair, the world today is far different from the glory days of Lester B. Pearson and his Nobel Peace Prize in the Suez Crisis of 1956. Under Pearson’s influence and that of his successors, Canada’s international profile was built on multilateral cooperation, active engagement and above all, a strong diplomatic corps. However, events today are less predictable and ideologies less certain. We no longer live in the more predictable bipolar world of the Cold War.
En el año 2000 la mayoría de los salvadoreños teníamos una idea, al menos vaga, sobre cual debería de ser la apuesta estratégica del país. El entonces presidente Francisco Flores y su gabinete nos hablaban sobre la viabilidad de convertir a El Salvador en un centro financiero y en un centro logístico de calidad mundial. El segundo aspecto fue incluso exacerbado con la inversión en la construcción de un nuevo puerto marítimo moderno en el departamento de La Unión durante la administración de Antonio Saca.
La apuesta fue concentrarse en la prestación de servicios y promover políticas públicas y leyes que facilitaran el proceso de transformación del país en ese centro financiero y logístico. Sin embargo, al parecer se nos olvidó que uno de los hubs logísticos más importantes del mundo y uno de los centros financieros de mayor trayectoria en el hemisferio occidental se encontraban a la vuelta de la esquina: Panamá.
El país amigo del istmo lo estaba haciendo bien, muy bien. Luego El Salvador cayó en una vorágine de violencia e inseguridad ciudadana que todos conocemos. La inversión se redujo debido a los crecientes índices de violencia. Al menos esa fue siempre la versión oficial. Para muchos difícil de aceptar o comprender cuando los países vecinos de Guatemala y Honduras, ambos con niveles de violencia similares o superiores, crecían dos o tres veces más que El Salvador.
Si en efecto, nos equivocamos, pues no hay mejor remedio que aceptarlo y rectificar. Sin embargo, lo más relevante que conviene rescatar es que a finales de los 90 y principios de milenio existía una propuesta de visión país. Esa visión es la que hoy día El Salvador carece. La semana pasada se realizó el XIII Encuentro Nacional de la Empresa Privada (ENADE) organizado por la Asociación Nacional de la Empresa Privada (ANEP). Durante el encuentro los líderes empresariales solicitaron favorecer la visión de largo plazo. En dicho encuentro la principal cámara empresarial del país hizo entrega a cada uno de los candidatos presidenciales de la propuesta que habría preparado la gremial.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Senate Judiciary Committee begins mark-up of the U.S. immigration reform bill; Álvaro Uribe reacts to Nicolás Maduro; Ríos Montt genocide trial is briefly suspended; Barack Obama criticizes the imprisonment of an American filmmaker in Venezuela; and 100 prisoners participate in the Guantánamo hunger strike.
Immigration Reform in the Judiciary Committee: On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will begin to mark up the 844-page immigration reform bill drafted by the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" U.S. senators with amendments to be considered due by 5:00pm on Tuesday. Dozens of amendments are expected to be submitted by members of the Judiciary Committee, including the Uniting American Families Act—an amendment to be offered by Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) that would allow U.S. citizens to sponsor their same-sex partners for green cards. On Friday, President Barack Obama said that he supported a proposal, calling it the “right thing to do.” If passed in committee, critics say the amendment could erode bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform. On Friday during his visit to Mexico, Obama said he was “optimistic” that Congress could pass immigration reform this year.
Venezuelan and Colombian Heads of State Face Off: Former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe said Sunday that he would bring Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights for putting his life in danger after Maduro accused Uribe on Friday of plotting to kill him. Maduro also alleged that Uribe was involved in the murder of Jhonny González, a sports reporter who was shot to death last week. On Sunday, former Colombian President Andrés Pastrana criticized Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos for not speaking out immediately against Maduro's accusations.
Guatemalan Constitutional Court Suspends Ríos Montt Trial: Guatemala's Constitutional Court announced on Saturday a "provisional" suspension of the genocide trial of former General Efraín Ríos Montt while it resolves an injunction request filed by Ríos Montt's attorney, Francisco García Gudiel. However, a definitive ruling on the genocide trial is expected this week after the Constitutional Court ruled on April 30 that the case could proceed. The presiding judge, Jazmín Barrios, granted a week’s recess so that García Gudiel could review the file against his client.
Obama Calls Imprisonment of American in Venezuela "Ridiculous": Venezuelan Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres said on Sunday that American Timothy Tracy was posing as a documentary filmmaker to spy on the Venezuelan government. Tracy was arrested after Venezuela’s April 14 election as he was leaving the country and was charged with conspiracy late last month, saying he was plotting with opposition groups to destabilize the country. U.S. President Obama called the Venezuelan government’s claim "ridiculous” in an interview with Telemundo this weekend. Maduro responded on Saturday by calling Obama the “grand chief of devils.”
100 Prisoners on Strike in Guantánamo: An Afghan prisoner at the Guantánamo military prison in Cuba alleged in a sworn affidavit released Sunday that soldiers roughly searched prisoners' Qurans in February, triggering a hunger strike in which at least 100 prisoners have been participating for the ninth consecutive day. At least 23 prisoners are now being force-fed, though a prison spokesman said that no one is experiencing life-threatening conditions. Marine General John Kelly, head of U.S. Southern Command, told reporters that there was “absolutely no mishandling of the Quran” inside the prison.
Today, U.S. President Barack Obama arrives in Costa Rica as part of a trip to promote trade and business ties, discuss the implications of U.S. immigration reform for the region, and address security issues in Central America and Mexico. Compared with past visits of U.S. presidents to the country, which were major events, Obama’s trip is generating little excitement, despite his personal popularity in Costa Rica.
There are a number of possible reasons for this, including an uninspiring agenda, few opportunities for the public to see and hear Obama and Costa Ricans’ disgust with their own politicians. According to polls, President Laura Chinchilla is the least popular leader in the Western Hemisphere, which dampens Costa Ricans’ interest in politics, generally. However, the best explanation is that the relationship between Costa Rica and the U.S. has changed fundamentally over the past few decades, making a U.S. presidential visit seem less significant than it used to.
When U.S. President John F. Kennedy visited Costa Rica in March 1963, he arrived to promote the Alliance for Progress. During his visit, huge crowds turned out to hear him speak, with many following him from event to event. Even today, many Costa Ricans remember clearly and speak with excitement about the events of those two days. While Kennedy’s charisma played a role, the United States and its support for Costa Rica’s development also elicited enthusiasm.
Since 1942, when bilateral economic assistance to Costa Rica began, the U.S. government had implemented a low-key, relatively inexpensive but highly effective and popular technical assistance program. In partnership with the Costa Rican government, the project built most of the Inter-American Highway in Costa Rica, supported significant increases in agricultural production, and promoted improvements in public health—notably infrastructure to provide potable water and help build the National Children’s Hospital.
Mexico City residents rarely pay attention to visiting heads of state. Except for foreign flags on light posts along Reforma Avenue and inside Chapultepec Castle, no one really knows, cares or feels the presence of any visiting leader—except when the president of the United States visits.
On his third visit to Mexico, President Obama was courted by Mexico’s new president, Enrique Peña Nieto. On display was Peña Nieto’s desire to re-set the clock with the U.S. and his administration’s continued focus on the economy. Peña Nieto wants to reverse his predecessor’s policies, which allowed increased cross-border surveillance, and sanctioned an unprecedented increase in technical assistance in a number of important areas, including rule of law, money laundering, and intelligence-sharing. This assistance, I would argue, is valuable and necessary.
President Obama has never had a better partner in Mexico than Enrique Peña Nieto—for both good and bad reasons. Nieto comes from the party that founded Mexico’s institutions and set the country on the international course it’s on today. After 70 years in power, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party–PRI) lost the presidency to the Partido Accion Nacional (National Action Party—PAN) in 2000, and only recently re-took political reigns.
Peña Nieto is a good partner for Obama because Peña Nieto is willing to work across party lines. His first official act was to sign a political pact covering 95 points of interest with the main opposition parties, the PAN and the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution—PRD). Unlike his predecessor, Peña Nieto is thus far willing to work with all political constituencies on critical issues. This is a plus for the bilateral agenda.
U.S. President Barack Obama met with his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, in Mexico’s Palacio Nacional on Thursday to discuss trade and economic partnership between the two countries. This was Obama’s fourth trip to Mexico but his first under Peña Nieto’s tenure.
Both heads of state agreed to form a high-level working group to expand the countries’ trade agreements with Asia because of its fast-growing import and export market. “By working closely together to upgrade and revamp our trade relationship, we're also in a position to project outward and start selling more goods and services around the world,” Obama said. “And that means more jobs and more businesses that are successful in Mexico and in the United States.”
Both the U.S. and Mexico had estimated trade of up to $500 billion in 2012, are members of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada, and are participating in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations that Japan has recently joined.
Obama briefly mentioned the U.S.’ effort to overhaul its immigration system and said that he was “optimistic that we’re finally going to get comprehensive immigration reform passed.” Obama said that the bill contains elements that he approves of, but that the bill is likely to be amended before it is passed. Peña Nieto responded by saying that “Mexico understands this is a domestic affair for the United States.”
Today, before meeting with Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, Obama is scheduled to make a speech at the Museo Nacional de Antropología (National Anthropology Museum) in Mexico City and meet with young people to highlight the importance of the historical and cultural ties between the U.S. and Mexico. On Saturday, Obama will meet with other Latin American leaders from the Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana (Central American Integration System—SICA), including leaders from Nicaragua, Belize, Panama, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic.
For further coverage of Obama’s visit to Latin America, visit AQ’s in-depth page.
En octubre de 2006, cuando el invierno comenzaba a despuntar en Alaska, los habitantes de Anchorage—ubicada a 8.600 kilómetros de Caracas—se debatían entre aceptar o no el combustible gratuito que el presidente de Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, había ofrecido para mitigar el impacto económico del cambio de estación en la localidad. Unos querían recibir el combustible debido a la crisis que azotaba a la región, en cuanto otros rechazaban al presidente venezolano por haber llamado “diablo” a su presidente, George W. Bush, durante una reunión de la Organización de las Naciones Unidas en ese año. Chávez nunca había visitado Alaska, pero había dividido a los esquimales.
Venezuela acumuló años de desigualdades sociales amparadas bajo la consigna mundialmente conocida de ser la “democracia más estable de Latinoamérica”. Caracas se convirtió en el ejemplo más claro de la debacle social: mientras los cerros se hinchaban de empobrecidos ranchos, la vida en el valle transcurría en una calma de golf, música y playas. La rabia de los marginados golpeó con la fuerza de un inesperado tsunami en febrero de 1989, amenazando a la adormecida ciudad. Las aguas volvieron a su cauce, pero Chávez, entonces un oficial, calculó el tamaño del rencor. Una década después, electo Presidente, confrontó al valle: lejos de contener las aguas, abriría las compuertas.
Los extensos discursos de Chávez carecían de improvisación. Palabras medidas, frases hechas e historias de impacto, que acentuaban la brecha—por años existente—entre ricos y pobres, fueron calando en el colectivo. Al poco tiempo, la base política del mandatario se fue limpiando de quienes apostaban por cambios en el país y se limitó a quienes exigían reconocimiento y poder después de años de olvido. No era poca cosa, los pobres en el país petrolero eran mayoría, sólo que no lo sabían.
Los defensores y adversarios del proceso revolucionario comenzaron a medir fuerzas, y Venezuela entendió el significado de la palabra “polarización”. El fenómeno que adquirió picos dramáticos entre 2002 y 2004, entró en aparente letargo luego de las aplastantes victorias electorales de un Chávez cada vez más fortalecido. Tras cada derrota, la desmoralizada clase media miraba al extranjero en busca de tiempos menos revolucionarios.
Today, as U.S. President Barack Obama kicks off his sixth visit to Latin America, Americas Quarterly releases its Spring issue, Latin America Goes Global, in which, among other articles on the region’s increasing role in global affairs, Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Roberta Jacobson reveals 10 generally unknown initiatives that are advancing U.S-Latin American relations.
In “10 Things You Didn’t Know about U.S.–Latin America Relations,” Jacobson looks at both long-standing and nascent efforts to promote many of the broader issues President Obama will discuss during his meetings with Latin American leaders in Mexico and Costa Rica. The president departs for Mexico this morning and will be visiting the two countries from May 2–4.
Economic and trade relations, security and cooperation will be top agenda items. And Jacobson points to local efforts already in place to connect small entrepreneurs and bolster education and opportunities in the region. From bicultural centers throughout the region that offer education in English and technology, among other subjects, to the Small Business Network of the Americas (SBNA), the hemispheric collaboration Obama seeks to expand has firm roots in place, Jacobson notes. On a larger scale, Jacobson notes multilateral alliances like the Tran-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—also explored in the Spring AQ—and its potential to deepen economic ties and opportunities.
President Obama has committed to discussing efforts to coordinate the hemispheric energy supply and demand and to launch new environmental partnerships, and Jacobson details existing efforts to collaborate on environment and energy issues. Local initiatives are raising environmental awareness and furthering initiatives to connect Latin America’s private sector entrepreneurs to U.S. clean energy companies.
The Spring AQ explores many other aspects of Latin America’s increasing global presence that will, in part, guide the issues Obama discusses and the initiatives he puts forth.
A few weeks ago, a member of the House of Representatives wrote to President Obama to urge him to delete Cuba from the list of countries supporting international terrorism. In her appeal, Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D-FL) included text from a discredited report prepared by Ana Belén Montes, a confessed spy for Havana who was arrested in September 2001 and who is now serving a 25-year sentence in a federal penitentiary.
Several days ago, the Justice Department announced the indictment of another former American official charged with spying for Cuba, Marta Velázquez. Velázquez allegedly took Montes to Havana for spy training, but when Montes was reported to be cooperating with the authorities after confessing, Velázquez resigned from her job at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and fled the country. In 2004, a grand jury in Washington DC issued an indictment against Velázquez (also known by her aliases “Marta Rita Kviele” and “Barbara”), but it remained under court seal until a few days ago.
That few American policy makers are aware of the great harm done to the United States by Montes, Velázquez and other spies working for the Castro brothers can be explained by the fact that when both stories broke, more significant stories were being covered by the American press: the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and last month’s terrorist attack in Boston.
Be that as it may, congresspeople are not supposed to send disinformation from the Cuban government to the U.S. president.
Some ignore the stories of Ms. Montes and Ms. Velázquez because they raise questions about an innocent, non-threatening narrative about Cuba. In order for that narrative to be credible, the Velázquez and Montes stories—as well as Cuba's current role in the Venezuelan electoral crisis and Havana's strong ties to Iran, Syria and North Korea—need to be discussed as little as possible.
The Fédération Internationale de Football Association’s (International Federation of Association Football—FIFA) Honorary President João Havelange resignation was made public Tuesday following the publication of an internal ethics committee repot that implicated him in a $155.4 million bribery scandal. The 96 year-old Brazilian national served as FIFA president from 1974 to 1988.
Havelange and his son-in-law, former Brazilian Football Confederation President Ricardo Teixeira, allegedly received bribes from the Swiss-based International Sport and Leisure (ISL) in exchange for exclusive rights to market the World Cup to some of the world’s biggest brands from 1992 to 2000. They were found guilty of "morally and ethically reproachable conduct" by FIFA ethics court judge Joachim Eckert. Although accepting the bribes at the time was not a crime given that FIFA’s ethics code came into force in 2012, Eckert found that they should not have accepted the money, and believes that they should pay it back as it was “in connection with the exploitation of media rights.”
FIFA has been plagued by controversy in recent years with corruption charges at every level. Most recently, FIFA’s leadership, including President Sepp Blatter, was accused of selling votes to Qatar’s bidding committee leading up to its successful bid for the 2022 World Cup. The international governing body has also taken steps to address widespread match-fixing scandals and rampant on-the-pitch-racism against players of color.
The impasse in the genocide trial of Guatemalan General Efraín Ríos Montt should be cleared this week, following a succession of rulings by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court. On Monday afternoon, the court turned the case back over to presiding Judge Yassmín Barrios, who looked to resume the trial on Tuesday morning.
However, the 8:30 am proceedings were halted when Rios Montt's attorneys failed to show up, leading Judge Barrios to suspend the trial for two more days. May 1 is a national holiday in Guatemala, and it remains to be seen whether there will be a defense team in place when the trial resumes on Thursday. If not, Ríos Montt will be assigned a public defender.
The historic genocide trial against Ríos Montt and his former intelligence chief, José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, has been on hold since April 19, pending a Constitutional Court decision on how and when to proceed after Ríos Montt’s defense counsel abruptly walked out of the trial on April 18 in protest. On April 19, Judge Carol Patricia Flores stopped the trial—which was then being presided over by Judge Barrios—after she was reinstated by the Constitutional Court.
The news comes against a backdrop of increasingly powerful demonstrations by survivors and human rights groups on the one side, and by Ríos Montt sympathizers and ex-military veterans on the other. On Friday, Guatemala commemorated the anniversary of the murder of Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi, a co-author of a report by the Oficina de Derechos Humanos del Arzobispado (Office of Human Rights of the Archbishopric—ODHA) that documented over 400 massacres by the army during Guatemala’s 36-year internal conflict. Gerardi was murdered two days after the report was published in 1998. As a convoy of buses made its way from Nebaj, at the centre of the Ixil triangle where Ríos Montt is accused of ordering the deaths of 1,771 people, many Ríos Montt sympathizers carried inflammatory banners such as, “Hairy Hippies and Foreigners, Stop Making Money off the Lie of Genocide!”
In anticipation of his May 2-4 trip to Mexico and Costa Rica, U.S. President Barack Obama laid out his perspectives on how regional cooperation can help to advance growth and prosperity in the Americas. In an exclusive interview for Americas Quarterly, Obama said that his sixth trip to the region will be an opportunity to consolidate joint efforts on citizen security, increase trade and investment, launch clean energy partnerships, and expand exchanges between citizens across the hemisphere.
On Thursday, Obama will travel to Mexico, where he will discuss a range of bilateral and regional issues with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. “Building on Mexico’s presidency of the G20 last year, we’ll continue working to sustain the global economic recovery, promote global development and address climate change,” Obama told AQ. The president also highlighted Mexico’s “growing leadership in the region and on the world stage," and praised Mexico’s role in the negotiations around the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which he expects to be completed by the end of this year. He emphasized that TPP would bring “rewards [that] would be substantial for all our countries.”
On Friday, Obama will travel to Costa Rica, where he will meet President Laura Chinchilla and other Centro American leaders at the Central American Integration System (Sistema de Integración Centroamericana—SICA) summit in San José. During this meeting, Obama will draw attention to the importance of finding new ways to involve governments, the private sector and civil society in reducing crime and violence, as well as encourage regional partners to address citizen security from a more holistic perspective. Energy security and cooperation to provide clean and affordable energy also will be on the agenda.
Immigration will be a backdrop to the president’s discussions given the large number of Central American and Mexican migrants in the United States. Here, Obama reaffirmed his commitment to pass bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform as soon as possible to take advantage of the significant contributions that immigrants make to the U.S. economy. “We need to fix our broken immigration system to make sure that every business and every worker in the United States is playing by the same set of rules,” he said.
Read President Obama’s exclusive interview for Americas Quarterly here.
The last couple of weeks have shown that terrorism, or the threat of it, is not just something we read about in other parts of the world. Occasionally, we recall the events of 9-11, but soon it will be twelve years since that horrible day. However, the tragic ending of the Boston Marathon reminded us in vivid terms how vulnerable a free and open society is to the threat of terrorism, whether domestic or imported. Hence, the balance between freedom to exercise our rights in society and the need for security and safety from harm is once again at the center of public policy.
A few days after the two Boston bombers were apprehended (with one killed in the process), Canadian authorities arrested two alleged plotters in Montreal and Toronto—supposedly linked to an Al Qaeda cell in Iran—and accused them of planning to derail a Via Rail passenger train with an explosive device. Although the Boston bombings might appear, for the moment, to have been the work of a domestic “lone wolf” operation, the Canadian incident might have a direct international link. Meanwhile, the Canadian Parliament adopted a law giving authorities greater preventive powers in dealing with future threats of terrorism.
There is no doubt that we live in a dangerous and unpredictable world where different kinds of fanaticism continue to grow and lead to actions aimed at disrupting lives and destabilizing political regimes. Let us be clear: successive governments in North America have never been soft on terrorism, but our citizenry is especially strong on freedom. How can we ensure that this remains the course of action on both sides of the border? The answer to this question has repercussions on the economic, social and political life of North America.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Colombian civil society holds forum on political participation; Venezuela’s election audit begins on May 6; the U.S. Supreme Court upholds a lower court’s immigration ruling; Honduran police officials resign in the midst of a police crisis; and Brazil’s Maracanã stadium reopens after three years.
Colombian Civil Society Weighs in on Peace Negotiations: Hundreds of civil society groups convened in Bogotá on Sunday for a week-long forum on political participation in Colombia to discuss ways of integrating former FARC guerrillas into Colombian politics. The forum, organized by the UN and Universidad Nacional de Colombia, is the second to take place at the behest of the Colombian government and FARC negotiators after a forum on agrarian reform in December. Participants will send their suggestions to the peace negotiators in Havana on May 20. Former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, who has been highly critical of the peace negotiations, said that his political movement would not participate in the forum this week.
Venezuelan Vote Audit to Begin on May 6: Venezuela's Consejo Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Council—CNE) announced that an audit of ballots from the April 14 presidential election will begin on May 6 and last until June 4, but said that it was “unfeasible” to conduct a full recount of the vote. Opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who lost the election by less than 2 percentage points to rival Nicolás Maduro, called the audit a "joke" and has alleged dozens of cases of voter fraud and voter coercion during the elections. He said on Sunday that he would use “all the available instances” to fight Maduro’s victory.
U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Decision to Block Portions of Alabama Immigration Law: The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal by the state of Alabama to enact portions of the state’s controversial immigration law that was blocked by a federal appeals court last year. The Supreme Court’s decision allows last year’s ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to stand, meaning that Alabama cannot prosecute people who harbor or transport undocumented immigrants, but will still allow police to check people’s immigration papers if they are stopped by law enforcement. Justice Antonin Scalia was the only Supreme Court justice to dissent from the high court’s decision not to take the case.
Honduran Police Officials Resign: Following a strike of almost 2,000 police officers in Honduras this week, President Porfirio Lobo accepted the resignations of police officials Eduardo Villanueva and Mario Chinchilla, who led the country’s Dirección de Investigación y Evaluación de la Carrera Policial (Office of Investigation and Evaluation of Police Officers—DIECP). DICEP, the investigative body in charge of purging the Honduran police force of corruption, has been crippled by a lack of funds and by unrest among underpaid officers making only about $150 a month. Honduras’ Consejo Nacional de Seguridad Interior (National Internal Security Council—CONASIN) will convene Monday to propose candidates to take over the posts of Villanueva and Chinchilla.
Maracanã Reopens: Rio de Janeiro's iconic Maracanã stadium reopened on Saturday after three years of renovations intended to prepare the stadium for Brazil’s upcoming international sporting events. Maracanã will host the 2014 World Cup final and the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Olympics. However, media attending Saturday’s exhibition match reported that several parts of the stadium are still incomplete, even though the project was delayed by four months. Maracanã is the fourth of twelve World Cup stadiums to open. The stadium will be officially inaugurated on June 2 in a match between Brazil and England.
Leaders of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) responded on Thursday to a letter signed by members of the U.S. Congress in March in support of the Colombian peace negotiations, which resumed this week in Havana.
In a press conference on Thursday, FARC member Victoria Sandino Palmera read a letter from the FARC, which acknowledged the “altruistic gesture” of the 62 U.S. congressmen who signed the letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Signatories included: James P. McGovern (D – MA), Janice D. Schakowsky (D-IL), Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), John Lewis (D-GA), and Randy K. Weber (R-TX), among others.
The FARC response also asked the legislators for their support in pushing for the release of FARC rebel Simon Trinidad.
Trinidad, whose real name is Ricardo Palmera, is fulfilling a 60-year sentence in the U.S. for kidnapping three Americans in Colombia who were later released. The FARC delegation has requested Trinidad’s presence during the peace negotiations. "We have appointed Trinidad as the FARC’s spokesman and we expect the Colombian government to hold talks with the U.S. government to achieve his incorporation into the peace process," said Ivan Marquez, head of the guerrilla delegation.
In almost half a century, Colombia’s internal conflict has killed at least 600,000 people and displaced another 3 million.
With urbanization and population growth trending upward, Brazil has increased its demand for energy, especially in the areas of oil, natural gas and electricity. On the supply side, oil and gas production has increased and there have been several well-publicized, large deepwater finds that have generated much excitement. These include the pre-salt reserves off the coast of Rio de Janeiro state where the potential reserves total over 50 billion barrels of oil. Brazil has only approximately 14 billion barrels of proven reserves, making these finds quite significant.
However, without foreign investment, Brazil will be unable to effectively and efficiently extract the potential oil and gas because of the size and complexity of the untapped reserves. Shale gas and shale oil present an added layer of complexity for development. Because the extraction of shale relies on horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), only companies experienced in these sophisticated techniques are able to extract the shale gas.
To generate investment interest, the Ministéria de Minas e Energia (Ministry of Mines and Energy), in conjunction with the Agência Nacionaldo Petróleo, Gas Natural e Biocombustíveis (National Agency of Petroleum, Natural Gas and Biofuels—ANP), is publicizing the oil and gas bidding rounds that will take place this year. Interestingly, as part of its effort, the ANP has been looking to target small and medium-size oil producers with auctions either in mature basins or inactive fields where there still may be accumulations of oil and gas.
Shortly before the end of the Bush administration in January 2009, I met with a senior official covering hemispheric affairs who said point blank, “You’re going to miss us when we’re gone. We actually accomplished a lot more than anyone gives us credit for.” The opening of the George W. Bush Library in Dallas today offers an opportunity for an early assessment of the Bush administration in hemispheric affairs, now that there is a little distance in time since the administration left office.
In hindsight, there is a lot to give the administration credit for doing.
Those who routinely dismiss the Bush administration’s efforts in the region as counterproductive or worse cite an overwhelming focus on the effort against Al Qaeda and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the facility at Guantánamo, and region-specific issues—such as the inartful steps by the Treasury that arguably contributed to (but did not cause) Argentina’s financial collapse, vocal support for a failed coup in Venezuela in 2002 and a proclivity to view hemispheric affairs through the Cuba lens.
I worked in the Clinton White House and have a certain sympathy for several of these criticisms, but a focus on this narrative to the exclusion of anything else is a caricature that begs a more even-handed historical assessment. Most significantly, it would be ahistorical to try to disaggregate policy toward Latin America from the global effort against terrorism in the wake of 9/11; virtually any administration faced with a similarly significant attack on the U.S. homeland would seek to mobilize efforts globally against the attackers. Meanwhile, the continued operation of Guantánamo as a terrorist holding facility deep into the Obama administration, despite efforts to close it, shows the vexing nature of the issue—and gives license to question the motivation of those who condemn Guantánamo as a stain on the Bush administration’s hemispheric record but have little to say about the matter under the Obama administration.
On Wednesday, the Bolivian government filed a formal law suit against Chile in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague to recover territory and access to the Pacific Ocean it lost during the 19th century War of the Pacific.
Bolivia has been landlocked since 1904, when Bolivia and Chile signed the Treaty of Peace and Friendship to end the war. The war began with a disagreement over mining rights and escalated into a five-year conflict that ended with Chile annexing all of Bolivia’s 250 miles of coastline and much of the land abutting it.
The suit is only the most recent action in a dispute that spans generations and administrations. Bolivia, which still maintains a small navy and celebrates the Day of the Sea each year to commemorate its lost maritime access, has repeatedly attempted to regain access to the Pacific. The suit demands that Chile negotiate in good faith with Bolivia to provide a sovereign outlet to the sea on land that now forms part of Chile’ s Atacama region. Bolivia also maintains that the 1904 agreement is invalid because it was signed under pressure from Chile.
But Chile has never veered from its position that Bolivia lawfully ceded the territory in the 1904 treaty, which remains in effect. Previous attempts to re-negotiate the border have failed, nourishing lingering hostility between Bolivia and Chile. The neighboring countries last broke diplomatic ties in 1978 and have never reestablished them.
In order for the ICJ to move forward on the case, both Bolivia and Chile must agree to engage in the proceedings. The court’s decision, once made, would be binding on both parties. However, it seems unlikely that the ICJ proceedings will move forward. Chilean officials denounced Bolivia’s claim again on Wednesday, saying that President Sebastián Piñera will continue to defend Chile’s sovereignty and that the suit has no legal basis.
Every so often, the media incites some outrage over sexual violence within the relatively apathetic Jamaican population. Regrettably, our outrage is too often confined to the comfort of conversations with friends and family and many of us shame and blame rape victims rather than cultivating a constructive conversation on how to end sexual violence.
Women and girls who are raped are often asked: What were you doing? What were you wearing? Did you provoke him? Many of us do not even realize that men can also be raped, and very few report and provide information to security forces about sexual violence. We know of cases of rape and abuse and do nothing about it. Many Jamaicans also know that unscrupulous men and women target sex workers and that adult women target underage boys. Still, cases are not reported and inadequate laws that limit the pursuit of justice are not challenged.
So hopeless is our situation that even people who are affected by sexual violence remain silent. There is a general hopelessness—justice is often too slow, and survivors are too often blamed and stigmatized with their lives becoming a public spectacle.
Recently, a lesbian couple was raped by a man who apparently wanted to “make them straight.” When they reported the incident, police allegedly told the women that they had gotten just what they deserved. Wide-spread and well-known homophobia in Jamaica breeds such prejudiced comments, but heterosexual victims of sexual violence also receive similar comments.
Tegucigalpa came to a halt on Tuesday morning as 1,800 officers of the policia preventiva (preventive police) striking for better wages and working conditions blocked the main streets with their police cruisers. The officers have announced that their strike will continue until their demands are met.
Officers complained of “living like animals” at police stations across the capital that lack proper equipment and “proper facilities to work or rest," including sanitary facilities. Fearing reprisal, the officers remained anonymous in issuing their complaints.
The preventive police only earn about $150 a month and have not been granted the pay raise that should have gone into effect last January. They are expected to purchase their own uniforms and ammunition and only receive one weekend off per month. Alex Villanueva, director of the preventive police, warned that officers who continued to strike would be punished and chastised them for inciting “indiscipline and delinquency.”
Crime rates have increased dramatically in Honduras since the 2009 coup that forced then-President Manuel Zelaya into exile in Costa Rica. The Central American country claims the highest murder rate in the world according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime—averaging 20 homicides per day—increasing the risks for police officers.
On Monday, after three days of severe disapproval, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos ruled out his proposal to run for re-election in 2014 only to serve for two more years—half the usual term—and amend the constitution to extend the presidential term limit to six years. “Four years are not enough to finish the job, he said.
The Colombian constitution currently allows incumbents to seek re-election for a consecutive four-year period. The bill submitted on Friday would extend term limits to allow presidents to serve for six years—but with no possibility of re-election—to give leaders more time to accomplish their government plans. The bill also extended the six-year term limits for mayors, governors and legislators to align the ruling terms of all elected officials in Colombia.
Santos, who came to power in August 2010, expressed that under no circumstances he would present a bill to congress that would cause more divisions among the ruling political parties. He also clarified that his proposal has nothing to do with the ongoing peace process between his government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) which began in November 2012.
The president, however, did not rule out the possibility of running for re-election in May 2014, but faces decreasing popularity. According to a poll released on Monday by Colombian firm Ipsos Napoleón Franco, Santos’s popularity has plummeted to 47 percent and only 39 percent of Colombians favor the president’s re-election.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Horacio Cartes will be Paraguay’s new president; Guatemala’s Constitutional Court will decide whether Efraín Ríos Montt’s genocide trial can continue; Argentines protested Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s government; Guantánamo prisoners’ hunger strike grows; the Venezuelan election audit process will take a month.
Horacio Cartes Wins Presidential Election in Paraguay: Tobacco magnate and soccer club president Horacio Cartes will be the next president of Paraguay after voters elected him with 46 percent of the vote on Sunday. Cartes’ main rival, Efraín Alegre of the Radical Liberal Party, captured 37 percent of the vote. Cartes’ victory marks the return of Paraguay’s Colorado Party to power and the likely normalization of Paraguay’s status with its Mercosur and UNASUR neighbors. The Colorados ruled Paraguay for 61 years before the election of former Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo in 2008.
Guatemala Awaits Fate of Rios Montt Trial: Guatemala’s Constitutional Court will determine whether or not the genocide trial of former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt will go forward. On Friday, Judge Yasmin Barrios declared that a decision to annul the trial by Judge Carol Patricia Flores was illegal. Judge Flores ruled on Thursday that all testimony since November 2011 had been invalid, a decision protested by human rights groups and victims of Guatemala’s internal conflict. Read more about the trial in an AQ blog post by Nic Wirtz.
Argentines Protest Government: Thousands of Argentines gathered in the streets on Friday in countrywide protests against a proposed judicial reform bill that would allow voters to elect magistrates that appoint and remove judges. Argentine legislators will vote on the judicial reform bill on Wednesday. Protesters, many from the political opposition and critical of Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, also expressed a general dissatisfaction with Argentina’s crime and high inflation.
Over Half of Guantánamo Prisoners on Hunger Strike: A U.S. military spokesperson said on Sunday that 84 prisoners being held at the Guantánamo Bay military prison are now on hunger strike, and that 17 are being force-fed through tubes. Some of the detainees have been striking since early February, protesting abuse and searches that the prisoners say are invasive. Many of the detainees have been in the prison for over a decade without any charges.
Audit of Venezuelan Elections will take a Month: Venezuela’s Consejo Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Council—CNE) said it will take a month to carry out an audit of the April 14 presidential election results, and said that the results of the audit will not alter the election’s outcome. The CNE has said that president-elect Nicolás Maduro defeated rival candidate Henrique Capriles by 1.8 percentage points. Maduro was sworn in as president on Friday, but the U.S. government has not yet recognized him as Venezuela’s new president. Meanwhile, Maduro has begun to appoint his cabinet members.
The on-again, off-again genocide trial of Guatemala’s former president, Efrain Rios Montt, appears to have been temporarily suspended after an incredible 24 hours in Guatemala City.
With the trial winding to a conclusion on Thursday, Judge Yassmin Barrios reprimanded the defense for not having their witnesses ready. The defense lawyers responded by walking out in protest, claiming that the legal proceedings should be returned to the pre-trial phase and that the trial should be annulled.
The defense’s complaint was backed up by the original hearing lawyer, Judge Carol Patricia Flores, who ruled that the entire trial had been illegal. On Thursday, Judge Flores moved to invalidate all proceedings since November 2012, meaning that months of oral arguments against Rios Montt would have to start over. Judge Flores cited a ruling by the Constitutional Court, Guatemala's highest legal body, that the defense’s evidence had not been admitted as the basis for her ruling. Evidence and experts had not been admitted during the initial pretrial hearing, but were entered later.
Prosecutors and Guatemalan Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz immediately sought to appeal this verdict, saying that it was impossible to restart a part of the trial that was already concluded. On Friday, Judge Barrios read a statement saying that Judge Flores's orders to halt the trial on Thursday were themselves illegal.