Thousands of protestors—with estimates as high as 150,000 people—marched through the streets of Santiago yesterday to voice their frustrations over social inequality, living wages and the country’s pension system. The demonstration was part of a nationwide strike organized by Chile’s largest labor union, the Central Union of Workers (Central Sindical Unitaria de Trabajadores - CUT) demanding a raise in the monthly minimum wage from $380 to $490, improved labor conditions, tax reform, and a replacement of the privately managed pension system with a state-run one.
The protestors halted traffic during the morning rush hour, causing major delays in Santiago, and set a public bus on fire after the bus driver and passengers disembarked. Sixty-seven people were arrested. Miners also joined in the protests, and blocked the entrance to the world’s largest copper mine, National Copper Corporation of Chile (Corporación Nacional del Cobre de Chile – Codelco). Approximately 15,000 plant workers and another 30,000 contractors were called to participate in the strike. The company estimated a $41 million loss as a result.
The president of the National Association of Public Employees (Asociación Nacional de Empleados Fiscales - ANEF), Raúl de la Puente, asserted that 90 percent of the 100,000 public-sector employees took to the streets, in contrast to the government’s figures that only 6.4 percent (10,200) of public sector workers joined the strike.
These labor strikes took place amid ongoing and escalating social tensions surrounding Chile’s education system, with students demanding free, quality higher education.
A summit of Mercosur countries—a regional bloc that includes Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Venezuela as full members with Paraguay suspended from the group—will convene tomorrow in Montevideo to discuss Paraguay’s possible re-admission to the group as Venezuela takes the helm of the South American trade bloc.
Venezuela, which became a full member of Mercosur in July 2012, will assume pro tempore presidency of the bloc for the first time on Friday, taking over from Uruguay. Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay admitted Venezuela to the group last year, despite vehement opposition from Paraguay—an obstacle that disappeared when Paraguay was suspended from Mercosur after the controversial impeachment of former Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo in June 2012.
The Paraguayan government’s relationship with Venezuela cooled further when Nicolás Maduro, the Venezuelan president who was foreign minister at the time, reportedly called for troops to enter the streets of Asunción to prevent Lugo’s impeachment.
Last week, Maduro said that his country would make every effort to re-admit Paraguay to Mercosur once his country had assumed leadership of the trade bloc. However, Paraguayan Foreign Minister José Félix Fernández said on Tuesday that Paraguay was not interested in rejoining Mercosur if Venezuela took over as chair of the group. “If international law is not complied [with], if the rule of law and Paraguay’s institutions and dignity are not recognized and respected, we can’t continue in Mercosur,” said Fernández.
For his part, Paraguayan President-elect Horacio Cartes said on June 25 that he would not accept Venezuela’s leadership of Mercosur. Cartes will be sworn in as president of Paraguay on August 15. At that point, Paraguay will be eligible to return to the group.
Other matters to be discussed at the summit include Bolivia’s possible incorporation into Mercosur, Ecuador’s request to join the bloc, and the expected entry of Guyana and Suriname as associate members.
The Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—FARC) concluded their eleventh, and shortest, round of peace negotiations in Havana, Cuba, on Tuesday. This round of talks focused on whether to allow the guerillas to hold political office—one of the most contentious points in the five-point peace agenda.
This round of negotiations lasted only eight days and focused on guaranteeing the right of political opposition, particularly after a peace agreement is ultimately signed. And while the talks, which were launched in Oslo in October 2012, have yet to reach a consensus on the FARC’s participation in the political system, both sides did reach a partial agreement on the critical issue of agrarian reform in May.
President Juan Manuel Santos hopes to wrap up peace talks by November. Negotiators will also tackle the illicit drug trade, demilitarization and reparations for the victims of the nearly half-century armed conflict, which has claimed over 600,000 lives and displaced millions of civilians since the 1960s. The Colombian government and FARC will return to the table for the twelfth round of negotiations on July 22.
The spectacle of certain Latin American countries lining up to offer asylum to National Security Administration (NSA) contractor and leaker Edward Snowden has become a sad reminder of the lack of diplomatic maturity of those countries and a red herring to the whole issue that they want to highlight.
Whatever you may think of the man’s motives (and believe his future should be), Snowden’s revelations that the U.S. NSA was surreptitiously collecting data on U.S. and foreign phone calls and Internet communications should give us all pause and are a legitimate point for domestic and diplomatic debate.
But that’s not what we’re getting when the presidents of Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Nicaragua line up to offer the 29-year-old asylum and the president of Argentina calls a poorly-attended summit to denounce the unfortunate detention of Bolivian President Evo Morales’ plane in Austria after he glibly offered Snowden asylum when he was in Russia. Those reactions have been a sharp reminder of the divisions in the hemisphere, between the rhetorically/ideologically oriented countries of the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America—ALBA) and the rest.
Leaving aside the issue of how Snowden—without a passport—could leave the Moscow transit lounge, set foot on an airplane whose company will surely be banned from landing in U.S. airports in the future, and cross the airspace of countries opposed to seeing him leave, there is the question of “Why make the offer?” What is the practical benefit of giving the guy safe haven?
In the past few days, U.S. media networks have been reporting on the tragic events in Lac Mégantic, Québec, where a runaway, unmanned train carrying crude oil from North Dakota (73 wagons) barreled through a quiet tourist village of 6,000 inhabitants, derailed and exploded, leaving devastation in its trail. At the time of this writing, the entire downtown area had been decimated—15 people are reported dead and close to 40 missing. This will surely rank among the most heartbreaking tragedies in Canadian history. The events have since galvanized Canadians from coast to coast to offer heartfelt encouragement to the tiny village of Lac Mégantic and its inhabitants who are coping with this unspeakable horror.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited the site over the weekend and described it as a “war zone.” The Québec government under Premier Pauline Marois is on the scene and has pledged its full government support in providing assistance to the local population. Other politicians from across the political spectrum have visited the village and the Red Cross shelter to offer comfort and to demonstrate support. What led to the derailment will now be the subject of extensive investigations by authorities, and will surely continue over the coming months. There remain many unanswered questions about why this tragedy occurred.
Only a couple of weeks earlier, the city of Calgary, Alberta, also suffered tragic events, as extensive flooding—some of the most serious in Canadian history—resulted in tens of thousands being left homeless, with irreparable damage to property, personal belongings and infrastructure. Again, politicians and other dignitaries were quick to respond with offers of assistance and support. Canadians across the country have also reacted with the proper mix of compassion and assistance.
Both tragedies are still playing out and the affected communities will feel their impact for years to come. There is not much of a silver lining when tragedy hits so suddenly and affects so many lives. This is why, as Canadians observe the resilience of the citizens affected, it is encouraging to see how some local leaders can rise to the occasion, confront adversity, and become a source of comfort and inspiration in facing the ordeal. This is the case of Lac Mégantic Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi.
Former President Michelle Bachelet, the Nueva Mayoría pact’s candidate for Chile’s November presidential election, expressed her support on Monday for legalizing abortion in cases of medical emergency and rape. Her opponent, former Economy Minister Pablo Longueira and candidate for the incumbent Alianza por Chile coalition, has vowed to maintain the current policy of prohibition.
Reproductive rights has risen to national attention in the midst of outrage following news last week that a pregnant 11-year old Chilean girl—raped by her mother’s partner in the southern city of Puerto Montt—faces life-threatening complications from her pregnancy. The girl, identified only as Belén, has few legal options since abortion is banned in Chile under all circumstances.
Chile is one of the most socially-conservative countries in Latin America and has one of the most restrictive abortion policies in the world. Abortions for medical reasons were allowed until 1973, but then outlawed under Augusto Pinochet’s military rule. Despite the restriction, reports from the Ministry of Health estimate that around 150,000 abortions take place in Chile each year. However, President Sebastián Piñera has opposed loosening the prohibition. In 2012, the Senate rejected three bills that would have ended the absolute ban.
A novel political endeavor took place earlier last month in Lima, as just over 17,000 citizens participated in the city’s first consulta ciudadana virtual (virtual citizen consultation) as part of the municipality’s participatory budgeting (PB) process. Across the city, residents used a new online system to vote in the consulta. Although those who participated represent a tiny proportion of the sprawling capital’s population, the consulta is still an impressive innovation with the potential to strengthen public accountability.
Last month’s exercise also highlights the progress achieved by the administration of center-left Mayor Susana Villarán as well as the patchy state of public participation across the country.
Peru has an extensive legal framework for participatory budgeting. The country saw a wave of decentralization reforms enacted in 2002 and 2003, including a mandate that all subnational governments develop their capital investment budget in consultation with civil society. Representatives of NGOs and civic associations are invited to take part in planning meetings as “participating agents” to propose and vote on capital investment projects of social interest.
By inviting individual citizens to vote, Lima’s consulta virtual represents a bold step toward expanding participation beyond the relatively closed sphere of participating agents. The process encourages even greater participation than the legal mandate specifies, leveraging information technologies to reach individual “vecinos desorganizados,” and considering their votes (along with technical evaluations and the votes of participating agents) in determining which projects to fund.
“Lima is much more advanced than anywhere else in the country,” said Stephanie McNulty, a political scientist who has studied participatory reforms in Peru. “The mayor’s office has really embraced this process.”
Outside the capital, however, PB is not moving forward so swiftly. Low administrative capacity at the subnational level means that many proposals approved by the PB process have yet to be executed. If this gap between participatory process and concrete accomplishments persists, it will significantly undercut participatory budgeting. Already, policy analysts in Lima are already warning of “participation fatigue.”
Likely top stories this week: results in the race for governor of Baja California; protests over legislation in Peru; Costa Rica approves same-sex civil unions; Brazil responds to surveillance reports; and UNASUR divided over Evo Morales’ flight interruptions.
Baja California’s Next Governor
On Sunday, nearly half of Mexico's 31 states held elections for mayors and local legislatures, but the most watched contest is the unfolding results in the governor’s race in the state of Baja California—the only gubernatorial election on Sunday—where the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN) has held the governorship for the last 24 years. Significantly, in 1989, the PAN’s electoral win in Baja California was the first state loss for the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI), and a victory that is often seen as eventually leading to the PAN winning the presidency in 2000.
On Sunday, shortly after polls closed, both Francisco "Kiko" Vega de Lamadrid of the Unidos por Baja California alliance (which includes the PAN and Partido de la Revolución Democrática, PRD) and Fernando Castro Trenti of the Compromiso por Baja California alliance (which includes the PRI) claimed victory. With 92.5 percent of the votes counted as part of the Preliminary Electoral Results Program (PREP), Kiko Vega held a slight advantage (47.19 percent versus 44.09 percent) over Castro Trenti.
A dispute in the electoral results could result in new tension in the Pact for Mexico—an agreement of 95 loosely defined proposals signed by the three main political parties and unveiled on President Enrique Peña Nieto’s first day in office last December.
Peruvian Students and Civil Servants Protest Reforms
On Thursday and Friday, Peruvian police clashed violently with protesters, when hundreds of students and civil servants in Lima marched toward Congress to protest reforms that would impose tougher standards on universities and public employees. According to the protesters the reforms would force many students from their jobs and would compromise the autonomy of the country’s universities. President Ollanta Humala, who proposed the law, says it aims to improve the quality of government services and bolster a higher education system that lags behind many in the region. Humala signed the Civil Service Law, which imposes strict annual evaluations for government employees, on Thursday. A separate bill to reform universities and tighten standards for professors is pending in Congress.
Costa Rica’s Congress Inadvertently Approves Same-Sex Civil Unions
On Friday, Costa Rica’s Congress was shocked to learn that it had inadvertently legalized same-sex civil unions after President Laura Chinchilla signed a bill late Thursday governing social services and marriage regulations for young people. Earlier versions of the bill had defined marriage as the union between a man and a woman, but the bill that the mostly conservative Congress approved included revised language that "confers social rights and benefits of a civil union, free from discrimination." Jose Villalta of the Broad Front Party had inserted the new language that was unanimously approved.
When lawmakers noticed the new language—after having approved the bill—they asked Chinchilla to veto the new law, but she refused. A group of conservative congressman from the Christian Costa Rican Renovation Party has pledged to launch a legal challenge to the new law.
Brazil Demands Explanations about Reports of U.S. Surveillance
On Sunday, Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota expressed deep concern over a report that the United States has collected data on billions of telephone and email conversations in Brazil. Over the weekend, O Globo newspaper reported that information released by National Security Agency (NSA) leaker Edward Snowden shows that the NSA had logged nearly the same number of telephone and email messages in Brazil as it had in the United States. The article was written by Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian reporter who originally broke the Snowden leak story. The Brazilian government demanded clarifications from the U.S. embassy in Brasilia and pledged to approach the UN to set ground rules for international espionage to protect citizens’ privacy and to preserve national sovereignty.
UNASUR Holds Emergency Meeting
On Thursday, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) held an emergency meeting in Cochabamba, Bolivia, to discuss the bloc’s response after several European countries closed their airspace to Bolivian President Evo Morales on Wednesday over concerns that his plane, which left from Moscow, was carrying Edward Snowden. President Rafael Correa of Ecuador called for the meeting, which was attended by Morales, President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina, and José Mujica of Uruguay. The Colombian, Chilean and Peruvian presidents—all of whom maintain strong relationships with the United States—did not attend. During the meeting, regional leaders called for apologies from Italy, Portugal, France, and Spain for violating Bolivia’s sovereignty and condemned the U.S. for violating human rights through their surveillance programs. The lack of participation among key UNASUR members highlights the bloc’s divide on the issue.
On Wednesday, Guatemalan Vice President Roxanna Baldetti submitted a petition to Petrocaribe, an oil trading alliance among Caribbean nations and Venezuela, threatening that her country will leave the block unless the Venezuelan government agrees to maintain originally established interest rates.
Former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez created Petrocaribe in 2005 to sell crude oil to neighboring countries at preferential prices and low interest rates—below 2 percent.The idea was to bolster regional cooperation, to supply oil cheaply to Venezuela’s’ neighbors and to help finance Venezuela’s oil infrastructure.
In May, Guatemala officially joined Petrocaribe, and Honduras was re-incorporated into the group, which now includes 18 Caribbean and Central American nation. Honduras joined Petrocaribe in 2008, under then-President Manuel Zelaya, but Chávez revoked the country’s membership in 2009, when the military ousted Zelaya.
However, potential interest rate hikes have raised concern in Guatemala.
In June, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, Petrocaribe’s leader, suggested that interest rates might more than double to 4 percent to account for a global increases in oil prices. In response, Guatemala submitted to Maduro a petition to cap interest rates, noting that it joined the block to avoid the effects of rising world oil prices.
During the block’s VII annual summit in June, member nations drew up a framework to make membership more attractive by expanding economic cooperation among members, including preferential prices for other goods such as sugar and rice, as well as cooperation on tourism, communications and transport. Still, Baldetti claims that higher interest rates would render the agreement unattractive to Guatemala.
Correction: This post was originally worded so that it appeared as if Manuel Zelaya was the president of Guatemala in 2008. He was president of Honduras.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s plan to reform state-owned Petroléos Mexicanos (PEMEX) has attracted the attention of many analysts. Since President Lázaro Cárdenas nationalized the oil sector in 1938, no president has been able to push for reform to allow for foreign ownership of petroleum assets.
Peña Nieto sees allowing foreign investment to be critical to turning around PEMEX, which has suffered from declining production in recent years. PEMEX was producing 3.4 million barrels per day in 2003 and production slipped to 2.5 million barrels per day in 2012.
While the debate for energy reform continues, an oil auction for six blocks in the Chicontepec basin is set to take place on July 11, with multinational oil companies such as Repsol, Schlumberger and Halliburton set to make bids.
This is possible due to a 2008 reform that allows for limited private investment in the sector through incentive-based contracts. When it passed, then-President Felipé Calderón was quick to accompany the reform with a firm disclaimer: “I want to make clear that oil is and will continue to be exclusively Mexican property. PEMEX is not being privatized. Oil is a symbol of the nation’s sovereignty.”
Protesters blocked off a highway lane in Rio de Janeiro’s North Zone yesterday to hear speeches, three eulogies and a funk music performance, just days after the end of the Confederations Cup—nicknamed the “Demonstrations Cup” —on Sunday. Over 2,000 demonstrators from across the city showed that the spirit of protest is still strong in Rio, and that protesters’ grievances go beyond irresponsible public spending.
The crowds gathered yesterday mourned the deaths of 10 people—including a police officer—killed last week in a police operation in the favela of Maré.
Even as Rio presents a safer image to the outside world—heralded by the much-publicized arrival of Unidades de Polícia Pacificadora (Pacifying Police Units—UPPs) in Rio's favelas—violence between police and favela residents is still common. In the last decade, over 9,500 people in the state of Rio have been killed by police in shootouts labeled "resistance killings," according to the Instituto de Segurança Pública (Public Security Institute). These numbers have gone down in recent years, but they remain high.
Maré resident Timo, 35, said that deadly police encounters are “not extraordinary” in his neighborhood, but the events of June 24 caused particular terror, with an almost 24-hour police chase through the community that caused a power outage and involved police entering private homes.
The events in Maré, which is about to be pacified, throw into question how committed to peace the pacification process is and brings the issue of police violence to the forefront of Brazilian protesters’ concerns. The night after the killings, the story of the dragnet caused particular outrage when Maré resident and newspaper editor Gizele Martins, 27, related the events at a planning meeting for the next citywide protest.
“I just came from Maré,” she announced shakily to a crowd of thousands—mostly students—sitting in front of the downtown campus of the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro—UFRJ). Martins said that a group of 500 residents marching through the streets of the community had just been able to pressure the last police tank to leave.
After chants of “Maré, Maré,” the group voted to add a new demand to their message for the next protest: the demilitarization of Rio’s police force. Coalitions from Maré and various favelas marched in the citywide protests in the following few days.
Not since Mexico’s transition to democracy in the late 1980s has the country witnessed the high levels of political violence that have characterized the build-up to the July 7 local elections.
Local politicians across the country have been the target of death threats, arson attacks and shootings. Although organized crime and drug-related violence in Mexico and the government’s efforts to curb it have garnered recent global headlines, political violence is nothing new in the Mexican political arena. The intimidation of rival party candidates and their retinues has been a feature of the electoral process in Mexico for time immemorial. What is new is the increasingly influential role organized crime groups are playing and the potential for them to undermine the democratic process.
Organized criminal groups across the 14 states where the elections are taking place are bribing, threatening and attacking candidates, whether because they do not want them to run—presumably because they have already successfully co-opted a rival—or to intimidate them into turning a blind eye should they get elected.
Those who ignore such threats are often kidnapped or—in the worst case—killed. This was more than likely the case with Jaime Orozco, the national ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional—PRI ) candidate for the mayoral elections in the remote municipality of Guadalupe y Calvo (Chihuahua), whose body was found dumped on the side of the road on June 12. Orozco had allegedly been kidnapped by a group of armed men two days earlier.
Candidates from across the political spectrum have withdrawn from mayoral elections in droves, citing alleged death threats and a lack of guarantees of their safety. The majority have hailed from the so-called “Golden Triangle,” an important region for drug cultivation and trafficking, which spans the states of Chihuahua, Sinaloa and Durango.
It’s now been nearly a month since the HKND Group (HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co.) and the Nicaraguan government signed an agreement to build an inter-oceanic canal that would cut through the Nicaraguan heartland.
The megaproject, with a tentative price tag of $40 billion, is set to include an oil pipeline, two deep-water ports, two airports, a railroad through Nicaragua, and two free-trade zones.
According to HKND’s website, the canal would measure 286 kilometers long, by 20 meters wide and 24 meters deep—twice as long as the Panama Canal and possibly the largest infrastructure project in Latin American history.
If the project goes through, Nicaraguan Public Policy Secretary Paul Oquist said that it could double Nicaragua’s GDP and triple employment by 2018, significantly reducing poverty and improving a number of economic and health-related indicators in which Nicaragua consistently ranks toward the bottom.
But at what cost? Each of the proposed inter-oceanic canal routes impacts Lake Nicaragua (or Lago Cocibolca, as it is referred to by Nicaraguans), essentially destroying the nation’s access to clean freshwater. This factor alone could have devastating environmental impacts for generations to come.
Further, this megaproject assumes that Nicaragua’s canal can compete with Panama’s existing canal and actually return a profit. Thirty percent of the Western Hemisphere’s cargo passes through the Panama Canal, which is undergoing a $5 billion expansion project. The remaining cargo travels through U.S.-based ports. Economically and environmentally speaking, the Nicaraguan canal faces great challenges.
Responding to weeks of protests in over 100 Brazilian cities against corruption and government spending, President Dilma Rousseff sent Congress a proposal package on Tuesday, which included a referendum to make the country’s political system more representative.
Even if it passes Congress, the non-binding plebiscite is not expected to take place before September. It would determine Brazilians’ opinions on the current structure of political party funding, the practice of using unelected Senate substitutes, the legislature’s current practice of anonymous voting, and the possibility of moving from a proportional to a representative system in the legislature.
Opposition leaders have cast the move as an attempt to regain popular support ahead of President Rousseff’s re-election campaign, given that her approval rating has dropped 27 percentage points since the protests began in June. Still, 68 percent of Brazilians support holding a plebiscite according to a Datafolha poll released on July 1 that was conducted from June 27 to June 28.
While the protests have ebbed following the end of the Confederations Cup on Sunday, dissatisfaction with health care, education and public transportation systems, as well as high inflation and a stagnated economy, could bring Brazilians back out into the streets.
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said Monday that Ecuador will not grant asylum to Edward Snowden, the former contractor wanted by the United States for leaking National Security Agency information, unless he reaches Ecuadorian territory.
Correa maintained his support for Snowden, whose actions he said were a brave act against tyranny—in defense of universal freedoms and human rights. Yet, without dismissing the dangers that the U.S. government’s surveillance program poses to freedom worldwide, the Snowden affair has only cast a light again on Correa’s own failure to promote freedom of expression in Ecuador.
Indeed, Rafael Correa may have been recently re-elected with over 57 percent of the vote, but Ecuador is an increasingly repressive society. The republican principle that the majority should consent to and abide by its obligations to protect the rights of minorities is evermore elusive.
Dissent is not tolerated and political decisions, big or small, rest in the hands of the very few. Since Correa came to power in 2007, Ecuador’s political parties have disappeared. Correa successfully dissolved an opposition Congress and instituted a plebiscite to draft a new constitution that greatly expanded executive powers. Members of Correa’s political movement, Alianza PAIS (Alliance of the Proud and Sovereign Fatherland), now hold 100 of the 137 seats in the National Assembly. Municipalities, ministries and the judiciary exhibit a similar homogeneity.
This homogeneity, itself a product of Ecuadorian democracy, would not be so alarming if the state responded well to criticism. But, as evidenced by the new communications law enacted in June, the state is dangerously close to having a monopoly on criticism.
The Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—FARC) began their tenth round of peace negotiations in Havana, Cuba on Monday. This round of talks will address the second point in the five-point peace agenda: integration of the rebel group into Colombian politics.
The FARC’s post-conflict participation in Colombian politics is one of the most controversial points in the agenda, and the guerrillas have made a number of demands to ensure their participation. FARC Commander Luciano Marín Arango, known by the nom-de-guerre “Iván Márquez,” asked the government to postpone Colombia’s May 2014 presidential election to allow the talks to continue uninterrupted under the current administration. The group claims that political campaigning could get in the way of the talks, and wants to call a Constitutional Assembly to enact the political and institutional changes now under discussion.
The FARC also claimed that it is pursuing a “unification process” with the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional—ELN), Colombia’s second-largest rebel group. Though the ELN is not part of the peace talks in Cuba, its leaders have expressed their willingness to participate in the negotiations.
The Colombian government’s chief negotiator, Humberto de La Calle, has rejected the guerrilla group’s proposal. While he recognized that one of the key objectives of the negotiations is to enable the FARC to become a political party and have broader participation in local and national politics, he refused to consider any proposal that lies outside of the previously agreed-upon peace agenda. “This [agenda] is what the government is ready to discuss and nothing else," he said. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos also rejected the rebel group’s proposal and ruled out the possibility of extending the electoral terms.
Despite these differences, some progress has been made in the negotiations. The parties achieved a partial agreement on land reform in May, which includes a consensus on the use and distribution of the land—a key issue that led to the FARC’s emergence in the 1960s. Other topics on the agenda include the fight against drug trafficking and the compensation of the victims of the armed conflict.
The peace talks began in November 2012, and aim to end half a century of armed conflict that has led to more than 600,000 deaths and millions of displaced people.
The spring session in Canada’s parliament was anything but dull. But while much of the attention was on senators’ unauthorized expenses, an important bill passed under the radar.
The so-called Antiterrorism Bill, which revives controversial sections of the Combating Terrorism Act, was passed into law during session. Two sections of the bill deserve a fuller look: investigative hearings and preventative arrests.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and police forces lauded the bill, presenting it as a necessary tool to prevent the loss of life in extreme circumstances where a terrorist attack is imminent. Prominent experts also backed these measures, saying they are warranted in extreme times.
Ray Boisvert, a former assistant director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, says it’s important to have “a tool box,” especially “when events happen very fast.” He points to the very effective and quick arrest of one of the alleged masterminds of the Boston Marathon attack.
That’s all fine, critics say. But they argue that civil liberties were sacrificed in the name of the War Against Terror. They feel there was no need to bring back investigative hearings and preventative arrests—which have never been used—even in the face of imminent attacks. For example, an investigative hearing intended to force a hostile witness to implicate one of the masterminds behind the Air India Flight 182 explosion in 1985 (all 329 passengers were killed, including many Canadian) was dropped halfway through the trial. One year earlier, the Supreme Court of Canada had deemed the investigative hearing constitutional.
As we wait to hear Ecuador’s decision on whether to grant asylum to Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old contractor who leaked the details of the U.S. National Security Agency surveillance program, two questions loom large: Why would Ecuador do it? And will it?
First the why. Snowden’s request was based on Ecuador’s offering of asylum to the founder and director of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, who had been accused of rape in Sweden and is now holed up in the Ecuadoran embassy in London. Leaving aside the question of why Ecuador would offer asylum to an accused rapist just because he had posted secret U.S. documents and cables leaked to the web based NGO dedicated to transparency, the thinking among the Snowden supporters was that Ecuador loved to stick it to the United States, and would welcome the opportunity to do it again for Snowden.
Clearly, Ecuador’s voluble, erratic, populist president, Rafael Correa, delights in standing up to the 'gringos.' Shortly after he was elected in 2006, he terminated a U.S. airbase in Ecuador that monitored and interdicted drug traffickers, kicked out the then-U.S. ambassador for information revealed in the Wikileaks, and claimed that the U.S.’s development program is seeking to undermine him politically.
In reality there’s little domestic political benefit to these anti-U.S. actions. According to public opinion surveys, close to 80 percent of Ecuadoreans have positive views of the United States. Where it does play well is internationally. Like his now-deceased mentor, former President of Venezuela Hugo Chávez, President Correa has ambitions that extend far beyond his country’s borders to become a world leader of the progressive, anti-imperialist left. When it offered Assange asylum, Correa presented the offer as motivated by his defense of freedom of expression.
The irony couldn’t be richer. In Ecuador, Assange and Snowden would have been quickly arrested and packed off to jail for their activities. Just two weeks before Snowden asked for asylum the Ecuadoran National Assembly approved a law—proposed by the president—that will chill freedom of expression and limit what journalists can say and write. According to Correa, the law will “guarantee for the people that information which is published by the media is true.”
Likely top stories this week: Michelle Bachelet wins Chile’s opposition primaries; Cuban state-run produce markets go private; President Rousseff’s popularity dips; U.S. immigration reform moves to the House of Representatives; Edward Snowden stuck in Moscow.
Bachelet Wins Chilean Opposition Primaries: Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet won a landslide victory on Sunday in Chile’s primary elections, paving her way to run as the Concertación candidate in the November presidential election. Bachelet received 73.8 percent of the vote, while her nearest rival, Andrés Velasco, earned only 12.5 percent of voter support. The ruling coalition's candidates were much closer, with Pablo Longueira getting 51.1 percent of the vote to Andrés Allemand's 48.9 percent. Longueira will face Bachelet on November 17.
Cuban State-Run Co-ops Go Private: One hundred state-run produce markets in Cuba are scheduled to become private cooperatives on Monday as the country moves ahead with economic reforms. The private co-ops will create an alternative to small and medium-sized state-run businesses, and will be able to set prices and divide profit as they see fit. The co-ops can also purchase produce from individual farmers as well as state farms and wholesale markets. According to the Cuban government, more than 430,000 people now work in the non-state sector, not counting agricultural cooperatives and small farmers.
Protests at Brazil's Confederations Cup Final: Several thousand Brazilian protesters marched outside Rio de Janeiro's iconic Maracanã stadium on Sunday as Brazil's national soccer team won the Confederations Cup 3-0 over Spain. The protests for improved public transport and services that started over a month ago show no sign of abating, while President Dilma Rousseff's approval rating has plummeted from 57 percent to 30 percent during the month of June. More than 80 percent of the 4,717 respondents in the poll by Datafolha, conducted on the June 27 and 28, said that they supported the protests in Brazil.
Immigration Reform Moves to the U.S. House: U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer predicted on Sunday that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will pass the comprehensive immigration reform bill approved by the Senate last Thursday, despite resistance from House Republicans. Schumer said he believed the House would pass the bill "by the end of this year," due to concerns about the party's future in an increasingly diverse country. However, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte said that the preference is to “examine each of these issues separately,” rather than take up the Senate legislation.
Edward Snowden Still Stuck in Moscow: Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said that former U.S. contractor Edward Snowden "is in the care of Russian authorities" and reprimanded an Ecuadorian government official who provided Snowden with a travel document that Correa said had been issued without consulting officials in Quito. Correa spoke to U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on the phone on Saturday about Snowden, whose U.S. passport has been revoked. Correa said that Snowden’s asylum request would only be considered if he enters Ecuador or an Ecuadorian embassy.
Twenty-three years after the fall of Augusto Pinochet, on the surface at least, Chile’s democratic institutions appear strong. However, less than five months out from presidential elections, many Chileans feel more disillusioned with the political process now than at any point since the return to democracy.
In the lead up to the November 17 vote, the country will hold historic primary elections on Sunday. Accompanying them, over the last two weeks, were televised debates—the first to include candidates from the two major political coalitions.
Both the primaries and debates are being touted as a marked change from the vieja politica—“old school” politics which, for 23 years, has seen remarkably little policy difference between politicians who held positions under the dictatorship and those who took up arms against it, or in some cases were victims of its repression.
For those within the established political system and mainstream media, the changes herald a new era of inclusive politics and represent a response to the demands for profound change from social movements sweeping the country.
La Tercera—one of the country’s two largest newspapers—published an opinion piece on June 21 titled, “Primaries, an Important Political Step for Chile.”
Written by Juan Emilio Cheyre—commander-in-chief of the Chilean Army from 2002 to 2006, academic and member of Servicio Electoral (Electoral Service—Servel) board of directors—the article concluded:
“The primaries are important in and of themselves. However, we [Sevel] believe that, in addition, they represent a great step forward in areas as relevant as: trust, public confidence, transparency, depoliticization, autonomy and participation[…] All of these are factors have a direct impact on strengthening our democracy, a task to which, as a country, we have been called upon to undertake.”
But to read the polls, the nation’s political class has never been more distant from the general public since Chile famously voted “No” to military rule in 1989.
It’s not uncommon for the Castro regime to accuse dissidents of being CIA agents or puppets of the U.S. government. Viral media attacks on Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez are not unique. However, the manner in which they attack Sánchez and other female dissidents, compared to their male counterparts, does seem unique.
Initially, the Cuban government didn’t pay much attention to Sánchez and her blogging. Not really understanding the medium, the government wrote her off as a non-threat because of her gender and ultimately gave Sánchez the space to become the international figure she is today.
Once the regime had become aware of blogging’s influence, it initiated an online civil war between independent Cuban bloggers and the government. The government blocked all of the unauthorized blogs and began a defamation campaign against the independent bloggers—who are officially referred to as “cyber mercenaries” and enemies of the revolution. Cuba’s version of Wikipedia, EcuRed, describes Sánchez as “Cibermercenaria y bloguera cubana” next to a menacing-looking photo of her.
Numerous websites exist solely to insult and question Sánchez’s legitimacy as a renowned journalist, writer and blogger. These insults and accusations are mostly gender-based. Male bloggers’ accomplishments and awards are rarely questioned. Instead, they are labeled (if at all) with epithets associated with a dominant form of masculinity, such as “terrorist” and “traitor.” Meanwhile, the language used to attack Sánchez focuses mainly on her appearance and stereotypes associated with being female.
Governments across the hemisphere responded to U.S. Senate passage, in a 68 –32 vote, of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744).
The Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs lauded passage on its website, saying that the Senate’s approval of immigration reform “has the potential to improve the lives of millions of Mexicans living in the U.S. today. It creates a more favorable environment for their development and respect for their rights, and enables their significant contributions to the communities where they reside.”
Honduran President Porfirio Lobo posted on his Twitter account, “Thank you, on behalf of Honduran families, for the passage of the immigration reform bill by the U.S. Senate.” He later added, "The entire American continent hopes that the discussion of the bill in the House of Representatives of the United States will be successful."
Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina said the move was, “historical.” A statement from the foreign ministry was also released: "Guatemala considers this a very positive, hopeful step for immigrants in an an irregular situation from Guatemala and other countries.”
Many Republicans have acknowledged the importance of reforming the immigration system as Latinos have become an increasingly important voter bloc in the United States. However, Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner claimed yesterday that he won't consider any new immigration legislation unless it has the support of a majority of his party. Republican House leaders will hold a conference on July 10 to discuss their next steps.
¿Cómo quitar los ojos de Brasil que en las últimas semanas ha sido objeto de la toma de sus calles por parte de jóvenes apartidarios, indignados, cansados de las políticas del gobierno de Dilma Rousseff?
¿Cómo no asistir casi estupefacto al crecimiento de un movimiento que espontáneamente apareció en vísperas de la Copa Mundial en un país que no solo se enorgullece de tener uno de los mejores niveles futbolísticos, sino que hasta hace poco sólo aparecía en las noticias como el milagro económico, la potencia emergente, el gigante latinoamericano y otros calificativos bastante generosos que indicaban que por lo menos en términos de políticas financieras, seguía la senda correcta?
No es que los indignados brasileños en las calles estén puntualmente protestando por el modelo económico, pero no es poca cosa que los indicadores por los que se alzaron tengan nada menos que ver con las inversiones en salud y educación y que los índices de reducción de la pobreza y desigualdad no sean tan alentadores.
La salida de Dilma fue darle a eso que significa en griego la palabra democracia, y resume todo su valor: el poder del pueblo. En pocas semanas los indignados consiguieron que no se aumentara el precio del tiquete de autobús—demanda original del movimiento Passe Livre que busca reducir a cero la tarifa de transporte público—y que sus demandas alcanzaran esferas insospechadas. Esta semana, los congresistas brasileños aprobaron un proyecto de ley que define la corrupción como un "crimen atroz", otro que destina el 75 por ciento de las regalías petroleras a la educación y el 25 por ciento a la salud, y rechazaron uno más que le retiraba facultades investigativas a la fiscalía, una propuesta de enmienda constitucional conocida popularmente como PEC 37.
To some, former CIA and National Security Administration (NSA) employee Edward Snowden is seen as a classic whistleblower, who divulged government secrets that contradict the U.S. Constitution and its 4th amendment. Many who espouse his view—on both the left and right—have applauded his courage and regard him as a hero.
To others—especially within the U.S. political class—he is now considered a charged felon, who has willingly pursued a plan to embarrass his government, and in so doing, has breached matters of national security and made the United States less safe. His weekend flight from Hong Kong to Russia may lead some to go as far as to label him a “traitor”.
Which is it—hero, felon or traitor? It is too early to answer this. But the longer the situation drags on, the more damage it will inflict on the reputation of the United States on the world stage.
The 4th amendment of the U.S. Constitution sets guidelines to protect individual privacy. Even in matters of national security, we are told that due process must be followed. NSA programs, including the ones covering telephone records as well as internet activity that Snowden denounced, must be subjected to safeguards that protect the right to privacy. President Barack Obama has since justified these NSA programs as the necessary balance between privacy and security in this post-9-11 world. While his administration has been careful in its choice of vocabulary, it has decided to charge Snowden with contravening the Espionage Act.
The spectacle of the strongest power on earth chasing Snowden around the globe is not reassuring to those who believe in the value of U.S. diplomacy, U.S. intelligence capacity or U.S. military might. The ease with which Snowden accessed sensitive material and subjected his government to this embarrassing game of “cat and mouse” is also not comforting to those who count on U.S. intelligence forces to keep them safe.
Clearly, at the outset, the initial effect of Snowden’s action was to spark a legitimate debate about privacy, security and the importance of the 4th amendment. Libertarian politicians like Rand Paul did not condemn Snowden outright. Snowden also has significant support in progressive circles.
On Wednesday, Brazil’s Supreme Court upheld a corruption conviction against a former congressman and sentenced him to prison—the first time a congressman has been imprisoned since the 1988 constitution was put in place.
Natan Donadon will spend 13 years in jail for conspiracy and embezzlement of government funds from the State of Rondônia’s Legislative Assembly in July 1995 and January 1998.
The court’s decision comes in the wake of several other recent government actions to combat corruption in response to continued protests throughout the country.
On Tuesday, Brazil's congress dropped legislation that protesters worried would hamper corruption investigations. The Chamber of Deputies voted 403-9 to halt the measure—known as PEC 37—that would have stripped federal prosecutors of the ability to investigate cases—a role that has proven important in revealing corruption in the past.
Federal prosecutors played a crucial role in unveiling the 2005 "mensalão" scandal, in which aides of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva bought votes from congressmen for certain pieces of legislation. Critics feared that PEC 37 would prevent prosecutors from making similar discoveries in the future.
The government has also responded to protesters’ grievances by lowering transportation costs in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and over the weekend, President Dilma Rousseff called for constitutional reform to improve the nation’s transport, healthcare and education systems.
Still, protesters continued to gather throughout the country on Wednesday. The largest demonstration in Belo Horizonte—where the Brazilian national football team played against Uruguay in a semifinal of the Confederations Cup—amassed some 50,000 people.
Edited by Mable Ivory
Six months ago, if someone were to ask any Brazilian about the possibility of a massive protest happening in 100 cities in Brazil, the idea would most certainly have been met with laughter.
After all, the country—set to host two major sporting events in the coming years and profiled internationally because of its economic growth—has not seen mass demonstrations on its streets since the 1990s, when citizens forced the impeachment of then-President Fernando Collor. President Dilma Rousseff, already prepared for her re-election campaign in 2014, certainly didn't expect these demonstrations.
However, Brazil has reached a turning point. The 20 centavos increase in bus fare in São Paulo was the catalyst for a series of demonstrations that soon spread throughout the nation—a clear indication that Brazil’s economic boom has not reached all the people and that citizens feel that they deserve more from their government. The demonstrations reached a climax on June 20, with more than 1 million people protesting in all of Brazil’s major cities.
Thus far, analysts, journalists and even activists are trying to define the nature of these protests, their true agenda and how long they will continue. There are still many undecided factors. However, several things remain clear: the so called "Brazilian Autumn" is a movement that has its main base in social media and it is a movement of mostly young and middle-class people, with a broad agenda. However, many Afro-Brazilians and working poor people are also joining the protests because their economic situation is even worse.
Unlike the Arab Spring and protests in Turkey, which have a very specific agenda, the protests in Brazil encompass many issues—a risk for their long-term sustainability—much like the Occupy Movement.
It is natural to draw parallels between the protests in Brazil and other global movements—in India, the Arab world and most recently Turkey—which preceded them. Some comparisons may be relevant, like the use of technology to congregate mass protests. But in most other ways, Brazil’s protests are unique.
Did the protests really begin with the demand to rescind the 20 centavo increase in the minimum bus fare in São Paulo? No, and this is why.
It has been widely acknowledged that a non-partisan group, the Movimento Passe Livre (Free Fare Movement), initiated the June 2013 protest with the objective of rolling back the bus fare hike. The movement took inspiration from a decade-old mass protest movement in Salvador, Brazil—also triggered by an increase in the minimum bus fare, where nine of ten of the protesters’ demands were met.
More recently, in September 2012, a group of students appealed to city hall in Natal, Brazil, winning an endorsement from a city councilman who declared the 20 centavo fare increase both “illegal and without foundation.” In less than two weeks, the ordinance was repealed by a unanimous vote.
So, by the time the fare increase was announced in São Paulo, citizens and members of the Free Fare Movement were prepared. Subsequently, after more than 10 cities in the State of São Paulo and other parts of the country reversed the bus fares last week, the Free Fare Movement leaders announced that they would no longer protest the bus fares because their “initial objectives were met.”
Desde que comenzó el gobierno de Enrique Peña Nieto en diciembre de 2012, un curioso fenómeno se ha presentado en el mundo de la política mexicana. Al parecer, nuestros dirigentes no han comprendido el enorme poder de la tecnología y la impresionante capacidad de difusión que tienen las redes sociales, mismas que escapan completamente de su poder de control. La clase política puede pactar con los dueños de las televisoras, de la radio y de los periódicos sobre la información que se puede o no se puede transmitir, pero son incapaces de imponer el mismo control sobre Facebook, Twitter o YouTube.
Gracias a eso, en los últimos meses hemos podido presenciar una serie de escándalos que desnudan a la clase política en general. Los videos subidos a YouTube que muestran a políticos mexicanos de todos los partidos en situaciones comprometedoras se han vuelto algo común en los últimos meses. La sabiduría popular los ha bautizado como las “ladies” y los “gentlemen”.
Todo comenzó cuando la hija del Procurador Federal del Consumidor se enojó porque en un restaurante no le dieron la mesa que quería. De inmediato se fue a la oficina de papi y regresó con algunos inspectores que procedieron a clausurar el restaurante en cuestión, alegando diversas violaciones en el sistema de reservaciones. Los testigos que presenciaron el acto lo comentaron en Twitter y Facebook y de inmediato se le bautizó como la “lady Profeco”. Aunque el incidente le costó el trabajo a su padre, ninguna autoridad decidió investigar el hecho de que los inspectores hayan obedecido a esta señorita si ella no era ninguna autoridad. ¿Tan sólo por ser la hija del jefe?
Después supimos de la “lady del Senado”, una senadora del Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) que insultó a una trabajadora de una aerolínea después de que no le permitiera subir al avión por llegar tarde. La senadora aseguraba que ella era una autoridad y que por ello tenían que permitirle subir al avión. Poco después tuvo el descaro de pedir que se creara una “Fiscalía Especializada en la Protección de los Políticos,” pues éstos sufren del acoso de los medios de comunicación y de la ciudadanía.
A finales de los ochenta, la prosperidad venezolana se desintegraba dejando en evidencia la ilusión que era. Parafraseando a José Ignacio Cabrujas, uno de los mejores analistas políticos que tuvo el país, sólo un mago podía ser llamado para devolverle la esperanza a una nación cada vez más frustrada. Pero a Carlos Andrés Pérez—quien resultó electo como presidente—se le acabaron los conejos del sombrero, y a falta de trucos ofreció realidades, entre ellas el aumento de la gasolina, y por consecuencia, del pasaje del transporte público.
Nadie lo vio venir, pero en la primera mañana en que el aumento de 25 centavos comenzó a regir, una revuelta popular iniciaría en los terminales de autobús de la periferia capitalina. Durante dos días, miles de personas dejaron correr su ira por las calles del centro político de Venezuela, y El Caracazo—nombre que recibió la protesta espontánea—se convertiría en un estigma político que marcó un hito en la historia nacional. Desde 1989, cuando ocurrió la manifestación, los precios de la gasolina sólo fueron aumentados una vez. Ni Hugo Chávez, con su inigualable carisma y conexión popular, se atrevió a tocar el desfasado valor del combustible.
Dos semanas atrás, en otros tiempos, otro país y otro contexto, un aumento en la tarifa del pasaje urbano también desataría la ira nacional. “La gota que derramó el vaso” repetían decenas de brasileños que salieron a las calles para rechazar el incremento—que en ciudades como São Paulo equivalía a USD 10 centavos. El himno del momento fue “no son sólo los 20 centavos” en alusión al precio en moneda local que los usuarios del transporte público debían pagar a más en cada viaje. Las frustraciones se mezclaron con las insatisfacciones, y lo que comenzó con una manifestación de calle derivó en un proceso de reclamos, tan complejo, que requirió de creatividad periodística para dar cobertura a las decenas de movilizaciones que, espontáneamente se siguen desplazando por las calles del país de la samba.
Acostumbrado a captar los titulares internacionales con fútbol, novelas y música, Brasil entró en la escena extranjera con notas sobre reclamos contra corrupción, malos servicios públicos, salud y educación deficiente. Economistas, sociólogos, analistas políticos y periodistas han intentado explicar cómo la población saboteó su propio pre estreno en la Copa Mundial—el desarrollo de la Copa de Confederaciones—reclamando menos estadios y más hospitales.
Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, deputy secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and Juan Carlos Pinzón Bueno, Colombia’s defense minister, signed an Agreement on the Security of Information in Brussels on Tuesday. While the tailored cooperation treaty does not recognize Colombia as a NATO partner, it marks the first agreement of its kind between the Alliance and a Latin American country.
The Colombian government has faced considerable pushback from several Latin American countries including Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. The countries have expressed concern that Colombia would become a member of NATO and pose a threat to the region. Despite the allegations, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Minister Pinzón Bueno and NATO itself have all insisted that membership is not the goal of the agreement. “There are no plans to establish a formal association,” a NATO spokesman said. In fact, the Alliance has explained that Colombia does not meet the geographic criteria for membership since it’s not located in the North Atlantic.
Instead of membership, the agreement focuses primarily on consultation and cooperation, specifically when it comes to security. "What we seek is to learn from NATO and to share our experience in the fight against drug trafficking, terrorist groups and other crimes committed by transnational crime organizations," Pinzón Bueno said. Prior to agreement, only two Latin American nations had formally partnered with NATO. Both Argentina and Chile participated in the Stabilization Force in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Argentina was also involved in the Kosovo Force peacekeeping mission.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff met with governors and mayors on Monday to discuss the Pacto Nacional (National Pact), a package of reforms to improve public services that would respond to the wave of nationwide protests in Brazil over the past three weeks.
The president called for peace and proposed a national vote to amend the Brazilian constitution, which would be Brazil’s first political reform since 1988, when the current constitution was ratified at the end of Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship. "The streets are telling us that the country wants quality public services, more effective measures to combat corruption...and responsive political representation," Rousseff said.
The National Pact's main objective is to create a Plano Nacional de Mobilidade Urbana (National Urban Mobility Plan) to expand Brazil’s existing public transportation system. In response to the protests, public transport fares were reduced in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro last week, and Rousseff pledged to invest 50 billion reais ($25 billion) in improving the country's transport infrastructure.
But Brazilians' grievances go beyond public transportation. The protests reached their peak last Thursday, when more than 1 million demonstrators took to the streets to demand greater investment in health and education, and to complain against corruption and high government spending on sporting events such as the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games.
In addition to calling for a constitutional reform, Rousseff has laid out proposals to improve health services and impose tougher penalties for corruption. According to experts, amending the Brazilian constitution is a process that could take years, since it would require a public vote to debate the reforms.
Recent polls suggest that 75 percent of Brazilians are in favor of the protests, in which at least four people have already died. Due to rising inflation in the country, Rousseff's approval rating fell to 55 percent in June.
As the U.S. Congress continues discussions on immigration reform, every interest group is struggling to get their respective voice heard. As with everything in Congress, money talks. To that end, the Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan Congressional ombudsman, reported last week that the Senate bill currently under consideration could inject nearly $900 billion into the government's yawning budget deficits over the next 20 years.
But a more subtle provision of the immigration bill is more streamlined non-immigrant visa processing, including sweetheart constituency provisions and political favors for groups ranging from Polish tourists to Canadian retirees. But it must not be overlooked how Latin American tourists create real value for the American economy and expand the country's soft power in a crucial region.
Many tourists, particularly those from visa-waiver countries in Europe and select other countries, take for granted that they can hop on a plane to the U.S. with no more than a passport in hand and a brief online registration. In 2011, nearly 20 million of these visitors came to the United States.
But for tourists from across Latin America, the process involves a long wait for an appointment, a hefty fee to pay regardless of the visa decision, and a stressful interview about their intentions to visit. Many choose not to go through the process because of the arduous process, others sour on visiting the U.S. after being rejected, and still many more are unable to plan and pay for trips given the uncertainty and randomness of the visa process. Governments have soured too, with many countries in the region requiring visas and reciprocity fees for U.S. tourists, giving Americans a taste of their own medicine.
In 2012, more than 8 million nonimmigrant tourist visas (those not eligible for the Visa Waiver Program) were issued by the State Department, up significantly from previous years, making this a lucrative opportunity for tourist-oriented businesses in the U.S. to capitalize on the growth.
It only takes a brief look at the numbers to show how central Latin Americans are to the State Department's visa operations and to the value of foreign tourism in the United States. Last year, of the 8,000,000 nonimmigrant visas issued, nearly 50 percent of the global total were issued to Latin Americans. Compare that to Latin America's less than 10 percent share of world population, and the statistics become even more eye-popping.
Top stories this week: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff responds to national protests; The U.S. Senate will vote on immigration reform; Coca farmers clash with police in Colombia; Uruguayan voters uphold abortion law; Judicial leaders meet in Bolivia; Ecuador considers asylum request.
Protests Expand Across Brazil: Hundreds of thousands of Brazilians marched in cities across the country on Saturday and Sunday, in a third week of protests against corruption and public spending related to the country's upcoming mega sporting events. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff called on protesters to refrain from violence after demonstrators threatened to disrupt the Confederations Cup soccer tournament on Saturday. More than 1 million Brazilians protested last week, and there are no signs that the demonstrations will end any time soon: a major protest is scheduled for next Sunday’s Confederation Cup final in Rio de Janeiro.
Immigration Reform Up For Senate Vote: U.S. President Barack Obama urged Congress on Saturday to pass immigration reform as the U.S. Senate approaches a key vote on Monday. The Senate will consider an amendment containing enhanced border security provisions that was filed on Friday, doubling the number of border patrol agents along the U.S.-Mexico border in an effort to garner the bipartisan support necessary to pass the bill. Senators will decide on Monday evening whether to proceed to debate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that he hopes that the final vote will take place at the end of the week, and Republican Senator Mike Lee said he believed the bill is “likely to pass” with up to 70 votes. Opponents of the bill predict that it will die in the more-conservative House of Representatives.
Protests Turn Deadly in Colombia; President Santos Asks FARC to "Play Clean": At least two protesters in Norte de Santander were killed on Friday in clashes between thousands of protesting coca farmers and Colombian police. Police involved in the conflict claim that the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) have infiltrated the protests, which involved at least 10,000 farmers. Meanwhile, at a march on Sunday in Carmen de Bolívar for victims of Colombia's armed conflict, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos urged the FARC to "play clean" and respect the agenda for peace currently being negotiated in Havana between the guerrillas and the Colombian government. However, experts believe that land disputes and drug-related violence will continue in Colombia's southern and border zones, regardless of any peace deal.
Uruguayan Voters Uphold Abortion Law: Uruguayan voters elected to uphold South America’s most liberal abortion law by refusing to go to the polls in a consultation ballot on Sunday. If one-quarter of Uruguay’s voting population had participated in Sunday’s vote, they could have paved the way for a popular referendum on the law, which was passed last October and permits abortions in the first three months of pregnancy. However, only 226,653 of the necessary 655,000 voters participated in the election. Uruguayan President José Mujica defended the abortion law, saying it would save many women’s lives, and supporters of women’s reproductive rights celebrated across the country. However, the law’s political opponents vowed to remain active, and a number of doctors in Uruguay have refused to perform abortions.
Judicial Leaders from Six Countries to Meet in Bolivia: Lawyers from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Spain and Italy will meet in La Paz on Monday for a three-day forum on judicial independence organized by the European Union and the UN. The forum coincides with an effort by the Bolivian government to strengthen its judicial institutions in accordance with the country's new constitution.
Ecuador Considers Granting Asylum to Snowden: Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño confirmed on Twitter this weekend that former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden is seeking asylum in Ecuador after fleeing Hong Kong to avoid arrest for leaking classified documents about U.S. Internet and phone surveillance. Snowden is currently in Moscow, but this morning he reportedly did not board a flight he was expected to take to Cuba and his exact whereabouts remain unknown. Patiño said on Monday that Snowden's request for asylum in Ecuador is being analyzed. The U.S. government has revoked Snowden’s passport and has asked foreign countries not to grant him passage.
Foreign ministers from Mexico, Colombia, Dominican Republic, and select Central American countries are meeting today in the Mexican town of San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas to discuss security, narcotrafficking, bilateral trade, and agricultural production. The meeting is a follow-up to the commitments made at the December 5, 2011, Tuxtla Summit as well as the February 20, 2013, summit in Costa Rica that included Mexico and the Sistema de Integración Centroamericana (The Central American Integration System—SICA).
Mexican Foreign Secretary José Antonio Mead is leading the meeting that also includes representatives from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica (Central American Bank for Economic Integration—BCIE), and the Sistema de Integración Centroamericana (The Central American Integration System—SICA), among others.
The border discussion includes a focus on security and information sharing as well as the improvement of border posts and crossings. The head of Mexico’s Sistema de Administratcion Tributaria (Tax Administration Service—SATY), Aristóteles Núñez Sánchez, is presenting ongoing infrastructure projects being developed along the Mexican border.
On the agriculture front, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture is expected to highlight threats to the region’s agricultural development, including an epidemic of coffee leaf rust caused by a fungus that threatens the cultivation and harvest of coffee across Central America.
Those who never voted for Barack Obama when he ran for President in 2008 or when he sought reelection in 2012 will conclude that Obama’s current second-term blues are just a case of the “chickens coming home to roost.” They never liked him and may actually rejoice in his misfortunes. All of the Republicans’ post-2012 election defeat soul-searching has since given way to more of the polarization and the dysfunctionality associated with the political gridlock of recent years.
Important elements of Obama’s second term agenda—gun control, climate change and immigration reform—appear to be in trouble. Meanwhile, events in Syria—mired in its two-year sectarian civil war—have led a reluctant U.S. president to arm the different factions associated with the rebel forces against dictator Bashar al-Assad. Instability is spreading throughout the Middle East, leading some observers to question the effectiveness of U.S. foreign policy in the region.
Add to this context, the ongoing conflict over the Benghazi talking points, skepticism of the Internal Revenue Service decision to target Tea Party groups, and the controversy surrounding National Security Agency and its surveillance programs, and a growing perception emerges that Obama might have lost control of his agenda at a crucial period in a second term. We are often reminded of scarred second-term administrations since 1960—Johnson (Vietnam), Nixon (Watergate), Reagan (Iran-Contra), Clinton (Lewinsky scandal/impeachment), Bush (Hurricane Katrina/ financial meltdown).
The past two months have seen the Obama Administration go from alleged scandals, to defeat on key proposals—such as gun control—to controversy about privacy and security. Considering that the mid-term elections are but 18 months away and the 2016 presidential stakes will begin shortly after, time does not seem to favor the president.
Yet, despite this somber picture, many of Obama’s problems have to do with the normal course of events in any political mandate. Governing is not a picnic in the park and it is full of surprises and obstacles. Obama certainly understands from his first term that the Republicans will not make his life easier in a second term. But crisis management is very much a part of his job.