Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro García Padilla plans to present Puerto Rico’s balanced budget plan a year early in response to the Switzerland-based financial services company UBS AG’s credit downgrade forecast.
“Given the myriad obstacles facing Puerto Rico, we believe that at least one rating agency will [downgrade Puerto Rico’s general-obligation bonds] within the next 30 days,” analysts Thomas McLoughlin and Kristin Stephens wrote in a report released last week.
The downgrade to junk status would limit demand for the commonwealth’s debt, as it would be below investment grade.
Meanwhile, the balanced budget plan, which the governor had pledged for 2016, will go into effect for the 2014-2015 fiscal year. The current administration has pledged to change pensions and raise taxes to help close the budget gaps. Details of the changes have not been released.
The announcement is expected to generate negative backlash from Puerto Ricans, who have seen the cost of commodities soar while nearly half the population lives under the poverty line. The passage of pension cuts in January led to a two-day teacher’s strike and a lawsuit filed by the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (Teacher’s Association of Puerto Rico) in Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court.
Governor García Padilla is expected to introduce the detailed budget in the coming weeks.
Likely top stories this week: presidential candidates in Costa Rica and El Salvador will advance to runoff elections; the dispute over the Chile-Peru border continues; Colombia brings charges against the U.S.-based coal company Drummond; heavy rains in Uruguay lead to flood warnings in most of the country.
Costa Rican Presidential Elections: Costan Rican voters on Sunday sent former San José Mayor Johnny Araya of the Partido de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Party) and Partido de Acción Ciudadana (Citizen Action Party) candidate Luis Guillermo Solís to a runoff election that will decide who becomes the country’s next president. With 82 percent of the vote counted, Solís had received 30.9 percent of the vote, while Araya received 29.6 percent. The two candidates will face each other again on April 6.
El Salvador Presidential Elections: Salvadorans will vote in a March 9 runoff election for president after neither Salvador Sánchez Cerén, an ex-guerrilla from the Frente Farabuno Martí para la Liberación Nacional (Farabuno Martí National Liberation Front—FMLN) and Normán Quijano, from the Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (National Republican Alliance—Arena) won a majority of the vote in Sunday’s election. With 81 percent of the vote counted, Sánchez Cerén narrowly missed a first round victory, capturing 49 percent of the vote. This will be the first time since 1994 that El Salvador will vote for its president in a runoff election.
Peru-Chile Border Ruling: A week after the International Court of Justice in The Hague redrew the maritime border between Peru and Chile in a historic ruling that largely favored Peru, the two countries are continuing to debate the ownership of a small portion of land known as the triángulo terrestre (land triangle). According to Chile, the 3.7-hectare triangle of land is Chilean because the ICJ ruling determined that the maritime border begins at a landmark known as “Hito 1” and not at a point further south called “Punto Condordia.” Meanwhile, the Peruvian government maintains that the land is Peruvian, adding that the ICJ ruling only refers to the maritime border between the two countries, and not to land.
Colombia Plans to Sue U.S. Coal Company Drummond: Colombian Chief Prosecutor Eduardo Montealegre said Friday that the country will bring charges against Drummond, an Alabama-based coal company, after crane operators dumped tons of coal into the sea off Colombia’s Caribbean coast in January 2013. The crane operators were attempting to rescue a sinking barge. Drummond has been ordered to pay a $3.5 million fine and Montealegre said that six of the company’s employees will face charges. Colombia has since banned the use of cranes and barges in all its ports to prevent spillage and pollution.
Flooding in Uruguay: The Uruguayan government declared a flood warning in 13 of the country’s 19 departments on Sunday night after heavy rainfall over the weekend led to the evacuation of more than 150 people from their homes. The rains affected a large portion of the country and may jeopardize the country’s agricultural production this year.
The State of the Union (SOTU) address can be considered an institutionalized “bully pulpit” for the President of the United States. It is delivered yearly on the last Tuesday in January. As expected, the President forcefully made his case for new proposals to Congress before a primetime television audience.
President Obama’s speech was delivered in the midst of low approval numbers (43 percent), and after what many have termed 2013--Obama’s annus horribilis. Beginning the sixth year of his presidency with his Democratic Party bracing for a potentially tough mid-term election cycle, it is fair to speculate about whether Obama is already facing a premature lame duck status.
For those of us north of the border, we tend to follow the SOTU with keen interest, but very rarely expect to see Canada in the forefront. The battle over the Keystone Oil pipeline project is of interest, but judging from the President’s general statements about U.S. energy, Canadian officials were not given any indication of a decision coming soon. The President spoke of the progress made due to his energy policies, the rising importance of renewable energy sources, and stated emphatically that “climate change is a fact”. For the opponents of Keystone, these comments were likely encouraging. For the proponents, it seems the wait is not yet over.
Republican leaders in the House of Representatives released a long-awaited list of standards on immigration reform legislation on Thursday. The announcement comes seven months after the Senate approved its own comprehensive bill that stalled in the House.
The GOP standards include a pathway to citizenship for young people brought to the U.S. as children, and legal status for the remaining 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the country. Like the Senate bill, the Republican standards also support changes to the visa system, increased border security and create a biometric system to track who is entering or exiting the United States.
"I believe these standards represent a fair, principled way for us to solve this issue, beginning with securing our borders and enforcing our laws," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said. Even with the standards, however, it remains to be seen whether comprehensive immigration reform—a priority for President Barack Obama—will become law this year.
The thirty-three countries that make up the Latin America and Caribbean Economic Community (CELAC), wrapped up their second summit by declaring the region a “zone of peace,” on Wednesday. Heads of state including Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico, Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, and recently elected Michelle Bachelet of Chile signed an accord vowing to resolve conflicts respectfully and peacefully.
According to the summit declaration, the meeting provides an opportunity for coordination within the region and emphasizes the need for pluralistic and respectful cooperation. This year’s summit highlighted issues of crime, economic hardship and inequality in the region, the potential economic benefit of free trade, and support for Argentina’s claims over the Falkland Islands.
The summit culminated with a commitment to non-intervention, cooperation and respect of "the inalienable right of every state to choose its political, economic, social, and cultural system, as an essential condition to guarantee peaceful co-existence among nations," read Cuban President Raul Castro, outgoing CELAC president.
CELAC was created in 2011 as an alternative to the Organization of American States, which has excluded Cuba since 1962. Costa Rica will assume the CELAC’s rotating presidency at the end of the summit.
Reforms to Mexico's energy sector were signed into law late last year. The legislation proceeded rapidly from President Enrique Peña Nieto's announcement of the reforms in August, to the negotiations among the major political parties during the fall, to voting in both houses of Congress, resulting in a majority of the 31 state legislatures changing the Constitution. For the first time in 75 years private participation will be permitted in Mexico's energy sector, not only in oil and gas, but also in electricity and power generation. The repercussions of this reform will be felt not only in Mexico but across the hemisphere, including Canada as increased development of Mexico's energy sector is a win-win for Mexico and the rest of North America.
The reform has led to large expectations and deservedly so. It goes further than what was originally envisioned when Peña Nieto announced the reforms in August 2013. The two conservative political parties, Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI) and the National Action Party (Partido Acción Nacional, PAN), molded the legislation to make it deeper and more robust. The opposing liberal party, the Party of the Democratic Revolution (Partido Revolucionario Democrático, PRD), demonstrated rampant opposition to the reforms as they viewed them as a “privatization” of Pemex, the state oil company. The PRD is still hoping to halt the reform through a popular referendum, but the success of this initiative is unlikely.
They say the devil is in the details, and proponents of turning around Mexico's declining oil and gas production appear pleased with the components of this legislation. The vehicles that allow foreign investment vary in the amount of risk involved. These include service contracts, profit-sharing agreements, production-sharing agreements, and licenses. The latter functions in the same way as a concession, and faces a potential legal hurdle as Mexican law prohibits concessions. Nevertheless, these contracts allow foreign companies to have more skin in the game, and catapult Mexico into the top 10 in the world in terms of investment regime offered.
The Mexican government announced a temporary agreement on Monday that will incorporate vigilante groups in the state of Michoacán into national law enforcement.
Over the past year, civilian groups have taken arms to combat the violent Knights Templar drug cartel (Caballeros Templarios) based out of Apatzingan, Michoacán. The government moved to integrate the local groups into the Rural Defense Corps, a preexisting organization that is controlled by the military, after failing to disarm vigilantes in the region earlier this month.
The plan comes after the leader of the Knights Templar, Dionisio Loya Plancarte, was captured on Monday. Some see the move to combine state forces with the vigilantes as a major development in the fight against drug cartel related violence. “This is the start point of the new dynamic in which we are going to work together, the state and federal governments, with civil society,” said Alfredo Castillo, the federal government envoy to Michoacán.
Pese a que la Cancillería ecuatoriana reportó de manera optimista la semana pasada que los países del continente “avanzan para una decisión de consenso sobre el cambio de sede de la CIDH,” otra parece ser la realidad frente a lo que opinan sus pares sobre esta materia.
La declaración ecuatoriana se produjo tras la terminación de la III Conferencia de los Estados Parte de la Convención Americana de Derechos Humanos, llevada a cabo el 21 y 22 de enero en Montevideo. Estas reuniones han sido promovidas por el grupo de países Alianza Bolivariana Para Los Pueblos De Nuestra America (ALBA) desde hace un poco más de un año como forma de mantener la discusión sobre lo que consideran debe ser el futuro de los órganos de derechos humanos de la Organización de Estados Americanos (OEA).
Como en sus dos ediciones anteriores, realizadas en Guayaquil y Cochabamba, a la reunión no fueron invitados todos los gobiernos de la OEA, sino solo aquellos que han ratificado la Convención de Derechos Humanos. Una movida política para acelerar las discusiones sin el contrapeso de países que se han opuesto a la visión del ALBA, como Estados Unidos y Canadá.
In a landmark case, judges at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) redrew the maritime border between Peru and Chile yesterday, granting Peru parts of the Pacific Ocean that had formerly been considered Chilean territory. However, the United Nations’ highest court’s ruling on the maritime dispute left the rich, coastal fishing grounds in Chile’s possession. Both countries had previously pledged to respect the ICJ’s ruling.
Peru had asked the ICJ to rule on the maritime border in 2008, despite arguments by Chile that the border was legally set by treaties in 1952 and 1954. The ruling found a compromise between the two sides by maintaining “the course of the maritime boundary between the parties without determining the precise geographical coordinates," Judge Peter Tomka said.
While the lucrative anchovy fishing grounds remain in Chile’s possession, the ruling was celebrated in Peru as an issue of national pride—Peru and Bolivia lost territory to Chile during the War of the Pacific from 1879 to 1893.With the new nautical border, Peru gained access to shark and mackerel fishing grounds.
Bolivia filed its own lawsuit against Chile stemming from territorial losses from the War of the Pacific in the ICJ last April.
Likely top stories this week: the International Court of Justice will rule on the Chile-Peru Maritime border; the CELAC Summit begins on Tuesday in Havana, Cuba; Argentina begins easing restrictions on purchasing US dollars; protesters of the World Cup clash with police in Sao Paulo; Belize and Guatemala sign an agreement at the OAS.
International Court to Rule on Chile-Peru Maritime Dispute: The United Nations’ International Court of Justice in The Hague is due to make a decision today on Peru and Chile’s disputed maritime border. The ruling will decide which country owns 38,000 square kilometers (14,670 square miles) of ocean, which includes one of the world’s richest fishing grounds with an annual catch of $200 million. If Peru wins the dispute, some 2,000 Chilean fishermen fear they could lose their jobs. Presidents of both countries have each said they will adhere to whatever decision the court makes.
CELAC Summit Begins in Havana: World leaders from around the hemisphere are traveling to Havana, Cuba this week for the two-day Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) summit, which begins tomorrow. Thirty-two heads of state will be attending the summit, including presidents Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina, Evo Morales of Bolivia and Raul Castro of Cuba, among others. Dozens of dissidents have been detained in a new “wave of political repression” ahead of the summit. Activist Guillermo Farinas has been kept under house arrest for three days, and as many as 100 members of the Ladies in White have been arrested to prevent them from attending a forum on human rights on Tuesday.
Argentina Lifts Restrictions on Purchasing U.S. Dollars: Argentina’s Economy Minister Alex Kicollof announced on Friday that it was relaxing restrictions on the purchase of U.S. dollars starting Monday. The decision came amid a 28 percent inflation rate and the sharpest slide in the value of the Argentina peso since the 2002 economic collapse. However, in an interview published by Pagina 12 on Sunday, Kicillof said that the lowering of the tax rate on credit card purchases made in U.S. dollars from 35 percent to 20 percent would not happen on Monday, with no indication of when the change will happen. It’s not clear whether the easing of restrictions will be enough to stabilize the country, given the already high inflation rate and the general lack of confidence in the government—from chronic blackouts, recent looting in the provinces, and President Kirchner’s recent absence—that has grown.
World Cup Protests in São Paulo Turn Violent: Protesters clashed with police this weekend in São Paulo, where thousands had taken to the street to protest the cost of the 2014 World Cup. More than 130 protesters were arrested, and one man is in critical condition after being shot by police for allegedly carrying an explosive in his backpack. The Anonymous Rio protest group organized the demonstrations using social media and called it “Operation Stop the World Cup”. Following the massive protests last year, Brazil has seen “rolezinhos”—flash mobs by young people from the favelas targeting affluent shopping malls —crop up across the country.
Belize and Guatemala Sign Bilateral Agreement: The foreign ministers of Belize and Guatemala met with Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General José Miguel Insulza over the weekend, and signed on to a “Road Map and Plan of Action” to deepen transnational cooperation. According to Insulza, the agreement will allow the two countries to “develop significant projects in the areas of the environment, security, labor, immigration, health or education, (which) helps people to get to know and value each other.” Through the agreement, both nations also pledged that they will adhere to the International Court of Justice’s ruling on the pending territorial dispute.
U.S. Trade Representative Mike Froman announced today in Davos that the United States would join others including China, Canada, the EU, and Japan to negotiate freer global trade in environmental goods. An economic sector estimated at over $950 billion annually, the market for such products is already significant and it is only expected to grow. A reduction of tariffs, some as high as 35 percent according to a USTR announcement, would encourage even greater trade in products designed to promote the use of alternative energy and support environmentally-friendly economic growth and development.
It’s an important initiative, consistent with one of the key trade policy recommendations that the Council of the Americas prepared for the then-incoming Obama Administration in 2009. Certainly, working to promote global trade in environmental products makes economic, political and common sense. The only surprise, perhaps, is that it took six years into the administration to launch the initiative.
Nonetheless, the lack of emphasis on Western Hemisphere nations is troubling, particularly since Latin America’s energy profile is the cleanest in the world. At the same time, as the custodian of the Amazon Basin, the “lungs of the earth,” Latin America has both experience and vested interest in promoting increased trade efficiencies in environmental goods and services. Only three of the 13 listed parties to the negotiation, however, are from the Western Hemisphere, and two of those are Canada and the United States itself. The other? Costa Rica, an environmentally-friendly nation but hardly a global trade giant.
In a recent blog, I described Canada’s new and emerging American economic challenge with our neighbor to the south as it was heading towards energy self-sufficiency with its consequent impact on the manufacturing sector of its economy. While Canada has increased its trade with new partners in recent years and is actively pursuing new markets for its products through free trade agreements, I concluded by saying that the United States remains our number one export nation and this will not change in the near future.
On the political front, there are few relationships more stable and predictable than that of Canada and the U.S. We have fought wars together, have done peace missions together, have shared intelligence on national and continental security matters, and generally have had compatible national interests. The post-World War II years have seen some differences between these two neighbors, but none significant enough to doubt the depth of trust, commonality of interest, and shared commitment. At least until recently.
The current trip by Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, with a huge delegation of government officials and business people to the Middle East, including Israel, Jordan and the West Bank, has raised speculation that Canada has steadfastly decided on a go-it-alone policy at a crucial moment as U.S. diplomacy is actively pursuing peace in the region. The reception offered to the Canadian visitors by the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu is unmatched in recent memory and Prime Minister Harper has reciprocated with an unequivocal endorsement of Israel’s conditions for peace. Some observers in Canada are asking: is Canada more supportive of the Israeli government’s negotiating position than the brokering efforts of the U.S.?
The Canada-Israel bond contrasts with the frosty relationship between Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama. Considering the Israeli Prime Minister’s warmth to the Republican Party and its 2012 Presidential nominee, Governor Mitt Romney, and his public lecturing of President Obama, Netanyahu’s enthusiastic praise for Harper’s policy seems meant to convey an implicit mistrust of the U. S. government in its handling of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Clearly, this did not seem to be a factor in the Canadian Prime Minister’s trip.
The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent federal privacy review board, has concluded that the National Security Agency (NSA)’s phone call record collection program is illegal and should be discontinued. The 238-page report published yesterday finds that the spying program “lacks viable foundation” under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, violates the First and Fourth Amendments and poses threats to privacy and civil liberties.
The report comes a week after President Barack Obama’s speech on limiting the reach of the NSA in order to protect civil liberties, during which he pledged to change how the NSA collects civilian telephone records in order to increase transparency on surveillance activities. The president also said he would alter the metadata gathering program, moving the bulk information out of government hands into a third party where privacy can be protected, but U.S. officials have expressed concern about the feasibility of achieving these changes.
The NSA’s surveillance tactics have also recently sparked debate about the impact on U.S. foreign relations, the topic of the Americas Quarterly Winter 2014 Hard Talk Forum. Responding to international criticism, President Obama proposed setting limits on the surveillance of foreign heads of state as part of the planned reform. Many Americans remain skeptical of government surveillance programs according a Pew Research Center/USA Today poll released Monday, with as many as 73 percent saying they don’t believe the proposed changes will make a significant difference.
The Argentine government adopted new legislation limiting online buying on Tuesday in an effort to defend domestic production.
The resolution, adopted by Argentina’s tax agency, the Administración Federal de Ingresos Públicos , and published in the Boletín Oficial, restricts Argentines to two tax-free purchases of up to $25 on foreign-based websites per year, with a 50 percent tax imposed on any additional amount spent.
Argentines will also no longer be able to have items purchased on foreign websites delivered directly to their residences, but will have to pick up their packages at a customs office. The new resolution changes the way the government gathers information on shipments, requiring the buyer to fill out paper work on their transaction before picking up their order. Prior to the resolution, increased online spending made it difficult for Argentine Customs to track online transactions, but with the newly imposed measures, the government expects easier application of the import tax.
While international online purchasing will have tax restrictions, national online spending will still be unlimited. With Argentine reserves at $30 billion—their lowest levels since 2006—and a 30 percent drop since last year, the resolution aims at decreasing dollars from leaving the country, which can occur when purchasing from foreign countries. According to Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich, Internet purchases in Argentina have doubled over the past year, and Argentines spent almost 30 million dollars during an organized Cyber Monday sale last month.
The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (International Federation of Association Football—FIFA) warned officials in the Brazilian city of Curitiba on Tuesday that it could be excluded as a host site of the 2014 World Cup if preparations remain behind schedule.
FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke said that renovation of the 43,000-capacity Arena da Baixada stadium is so far behind schedule that it represents an “emergency situation.” FIFA will decide on February 18 whether to keep Curitiba, the capital of Paraná state, as a host city. The Paraná state government and FIFA have pledged to invest an extra $17 million in the renovations to speed up progress.
Curitiba’s stadium is one of six venues in Brazil that missed FIFA’s December 31 deadline for completion and are still not tournament-ready. Arena da Baixada is scheduled to host its first World Cup match between Iran and Nigeria on June 16, as well as Spain vs. Australia, Honduras vs. Ecuador, and Algeria vs. Russia.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff defended the country’s preparedness for the World Cup earlier this month, saying via Twitter, “We love soccer, and that’s why we’ll host this Cup with pride and make it the Cup of Cups.” President Rousseff was responding to an interview with FIFA President Sepp Blatter published by the Swiss newspaper 24 Heures, in which Blatter claimed that the South American nation failed to begin preparations for the mega-tournament early enough.
The New York City-based rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) released its annual World Report, presenting a dismal outlook on human rights in the Americas. This year’s report focused specifically on some of the most troubled countries in the region, including Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Haiti, Honduras, and Venezuela, as well as regional economic powerhouses Brazil and Mexico.
HRW released the report in São Paulo, highlighting various abuses across the hemisphere including NSA surveillance, police brutality, political violence, and new laws curtailing freedom of expression. HRW criticized media laws that have effectively silenced journalists in Argentina, Ecuador and Venezuela, as well as the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance scandal that was made public by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden last May.
Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, stated that the reforms announced by President Obama last Friday did not go far enough. "In none of this has there been a recognition that non-Americans outside the United States have a right to the privacy of their communications, that everybody has a right to the privacy of their metadata and that everybody has a right not to have their electronic communications scooped up into a government computer," Roth told Reuters in Berlin.
Argentine government officials formalized a $500 million plan to improve the distribution of electricity in Buenos Aires this week, but remained strongly opposed to raising utility rates in order to alleviate the city’s ongoing energy crisis.
The measure comes after the hottest heat wave on record prompted a series of power outages, leaving hundreds of thousands of Argentines without light and running water in December and January. According to the Argentine Ministry of Infrastructure, Julio De Vido, energy consumption reached unforeseen levels during those two months.
The new government plan will enable two privately-owned electric companies, Edesur and Edenor, to install new substations and upgrade low-voltage cables in neighborhoods affected by the recent blackouts. Edesur and Edenor serve 13 million residents of Buenos Aires and, according to De Vido, will have to increase work crews by 20 percent.
Many, however, accuse the government of sidestepping its own role in the energy crisis. “The outages are synonymous with failure,” said Sergio Massa a likely presidential candidate from the opposition party Frente Renovador (Renewal Front).
The Brazilian state of Acre has asked the government to temporarily close the Brazil-Peru border to control Haitian migration. Acre’s secretary of justice and human rights, Nilson Mourão, said the levels of Haitian migration into the region are unsustainable and have strained the capacity of social services in the area.
Since the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010, more than 15,000 Haitians have migrated into the Amazon region of Brazil through Brazil’s border with Peru in order to look for jobs.
Acre’s local government says it is not equipped to receive the new migrants, who have overcrowded shelters as they await documentation. This month alone, the arrivals have tripled to between 70 and 80 a day, prompting Mourão’s request to temporarily close the border between the Peruvian town of Iñapari and the town of Assis in Brazil.
This is not the first crackdown on Haitian immigrants in Brazil. In 2012, Brazil restricted Haitian immigration after 4,000 Haitians crossed into the country through the Amazon. After granting 1,600 visas to incoming Haitians fleeing the devastation of the 2010 earthquake, the Brazilian government declared it would only grant 100 temporary work visas and 2,400 humanitarian visas to recent migrants. Hundreds of Haitians were stranded in Peru after the changes were implemented.
Four years after the earthquake in Haiti—which killed 220,000 people and left more than 1.5 million homeless—817,000 Haitians are still in need of humanitarian assistance and 172,000 still live in displacement camps.
On Monday, December 23, 2013, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution establishing the International Decade for People of African Descent, which will run from January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2024. The aim will be to raise social consciousness in the fight against prejudice, intolerance, xenophobia, and racism.
The resolution follows a series of related efforts, including the General Assembly’s December 12, 1997 resolution, which convened the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance, and the December 16, 2005 resolution, which guided the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.
Assembly representatives emphasized its importance. Verene Shepherd, chair of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, stated that the “indigestible fishbone of slavery” continued to stick in the throat due to the persistence of its legacies. She added that the impact of slavery and colonialism were most obvious in the Americas and on the African content itself.
Responses from Brazilian representatives reinforced this perspective. Bruno Santos de Oliveira noted that the 2010 national census data indicated that “more than 100 million Brazilians, more than half the population, had declared themselves African descendants,” and that the country has the largest number of people of African descent outside of Africa. The Brazilian Delegation recalled that the country continues to face racism and intolerance inherited from its colonial past.
Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzón accepted an offer on Wednesday made by President Juan Manuel Santos and Chancellor María Ángela Holguín to become the Colombian ambassador to Brazil. Garzón had recently been linked to a position as provisional mayor of Bogota, to replace embattled Mayor Gustavo Petro. But in an open letter, Garzón negated the possibility, the stating that “neither the president has suggested it to me, nor would I accept.”
Garzon’s appointment comes only one day after a Colombian court ruled to suspend Petro’s removal from his position as mayor of Bogota. In early December, Petro was ordered removed from office by Attorney General Alejandro Ordóñez under accusations of mismanaging a garbage collection system, and banned from holding public office for a period of 15 years. Thousands of Petro supporters rallied to support the mayor, who is permitted to stay in office until the end of the appeal process, and on Tuesday courts put the ruling on hold. Vice President Garzón has openly supported both the investigation into Petro’s alleged crimes, as well as the mayor’s right to due process.
As part of his new agenda as the ambassador to Brazil, Garzón will meet with the President of the Federación de Fútbol Colombiano, Luis Bedoya, to discuss Colombia’s participation in the World Cup, as well as Brazilian business owners. Garzón will continue in his current position as vice president until August 7, 2014.
President Barack Obama is expected to announce changes to the United States’ ongoing surveillance program on Friday at the Justice Department. The address will likely focus on the National Security Agency’s (NSA) spying program, which gathered data on billions of telephone calls made to, from or within the United States. While President Obama has the executive authority to unilaterally abandon certain surveillance practices, many of the more nuanced reforms he is expected to endorse will require Congressional approval.
Friday’s announcement is another attempt by the Obama Administration to mitigate the fallout from the top-secret documents detailing the U.S. surveillance program, leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden last May. The leaks drew international outrage from U.S. allies like Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and German Chancellor Angela Merkel—all of whose private communications were targeted by the NSA. In another blow to the program, a federal judge ruled in December that the surveillance program violated privacy rights, deeming it unconstitutional.
The long-term implications of the NSA spying on U.S. diplomatic and economic relations is the subject of the Winter 2014 Americas Quarterly’s Hard Talk Forum, penned by U.S. Army War College professor Gabriel Marcella and former State Department and National Security Council official William McIlhenny, which is available for preview here.
En agosto de 2010, Andrés Izarra, ex ministro de Comunicaciones de Venezuela, explotó en carcajadas durante una entrevista con CNN mientras escuchaba el balance de homicidios que ofrecía el director de una ONG local. El funcionario–cuya esposa había sido asaltada y resguardada por sus escoltas apenas un año antes–golpeaba el escritorio para reforzar cuan absurdos eran los análisis del Observatorio Venezolano de la Violencia, organización que, en medio del silencio gubernamental, ha ganado su espacio ofreciendo estadísticas de homicidios en el país.
La inseguridad se convirtió en la principal preocupación de los venezolanos hace años. Si algo demostró la violencia es su cualidad democrática: aunque las clases media y baja tienen mayor tendencia a engrosar las estadísticas por contar con menos recursos para protegerse, casos como el robo al presidente del Banco Central de Venezuela, Nelson Merentes, o la onda de secuestros a diplomáticos que se produjo entre 2011 y 2012 dejaron claro que nadie se escapa del problema.
La semana pasada, la noticia del asesinato de la ex Miss Venezuela, Mónica Spear, y de su marido británico Thomas Berry, le dio la vuelta al mundo. La modelo de apenas 29 años murió junto a su pareja en una carretera venezolana a pocos kilómetros de la capital, en medio de un robo de esos que ocurren todo el tiempo en el país. Su hija de cinco años vivió para contarla. La familia estaba de vacaciones.
La conmoción nacional e internacional que causaron las fotos de la reina de belleza obligó al Gobierno a pronunciarse. El presidente Nicolás Maduro lamentó los decesos y garantizó que la seguridad era una de las prioridades de la gestión revolucionaria. Ningún funcionario emuló las carcajadas que Izarra dió tres años antes hablando sobre la violencia. Todos se sumaron al discurso del mandatario, y anunciaron estar dispuestos a dar la guerra contra el crimen, como si ésta fuese una revelación en Caracas, que es la tercera ciudad más violenta de la región.
President Barack Obama will travel to Toluca, Mexico on February 19 for the annual North American Leaders Summit, the White House announced Tuesday. The president will meet with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to discuss economic competitiveness, entrepreneurship, trade and investment, and citizen security.
The White House has applauded recent reforms championed by President Peña Nieto, including the recently passed energy reform that the Mexican executive has promoted to boost the growth in the region’s second largest economy.
While increasing trade is expected to be the main focus of the meeting—Canada and Mexico account for about 33 percent of all U.S. exports—border security is likely to play a large role in the discussions. Leaders may also privately discuss the recent slew of deadly clashes between Mexican soldiers and federal police and vigilante groups known as autodefensas (self-defense groups) in the state of Michoacan.
The summit, the seventh such meeting, marks the first meeting of all three North American leaders since Peña Nieto assumed the presidency in 2012. It will take place just one month after the 20 year anniversary of the NAFTA agreement that tripled trade between the three countries.
Since the Edward Snowden–National Security Agency (NSA) affair exploded in the media last summer, some world leaders, such as Angela Merkel of Germany, have since discovered that they were under some surveillance by the U.S. security apparatus. The negative reaction that followed the German chancellor discovering the bugging of her cell phone is evidence that NSA policies are more than an infringement of privacy if they have created a diplomatic incident with a major ally to the Obama administration.
NSA methods seem to be out of control when a country is caught spying on its allies. Concerned about this type of fallout, the Obama administration, along with its outside NSA review panel, is now considering sweeping changes to existing policies.
Just over the holiday season, The New York Times made the case for clemency for the former NSA contractor. British newspaper The Guardian, which has been the conduit of many of Edward Snowden’s sensational bombshells, called for an outright pardon by U.S. President Barack Obama.
What started out as a “hero versus traitor” debate about the actions of Edward Snowden is now becoming one about whether an individual whistleblower who broke the law while purportedly acting in defense of the U.S. constitution (the Fourth Amendment) should be tried for a 'crime' created by a governmental institution.
Likely top stories this week: the U.S. Supreme Court will look at Argentina’s debt case; Michoacán’s government asks for help; Pope Francis names Haitian, Brazilian, Nicaraguan and Chilean cardinals; President Ortega says that Nicaragua Canal construction will begin this year; Air Europa rejects Venezuelan customers’ bolivars.
Argentina’s Bondholder Battle Goes to U.S. Supreme Court: The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Friday to review a case that pitted hedge funds NML Capital and Aurelius against the Argentine government in the aftermath of the country’s 2002 debt default. Though most of the debt has been written off since then, the holdout bondholders have demanded repayment in full, which amounts to about $1.3 billion dollars, plus interest. Argentina has refused to pay back the debt, and while U.S. courts have ruled against the country, a U.S. appeals court said last August that Argentina will not be required to pay back the money until the Supreme Court rules on the matter.
Michoacán Asks for Help From Federal Government to Contain Violence: Governor Fausto Vallejo of the Mexican state of Michoacán confirmed that he asked for help from the federal government on January 10 to combat a recent spate of violence in the crime-plagued state. In Michoacán, vigilante “self-defense” vigilante groups have occupied a number of cities in an effort to battle the Knights Templar drug cartel for control of the state. On Friday, a number of masked gunmen looted and set fire to stores and the main municipal building of the town of Apatzingan, causing fearful residents to stay home. Local Congressman Silvano Aureoles called on the federal government to take control of the situation in a statement published on Sunday.
Pope Francis Names Cardinals, Including Four from the Americas: Pope Francis named 19 new cardinals this Sunday, including Chibly Langlois of Haiti, Orani João Tempesta of Brazil, Leopoldo José Brenes Solorzano of Nicaragua, and Ricardo Ezzati Andrello of Chile. A spokesperson for the Vatican said that the new appointees from poor countries such as Haiti and Burkina Faso reflect the pope’s commitment to helping the impoverished. The new cardinals will be installed in a ceremony on February 22 in the Vatican City.
Nicaragua Canal Construction on Track, Says Ortega: Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega announced on Saturday that the construction of the country’s $30 billion inter-oceanic canal would begin as planned in December 2014. Last week, Manuel Coronel Kautz, president of the Nicaragua canal authority, said that the canal’s construction would likely be delayed until 2015. The Nicaraguan government granted the Hong Kong-based HKND Group a 50-year concession to build and manage the new canal, which will also include an oil pipeline, overland route, two deepwater ports, and two airports and duty-free zones.
Airline Refuses Bolivars from Venezuelan Customers: Spanish airline Air Europa announced on Friday an “indefinite” suspension of all ticket sales in bolivars, making it increasingly difficult for Venezuelans to purchase flights in the local currency. The airline said that it is owed more than $160 million because Venezuela’s country’s foreign exchange agency has not exchanged bolivars for U.S. dollars in some time. Other airlines may follow suit, cutting off access to flights for many Venezuelans. While the Venezuelan government says that one U.S. dollar equals 6.3 bolivars, the black market exchange rate is 11 times higher.
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.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.