October 30, 2014Tags: Chile, medical marijuana, Fundacion Daya
In a pilot pain prevention program, the municipality of La Florida planted the first marijuana seeds for medical use in Chile on Wednesday. Once the marijuana plants have been cultivated, oil from the plants will be used to treat 200 selected patients as part of a clinical study on the effect of cannabis as a pain medication, administered by the Fundación Daya (Daya Foundation), a nonprofit dedicated to alleviating human suffering.
Daya Foundation employees planted a total of 850 seeds of the Durga Mata II, Wappa, IceCream and Pandora varieties imported from the Netherlands, which will grow on a plantation surrounded by electric and barbed wire fences. The plants will be heavily guarded to stave off any potential thieves.
The Chilean Ministry of Agriculture approved the cultivation of medical marijuana in September, and the harvest will begin in April of 2015, with treatments using cannabis oil scheduled to take place in May.
According to the United Nations, Chile is the third largest consumer of marijuana in South America, but while fellow South-American country Uruguay recently become the first country in the world to legalize the cultivation, production and state-run market of marijuana, the Chilean government has no plans to legalize the plant beyond medical use. “This is about providing people who are suffering from cancer with a natural, healthier and cheaper treatment for their pain,” said Rodolfo Carter, mayor of La Florida.
Both Carter and the Chilean actress Ana María Gazmuri, president of the Fundación Daya, were present for the planting of the first seeds.
Despite government support for the cannabis program, many in Chile’s medical community disapprove of the use of marijuana for medicinal use. Jorge Las Heras, a representative of the Chilean Medical Society, spoke out against the project on Wednesday, saying that there are “sufficient therapeutic alternatives” to marijuana, and that cannabis oil can have negative side effects, such as “convulsions, nausea and other conditions that have even led to death.”
October 30, 2014Read More Tags: Uruguay, Tabaré Vásquez, Luis Lacalle Pou
In a presidential contest that may have seemed like déjà vu, Uruguay’s elections on Sunday produced some unexpected headlines: former President Tabaré Vázquez earned nearly 48 percent of the vote—a full 17 points ahead of challenger Luis Lacalle Pou; Vázquez’ center-left Frente Amplio coalition (Broad Front–FA) has retained its parliamentary majority; and a plebiscite to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 18 to 16— referred to during the campaign as la baja—was convincingly defeated.
Aside from the accurate prediction that no candidate would earn more than 50 percent of the vote—resulting in a November 30 runoff—these were not the results expected by Uruguayan pollsters, who have begun a period of self-criticism after pollster Ignacio Zuasnabar from Equipos Mori admitted that the old polling methods need to be refreshed using Facebook and cell phones. Nearing October 26, pollsters believed Lacalle Pou was closing the gap on Vázquez, and some even said that right-wing Partido Colorado (Red Party–PC) candidate Pedro Bordaberry would achieve about 17 percent of the vote. In the end, Bordaberry did not even earn 13 percent.
Meanwhile, Vázquez, who has already run for president three times, and Lacalle Pou of the center-right Partido Nacional (National Party–PN), the son of former president Luis Alberto Lacalle, will return to the trenches for the final phase of their campaigns. Third-place candidate Bordaberry, the son of former president Juan María Bordaberry—whose government ushered in Uruguay’s 1973-1985 military dictatorship—has already voiced his support for Lacalle Pou.
October 29, 2014Read More Tags: Dilma Rousseff, Brazilian elections, Barack Obama
What do the Brooklyn hipster and the Brazilian president have in common? They both think they look good in a pair of oversized, black-framed glasses.
Sometimes called “hipster glasses” in the United States and óculos setentas (70s glasses) in Brazil, these trendy frames have proven to complement both skinny jeans and struggling presidents in need of appearing more accessible to the youth vote. During the final months of the Brazilian presidential race, incumbent Dilma Rousseff’s campaign began circulating a stylized poster depicting Rousseff as a young revolutionary in the 1970s wearing a plaid shirt and sporting the thick-framed glasses.
It’s an outfit you might spot in any number of artsy New York or São Paulo neighborhoods today. The retro glasses have been re-popularized in recent years by sports stars (Lebron James, David Beckham), artists (Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z), and politicians (former U.S. presidential candidate Rick Perry, for one), but Rousseff wore them before they were cool, which makes her that much cooler.
“It was an attempt to bring Dilma closer to youngsters and people who did not relate to her more 'formal' image as president,” said João Marcelo Ehlert Maia, a professor of sociology at Fundação Getúlio Vargas in Rio de Janeiro. “The idea is to present the 'guerrilla look' in a new fashion. 'Hipster Dilma' is, in fact, 'Revolutionary Dilma.’”
October 29, 2014Read More Tags: Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, Social inclusion
The re-election of President Dilma Rousseff as president of Brazil was not a foregone conclusion as little as a week ago. While the campaign could not have been dirtier, with charges of corruption, womanizing and wife-beating flying around, Rousseff’s Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers' Party—PT) now seems set for another four years in office.
The PT is on the verge of having the longest-running rule of one party in Brazil since the end of military rule in 1985.
Watching the Brazilian presidential campaign in Rio in its final days provided a useful window to talk to voters.
If this election reveals anything about the Brazilian electorate, it is that they are not yet ready to give up the socioeconomic gains of the years under the PT’s stewardship of the country.
The 12 years of PT government so far have created expectations for many millions of Brazilians to become part of the middle class. Even though the right-of-center candidate, former Minas Gerais governor Aécio Neves, promised to keep the social programs going, the majority of voters opted for the status quo.
The electorate was closely divided, though. With the final votes counted, Rousseff, with 51.6 percent of the vote to Neves' 48.5 percent, had only a 3 percent—or 3.5 million vote—difference.
That foreshadows a polarization of what some have characterized as two irreconcilable halves—much as is the case now in the United States.
October 29, 2014Tags: Cuba Embargo, U.S.-Cuba relations, UN General Assembly
The United Nations General Assembly voted for an end to the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba for the twenty-third time on Tuesday. For the second year in a row, 188 countries voted in favor of a non-binding resolution calling for the end of the embargo, with Palau, Marshall Islands and Micronesia abstaining. Only two countries—Israel and the U.S. itself—voted against the measure.
The vote, which has become an annual occurrence in the General Assembly, was first approved in 1992, with 59 votes in favor, three votes against, 71 abstentions, and 46 countries refused to participate at all. Since the end of the Cold War, however, support for the embargo has waned. The European Union lifted sanctions on the island in 2008, and agreed to begin negotiations to restore bilateral relations with Cuba on February 10 of this year, leading to speculation that the U.S. would follow its lead through executive action.
While it would take an act of Congress to formally repeal Helms-Burton, which codified the U.S. embargo into law, President Barack Obama has recently taken steps to ease travel and remittance restrictions for Cuban-Americans and reinstate people-to-people travel to the island.
October 28, 2014Read More Tags: Canada, Terrorism, Ottawa attacks
As the dust slowly settles on last week’s terrorist attacks in St. Jean, Québec and the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa, it may be a good time to assess the fallout. Overall, Canadians did not panic, and responded with compassion and moderation. The Canadian media avoided the sensational, and stuck to a balanced and thoughtful coverage. Canadian politicians were able to stand above the partisan divide.
It was also a time to reach out to our Muslim fellow citizens. Canada is a pluralistic society that cherishes its diversity. It was a moment to reassert our values and not succumb to finger-pointing or profiling.
Our U.S. friends and partners immediately expressed their solidarity. President Obama called Prime Minister Harper at the height of the crisis. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will also visit Ottawa.
In the past few days, observers in the media have tried to make sense of what happened. The how and the why are only beginning to be scrutinized. The theory of the lone wolf terrorist acting domestically appears to be a serious by-product of the war against terrorism. After two soldiers were killed within a 48 hour period, it is now obvious to most Canadians that the homeland is facing a threat where there is no textbook defense or tested, reliable counteroffensive. Granted, the two killers were troubled individuals who apparently became Islamic extremists, but their actions seemed to be motivated by propaganda on the Internet. This is difficult to assess, much less prevent.
October 28, 2014Tags: unaccompanied minors, detention centers, IACHR
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urged the United States yesterday to close detention centers for immigrant children and their families. IACHR member Felipe González noted that the Commission has continually affirmed that children should not be held in detention centers. However, the U.S. currently has three detention centers open in Pennsylvania, Texas and New Mexico that house immigrants while their deportation is being processed.
The Commission conveyed its disapproval of the way that the U.S. has handled the recent immigration crisis, in which an estimated 60,000 children crossed the U.S.-Mexico border fleeing poor and often dangerous conditions in their home countries—mainly Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The IACHR also called on the U.S. to install an independent committee to investigate alleged abuses at the detention centers and evaluate requests for asylum. The Commission announced that a report would soon be approved to propose solutions for the displacement of Central American citizens due to violence.
In response to the observations, U.S. State Department Coordinator of the Working Group on Unaccompanied Minors Timothy Zúñiga-Brown said in a press conference that all of the government’s procedures for working to resolve the crisis follow national and international laws.
The IACHR held a series of meetings on Monday to discuss human rights issues involving the United States, Ecuador, Colombia and Cuba. However, just before the Ecuador meeting was scheduled to begin, the Ecuadorian government sent a message criticizing the Commission and declining to attend. The IACHR’s main concern with Cuba was poor prison conditions, while issues with Colombia involved military impunity and peasants’ land rights.
October 27, 2014Tags: Dilma Rousseff, Citgo Petroleum, Chiquita
This week’s likely top stories: Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff is re-elected; Uruguayan elections move to a second round; Venezuela scraps the sale of Citgo Petroleum; Haitians protest a lack of elections; a Brazilian consortium acquires Chiquita.
Dilma Rousseff Re-elected President of Brazil: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was narrowly re-elected on Sunday in a runoff election that will extend the ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT) government’s mandate until 2019. Rousseff captured 51.6 percent of the vote, defeating challenger Aécio Neves of the Partido da Social Democracia (Brazilian Social Democracy Party—PSDB), who received 48.4 percent after nearly all ballots were counted. Rousseff’s victory marks the fourth straight presidential victory of the PT, although the party has recently come under public scrutiny due to a kickback scandal involving state oil company Petrobras, and has been criticized for an underperforming economy. In her victory speech, Rousseff acknowledged the challenges ahead, saying, “I want to be a much better president than I have been until now.”
Uruguayan Election Goes to Runoff: After Sunday’s election failed to deliver an outright majority to any presidential candidate, Uruguayans will return to the polls on November 30 to make a final decision between former President Tabaré Vásquez of the ruling Frente Amplio (Broad Front—FA) and Luis Lacalle Pou of the Partido Nacional (National Party). Pedro Bordaberry of the right-wing Partido Colorado (Colorado Party) endorsed Lacalle Pou shortly after the results came in, forming a conservative alliance to challenge Vásquez in the next round of voting. Also at stake in the election is the fate of Uruguay’s historic marijuana legislation, passed by outgoing President José “Pepe” Mujica, which legalizes the production, distribution and sale of marijuana to Uruguayan adults. The FA has governed Uruguay since 2005, with Vázquez serving as president from 2005-2010.
Venezuela Fails to Sell Citgo Petroleum: Venezuela will not sell the state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA)’s U.S.-based refining subsidiary Citgo Petroleum Corp, the government announced Sunday. Strapped for cash yet unable to find a buyer for Citgo, PDVSA needed the estimated $8 billion to $10 billion from the sale of Citgo to help offset falling oil prices, scheduled debt payments to China and Russia, and the country’s economic recession. In a memo to its clients this month, Barclays Plc predicted that Venezuela would be forced to adjust its economic policies, and could consider curbing subsidized oil to PetroCaribe members, devaluing the bolivar, and renegotiating loans from China. Another possible reform package could include hiking domestic gasoline prices.
Protestors in Port-au-Prince Demand a Vote: Haitian protestors armed with voting cards marched through the downtown slum of Bel Air in Port-au-Prince on Sunday to demand a chance to vote in legislative and local elections overdue since 2011. Although President Michel Martelly called for elections earlier this year, a stalemate over electoral law between the government and six opposition senators has left voters unable to exercise their basic sovereignty. While Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe accuses opposition politicians of seeking to extend their time in office without election, the opposition candidates say they are defending the Haitian Constitution against an administration seeking to remain in power by decree. One of these candidates, Sen. Moise Jean Charles, led the protesters through the streets of the capital on horseback. As the terms of 10 senators will expire in mid-January, the Haitian government is under pressure to organize a vote on Martelly’s electoral law before Parliament dissolves in early 2015.
Brazil’s Cutrale-Safra Purchases Chiquita Brands: The Brazilian Cutrale-Safra consortium agreed on Monday to acquire U.S. banana behemoth Chiquita Brands International Inc., formerly United Fruit, for about $682 million. The Cutrale Group—owned by “Orange King” Jose Luis Cutrale—and Safra Group—a network of companies controlled by Brazilian banker Joseph Safra—snagged Chiquita for $14.50 per share. The takeover was approved only three days after Chiquita shareholders voted to reject the company’s proposed merger with Irish banana producer Fyffes Plc., which would have created the world’s largest banana seller. Safra, who is seeking to diversify his $16 billion portfolio, and Cutrale, who is looking to expand the family business because of a global decline in orange juice consumption, overcame three previous failed attempts to acquire Chiquita. The transaction is expected to close by early 2015, after regulatory approvals have been made.
October 27, 2014Read More Tags: Brazil elections, President Dilma Rousseff, Aécio Neves
Last night, President Dilma Rousseff was re-elected to Brazil’s presidency in one of the most contested elections in the country’s history.
According to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), Rousseff won with 51.57 percent of the vote. Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (Social Democratic Party—PSDB) challenger Aécio Neves lost by less than 3 points, with 48.43 percent.
This was the narrowest margin ever registered during a presidential election since the fall of the country’s dictatorship in 1985. Rousseff swept the northern and northeastern states, home to some of the country’s poorest residents. The opposition won in the south and in São Paulo, where more than 20 percent of the voting population lives.
One of the decisive states in the election was Minas Gerais, where both candidates were born, and where Neves served two terms as governor. Despite leaving that office with a 92 percent approval rating in 2010, he lost the state to Rousseff by nearly five points.
It was also one of the most aggressive and divisive campaigns Brazilians ever witnessed.
In her acceptance speech, President Rousseff said establishing a “dialogue” will be her top priority.
“I’m very hopeful this mobilizing energy will help create fertile ground to build bridges,” Rousseff said as she spoke on stage in Brasília with dozens of supporters, including her predecessor and mentor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. “I believe it will be possible to build a common ground.”
October 24, 2014Read More Tags: President Dilma Rousseff, Aécio Neves, Brazil 2014 elections
Misael Gomes stood under the hot sun in downtown Curitiba, sweat running down his back as he gathered with hundreds of Partido dos Trabalhadores (Worker’s Party—PT) supporters awaiting President Dilma Rousseff as she made an October 17 campaign stop ahead of this Sunday’s election.
“We’re doing our work,” Gomes said to me, “we’re fighting hard for this." Rousseff is fighting for her political life in Brazil’s closest election in recent history, and an army of supporters like Gomes is determined to see her reelected to another four-year term. He’s the type of relentless politico who sends several emails a day arguing that opposition candidate Aécio Neves—of the center-right Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (Brazilian Social Democracy Party—PSDB)—would be disastrous for the social programs expanded under Rousseff and her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
But this scene in Curitiba would never have happened if this were the United States. Curitiba is the capital of a state that voted overwhelmingly for Neves in the first round of the election on October 5. If Brazil operated under the Electoral College system of the U.S., campaigning anywhere in PSDB-controlled Paraná state would be a waste of resources for either presidential candidate because Neves would already be virtually guaranteed all of the state’s electoral votes.
“Your system is a bit outdated, isn’t it?” Gomes said to me after I’d spent several minutes attempting to explain the U.S. Electoral College and why four U.S. presidents have been elected to the White House despite losing the popular vote.
October 24, 2014Tags: Dirty War, Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, Catholic Church
The President of the Episcopal Commission for Social Pastoral Work in Argentina, Bishop Jorge Lozano, issued a call on Wednesday urging the country’s faithful to share information they may have regarding the fate of the children kidnapped during Argentina’s “Dirty War.” In the document, Bishop Lozano notes that, “There has been a network of silence and complicity that has kept the truth covered up.” The Church and its members have historically been a part of this network, Bishop Lozano admitted.
The announcement follows a meeting at the Vatican earlier this year between Pope Francis, formerly Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, and the leader of the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo (Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo), Estela de Carlotto. Carlotto and the Abuelas asked the pope to open Church archives that could lead to information regarding 400 children suspected of being kidnapped during the dictatorship. Francis reportedly told Carlotto, “Count on me.” The meeting was a turning point in the relationship between the Abuelas and Bergoglio, whom Carlotto has criticized for his silence on the issue of the kidnapped children.
The Church’s record during Argentina’s dictatorship is checkered. While many priests and other religious figures were among the victims of the regime, elements of the Church are considered to have been either tacitly or actively complicit in the worst abuses of the Dirty War. In the wake of his election, Francis’s own record was the subject of intense scrutiny and debate. Since then, a number of survivors have claimed that future pope secretly helped funnel potential victims to safety.
October 23, 2014Tags: Mexico, Drug war, Gulf Cartel
Juan Francisco Sáenz-Tamez, the 23-year-old head of Mexico’s Gulf Cartel, has made his first court appearance, the U.S. Department of Justice announced on Tuesday. Sáenz-Tamez was arrested by federal officials in Edinburg, Texas on October 9 and faces life in federal prison if convicted of drug charges.
Sáenz-Tamez was arrested on charges of money laundering and conspiring to distribute cocaine and marijuana earlier this month. The infamous Gulf cartel is best known for its bloody clashes with the Zetas cartel in northeastern Mexico. Despite his age, Sáenz-Tamez allegedly “oversaw much of the violence and bloodshed that has plagued Mexico,” says Michele M. Leonhart, administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.
Sáenz-Tamez’ arrest comes on the heels of the high-profile captures of other drug kingpins on both sides of the border, such as the October apprehensions of Hector “El Ingeniero” Beltran Leyva of the Arturo Beltran Leyva (ABL) cartel and Vicente Carrillo Fuentes of the Juárez drug cartel, as well as the February 22 capture of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, head of the Sinaloa cartel.
Sáenz-Tamez has plead not guilty to all charges.
October 23, 2014Read More Tags: Democracia, El Salvador, Partidos Políticos
Los salvadoreños nos encontramos, de nuevo, a escasos cinco meses de una nueva contienda electoral. Mientras muchos aún no terminan de recuperarse de la resaca de la última elección presidencial, otros esperan con ansias la llegada de los próximos comicios.
Generalmente, en épocas cercanas a elecciones es cuando muchos empezamos a prestarle atención a los partidos políticos. Preguntas y conversaciones sobre el estado actual, la evolución, involución y hasta explosión del sistema de partidos políticos se escuchan con frecuencia. Comentarios sobre “las primarias a medias” o “los dedazos” no dejan de despertar pasiones.
A la luz de los procesos internos que cada uno de los partidos políticos del país (grandes y pequeños así como nuevos y tradicionales) ha estado llevando a cabo, vale la pena enfatizar la importancia de un sistema de partidos políticos modernos y dinámicos para el país. El Instituto Nacional Demócrata para Asuntos Internacionales (NDI por sus siglas en inglés) tiene más de dos décadas trabajando con partidos políticos en más de 50 países del mundo.
Con el correr del tiempo, el NDI ha identificado una serie de mejores prácticas de partidos efectivos. Un partido político efectivo debe considerar tres elementos claves: la democracia interna, la transparencia y el alcance a nuevos sectores.
October 23, 2014Read More Tags: Terrorism, Rule of Law
Author's note: Following the Boston shooting in April 2013, I wrote about how North America would continue to face the threat of domestic terrorism. Yesterday, Canada's Parliament was assailed by what is described as a "lone wolf" gunman. This was the second attack in a week, and Canada has lost two soldiers to the violence. The gunmen in both attacks, who were killed by authorities, are purported to be recent converts to Islam, though any ties to ISIS remain unclear at this point. Their Canadian passports were recently rescinded. Yet, despite these tragic events, Canada must continue to cherish its freedoms while remaining highly vigilant about security matters. My original blog post from April 30, 2013 continues below.
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.
October 22, 2014Tags: Ecuador, José Serrano, Human Rights Watch
In a televised interview Tuesday, Ecuador’s Minister of the Interior, José Serrano, denied allegations of torture and police abuse detailed by a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released on Monday, calling the report one-sided and an attack on progressive governments.
The HRW report details police brutality that took place on September 17 and 18 when thousands of people staged demonstrations in Quito and across the country to protest increased transportation costs, policies concerning extractive industries, and access to education. According to the report, 270 individuals were detained with dozens more subject to beatings and other physical abuse such as electric shocks and pepper spray to the face.
“Correa has shown no concern for the rights of protesters. On the contrary, he applauded the police who hit them, and threatened lawyers and journalists who exposed this brutal mistreatment,” said Jose Miguel Vivano, the Americas Director at HRW.
However, Serrano responded by saying that the report fails to take into account that members of the police force were attacked by students with rocks and sticks. According to Serrano, the police did not even use tear gas against attackers, and of the 2,600 police officers participating in the operation only three are being investigated for alleged attacks against protestors.
“What Vivanco says [in the report] is a series of lies—manipulations of human rights,” said Serrano during the interview, who also called on the organization to reveal the origin of its funding for such reports.
October 21, 2014Read More Tags: Mid-term Elections, United States elections 2016
As the U.S. nears its mid-term elections, primetime U.S. media events—the recent debate on the war against ISIS, global terrorism, the international Ebola scare, and the pending approval of the Keystone Pipeline—are making top news fodder in Canada as well. The upcoming U.S. elections on November 4, 2014 are no exception.
With President Obama’s low approval rating, will the Republicans take control of the Senate? If so, Obama enters the real lame duck period of his presidency because speculation about the 2016 race will begin immediately after election night ends.
On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is clearly in the lead for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. Not even Vice President Joe Biden comes anywhere close. Other potential candidates, such as Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, former Virginia Senator James Webb and Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley are marginal, at best. The lack of a real primary contest for the Democrats will make the path to nomination a fait accompli for Ms. Clinton, but it will have the disadvantage of keeping her regularly out of the news cycle. Republicans, on the other hand, are expected to have a real contest with no front runner emerging until late in the campaign.
The paradox is that the Republicans have consistently won the House of Representatives in every election since 1994 with the exception of 2008, when the Obama victory wave swept both houses of Congress. The Senate, however, has been more contentious.
October 21, 2014Read More Tags: Brazil elections, Polling, Nate Silver
Even famed statistician Nate Silver couldn’t have forecast the first-round results of Brazil's presidential election, which heads to a final runoff vote this Sunday. And not just because the campaign has unfolded with Dickensian complexity—down to the colorful cast of characters, tragic death, and political rebirth. From a scarcity of polling data to the very way elections are held in Brazil, political forecasters here face unique challenges, the results of which have been on display during this volatile election season.
Much of the unpredictability is a product of Brazil being a young democracy. The country's lack of historical election data makes it especially difficult to divine voters' intentions, according to Clifford Young, President of U.S. Public Affairs and former Managing Director for Brazil at Ipsos, a global market and public opinion research firm.
“Nate Silver would have had the same troubles here,” Young said in a telephone interview.
October 21, 2014Tags: Leopoldo Lopez, United Nations (UN), Lilian Tintori
On Monday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called for the release of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López and former mayor of San Cristóbal Daniel Ceballos, as well as other prisoners detained over protests in February. Commissioner Zeid stated yesterday that “the prolonged and arbitrary detention of political opponents and protestors in Venezuela […] is only exacerbating the tensions in the country." He urged the government to release the prisoners, which number at least 69, and adhere to international standards of due process in all trials.
The High Commissioner had previously spoken with Leopoldo López’ wife, Lilian Tintori, and their lawyer, Jared Genser, in Switzerland last Friday, regarding the delicate human rights situation in the country. Tintori told reporters after the meeting that she described to the High Commissioner the murders, disappearances and the overwhelming sense of helplessness that Venezuelans are currently facing. The UN Human Rights office has information indicating that more than 3,300 hundred people were detained between February and June 2014, and that over 150 cases of abuse have been reported.
In early October, a UN working group released a document determining that the detention of López was arbitrary and urging his release. In response, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Rafael Ramírez gave a press conference during which he asserted that working groups should not interfere with the legal process taking place in Venezuela. However, last week the country won a temporary seat on the UN Security Council, making it all the more important that Venezuela complies with the organization’s demands.
A public hearing for Leopoldo López has been set for October 28.
Monday Memo: Cuba's Ebola Response – Petrobras Scandal – Morales' Third Term – Federal Police in Guerrero – Hurricane Gonzalo
October 20, 2014Tags:
Cuba to ramp up Ebola response: Cuba is expected to host the leaders of the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Bolivarian Alliance for Americas—ALBA) countries today to strategize an increased response to the Ebola crisis. Cuba, which was among the first to respond to the crisis in West Africa with human resources, has deployed 165 medical professionals throughout Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone—the largest medical response of any single country. In a rare move, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry commended Cuba on Friday for being one of the “nations large and small stepping up in impressive ways to make a contribution on the front lines.” The small island-nation of 11 million plans to send 300 more medical professionals to the affected countries.
Petrobras scandal ignites debate in Brazil: In a televised debate this weekend, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff admitted that there was evidence substantiating a claim that the national oil company, Petrobras, illegally diverted funds to her Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT). The allegations surfaced when Paulo Roberto Costa, a former senior Petrobras executive who was arrested in March on money laundering charges, recently accepted a plea deal from prosecutors to testify about the illegal funds. While Rousseff has called the accusations an attempt to deface her campaign for reelection, opposition candidate Aécio Neves said that the scandal shows proof of corruption and negligence in Rousseff’s governance. Polls indicate that both candidates, who made it through the first round of voting on October 5, are neck-and-neck with voters, with no clear winner. The final debate between Rousseff and Neves will air on TV Globo on Thursday before the second round of voting on October 26.
Electoral officials confirm Morales’ third term victory: Bolivia’s top electoral court, the Tribuno Supremo Electoral (Supreme Electoral Tribunal—TSE), has officially confirmed Evo Morales’ reelection to a third consecutive term, which will last through 2020. Morales’ Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement for Socialism—MAS) party collected 61 percent of the vote, routing his closest rival, Samuel Doria Medina of the Unidad Demócrata (Democratic Unity—UD), by more than 30 percentage points and winning eight out of nine departments across the country. Although there will be a recount in the Oruro and Santa Cruz providences, it is unlikely to have an impact on the final result. Amidst allegations of authoritarianism, Morales maintains that he has no intentions of amending the constitution to allow for the possibility of running for a fourth term. Instead, Morales has said that he will focus on reducing poverty by sustaining the popular social programs from natural gas export revenues.
Federal police sent to Guerrero State: Nearly a month after 43 students went missing in the town of Iguala, Guerrero, after clashing with local police during a demonstration, federal forces have taken control of 12 municipalities across the state. According to National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido García, a recent federal investigation found that municipal police in these jurisdictions had “presumed links to organized crime.” As a result, federal forces will take over security operations in the controlled municipalities, while municipal officers are interviewed. Meanwhile, the incident has provoked division within the left Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution—PRD), which is the party of Guerrero’s Governor, Ángel Aguirre. On Sunday, PRD Senator Alejandro Encinas declared that “the governor no longer is in control of the state.” Nevertheless, a national council for the PRD voted on Saturday to continue the party’s support for Aguirre.
Second Storm Rocks Bermuda: Hurricane Gonzalo hit Bermuda on Friday, causing flooding and power outages in 31,200 homes, and damaging buildings. The storm was the second to affect the Caribbean island this month, after Tropical Storm Fay damaged homes and knocked down trees and power lines on October 12. Gonzalo is considered to be the worst storm in ten years and touched down on the island with winds of 110 miles per hour. However, what started as a category 4 storm was reduced to category 2 before hitting the island, and Bermudan Premier Michael Dunkley noted that citizens were relieved to find less damage than originally anticipated. Dunkley stated that the cleanup has gone well, although over 18,000 homes were still without electricity on Saturday night.
October 17, 2014Tags: Venezuela, UN Security Council, Human Rights
Venezuela Wins UN Security Council Seat
Venezuela secured a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council in the first round of voting yesterday, earning 181 votes in support of its candidacy—52 over the 129 vote threshold it needed to clinch the seat. The win was trumpeted by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro as a sign that the broader international community holds the country—which is caught in dire economic straits and has been roundly criticized for its record on human rights—in high esteem. “We are a country beloved and admired by the whole world,” Maduro is reported to have said upon receiving news of the ballot results.
Venezuela’s last bid for a non-permanent seat on the Security Council, in 2006, was strongly opposed by the U.S. and ultimately foundered. This year the country ran unopposed to fill the one available seat on the council from Latin America, and received unanimous support from a caucus of 33 Latin American and Caribbean nations. Significantly, the Obama administration did not mount a diplomatic campaign against the country’s bid, despite calls by U.S. lawmakers for such an effort.
However, Venezuela’s win has provoked some criticism. After the vote, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, said in a statement that “Venezuela’s conduct at the UN has run counter to the spirit of the UN Charter, and its violations of human rights at home are at odds with the Charter’s letter.” According to the UN Director of Human Rights Watch, Philippe Bolopion, “The security council’s new membership could prove more problematic on human rights issues, with several generally rights-friendly countries leaving and others coming on board with poor voting records.” Venezuela’s election to the Security Council comes just weeks after the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions called on the country to release opposition political leader, Leopoldo López.
October 16, 2014Tags: Brazil, Guarapuava, Prison Rebellion
After a 48-hour uprising, inmates at Guarapuava prison in the Brazilian state of Paraná yielded to authorities yesterday and released the 13 hostages that were being held in protest of poor prison conditions. Authorities reached an agreement with the prisoners, complying with at least one of their requests to move 29 inmates to a different penitentiary in Santa Catarina. Other demands included improving facility conditions, such as better food and treatment by guards.
The rebellion began on Monday morning when over 30 prisoners overpowered guards and took other inmates and prison guards hostage, transporting them to the roof where many were hooded and beaten. Only one wing of the penitentiary was overtaken, but close to 80 inmates participated in the uprising over the two days, burning mattresses, among other things.
While the rebellion was the first major uprising at Guarapuava in 15 years, prison rebellions are becoming more common in Brazil, with this being the twenty-first penitentiary rebellion in the state of Paraná this year. According to the International Centre of Penitentiary Studies, 247 out of every 100,000 Brazilian residents are serving time in prison, and Brazil currently has the world’s fourth-largest incarcerated population with 550,000 total inmates—coming in behind the U.S., China and Russia.
October 16, 2014Read More Tags: Guatemala, Judicial Reform
This year has been important for Guatemala’s judicial system. A number of judicial posts are due to be filled in 2014, and so far this year, a new electoral tribunal and attorney general have already taken office.
In July, the selection process for Supreme Court and appeals court magistrates began. However, these two selection processes were rife with irregularities and controversy. On October 9, Guatemala’s Constitution Court (CC) issued a provisional ruling suspending the results of the two selection processes, thus taking an important step towards compliance with international standards and national law.
Although Congress generally appoints judges in Guatemala, the selection process for judges and magistrates involves special comisiones de postulación (selection commissions), which provide Congress with a shortlist of possible candidates. The commissions are made up of representatives from various areas of the legal community: law school deans, judges and lawyers.
This mechanism—which is unique to Guatemala—was designed to depoliticize the selection process. However, it is clear that the model is no longer working as intended. The commissions have been influenced by special interests—including deans from new, privately-owned universities —and there are currently no tools to adequately counteract them. Meanwhile, national and international organizations, such as DPLF, CEJIL and the Open Society Justice Initiative, have reported that Guatemala’s judicial selection process violates national and international norms.
Guatemala’s 2014 judicial selection processes demonstrate that a profound modification of the proceedings is overdue. The more robust selection criteria developed by the CC in judgment 2143-2014—which requires commissions to research the candidates’ qualifications, interview the candidates, and explain their votes—were largely ignored by the commission to select appeals court judges, and only marginally adhered to by the Supreme Court selection commission. The selection processes were also compromised by conflicts of interest, because some commission members were candidates in the other selection process.
October 15, 2014Tags: Bolivia, Evo Morales, Violence Against Women
On Tuesday, Bolivian President Evo Morales—fresh from his reelection to a third term on Sunday—moved to strengthen legal measures that would help reduce domestic violence against women in the Andean country. Law 348, titled Ley Integral para Garantizar a las Mujeres una Vida Libre de Violencia (Comprehensive Law to Guarantee Women a Life Free of Violence) was enacted on March 9, 2013, but lacked a regulatory provision causing the implementation process to stall.
The regulation, which President Morales enacted Tuesday, creates mechanisms and policies for the prevention of domestic violence and violence against women and care for victims and provides much needed funds for the creation of domestic violence shelters and enhancement of the Fuerza Esdpecial de Lucha contra la Violencia (Task Force to Combat Violence—FELCV). The president acknowledged that the law alone would not curb violence against women and advocated for education, which he sees as a major contributing factor to the violence.
A 2013 report from the World Health Organization found that more than half of Bolivian women had experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. While justices have been criticized for their handling of domestic violence cases, District Attorney José Ponce drew attention to the lack of resources and the caseloads of overburdened districts. In the Max Paredes district of La Paz alone, each prosecutor has more than 500 cases a year, with only 10 prosecutors who are specially trained for domestic violence cases available.
October 14, 2014Tags: Guerrero, protests, missing students
On Monday, hundreds of demonstrators protested at the Palacio de Gobierno (Government Palace) in Chilpancingo, in the Mexican state of Guerrero, demanding that the government take further action to locate the remaining 43 students that went missing on September 26. The demonstrators called for the resignation of Governor Ángel Aguirre, vandalized various government buildings and set fire to the Palacio and the town hall, prompting the deployment of anti-riot police.
Protesters threatened more extreme actions if the authorities do not speed up the investigation, but Chilpancingo Mayor Mario Moreno Arcos urged the protestors to remain peaceful and reminded them not to lose sight of their goal of finding the missing students. Among the protesters were the families of the missing individuals, as well as other students and employees of the Coordinadora Estatal de Trabajadores de la Educación Guerrero (State Coordinator for Education Workers of Guerrero). Governor Aguirre denounced the attack on the Palacio and claimed that the protests and acts of violence yesterday had a political motive.
The students originally went missing following clashes with the police last month that led to the death of six students in Iguala. Protesters accused police of finding the missing students and then giving them up to Guerreros Unidos (Warriors United), a local drug cartel. Police have arrested 34 people allegedly connected to the disappearance of the students, including 26 police officers and four Guerreros Unidos members. Last week, the Attorney General’s Office reported that authorities are examining new graves that were recently discovered in Iguala, to determine if any of the bodies belong to the missing students.
October 14, 2014Read More Tags: Colombia, EITI, Transparency, Natural resource extraction
The extraction of natural resources, such as oil, gas, metals and minerals, is supposed to boost the economy and improve the quality of life of the residents of resource rich countries. However, in too many cases, resource extraction has led to social inequality, environmental degradation and corruption. In places like Colombia, it aggravates conflict.
The global Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative Standard (EITI Standard) is an international standard for the mining and hydrocarbon industries. By establishing a participatory approach that ensures the collaboration of governments, private sector actors, and civil society organizations, the EITI Standard promotes a fairer, more transparent accounting of resources.
The EITI was launched in 2002 by then-Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom to promote accountability and transparency in both the mining and hydrocarbon sectors and to the fight against the so-called “resource curse.” According to EITI Board Chair Clare Short and the head of the EITI Secretariat, Jonas Moberg, “public understanding of government revenues and expenditure over time could help public debate and inform choice of appropriate and realistic options for sustainable development.”
As of September 2014, 46 countries—working in collaboration with more than 80 private supporting companies and 21 partner organizations such as the Inter-American Development Bank—had implemented the initiative.
October 10, 2014Read More Tags: Mexico-U.S. Relations, Border security, U.S.-Mexico border
From an influx of Central American minors to concerns about ISIL and Ebola, the public image of the U.S.-Mexico border has taken a beating in recent weeks. Fortunately, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson rebutted some of the most common misperceptions in an important speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC yesterday.
While heart-rending images of unaccompanied children in detention centers remain vivid in our collective memory, Johnson made clear that the number of migrants is dramatically lower than it was when the surge began several months ago. As his deputy secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, said at a separate event at NDN last month, ultimate victory requires addressing the root causes of migration—namely, serious insecurity in the Northern Triangle of Central America—but at least the numbers are moving in the right direction. Johnson also discredited claims that four terrorists had crossed the border, and said that the government is intensifying efforts to protect U.S. citizens from Ebola.
In addition to dispelling these fears, Johnson declared a commitment to “more transparency about our border security,” delivering a thorough review of the huge investments made over the last 15 years in the Border Patrol, which has grown to become one of the largest agencies of the U.S. government (within the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security). Illegal migration peaked in 2000, with 1.6 million apprehensions that year, but has dramatically declined since then to around 400,000 apprehensions a year in recent years—a trend that Johnson credited in part to economic conditions in both the U.S. and Mexico, but also in large measure to the “deterrent factor” of border security.
October 10, 2014Tags: Leopoldo Lopez, Nicolás Maduro, United Nations (UN)
The family of imprisoned Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López announced yesterday that the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled in Opinion No. 26/2014 that López is being held illegally, and called for his release. The Working Group consists of five members appointed by the UN Human Rights Council that investigate possible cases of arbitrary detention, and they have been working on the Lopéz case since he was arrested on February 18 for the alleged incitement of violence during widespread protests.
López, the national coordinator of the opposition party Voluntad Popular (Popular Will), is being held at the Ramo Verde military prison in Miranda state. In addition to determining that López’ detention was “arbitrary,” the Working Group asked the Venezuelan government for reparations for his detention. President Nicolás Maduro’s government had previously met with the Working Group to defend its treatment of López and argue against López’ claims, although they were unsuccessful. The group further noted that his imprisonment appeared to be motivated by political opinion.
The government detained hundreds of demonstrators involved in the anti-government protests that erupted in February, including Mayors Daniel Ceballos and Enzo Scarano from San Cristobal and San Diego, respectively. The government is currently facing numerous allegations of human rights violations surrounding both the arrests and the treatment of its prisoners. International criticism of the detentions has increased in recent weeks, with calls for the release of prisoners from U.S. President Barack Obama and OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza.
October 10, 2014Read More Tags: Stephen Harper, Coalition against ISIS, ISIS, Barack Obama
On Tuesday, the Harper Conservative government decided with its majority in the Canadian House of Commons to engage Canada in the U.S.-led mission against ISIS. In so doing, the Canadian government will carry out a mix of air strikes, surveillance, training and humanitarian aid. The mission is meant to last six months, but will be subject to assessment and review within that period. There is, however, the possibility that it could be extended or expanded.
The New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Liberals opposed the move. As requested, the opposition was able to have a full-throated debate, as a sovereign and healthy democracy should.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the case for the ISIS mission using arguments similar to those of U.S. President Barack Obama. Given its senseless violence and genocidal actions, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is a brutal, murderous force that has a total disregard for the rule of law and basic humanitarian principles. With some ISIS recruits coming from Western countries such as Canada, Harper argued that it has become imperative for the Canadian government to either collaborate with the coalition abroad or face a more serious problem at home with homegrown terrorism.
The mission is UN-sanctioned, and involves over 50 countries, including key Arab states and our traditional allies, such as the U.S., France and Great Britain. Doing nothing would have been unthinkable: on this, most Canadians could agree. The real question was to determine the nature and the extent of Canadian involvement.
October 9, 2014Read More Tags: Bolivian Elections, Evo Morales, Indigenous Rights
Bolivian President Evo Morales is expected to be elected to a third term in office on October 12—and not by a small margin. A September 30 poll conducted by French global market research company Ipsos predicts that the incumbent will receive a comfortable 59 percent of the vote.
Meanwhile, opposition candidates Samuel Doria Medina of the Unidad Demócrata (Democratic Unity—UD), Jorge Quiroga of the Partido Demócrata Cristiano (Democratic Christian Party—PDC), Juan del Granado of the Movimiento Sin Miedo (Movement without Fear—MSM) and Fernando Vargas of the Partido Verde de Bolivia (Bolivian Green Party—PVB) are each expected to receive less than 15 percent of the vote individually.
Among opposition circles, speculation is rife that the increased number of eligible Bolivian voters (totaling 6.5 million) and the alleged pro-Morales bias of the Tribunal Supremo Electoral (Supreme Electoral Tribunal) indicate a fraudulent electoral process. Doria Medina, earning an estimated 13 percent of the vote in the recent Ipsos poll, has also claimed that the ruling Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement for Socialism—MAS) government is manipulating television advertising allocation in favor of the president.
“They have aired up to 60 negative spots on television against us, and when we tried to respond to them with our own spots, the Electoral Tribunal denied us permission,” Doria Medina told Andres Oppenheimer of the Miami Herald in September. “Likewise, we put campaign signs on the streets, and the government ordered police to remove them. The government has a monopoly of public signs,” Medina said.
However, opposition members attempting to make sense of Morales’ expected win should look no further than the president’s overwhelming support from the country’s historically marginalized Aymara and Quechua populations, which form an important percentage of Bolivia’s population. Morales’ presidency has been marked by mass Indigenous political participation in government affairs, an achievement unheard of in previous administrations.
October 9, 2014Tags: Mexican students, Guerrero Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto
Thousands took to the streets across Mexico on Wednesday over a group of 43 students that have been missing since September 26, when student protestors clashed with police in the town of Iguala in the state of Guerrero. The incident left six dead—including three students and three locals—and 56 students reported missing. As a result, the Peña Nieto administration has faced increasing criticism domestically and internationally.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticized the government in an 11-page letter to Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, Mexico’s Interior Minister, saying that despite attempts by the president to find missing persons and aid their families, success has been marginal, not only in the case of Iguala but in recent years with increased numbers of disappearances and an inadequate system for dealing with and preventing such cases. “Mexico is facing a national human rights and security crisis that demands a far more serious response from the federal government,” said José Miguel Vivanco, director of HRW’s Americas division. The Organization of American States and the United States government have also put pressure on Mexican authorities to locate the missing students.
Although 13 students have since returned home, the whereabouts of 43 are still unknown and some claim to have last seen those missing being driven away in police vehicles following the September clash. On Saturday 28 bodies were found in shallow, mass graves outside of Iguala, but were burned too badly to be identified, although many believe they are the remains of some of the missing students.
Earlier this week, President Enrique Peña Nieto deployed federal troops to Iguala and 30 people have been detained in relation to the incident. “Like all the Mexican society, I am shocked by this situation and I can assure you that there will be no impunity,” said president Peña Nieto on Twitter.
October 8, 2014Tags: Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, MUD, PSUV
Jesus Torrealba, the new chief of Venezuela’s Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Democratic Unity Roundtable—MUD) opposition coalition, has targeted Venezuela’s 2015 parliamentary elections as the opposition’s next strategic opportunity to end chavista rule. After narrowly losing the presidential election to President Nicolás Maduro in 2013, the opposition coalition is now looking to win a majority in the National Assembly next year in order to put pressure on the president and potentially force a recall referendum in 2016.
Although the ruling Partido Socialist Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela—PSUV) maintains control over the executive and legislative branches, Maduro’s administration has been beleaguered by a rapidly declining economy, 63 percent inflation, high crime rates, and shortages of basic goods.
In addition to the months-long protests against the Maduro government that engulfed several major cities in Venezuela earlier this year, the administration has also come under fire from a dissident faction on the Left critical of what it sees as a departure from the Bolivarian Revolution’s ideals. "What we have now is deterioration ...This is chavismo's worst moment ever," Gonzalo Gomez Frieire, leader of the dissident Marea Socialista (socialist tide) told Reuters.
While the MUD has historically been known as a fractured party—most notably when former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles and imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo López responded differently to the popular protests in February—many see an equally fractured PSUV as the primary explanation for Maduro’s lack of an adequate response to Venezuela’s recession.
President Maduro’s approval rate dropped to 35 percent in September in light of the continued economic crisis.
October 7, 2014Read More Tags: Brazil, Marina Silva, Religion
At the front of one of Paraná’s largest Pentecostal churches, beneath a ceiling of glowing neon tiles arranged in the pattern of a giant cross, are two ornately framed pictures: one is of a new $300 million, 10,000-seat temple in São Paulo, and another is of a future $122 million, 5,000-seat structure here in downtown Curitiba.
Brazilian evangelicals are looking to the future—but Marina Silva, despite being the sole Pentecostal presidential candidate in the election, is not a part of their plans.
“What we want is someone who can open doors for the church,” Alessandre Freitas, a lead pastor of this congregation of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, told me after delivering a fiery two-hour sermon Sunday night that left his voice hoarse. “I think with Dilma it will be better.”
That conviction bore out Sunday when many evangelicals voted for President Dilma Rousseff—who is nominally a Catholic, but also a strong ally to the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, the nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination after the Assemblies of God (to which Silva belongs). Both are charismatic Pentecostal faiths where pastors and laypeople alike invoke the name of Jesus to heal the sick and chase away demons.
Rather than being motivated by faith to support Silva, many evangelical Christians voted with the conviction that what’s best for the church is a strong and powerful ally in Palácio do Planalto. That meant voting for Dilma Rousseff, who won 41.5 percent of the overall vote, while center-right candidate Aécio Neves took 33.7 percent and Silva captured only 21.3 percent. Because no contender garnered an outright majority, Brazilians will return to the polls October 26 to choose between Rousseff and Neves.
October 7, 2014Tags: Supreme Court, LGBT Rights, Same-Sex Marriage, Social inclusion
The United States Supreme Court yesterday refused to review a series of appeals court decisions that overturned same-sex marriage bans in five states. The decision effectively legalizes same-sex marriage in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin, bringing the total number of U.S. states where same-sex marriage are legal to 24. That number could soon rise to 30, given that the same appeals courts whose decisions the Supreme Court declined to review have jurisdiction over another six states with same-sex marriage bans.
While the high court’s action was lauded by LGBT rights advocates, the decision to put off a review of the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans leave the country without a coherent, national policy on the issue. “[…T]he court’s delay in affirming the freedom to marry nationwide prolongs the patchwork of state-to-state discrimination and the harms and indignity that the denial of marriage still inflicts on too many couples in too many places,” said Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, a marriage equality advocacy organization.
According to a report by the Pew Research Religion & Public Life Project, the only other country to share such a patchwork approach to same-sex marriage legalization is Mexico. In the Americas, four countries have legalized same-sex marriage at the national level—Argentina, Brazil, Canada, and Uruguay. With the exception of Canada—which is not included in the report—these countries all scored higher than the U.S. on LGBT rights in the latest AQ Social Inclusion Index, published in the Summer 2014 issue.
Monday Memo: Brazilian Elections – Gay Marriage – Renewable Energy – Missing Mexican Students – Peruvian Elections – Mining in Argentina
October 6, 2014Read More Tags: Brazilian elections, Peruvian Elections, Same-Sex Marriage
Brazil’s presidential elections lead to runoff: As predicted, Brazilians will return to the polls on October 26 to vote for president in a second round of elections—but in a last-minute surprise, challenger Aécio Neves of the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (Brazilian Social Democracy Party—PSDB) will face Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. In Sunday’s first-round election, Rousseff earned 41.5 percent of the first-round votes, while Neves won 33.7 percent and Marina Silva of the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (Brazilian Socialist Party—PSB)—widely thought to be Rousseff’s main challenger—captured only 21.3 percent of the vote. Since Rousseff failed to capture more than 50 percent of the vote, she and Neves will continue to campaign, as will gubernatorial candidates in the states of Rio Grande do Sul, Ceará, and Rio Grande do Norte. Former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who supports Neves, said Sunday that he hoped Silva would throw her support behind Neves to unseat Rousseff.
U.S. Supreme Court rejects appeals of gay marriage: In a surprising judicial decision on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected appeals of lower court decisions reversing same-sex marriage bans in five states—Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. As a result of the decision, the number of U.S. states permitting same-sex marriage increases to 24, plus the District of Columbia. The court’s decision will likely also permit same-sex couples to marry in Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wyoming, where appeals courts have already struck down the states’ same-sex marriage bans. Although the U.S. Supreme Court could still hear future cases on same-sex marriage, its decision today sends a strong message to lower court judges that “rulings striking down marriage bans are consistent with the U.S. Constitution.”
Domestic renewable energy market opens in Chile: This week, new legislation in Chile that opens up the country’sdomestic renewable energy market to Chilean homeowners is now in effect. In late September, the Chilean Controller approved regulatory language to implement Law 20.571, which provides incentives for Chilean homeowners to install renewable energy sources and will allow “residential generators” in Chile to connect their energy systems to the grid and receive payments for surplus electricity. Last month, Chile also became the first South American country to tax carbon dioxide emissions in an attempt to encourage cleaner sources of energy and cut greenhouse gas emissions. Presently, about 80 percent of Chile’s energy is generated by fossil fuels.
Missing Mexican college students may be buried in mass graves: Mexican authorities have discovered six mass graves in Iguala, Mexico that may contain the bodies of dozens of college students who were training to be teachers and who went missing last week after deadly protests in Guerrero state. While 15 of the missing students were later located alive, another 43 students are still missing. So far, at least 28 bodies have been recovered from the mass graves, but Guerrero state Health Minister Lázaro Mazón said it could take weeks before the remains are identified. Meanwhile, two hitmen interrogated by authorities admitted that they killed 17 students on orders from a leader of the Guerreros Unidos gang shortly after the protests.
Peruvian elections marred by violence and corruption: Sunday’s municipal and regional elections in Peru have highlighted political corruption and drug violence in the Andean nation, where at least seven gubernatorial candidates are currently under investigation for drug trafficking or related crimes. The Friday before the elections, Shining Path rebels ambushed a four-vehicle police convoy, killing two and wounding five officers tasked with protecting election materials in the Apurimac and Ene River Valley in Ayacucho, where over half of Peru’s cocaine is produced. Before the election, two mayoral candidates from coca-growing towns were also assassinated. According to independent watchdog group Transparencia, 1,395 of the 126,000 candidates running in Sunday’s elections were convicted of a crime.
New mining district to be created in Catamarca: The government of Catamarca province in Argentina will create a provincial mining district to help advance two mining projects in the region—the Agua Rica and Cerro Atajo projects. Catamarca's government has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Canada-based Yamana Gold, which has a stake in both mining projects. The agreement would establish a working relationship between Yamana and the government, create a combined entity that includes the Agua Rica and Cerro Atajo projects, and would enable the state-owned provincial mining company CAMYEN to own a maximum 5 percent stake. Yamana is considering devloping the Agua Rica project in conjunction with others, though the project is currently 100 percent owned by Yamana.
October 3, 2014Read More Tags: Chico Mendes, Marina Silva, Brazilian elections
Entry into the Casa Chico Mendes Museum is free, but it’ll cost you $20,000 to visit the environmental activist’s assassin. He lives down the street—if you’re interested.
I was. I recently visited Brazil’s dusty Wild West town of Xapuri to look into the legacy of Francisco “Chico” Mendes, most famous defender of the Amazon rainforest and an inspiration to a generation of environmentalists—most notably Marina Silva, who may be the next president. How Brazil treated the memory Mendes—and his assassins, who have brazenly returned to their nearby ranch like characters from an old cowboy film—might provide a glimpse into the nation’s concern for environmentalism and activism, and maybe also into the candidacy of Silva.
In the 1980s, Mendes had rallied rubber tappers and Indigenous people in the Amazon to forcefully resist the encroachment of farmers and cattle ranchers, who were clearing a football field-sized swath of forest every second and spewing carbon dioxide pollution into the atmosphere. Mendes is an official national hero and a world-recognized activist, so I thought it was reasonable to also expect him to be revered in Xapuri.
“Chico Mendes has been a symbolic force for people all over the world,” the international environmental advocate Casey Box told me. “Other nations see him as a major force against industries and pushing back against aggression. He’s had a global reach.”
But in Xapuri itself, I couldn’t even find a postcard of Mendes for sale. While Box said he recalled seeing an Indigenous activist in Indonesia wearing a Chico Mendes t-shirt, the only Brazilian I’ve ever seen wearing a Mendes t-shirt was a staff worker at the Casa Chico Mendes Museum, which is where the activist was blasted by a twenty-gauge shotgun in front of his wife and children days before Christmas in 1988.
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