We at Americas Quarterly were extremely sad to hear that after four years of battling colon cancer, Bob Pastor passed away on January 8, 2013. For many of the AQ editorial staff, he was a friendly contributor to and supporter of AQ—one of our most prominent. For me, though, he was the quintessential scholar/policymaker/intellectual entrepreneur. Bob represented a particular type in the U.S. Latin Americanist community which—at the risk of glorifying the past—there seem to be fewer and fewer of nowadays.
Bob joined President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Council (NSC) as the senior advisor for Latin America and the Caribbean at the ripe old age of 29, as a freshly minted Harvard PhD. While there, he was the author of one of the most important Latin American policy initiatives of the day: returning the Panama Canal to Panama. While for many, the Carter years are marked more by the collapse of the brutal Somoza dynasty, the coming to power of the Sandinistas (about which Bob wrote the brilliant and unequalled policy insider’s story Condemned to Repetition) and the escalation of the guerrilla movements in Central America, the tone set by the return of the Panama Canal and Carter’s human rights policy became a symbol of hope and solidarity for the citizens and activists in the region struggling against autocratic military regimes.
Later, at Emory University’s Carter Center, Bob helped develop and refine the standards for electoral monitoring and observation, not just in the region but around the world. As a professor at Emory and later American University, he became a much-beloved mentor to students, all the while keeping up a torrid pace of publishing.
U.S. acting deputy assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs, Edward Alex Lee, and Cuban director-general of the U.S. Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, met in Havana on Thursday to discuss accords on safe, legal and orderly migration between the two countries.
This was the second meeting on migration between the two parties since July 2013, aimed at examining the status of accords signed by both governments in 1994 and 1995. The accords were put into place to combat illegal immigration and smuggling, after the Cuban government allowed thousands to leave the island on makeshift rafts prompting the balsero crisis of 1994. The discussions were suspended by President George W. Bush in 2003 and again in 2011 after Cuba sentenced American USAID contractor Allan Gross to 15 years in prison.
Cuban representatives criticized the U.S.’ “wet foot, dry foot policy,” which gives asylum to Cubans who reach U.S shores, saying that it is the main cause for illegal departure of Cuban citizens to the United States. The U.S. issued 24,727 Cuban immigrant visas in 2013.
The meeting took place in a “respectful environment” according to a statement released by the Cuban government on Thursday. They also expressed willingness to continue dialogue around issues of mutual interest between the two countries, including resuming direct postal service. The Obama administration has stated that the talks do not imply changes in U.S-Cuba policy, but will only ensure safe migration.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro met with regional leaders on Wednesday, including one of his staunchest opponents, Henrique Capriles, following the assassination of former Miss Venezuela Mónica Spear and her ex-husband, and the shooting of their five-year-old daughter. The meeting, originally scheduled for late January, convened governors and mayors from the 79 municipalities with the highest crime rates in the country to discuss how to stem the tide of violence sweeping Venezuela.
While acknowledging the rise in crime, during the meeting Maduro said it wasn’t the time to politicize violence, but rather work together. Capriles, who ran against Maduro in the 2013 presidential elections and has publically denounced the election outcomes as well as the integrity of his opponent, also supported collaboration, stating that he was willing to put their political differences aside to "fight the lack of security” in Venezuela.
However, not all oppositional leaders are so willing to work with the administration. The former mayor of the Chacao municipality of Caracas, Leopoldo López, is blaming the government for Spear’s death, tweeting that “(t)his government is an accomplice of armed groups, judicial corruption, (and) arms trafficking.”
The death of 29 year-old Spear, who was shot and killed in an attempted robbery on Monday, caused a nationwide outcry in Venezuela. The South American nation claims the fifth-highest murder rate in the world, according to the United Nations. Five individuals have since been arrested for their alleged participation in the slaying.
They might be taking their cues from legendary Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, who was famous for helping out numerous communities in Colombia and donating parks and recreation centers to unprivileged communities. Or maybe they’re inspired by the legend of Jesús Malverde, the so-called narco-saint folk hero from Sinaloa, sometimes seen as a Mexican version of Robin Hood. On the other hand, they may feel threatened by the “self-defense” groups spawning in Michoacán and Colima—civil vigilante groups that have taken up arms against the cartels after declaring that local authorities are unable or unwilling to tackle organized crime battles head-on.
For whatever reason, drug cartels in different parts of Mexico took to the streets this holiday season in order to “give back,” and—ironic as it may sound— spread holiday cheer.
In the southern state of Oaxaca the impoverished communities of Viguera, Bugambilia and Calicanto were surprised on Three Kings Day (January 6) with bundles of toys, which mysteriously appeared in different points of the city, some with signs explaining that they were left there “so that people can see that the Zetas support humble people. ” Not surprisingly, these images did not make it into mainstream national media but were shared via Twitter.
The eerie irony behind these charitable acts is that the Zetas are known for being one of the most cold-blooded criminal groups of the country, often resorting to torture and public displays of their victims.
If 2013 saw a rebound in the Liberal brand nationally, how will 2014 fare for the ruling Conservatives on the federal scene? A year ago, the Conservative government, despite some good economic numbers, was facing a resurgent Liberal party in the midst of a leadership race with the emergence of the charismatic and likeable Justin Trudeau leading all other contenders. By the end of 2013, Trudeau had established his standing in the polls leading both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and official opposition leader Tom Mulcair.
The Canadian Senate scandal erupted in the spring of 2013, where three Conservative senators were accused of spending irregularities. They eventually left the Conservative caucus and were suspended from their duties. However, the scandal, along with the Trudeau leadership victory, marred what could have been a good year for the ruling Tories.
With the economy undergoing modest growth, most seemed appreciative of Harper’s economic management. And just a few weeks ago, Canada concluded a free trade agreement (yet to be ratified) with the European Union. Still, by the end of 2013, the Tories were facing disapproval numbers hovering over the 60 percent mark, and had 29-30 percent voter choice number (voter intention).
The Tory prospects for 2014 may rest with how the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Liberals perform with their respective bases (generally progressive), and their appeal to disenchanted voters.
Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe and several members of his cabinet met with Dominican officials including Gustavo Montalvo, chief of staff to Dominican President Danilo Medina, on Tuesday as part of a newly formed bilateral commission. The group discussed various issues including the controversial September 23 ruling that would strip descendants of Haitian migrants of their citizenship, as well as commerce, migration, and security.
The discussion, which took place in the Haitian town of Ouanaminthe on the border with the Dominican Republic, marked the launch of several planned monthly meetings for the commission. While the ruling by the Constitutional Court cannot be appealed, representatives of the United Nations, European Union and CARICOM have agreed to observe the discussions in the hopes that the two countries can find a solution to the decision that would affect approximately 200,000 Dominicans.
The Dominican Republic has faced international criticism for the decision which would retroactively revoke citizenship for Dominicans who are descendants of undocumented immigrants who migrated to the country after 1929. The ruling would leave thousands of people stateless, as many Dominicans of Haitian descent do not possess Haitian citizenship.
The next bilateral meeting is scheduled for February 3 in the Dominican Republic.
President Dilma Rousseff said yesterday that Brazil will successfully host the 2014 FIFA World Cup, despite construction delays at numerous stadiums.
“We love soccer, and that’s why we’ll host this Cup with pride and make it the Cup of Cups,”Rousseff said via Twitter, just days after the Swiss newspaper 24 Heures published an interview with FIFA President Sepp Blatter in which Blatter claimed that the South American nation failed to begin preparations for the mega-tournament early enough.
"[Brazil] is the country which is the furthest behind since I've been at FIFA, and moreover, it's the only one that had so much time—seven years—to prepare itself," Blatter said in the interview.
Four of the 12 stadiums have missed the December 31 construction deadline set by FIFA. Financial problems, worker safety issues and construction-site accidents—including three worker deaths last year—have exacerbated delays. FIFA has since extended the construction deadline to April 15, only weeks before the competition kicks off on June 12 in São Paulo.
Likely top stories this week: Eduardo Campo and Marina Silva are expected to run in Brazil’s presidential elections; Chile suffers from drought and wildfires; Mexican police remove protesters; Nicaragua will start work on its canal in 2015; FIFA criticizes Brazil’s World Cup preparations.
Likely Campos-Silva Ticket in Brazil’s Next Elections: Pernambuco Governor Eduardo Campo and Former Brazilian Environmental Minister Marina Silva are expected to announce their candidacy this month for Brazil’s October 2014 presidential elections, challenging Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s bid for re-election. O Globo reported on Saturday that Campo will run for president and Silva will run for vice president, though this has not yet been confirmed by the candidates themselves. The two are expected to make an announcement at the January 17 meeting of the Brazilian Socialist Party (Partido Socialista Brasileiro—PSB).
Fires Rage in Chile During Drought: As Chile suffers its fourth severe drought in as many years, Chilean emergency workers are battling 19 wildfires in rural areas outside Santiago. The fires have affected 16,200 hectares (40,000 acres) of land and may cause more than $100 million in damages, according to Chile’s national emergency service. The fires started on Saturday near the town of Melipilla and covered Santiago in a blanket of smoke, causing the worst air pollution the city has dealt with in years.
Mexican Police Disperse Protesters: Mexican police took control of the plaza of the Monumento a la Revolución on Sunday, dispersing protesters who had occupied the plaza since September. Most of the protesters are teachers and members of the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (National Coordinator of Educational Workers—CNTE) who are protesting Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s new education reforms. The police took over the plaza while only 60 people were present, but the CNTE said Monday that reinforcements would arrive from across the country to continue the protests.
Nicaragua Canal Construction Delayed: The head of Nicaragua’s canal authority, Manuel Coronel Kautz, said that construction on a $40 billion Nicaragua canal project will likely be delayed until 2015. Construction was first expected to begin in May 2014. The canal, proposed as an alternative to the Panama Canal, has been challenged by environmentalists and by critics of the Hong Kong-based HKND Group, which will be building the canal.
FIFA President Criticizes Brazil over World Cup Delays: FIFA President Sepp Blatter said in an interview Monday that no host country has been as far behind in its World Cup preparations as Brazil, which will host the upcoming competition starting on June 12. Six of the country’s 12 stadiums have failed to meet their December 31 deadlines after numerous construction delays and accidents, and several of the stadiums are not expected to be completed until April. Blatter said that although Brazil has had seven years to prepare for the tournament, it “has started work much too late.”
Happy Holidays! The AQ team is on vacation until January 6. Until then, readers eager for analysis on the region can always catch up on our print issues and remember to give the gift of AQ to their loved ones for the holidays.
Government officials from the Dominican Republic and Haiti will meet next month to discuss a controversial court decision that would take citizenship away from thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent, Haiti’s foreign minister Pierre Richard Casimir said on Thursday. A commission made up of five officials from both countries will meet in Ouanaminthe, a town on the Haitian border, on January 7.
Earlier this week, Dominican President Danilo Medina and Haitian President Michel Martelly, met during a summit of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) and Petrocaribe. The two leaders agreed to create a commission to discuss the court ruling, which could retroactively render approximately 200,000 individuals stateless. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who chaired the meeting, announced the creation of the joint commission, which will have Venezuela, the UN, the European Union and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) as observers.
The ruling has become source of international debate, as advocates of those affected by the decision accuse the Dominican Republic of discriminating agaimst Dominicans of Haitian descent and violating their human rights. Some Haitian diaspora leaders have even called for an international boycott of the Dominican tourism industry.
The United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHCR) has urged the Dominican Republic to restore nationality to those affected by the court decision. Critics of the court decision also published an open letter to Dominican president Medina condemning the decision.
The Cuban government announced yesterday that it will be loosening restrictions on the purchase of new and used foreign-made cars. Under the new policy, Cubans will no longer need a permit issued by the Transportation Ministry to purchase cars from state vendors.
Until 2011, Cubans could only buy and sell cars made before 1959. But the new regulations approved by the Council of Ministers on Wednesday will “eliminate existing mechanisms of approval for the purchase of motor vehicles from the state,” according to state newspaper Granma. As a result, the paper reported that “the retail sale of new and used motorcycles, cars, vans, small trucks and mini buses for Cubans and foreign residents, companies and diplomats is freed up.”
Despite the change in policy, the Cuban government will maintain its monopoly on the sale of all cars on the island. According to Bert Hoffman of the German Institute of Global and Area Studies, this will cause car prices to remain high due to lack of competition in the market.
The change in policy comes in the context of Cuba’s reforms—knows as the lineamientos (guidelines)—which are led by President Raúl Castro and are meant to modernize the socialist regime’s struggling economy.
Last Tuesday, Uruguayan’s Senate approved a bill in which the State will regulate the production and sale of marijuana and allow citizens to grow the plant at home.
The legislation was approved in a historic Senate vote of 16 to 13, and will allow pharmacies to sell up to 40 grams of cannabis a month to a list of registered consumers over 18 years old. According with the legislation, Uruguayan residents will be permitted to cultivate up to six plants of marijuana in their homes and up to 99 plants through government-authorized cannabis cultivation clubs.
A new state-run agency called the Instituto de Regulación y Control del Cannabis (The Institute for Regulation and Control of Cannabis—IRCCA) will be in charge of issuing licenses to consumers and controlling the production, distribution and trade of marijuana.
Uruguayan President José Mujica has defended the bill as a way to fight against violent drug-related crimes. "Someone has to start in South America," Mujica said in a 2012 interview with Brazil’s O Globo newspaper. "Somebody has to be first, because we are losing the battle against drugs and crime on the continent.”
The U.S. House Foreign Affairs Western Hemisphere Subcommittee chose the fitting location of Tucson, Arizona, to convene a field hearing on trade facilitation in the border region on December 9. Dotted with cacti, this college town lies at the heart of the desert landscape that belonged to Mexico until the Gadsden Purchase of 1853. Today, Mexico is Arizona’s largest trading partner, yet perceptions of the border often identify it as a security threat rather than as an economic opportunity.
Last week’s hearing marked a refreshing effort to rebalance policymakers’ attention. In his opening statement, Chairman Matt Salmon (AZ-R) defined the objective: “to get at what we need to do in the public and private sectors to improve border infrastructure and better facilitate trade without letting down our guard on security efforts.” Recognizing that the two economies are deeply intertwined, he pointed to “the good news”—that the commercial relationship continues to grow—and “the bad news”—that ports of entry face significant challenges in keeping up with this growth.
Western Hemisphere Subcommittee Ranking Member Albio Sires (NJ-D) alluded to the solutions needed to resolve tensions between border security and trade facilitation, while Representative Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-D) criticized “long and unpredictable wait times” at the border. Representative Ron Barber (AZ-D) unequivocally stated that “we must expedite the legal flow of traffic,” and Representative David Schweikert (AZ-R) cited the “amazing opportunity” represented by the potential for lower energy costs bolstering a manufacturing renaissance on both sides of the border.
On both sides of the aisle, the consensus was that the security-versus-trade debate has been overly skewed towards the former.
Last week, hundreds of Latin American leaders from the public and private sectors descended upon Rio de Janeiro to join former President Bill Clinton for Clinton Global Initiative Latin America.
Former President Clinton has long demonstrated his admiration for this corner of the world. But convening CGI here for the first time turns a new page for the former U.S. president’s philanthropic NGO. And for Latin American advocates of financial innovation, it amplifies an important conversation.
A meeting looking to address global problems is nothing new to Rio, or anywhere else for that matter. But what’s fresh about CGI’s forum is what it’s willing to ask about Latin America’s most pressing challenges—is there an opportunity for the impact economy to solve them?
That question is an important one, especially considering the region’s struggle with social inequity and systemic poverty. While traditional models of charity, corporate social responsibility and government subsidies have had some success lifting people out of poverty, they have repeatedly failed to improve Latin America’s status as the most unequal place on earth.
The impact economy rests on the belief that social problems can be solved through enterprising strategies—but making this happen doesn’t take good intentions, it takes some good risks. We need to enter the hybrid world where companies—impact enterprises—are formed to sell a product or a service that improves the quality of life of a marginalized person and where investors—impact investors—are willing to use capital to support these socially focused businesses, even if the returns are limited.
The Brazilian government announced that it is not considering granting asylum to Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor who is best known for leaking classified NSA documents.
The announcement comes after Snowden sent an “open letter to the people of Brazil” in which he offered to help conduct a Congressional probe into the NSA spying scandal. Brazil was outraged when details emerged that the U.S. was spying on Brazilian citizens, as well as Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and the national oil giant Petrobras.
Snowden’s letter, which was posted online and published by the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo on Tuesday, did not qualify as an official request, a Brazilian government spokesman said.
A previous request for asylum, which was sent by Amnesty International on Snowden’s behalf in July, also went unanswered by the Brazilian government. Brazilian authorities said they would not respond to a “generic letter.” Snowden is currently living in Russia under temporary asylum set to expire in August.
Despite the national outrage that Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo called “an inadmissible and unacceptable violation of Brazilian sovereignty," and Rousseff’s cancellation of a state visit to the U.S. over the spying allegations, Brazilian local media later revealed that the Agência Brasileira de Inteligência (Brazilian Intelligence Agency—ABIN) had also spied on diplomatic allies, including the United States.
On Saturday nights in central Havana, a scene unfolds that defies stereotypes on this communist island famous for its salsa, strong rum and revolutionary heroes.
With the hiss of a fog machine, the country’s iconic rock star, Diony Arce, emerges from the darkness inside a local theater. He grabs a microphone and launches into a gut-wrenching scream that echoes through this quiet, residential neighborhood.
Diony is the lead singer of Zeus—the gods of Cuban metal. As the loud, abrasive music kicks in, this crowd of several hundred young fans unleashes a pent up flood of emotion.
They violently push and pull at each other while shouting up to Diony to play their favorite songs.
“Vamos a la Silla Electrica!”—“Violento Metrobus!”—“Viven en Mí!”
Diony and the band have performed in Havana since the 1980s. They’re the longest-running metal band in the country and they have the scars to prove it.
When the band first started performing, this American-influenced music was officially banned by the Castro government. It was seen as "music of the enemy." Long-haired, tattooed rockers—or “freakies”—were thrown in jail, and concerts were broken up by state police.
Thirty years later this music is accepted, but only within the official Agencia Cubana de Rock (Cuban Agency of Rock), a government institution overseeing the country’s rock scene. Formed in 2007, the Agency has created a space for rock bands to perform their music and gather crowds without worry of police crackdowns. The trade-off, however, is a government system managing the freedom of artists.
This small opening for rock music is a sign of the changing reality in Cuba, but it is also a difficult compromise for the country's artists.
All eyes were on Detroit earlier this month as Federal Judge Steven Rhodes ruled that the city could discharge public pensions, along with other debt, as it restructures under Chapter 9 bankruptcy.
While other cities look at the ruling as a viable—though unfortunate—solution for their financial woes, there is one especially troubled economy that will not be able to take advantage of the ruling, or file for bankruptcy at all: Puerto Rico.
Last Wednesday, Moody’s Investors Service announced that it may downgrade Puerto Rico’s general-obligation debt to “junk” (noninvestment) status. All three credit rating agencies currently have the island at just above junk status, but with "weakening liquidity, increasing reliance on external short-term debt, and constrained market access, within the context of a weakened and now sluggish economy," a downgrade seems increasingly likely.
Puerto Rico’s high debt is exacerbated by its pension obligations—25 percent of all workers were employed by the Puerto Rican government before former Governor Luis Fortuño cut more than 40,000 jobs during his tenure—as well as budget deficits that predate the Great Recession and the prolonged deterioration of the island’s economy.
Now entering its eighth straight year of recession, Puerto Rico has found it difficult to recover as U.S. federal funding has dried up, energy prices have skyrocketed and tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans have fled the island looking for better opportunities on the mainland. Although Detroit’s debt pales in comparison to Puerto Rico’s—as of 2013, the island’s debt is nearly four times larger than Detroit’s –as a commonwealth, Puerto Rico is ineligible for bankruptcy.
Three hundred construction workers went on strike in the Brazilian city of Manaus on Monday after a fellow worker, Marcleudo de Melo Ferreira, fell to his death on Saturday. The workers of the Arena Amazonia stadium have demanded better conditions, saying that the pressure to complete construction is affecting their safety. The Prosecutor’s Office has suspended work on the stadium until the contractor provides a detailed report on the safety conditions at the stadium.
With the stadium already behind schedule, laborers like de Melo Ferreira have been working 20 hours per day to ensure the completion of Arena Amazonia by the revised January 15 deadline. More than half of the 12 World Cup stadiums are facing delays in construction or repairs. In November, a crane collapsed killing two workers at the building site for Arena Corinthians in São Paulo, set to host the opening game on June 12. The accident delayed the stadium’s completion, now planned for mid-April. In total, five workers have died at World Cup stadium construction sites in Brazil thus far.
Workers in the city of Curitiba also went on strike last week in protest of late payment. The delays in building of venues and related worker deaths come at a time when many Brazilians are disapproving of the 3.5 billion being spent on preparing for the World Cup. In June, millions of Brazilians filled the streets in seven major cities in protest of misspending by the state, demanding better health care, education and public transport.
During the course of the first leg of the Mandela funeral celebrations last week, one event made news around the world—U.S. President Barack Obama shaking hands with Cuban President Raul Castro. Speculation immediately surfaced about whether it was a planned event, and whether it meant an eventual new beginning for Cuban‒U.S. relations.
Judging from the reactions of both presidents’ spokespeople, it was a circumstantial meeting. To not shake hands would have been more significant.
Back in the spring of 2012, both Canada and the United States could not agree with their Latin American and Caribbean partners on a communiqué about the outcome of the sixth Summit of the Americas—in part because both the Canadian and American leaders opposed the formal inclusion of Cuba at the next summit. Last week’s event between Obama and Castro should not be interpreted as a change of heart.
Yet, basking in the accolades and homages to Nelson Mandela and his spirit, one cannot escape the thought that Mandela himself would have approved of the gesture as a first step to an eventual normalization of relations between these two antagonists.
Likely top stories this week: Former President Michelle Bachelet wins Chile’s presidential elections; Protesters rally in support of ousted Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro; USAID plans to pull out of Ecuador by September 2014; the FARC’s 30-day ceasefire goes into effect; a study finds that Mexico leads the world in kidnappings.
Michelle Bachelet Wins Chilean Elections: Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet won Sunday's runoff election to become president of Chile again, easily defeating conservative opponent Evelyn Matthei with 62 percent of the vote. Matthei, meanwhile, captured only 37 percent of the vote—the poorest showing by the Chilean Right in two decades. Bachelet served as president from 2006 to 2010 and left office with an 84 percent approval rating, and will be sworn in in March 2014.
Thousands of Colombians March For Mayor Petro: Supporters of Bogotá's recently-dismissed mayor, Gustavo Petro, rallied in the streets last Friday to protest Petro's removal from office. On December 9, Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez accused Petro of mismanagement of Bogotá's trash collection system and barred him from holding political office for 15 years. Protesters say that Ordóñez, who is not an elected official and is an ally of former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, has no authority to remove Petro from office.
USAID Makes Plans to Leave Ecuador: The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is expected to pull its $32 million aid program out of Ecuador by September 2014, according to a letter written Thursday by USAID Mission Director Christopher Cushing. The move comes six months after Bolivian President Evo Morales ordered USAID to leave his country. USAID has not been successful at renegotiating its contract with Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, and Correa has said he suspects the organization of meddling in his country's affairs.
FARC Ceasefire Begins: A 30-day ceasefire by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) began on Sunday as the rebels continue peace negotiations with the Colombian government in Havana. The ceasefire was declared on December 8 after a rebel bomb in the department of Cauca killed nine people. However, the rebels have said that the removal from office of Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro, a former M-19 guerrilla, will have an impact on the peace process. The Colombian government, meanwhile, will continue its operations against the FARC.
Mexcio Leads the World in Kidnappings: The new RiskMap 2014 report from the security company Control Risks found that Mexico had more kidnappings-for-ransom than anywhere else in the world this year, followed by India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Venezuela. Twenty percent of all kidnappings that happened in the world this year occurred in Mexico, according to the report.
On Sunday, December 15, Michelle Bachelet won 62 percent of Chile’s presidential run-off election, easily outpacing Evelyn Matthei’s 38 percent. On March 11, 2014, she will don Chile’s presidential sash for a second time, having served a previous term from 2006–2010. According to her 2013 electoral platform, she will focus on education, tax reform and adjustments (if not an outright overhaul) to the Chilean Constitution.
The three objectives are intertwined and they reflect Chile’s 25-year effort to responsibly reform a severely flawed constitution and legal system.
Forged under General Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship (1973–1990), Chile’s 1980 Constitution carved out a series of authoritarian enclaves, designed to allow General Pinochet to cloak his heavy-handed rule in the guise of democracy.
With an influential, unchecked military presence, weak legislature, concentrated presidential powers, and a binomial electoral system that ensured disproportionate conservative representation, Pinochet’s constitution hardly provided a bedrock for Latin America’s most advanced democracy.
Much to Chile’s credit, however, subsequent governments did not attempt to delegitimize this constitution outright—an approach that would likely have derailed the country’s heady economic growth. Rather, iterations of the center-left Concertación government (1990–2010) methodically reformed the document, always in close consultation with the private sector and the political opposition.
Juan Orlando Hernandez, the candidate for the conservative Partido Nacional (National Party), was confirmed as the new president of Honduras on Thursday. Hernandez won 36.9 percent of the vote, with opposition candidate Xiomara Castro of the Partido Libertad y Refundación (Liberty and Refoundation Party—Libre) coming in second with 28.8 percent of the votes, according to the Honduran electoral tribunal (TSE.) Castro, whose husband Manuel Zelaya was ousted as president during a 2009 coup, has rejected the results claiming there was fraud.
Libre emerged after the ousting of ex-president Zelaya as a left leaning alternative to the National Party. Libre has staged sit-ins and protests outside the offices of the TSE, which has refused to examine 3,604 tallies presented as evidence of fraud, says ex-president Zelaya. According to Libre’s legal representative, the TSE has also refused audits and inspections despite the fact that the voter registry included people who were dead or abroad. The party plans to ask the Supreme Court to demand a review of the election results, while Hernandez denies fraud and says his victory is legitimate.
The new president faces great challenges, as Honduras boasts rising inequality, widespread corruption and the world’s highest homicide rate. The most recent election was also affected by violence, as two Libre party leaders were assassinated on November 24 and a TV Journalist who openly opposed the 2009 coup was shot to death on December 10. Honduras remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist.
In the midst of a heated national debate on political reform, December 4 marked a milestone in Mexico’s electoral politics, as the upper house of Congress voted on legislation modifying 29 articles in the country’s constitution to allow consecutive re-election for mayoral and legislative positions.
Re-election will go into effect in 2018, and will allow mayors to run for two consecutive terms, while legislators can run for the same position for up to 12 years—though they’re required to run under the same political party they originally ran under. (This raises a number of questions regarding officials running under flimsy party alliances, which come and go faster than the seasons.) The president of Mexico and the mayor of Mexico City will be limited to serving one six-year term, however.
One of Mexico’s most ingrained mottos, born during the Revolution, has been “Effective Suffrage; No Re-election.” Back then, it was understandable that the country would unite under such a slogan, as the revolutionary objective was to overthrow Porfírio Diaz’ 31- year presidential tenure (with only one four-year break from 1880 to 1884).
Since then, however, political life in Mexico has evolved in ways in which allowing re-election could be positive.
International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) condemned Uruguay’s vote to legalize the production, sale and consumption of marijuana for those over the age of 18 yesterday. According to INCB President Raymond Yans, Uruguay has "knowingly decided to break the universally-agreed and internationally-endorsed treaty" with a decision that would endanger Uruguayan youth and "contribute to the earlier onset of addiction." Uruguay is a party to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which requires states to use marijuana only for medical and scientific purposes.
The reaction from the United Nations-affiliated INCB comes one day after the Uruguayan Senate passed a historic legalization bill. While The Netherlands, Canada, Israel, and the states of Colorado and Washington allow for legal medical or recreational use of marijuana, Uruguay will be the first country to also allow for the growth and trade of the substance.
President José Mujica, a former guerilla whose liberal-leaning government also approved bills to legalize abortions and same-sex marriage, has asserted that the legalization of marijuana will help to eradicate drug trafficking throughout the country and the violence associated with it. The country will set up a drug control board to regulate the marijuana industry in 120 days.
However, the legalization of marijuana is not without its restrictions. Under the new legislation, Uruguayan citizens who are 18 years or older will be permitted to keep up to six plants and produce no more than 480 grams of marijuana a year. Producers, vendors, and consumers will also be required to officially register with the government, who will monitor their usage. Tourists to Uruguay will not be permitted to produce or consume the substance.
Both domestic as well as external opinion is divided on the bill, but several Latin American leaders, including Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo have supported the legalization and regulation of marijuana.
With the exception of gas-rich Trinidad and Tobago, the 14 other countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) are energy importers. In fact, 93 percent of the region’s energy needs are met by oil imports, which average 13 percent of GDP. Venezuela is the main supplier of oil to the Caribbean through the PetroCaribe agreement, formed in 2005, which provides oil on attractive financing terms. However, declining oil production, deficient investment, and faltering leadership in Venezuela’s state-run oil company PDVSA cast doubt on the future of the arrangement. The termination of PetroCaribe would further wreak havoc on their tenuous fiscal situations. In many countries, Venezuela’s largesse has been a double-edged sword—affordable energy but increased reliance on imported oil.
Energy dependence and vulnerability are serious issues in the Caribbean, where residents suffer from high and fluctuating electricity costs, frequent blackouts and poor service. Electricity prices are some of the highest in the world, averaging US$0.33 per kilowatt hour compared to $0.09 per kilowatt hour in the United States. Oil reliance is stifling the Caribbean’s economy and the region must work towards diversifying its matrix if it wants to be competitive.
Natural gas might just be the solution. The Inter-American Development Bank recently held a Caribbean Energy Conference where panelists called for a transition to natural gas as a cheaper alternative. While natural gas would not be able to compete with subsidized fossil fuels from Venezuela, the termination of the PetroCaribe program would open the door for expanding the natural gas market. Jamaica, for example, pays 60 percent of crude upfront at market prices ($103 per barrel), and finances the rest with 1 percent interest over forty years—essentially receiving a 40 percent discount on their oil imports. The price of natural gas in the region ($10 per million BTUs) is not competitive with this discounted price. But an energy market where buyers had to pay market prices would drastically change the game for natural gas.
The Mexican Senate voted 95 to 28 to pass President Enrique Peña Nieto’s signature energy reform bill Wednesday morning, just one week after the body approved the electoral reform bill that the conservative Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN) set as a precondition to bringing the controversial measure to the Senate floor. If passed by the Chamber of Deputies, the bill would loosen the state’s control over the oil industry.
President Peña Nieto has advocated for various reforms since he took office in 2012, including telecommunications and education laws, but the energy reform bill has been seen as the centerpiece of his efforts to boost the Mexican economy. If passed, the bill would allow for private investment, exploration and profit sharing with the state-owned Pemex. Those actions were banned 75 years ago when President Lazaro Cardenas nationalized the oil industry.
While the alliance between the PAN and the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) has majorities in both chambers, there has been vocal opposition to the passage of the bill. Legislators from the leftist Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Democratic Revolution Party—PRD) interrupted debate on the measure on Tuesday in an effort to keep it from passing before the end of the year. The PRI and PAN have been accused of “treason” by PRD members for championing the bill that would inject private capital into the industry that seen a downward trend in recent years.
Despite the opposition, the Chamber of Deputies is expected to pass the energy reform bill before the winter recess on December 15. It would then need to be approved by more than half of Mexico’s 31 states and the federal district.
Cambios políticos y estructurales venían discutiéndose en Venezuela cuando un estallido social en 1989 evidenció que la situación exigía acciones inmediatas. La Comisión para la Reforma del Estado -creada en 1986- había oficializado el debate apenas un año antes, pero “El Caracazo”, revuelta social que marcó un punto de no retorno para el país, fue lo que impulsó la rápida creación del marco legal del proceso de descentralización. Así, en diciembre de 1989, por primera vez los venezolanos irían a las urnas para elegir, de forma libre y directa, a sus gobernadores y alcaldes.
Tuvo un efecto político inmediato. Liderazgos locales surgieron retando al bipartidismo que había gobernado al país por décadas. Los dos golpes de Estado de 1992 acentuaron la crisis y demarcaron un nuevo escenario nacional: la maquinaria, por sí sola, no garantizaría un puesto en la escala local de poder.
El chavismo es, en muchas formas, producto de ese momento. Fichas de izquierda al margen de los dos grandes partidos nacionales, se alzaron de forma sorpresiva con dos gobernaciones en los primeros comicios. La tendencia sólo seguiría en ascenso en los eventos electorales siguientes, hasta llegar a su punto máximo con la elección de Hugo Chávez para la presidencia en 1998. Chávez fue el primer outsider de la política venezolana en conquistar el máximo escaño en la historia contemporánea.
Hay quien pueda considerar un gesto irónico que la centralización fuese una de las prioridades políticas de la era chavista, pero tomando en cuenta el contexto, minar los liderazgos regionales parecía un camino lógico a seguir.
The mayor of Bogotá, Gustavo Petro, was removed from office Monday and banned from holding public office again for 15 years in a decision handed down by Colombian Attorney General Alejandro Ordóñez. Ordóñez found that Petro “improvised” and mismanaged a garbage collection system implemented last year, replacing private garbage collection companies with city entities that had "no experience, knowledge or capacity" in trash pickup services. An investigation was launched in January after Petro’s system resulted in “a grave emergency” that left tons of garbage unattended for days.
Petro, a leftist politician with former ties to the guerrilla group M-19 that demobilized in 1989, has called for peaceful protest against the decision which he considers a coup and plans to appeal the decision. Thousands of protesters gathered at Bogotá’s Bolivar Square after the decision was announced, claiming that the attorney general should not have the power to remove a democratically-elected official and that the ban is a political tactic against Petro’s progressive government. The mayor’s term is not supposed to end until 2016.
This is not the first time that the attorney general leaves Bogotá without a leader. Petro’s predecessor, Samuel Moreno Rojas, was also sanctioned for lack of public projects oversight in May of 2011, though he wasn’t banned from office. The ruling may threaten Colombia’s ongoing peace talks with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), which promises to integrate demobilized rebels into electoral politics.
The tributes to Nelson Mandela will continue to pour in over the next few days, as dignitaries make their way to pay their final respects to the leader who did more to transform Africa than any other in recent memory. His life story is now becoming more familiar by the day, and the upcoming film about his life will only add to the remarkable achievements of the man called Madiba.
We in Canada have always had a special place in our hearts for Nelson Mandela. The first country Mandela visited after his release from prison was Canada. The prime minister of the day, Brian Mulroney, was the principal world leader pushing for sanctions against the white supremacist government of South Africa, which ultimately brought the downfall of apartheid. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien later made Mandela a citizen of Canada.
When the tributes are done and world leaders have made sense of Mandela’s life and legacy, what will remain? Will there be primarily a focus on his achievements as a transformational and inspirational leader? Or, will there be a larger lesson—one that will transcend the ages and inspire future generations?
Without him, South Africa would not be where it is today—a multiracial democracy after years of apartheid and oppression. Yet a healthy and conscious Nelson Mandela would be the first to acknowledge that his work remains unfinished, and that the South Africa of today has not fulfilled the promise and the hopes of its visionary leader.
Likely top stories this week: The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) announce a ceasefire; Venezuelans vote in municipal elections; the Mexican Congress debates energy reform; Police strikes across Argentina continue; Bill Clinton visits Rio de Janeiro for the Clinton Global Initiative Latin America meeting.
FARC Rebels Announce a Ceasefire: In a statement on Sunday, Colombia's Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) announced a 30-day ceasefire that is scheduled to begin on December 15. The announcement was made a day after nine people died in a FARC firebomb attack at a police station in the town of Inza in the province of Cauca. Peace talks continued on Sunday, but the Colombian government said it would not stop fighting the rebels until a peace accord is signed.
Venezuelans Vote in Municipal Elections: Venezuelans went to the polls on Sunday to elect mayors and city councilmembers in municipal elections that many saw as a critical test for the government of President Nicolás Maduro. On Monday, with nearly all polling stations reporting, the National Electoral Council announced that the ruling Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party—PSUV) captured a majority of the votes nationwide, but the opposition won in Venezuela’s biggest cities, including Caracas, Maracaibo, and Barinas—the birthplace of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
Mexican Congress to Debate Energy Bill: Mexican Senate committees are debating a controversial energy reform bill that would allow private companies to invest in Mexican state oil company PEMEX through new production-sharing contracts. As protesters gathered outside the Senate on Sunday, lawmakers reviewed the bill, which is expected to move to the full Senate and lower house this week. The Senate resumed debate of the bill on Monday, and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto hopes to pass the legislation by Christmas.
Police Strikes in Argentina Lead to Violence: Violence continues in Argentina after police in Córdoba went on strike last week to demand higher wages, leading to a collapse in security and rule of law. Police forces in at least eight other provinces followed suit, leading to looting and violence in which at least three people died. Though violence continues in several provinces, strikes in the Argentine provinces of Neuquén, Santa Fe, San Juan and Catamarca appear to be drawing to a close after government officials agreed to raise wages. Police are demanding higher wages to combat Argentina’s estimated 26 percent inflation.
Bill Clinton Visits Rio: Former U.S. President Bill Clinton arrived in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday for the start of the Clinton Global Initiative Latin America meeting in Rio de Janeiro, which will gather together business leaders, politicians and members of civil society for three days. On Sunday, Clinton met with Rio's mayor, Eduardo Paes, and Rio de Janeiro State Governor Sérgio Cabral. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is expected to attend the meeting on Monday.
A year from now, Lima, Peru will host the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP20) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). For Latin American Indigenous peoples—who make up a large proportion of the populations of Peru and neighboring Bolivia and Ecuador—COP20 is a pivotal chance to coordinate and leverage their influence on the international stage.
2010 was the last time Latin American Indigenous peoples had the opportunity air their concerns about climate and environmental inequities—albeit outside of the official process. In April of that year, the first World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth was held in Cochabamba, Bolivia. The conference brought together over 30,000 activists from over 100 countries, largely as an alternative to the failures of the 2009 UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.
Indigenous peoples fed up with the lack of results from the UN conference articulated their own vision of climate justice at the 2010 Cochabamba Conference. The resulting People’s Agreement aimed to construct a new system based on harmony and balance between humans and Mother Earth. They reconceived a series of rights that were overlooked during the official negotiations, drafting the landmark Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.
What has happened to Indigenous people’s voices since then? Few Latin American Indigenous groups are able to travel to far-flung conference locations like Doha and Warsaw. Indigenous peoples continue to struggle for recognition and fair access to the closed intergovernmental negotiations.
The United Nations is urging the Dominican Republic to restore nationality to individuals affected by a September 23 Constitutional Court ruling that stripped thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent of their citizenship, rendering them stateless. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said Thursday that international legal standards require that the government restore citizenship taken away from approximately 200,000 individuals affected by the ruling and grant them valid identity documents.
According to a press release published on Thursday, the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHCR) has a mandate from the General Assembly to reduce statelessness and protect stateless persons, prompting the urgency of their request. The Constitutional Court ruling reinterpreted the requirements for Dominican nationality as it applied to children of “in transit” migrants. As a result, individuals born in the Dominican Republic to migrant parents after 1929 no longer met Dominican nationality criteria and could have their citizenship revoked retroactively. On November 30, the Dominican Republic announced a plan to put the ruling into motion, giving 18 months to those affected to request Dominican citizenship starting on June 2014, but not giving details as to the requirements for naturalization.
UNHCR’s emphasis of this ruling as a human rights issue comes after more than 100 Dominicans of Haitian descent were deported in November following a fatal attack against an elderly couple near the Haitian border. Migrant advocates said many were deported or left the country voluntarily in fear after a mob retaliated for the attack by killing a Haitian man.
Obama’s sinking approval numbers one year into his second term have led some observers to conclude that the presidency has seen its best days. For the first time, the President’s “trustworthy” factor is deficient, and talk of the second-term curse has already made its way into the daily media jargon.
The Obamacare computer glitch has since been compared to Bush’s Katrina—and because it is the president’s signature achievement, pundit talk has already surfaced about a failed presidency. We in Canada have always liked Barack Obama and hoped he would be a successful president, but now many are asking, “Is it too late for Obama?”
Clearly, this has been a difficult year for the Obama administration–the IRS targeting of the Tea Party, a return on the Benghazi fiasco, the Edward Snowden and National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance controversy, the government shutdown in September, and the failed Obamacare rollout.
As we are about to enter 2014, midterm elections and potential lame-duck status for the sitting president are on the horizon. Some of it is self-inflicted, but despite the Republicans’ failed strategy related to the government shutdown, they still believe that they have cornered Obama and ensured for themselves a pathway to maintaining the House and capturing the Senate next November. Only winning the White House in 2016 would remain to complete the trifecta.
Fast-food workers across the United States began a 24-hour strike in nearly 100 cities on Thursday to protest low wages. The employees are calling for an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.
The current $7.25 per hour federal minimum wage, set in 2009, amounts to only $15,000 a year for a full-time fast food worker—seen by many as less than a living wage.
Nearly 100 protesters gathered in a McDonald’s in New York City this morning chanting “we can’t survive on $7.25,” before being removed by police. According to a Burger King employee, managers warned their employees that those participating in Thursday’s protests would be denied work shifts. The National Restaurant Association has meanwhile dismissed the protests as a “campaign engineered by national labor groups.”
President Barack Obama has indicated that he would support a Senate measure to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, which could come up for a vote later this month. However, such a bill would face substantial opposition from the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
The fast food industry has faced increased scrutiny this year, given rising income inequality in the U.S. and the fact that part-time work has constituted most of the job growth in the restaurant sector since the global recession. Some employers intentionally limit employees’ work hours because they would be required to provide health care for full-time employees under the Affordable Care Act.
While fast food workers are not typically unionized, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has strongly supported the effort to increase the federal minimum wage over the last year.
This month, Mexico’s Congress is debating the long-anticipated reform of Pemex, the country’s state-owned oil company.
This reform comes at a critical moment for Mexico’s energy industry, as oil production has declined steadily since 2004, and Pemex will need to more than double its investment to reverse the trend. The latest energy reform legislation in Congress would ease the financial pressure facing Pemex (which currently supplies one-third of the government’s annual budget), and would allow for some form of foreign investment in Mexico’s energy development.
If the bill passes, however, the results will be neither immediate nor guaranteed.
Even if Mexico’s Congress scrapes together the necessary votes to pass the bill in the coming days, the energy legislation rollout is likely to take several years. Any constitutional reform must be approved by half of Mexico’s 31 state legislatures. This process will likely take several more months, and may not be complete until the middle of 2014. At this rate, a substantial increase in foreign investment cannot be expected before 2015 or even 2016.
Then, the all-important ley secundaria (secondary legislation) will be decided, with significant implications for the types and levels of investment that the reform will produce.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.