Chilean police arrested three people early yesterday morning in connection to a bomb attack carried out in a Santiago metro station last week. In a statement made after the arrest, Southern Metropolitan Regional Attorney Raúl Guzmán, who is leading the prosecution, said, “We hope that they will be sentenced for these extremely serious acts.” The attack injured 14 and elicited a strong response from the Chilean government, which declared the bombing a “terrorist act” and vowed to charge suspects under the country’s Anti-Terrorist Law.
Guzmán has claimed that authorities have scientific evidence linking the suspects to the bombing. Nevertheless, the authorities have not ruled out that more people may have been involved in the attacks. “We are carrying out an investigation and will follow all leads in order to determine whether there are others who are responsible for these acts,” Guzmán said.
Authorities have not released the suspects’ identities. However, Interior and Security Minister Rodrigo Peñailillo indicated that two men and a woman had been detained. According to Attorney General Sabas Chahuán, they are members of an “enclosed anarchist cell.” Only one of the suspects is believed to have carried out the attack, while the other two are being held as accomplices. The government alleges that the suspects are also connected to another Santiago subway bombing carried out in July. That attack did not cause any injuries.
The Chilean branch of a Greece-based anarchist organization known as Synomosía Pyrínon Tis Fotiás (Conspiracy of Cells of Fire or Conspiración de células del fuego—CCF) has allegedly claimed responsibility for both the July and September bombings. In a statement published online, the group attempted to deflect responsibility for the attack’s casualties onto the police, claiming that the group alerted authorities about the bomb ten minutes before it detonated. The communiqué goes on to state that the CCF did not intend to injure “consumers and/or workers” but rather sought to target “power’s structures, property, and thugs.”
Colombian lawmakers accused former President Álvaro Uribe of links to right-wing paramilitary groups during a polemic Senate debate on Wednesday. Senator Ivan Cepeda led the questioning of Uribe during a 90-minute presentation in which he introduced documents supporting the former president’s alleged ties to paramilitary groups and drug cartels, including the Medellin Cartel financier Luis Carlos Molina Yepes. Cepeda also played an audio clip allegedly of Uribe congratulating Salvatore Mancuso—then-second in command of the paramilitary group Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia—AUC)—on successfully defeating guerrilla groups in the Córdoba department.
“Colombia is at a crossroads between perpetuating war, hate and violence or opening the difficult path to reconciliation and peace. Knowing the truth is key for the political process our country is undergoing,” said Cepeda. Uribe, who served as president from 2002 to 2010, was reelected to the Senate in 2014, has long been accused of associations with paramilitary groups, but rebuffed Cepeda’s accusations and eventually left the room in protest. The former president in turn accused Cepeda of “inciting violence” and Senator Jimmy Chamorro of dealing with drug traffickers.
Colombian newspapers live streamed the debate, which was also broadcast on live television. Tweets with hashtags like #DebateParamilitarismo #EstoyConUribe, #UribeCobarde and #SeRetiraComoUribe flooded Twitter throughout the presentations. The debate comes in the midst of President Juan Manuel Santos’ administration’s ongoing peace talks with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC), taking place in Havana, Cuba.
Stay tuned for Americas Quarterly’s upcoming Fall 2014 issue, which will take in in-depth look at the current peace talks and ongoing conflict between the Colombian government and paramilitary groups.
Latin America has set a record in the developing world for reducing food insecurity, achieving a 9 percent drop in hunger in the last 24 years. The UN announced on Tuesday that hunger in the region fell from 14 percent of the population in 1990 to 5 percent in 2014. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) specifically commended Bolivia and Brazil for their hunger reduction programs, citing them as examples for other countries.
Brazil, in particular, celebrated being removed from the World Hunger Map as a result of increased spending on food security and social programs. The federal government increased social spending by 128 percent between 2000 and 2012, leading to a more than 80 percent decrease in the number of undernourished Brazilians. The Fome Cero (Zero Hunger) program has also led to poverty reduction, with poverty dropping from 24.3 percent to 8.4 percent between 2001 and 2012, and extreme poverty falling from 14 percent to 3.5 percent in the same period.
In the Andean region, the FAO labeled Bolivia and Ecuador exceptional cases for their investment in social programs that specifically target typically marginalized communities, such as the large Indigenous populations in both countries. By instituting programs across various sectors, Bolivia was able to reduce extreme poverty by 17.2 percent, and reduce overall poverty by 7.4 percent between 1994 and 2008.
While other development challenges such as crime and low economic growth exist, Latin America is on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal of halving the percentage of people living in extreme poverty by 2015.
Three Argentine medical professionals that participated in the clandestine delivery of babies born to female prisoners during the military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983 will be prosecuted for the first time this week. Doctors Norberto Bianco and Raúl Martín, obstetrician Luisa Arroche, as well as former dictator Reynaldo Bignone and retired military general Santiago Riveros will be tried by the Oral Federal Court No. 6 On Wednesday for their role in kidnapping nine babies that were allegedly delivered in the secret maternity ward of the Campo de Mayo Military Hospital between 1976 and 1978.
During the dictatorship, at least 17 pregnant dissident women were abducted and brought to the military hospital where births were often induced by cesarean section. The babies would then be taken from their mothers and adopted by families that supported the dictatorship, including police and military officers. Prior to this week’s trial, the court had concluded that the kidnapping of babies was a systematic terror tactic used by the military government. Thus far, five of the kidnapping victims were able to discover their true identities.
On Sunday, human rights lawyer Víctor Abramovich voiced his concern over delays in prosecuting crimes against humanity that took place during the dictatorship, accusing “certain sectors of the judiciary” and defense lawyers of blocking investigations in order to postpone trials for older defendants.
Over 30,000 citizens are estimated to have been disappeared or killed over the course of the dictatorship. In a 2012 trial, Reynaldo Bignone and Argentine dictator Jorge Videla were sentenced to 15 and 50 years in prison, respectively—though Videla died the following year—and nine others were also convicted for their role in kidnapping an estimated 500 children. Last May, the Attorney General Alejandra Magdalena Gils Carbó noted that there were 74 repressors that had been charged with crimes against humanity and were currently on the run.
This week’s likely top stories: Venezuela is expected to win a seat on the UN Security Council; Brazilian President Rousseff and Marina Silva are tied in a new poll; U.S. deportations are at their lowest level since 2007; Santander’s new chairwoman will maintain the bank's current strategy; Ecuadorian President Correa asks supporters to mobilize against anticipated protests.
Venezuela likely to earn seat on UN Security Council despite critics: As the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly opens in New York this week, Venezuela is poised to gain a long-awaited seat on the UN Security Council. At a meeting in July, Venezuela obtained unanimous regional support for its candidacy to represent Latin America. While the country still has to gain a two-thirds majority in a secret vote among all 193 UN member countries, there is no rival candidate in the region and Venezuela is likely to win. Critics of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro are concerned about his impact on the Security Council, given the current human rights allegations against his administration. When Venezuela tried to gain a seat in 2006, the U.S. successfully blocked the attempt, claiming that Venezuela would be a “disruptive” influence. U.S. President Barack Obama will preside over a UN Security Council summit the week of September 22.
President Rousseff and Marina Silva tied in recent poll: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her chief political challenger, Marina Silva, are now statistically tied in the polls as Brazil’s October 5 presidential elections approach, according to a poll released Friday by the Instituto Brasileiro de Opinião Pública e Estatística (Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics—Ibope). The poll indicates that in a run-off vote, Silva would receive 43 percent of the vote while Rousseff would take 42 percent—a much closer race than the previous nine-point gap that put Silva in the lead. In the likely event that no single candidate wins a majority of votes on October 5, a run-off election will take place on October 26.
U.S. Deportations at lowest level since 2007: U.S. immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials reported that ICE deported 258,608 immigrants between October 1, 2013 and July 28, 2014—the lowest level reported for that 10-month period since 2007, and the greatest decline in deportations since President Barack Obama has been in office. Last year, 320,167 people were deported from the United States during the same period. More than 2 million immigrants have been deported during the Obama administration, but a White House spokesman said that the president’s decision to shift resources to the border to deal with an influx of unaccompanied minors from Central America may be one reason for the recent decline in deportations.
Santander’s new chairwoman says bank will stick to strategy: After the death of former Santander chairman Emilio Botín, newly-appointed chairwoman Ana Botín said on Monday that she would continue her late father’s strategy to increase international diversification and maintain the bank’s generous dividend policy with shareholders. On Monday, shareholders also agreed to buy 25 percent of the bank’s Brazilian unit, Santander Brasil, for $6 billion. The bank has major operations in ten countries, including Brazil, Mexico and Argentina, and reported a 22 percent increase in profits in the first half of 2014.
Correa calls on supporters for impending protests: Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa on Saturday asked supporters to rally against expected workers’ protests against his government this coming week. Ecuadorian workers’ organizations are planning a Jornada Nacional de Movilización (National Mobilization) on Wednesday to mobilize for labor rights and to call for reforms to the country’s penal code, water policies, and education system, among other concerns. “If there are 3,000 of them on Wednesday, there will be 30,000 of us,” Correa said.
Just days after a bomb exploded in a Santiago metro station, Chile commemorated what is perhaps the most divisive event in the country’s modern history—the September 11, 1973 military coup that interrupted Chile’s democracy, and ushered in the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
In a speech at the presidential palace, La Moneda, on Thursday, President Michelle Bachelet linked the two events, saying that “there is no room for violence and fear” in Chile. Calling democracy the country’s “most precious asset,” Bachelet went on to declare that “we will not allow the culture of respect, of rights and of peace that we are celebrating today, which belongs to all of us, to be trampled, abused or scorned by anyone.”
The day, however, was marked by violence and signs of general unease. According to local reports, confrontations between security forces and protesters left 10 police injured and led to the arrest of at least 30 individuals. Police sources also reported receiving 35 false bomb alerts over the course of day. It is unclear who is responsible for the false alerts, or whether they are related to Monday’s bombing. Authorities are still investigating Monday’s attack, though government officials have blamed “terrorists.”
The government also announced yesterday that it intends to repeal the country’s 1978 Amnesty Decree Law. The law covers the period from 1973-1978, and critics say that it shields members of the Pinochet regime accused of human rights abuses from prosecution. The effort to repeal the law was announced by Justice Minister José Antonio Gómez. In an unrelated event, a national legislator, Rosauro Martínez, was arrested in connection to the death of three Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (Movement of the Revolutionary Left—MIR) activists in 1981.
Early this morning, the lower house of the Argentine Congress passed a bill that will allow for the restructuring of its sovereign debt. After entering into session Wednesday afternoon, members passed the law Thursday morning with a vote of 134 to 99, just over the 129 votes needed for its approval.
The vote comes after the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a new resolution on Tuesday in favor of protecting countries ability to restructure sovereign debt, with 124 countries in favor, 11 against and 41 abstained. The United States was one of the few countries that voted against the measure.
Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman expressed his approval of the UN result. “The time has come to give a legal framework to the financial system for restructuring sovereign debt that respects the majority of creditors and which allows countries to come out of crises in a sustainable manner,” he said.
After entering into selective default on its debt on July 30, the new law will help Argentina pay back its creditors before its new September 30 payment deadline by allowing the payment site to be moved from New York to either Buenos Aires or Paris. However, New York District Judge Thomas Griesa—who froze $539 million in Argentine deposits in the Bank of New York Mellon and ordered the country to repay hedge funds in full before paying back creditors—has declared the law illegal and threatened to take legal actions against it.
Not everyone in Argentina is in favor of the new bill though. Alfonso Prat Gay, former president of the Central Bank of Argentina, stated that “the fight with the holdouts will be tremendously negative for the country’s future.”
U.S. Deputy Representative to the UN Economic and Social Council Terri Robl also expressed his concerns about the consequences of the new bill. “If lenders face higher uncertainty regarding repayment they may be less likely to provide financing and will likely charger higher risk premiums, potentially stifling financing to developing countries,” he said.
A survey published on Tuesday by the polling firm MDA and commissioned by the Confederação Nacional do Transporte (National Transport Confederation—CNT) showed that Brazilian incumbent President Dilma Rousseff would be statistically tied with Partido Socialista Brasileiro (Brazilian Socialist Party—PSB) candidate Marina Silva if the elections went to the second round on October 26. The poll, which surveyed 2,002 respondents from September 5 to September 7, revealed a 4.9 percentage point improvement for President Rousseff and her Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers' Party—PT) from two weeks ago.
The President had seen her numbers slump in the face of a struggling economy including less than 2 percent growth per year under the PT leader, a recession during the first half of the year, 6.5 percent inflation, and a threat from Moody’s Investor Service to downgrade Brazil’s credit rating. President Rousseff’s popularity also suffered from frustration over the lack of public services that led to over one million people protesting across 100 Brazilian cities shortly before the 2014 World Cup.
Despite popular frustration, the president’s approval rating seemed to improve in the polls after frontrunner Marina Silva faced criticism for withdrawing her support of marriage equality and nuclear energy. It’s unclear how the corruption scandal at the state-run oil company Petróleo Brasileiro S.A. (Petrobras) will affect the president’s numbers as details continue to emerge.
The first round of the general elections will be held on October 5, and they will proceed the second round if any one candidate fails to garner more votes than the other two candidates combined. While the MDA poll shows her leading the first round with 38.1 percent, it would not be enough to overcome the combined 48.2 percent support for Silva and Social Democrat Aécio Neves.
An explosion at a fast food restaurant in Santiago, Chile on Monday injured 14 people and has led Chilean authorities to investigate a potential terrorist attack. No one has claimed responsibility for the blast, which occurred at a mini mall next to the Escuela Militar metro station in the residential Las Condes neighborhood. The station remained closed while authorities investigated, although the metro continued to run normally.
Government spokesman Álvaro Elizalde condemned the incident as a “terrorist act” and affirmed that the government will invoke harsh anti-terrorism laws, which allow for tougher sentences, to bring those responsible to justice. So far in 2014, there have been 30 bombings or attempted bombings in Santiago. In July, another explosion occurred in the metro, though no bystanders were hurt in the incident.
With Monday’s injuries, citizens will be looking to President Michelle Bachelet for action regarding the increase in bombings in recent years. Bachelet denounced the attacks as “cowardly,” but claimed that Chile is still a safe country.
This week, Chile will mark the 41st anniversary of the 1973 military coup d’état that overthrew socialist President Salvador Allende and installed a 17 year-long military government in which thousands of political dissidents were disappeared and killed. The week of September 11 in Chile is often a time of increased protests and violence in the country.
This week’s likely top stories: Barack Obama delays executive action on immigration; a former Petrobras director names 40 politicians in scandal; former Salvadoran President Flores turns himself in; private equity fundraising in Latin America this year could reach $8 billion; Chileans remember September 11, 1973.
Immigration reform stalled: U.S. President Barack Obama’s promise to use his executive authority to reform immigration has hit a roadblock in the run-up to midterm elections, angering immigrant rights activists who hoped he would take action to ease deportations after Congress’ August recess. Polls conducted this summer revealed that voters in states like Arkansas and Iowa were overwhelmingly opposed to executive action on immigration, and a July survey by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press showed that a majority of respondents believed Obama had mishandled the surge of unaccompanied minors at the border this summer. A White House official said this weekend that the president will take action on immigration at the end of the year.
Petrobras corruption scandal: Paulo Roberto Costa—a former director of Brazilian state-run oil company Petróleo Brasileiro S.A. (Petrobras) who was arrested in 2013 for corruption—alleged that more than 40 Brazilian politicians received commissions for contracts signed with Petrobras between 2004 and 2012. Brazilian media revealed on Saturday that most of the individuals Costa named were members of the ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT), further complicating President Dilma Rousseff’s re-election bid on October 5. Costa struck a plea deal with prosecutors before naming the politicians. Rousseff said Saturday that she would await official information to “take all appropriate measures” to investigate the scandal.
El Salvador’s Francisco Flores under house arrest: Former Salvadoran President Francisco Flores, of the ARENA party, turned himself in to Salvadoran authorities on Friday, four months after a warrant for his arrest was issued in May. Flores was accused of misappropriating $15 million during his 1999-2004 presidential term, funds allegedly provided by Taiwan to help with reconstruction efforts after two earthquakes, as well as to fight drug trafficking and crime. On Friday, Flores—who had been missing for months—said he had turned himself in “voluntarily and out of respect for the law.” He is currently under house arrest and denies the charges against him.
Private equity push in Latin America: Private equity and venture capital fundraising in Latin America has already reached $3.5 billion in the first half of 2014, indicating that year-end totals could reach as high as $8 billion, according to new data from the Latin American Private Equity & Venture Capital Association (LAVCA). In 2011, a record $10.27 billion was raised, and in 2013, investments reached a six-year high—but have decreased by 10 percent for the same period this year. According to LAVCA, information technology attracted 30 percent of total investments, followed by healthcare.
Chileans march in memory of September 11: Thousands of Chileans marched through Santiago on Sunday to commemorate the anniversary of the September 11, 1973 military coup that overthrew President Salvador Allende and led to the death or disappearance of some 3,000 people. The march was largely peaceful, according to Chilean police, although four journalists were injured when some of the protesters threw objects at the police. More marches are planned for Thursday, September 11.
The number of reported cases of torture and ill-treatment perpetrated by Mexican security forces has skyrocketed by 600 percent in the last decade, according to a report published by Amnesty International on Thursday. Last year alone, Mexico’s Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos (National Human Rights Commission—CNDH) received nearly 4,000 complaints regarding human rights violations by federal institutions. Of these, 1,505 specifically reported instances of torture. However, the problem extends far beyond the country’s federal forces. “Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment plays a central role in policing and public security operations by military and police forces across Mexico,” the report states.
Ordinary Mexicans seem to have taken note of the reported increase in state violence. Amnesty International’s Americas Director, Erika Guevara Rosas, notes that, according to a recent survey carried out by the organization, “64 percent of Mexicans report being fearful of being tortured in the event of being detained.” In the report’s view, however, the Mexican government seems far less alarmed. In a challenge to earlier statements by President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government regarding his administration’s efforts on this issue, the report cites, “a lack of clear political leadership and real political will by successive governments” as a key factor in the increase in abuses.
The report is the latest in a string of critical assessments of Mexico’s human rights situation. In another report published earlier this year, Human Rights Watch found evidence of “widespread killings, enforced disappearances, and torture.” And after visiting the country in April, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Méndez, declared, “there is an epidemic of torture that needs to be corrected.”
On Wednesday morning, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet pledged $510 million for the restoration of Valparaiso after large wildfires devastated parts of the city in April. The blazes lasted several days and killed 15 people and destroyed or damaged at least 15,000 homes in the port city, which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003.
The money will be disbursed over eight years and will be divided into three tiers—the city overall, neighborhoods and individual homes. Destroyed homes will receive almost $100 million, with the rest of the money being put towards urban development, cultural spaces, public transportation and city infrastructure to reinforce and protect inhabitants from future fires, including safety devices such as fire alarms and sprinklers. Seventy-one percent of the restoration and construction is expected to be completed by March 2018.
President Bachelet said that the plan’s benefits would go beyond Valparaiso and is meant to reactivate the Chilean economy. “This plan is about more than normalizing life in the city; it is a commitment to change the urban development of the country,” she said.
While the plan will help the 2,600 families affected by the fire, it is facing criticism for being too narrow in scope. Renzo Trisotti, deputy of the Unión Demócrata Independiente (Independent Democratic Union—UDI) party of Chile’s Tarapacá region expressed his concern with the omission of the northern regions of Chile, also affected by natural disasters earlier this year. “Five months after the two earthquakes affected the northern regions, there are still families living and tents and there is no plan for reconstruction,” he said.
The Venezuelan government opened an investigation against U.S.-based television network TNT on Tuesday because of the depiction of President Nicolás Maduro on the fictional spy drama “Legends.” In the third episode of the season, the Venezuelan executive is accused of stockpiling chemical weapons to use against anti-government protestors, referencing the protests that engulfed Venezuela in February.
On Monday night, Venezuela’s Information Minister Delcy Rodriguez requested via Twitter that Conatel—the South American country’s national telecommunications commission—open an investigation because of the “lies and manipulations” against President Maduro on the series. Fox 21, the producer of the series, apologized to President Maduro in an official statement, emphasizing that the representation of the president was purely fictional and that producers “did not intend to imply that the show was reporting any actual events.”
President Maduro’s approval rating dropped 15 points to 35 percent in the past nine months amid the continued economic crisis that sparked the initial mass protests, according to a recent Datanálisis poll. While the Central Bank of Venezuela has not released economic data since May, the research firm Ecoanalítica has indicated that with its shrinking GDP, limited foreign currency, and car manufacturing collapse, the country is headed toward a recession.
Presidential hopeful Marina Silva of the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (Brazilian Socialist Party—PSB) and incumbent President Dilma Rousseff of the Partido das Trabalhadores (Worker’s Party—PT) harshly criticized each other’s economic plans, leading to tension during yesterday’s second presidential debate. The Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (Party of Brazilian Social Democracy—PSDB) candidate Aécio Neves and five other candidates also attended the debate, ahead of the first round of elections on October 5.
A Datafolha poll from August 29 showed a tie between Rousseff and Silva in the first round, with each earning 34 percent of the vote, and predicted that Silva would beat Rousseff in the second round with 10 percentage points. Responding to the threat from her challenger, Rousseff criticized Silva’s plan to strengthen the Central Bank’s independence, affirming that it will make regulation more difficult. She also called into question how Silva will raise the money required to increase spending on public services. Silva claimed that Rousseff’s administration created higher inflation and debt and accused her of failing to place importance on renewable energy.
Silva became a presidential candidate after her running mate, Eduardo Campos, died in a helicopter crash on August 20. Over the weekend, the former environment minister under Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva made two “corrections” to her official platform, retracting her support for gay marriage and nuclear power.
President Barack Obama’s plan to move forward with reforming the U.S. immigration system through executive action will not be deterred by threats from some Congressional Republicans to force a government shutdown, press secretary Josh Earnest said yesterday. “The president is determined to act where House Republicans won't, and there is strong support for that all across the country," Earnest said.
The comments from the White House come in response to remarks by Rep. Steve King (R-IA), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) that signaled the possibility of the GOP using the budget process to halt any executive action on the issue. "If the president wields his pen and commits that unconstitutional act to legalize millions, I think that becomes something that is nearly political nuclear," Rep. King told the Des Moines Register on Wednesday.
White House lawyers are in the final stages of building a legal case around Obama’s plan to expand administrative relief that will likely expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) launched through executive action in June 2012 to more recipients. While an announcement of the reforms were excepted by Labor Day, the president’s trip to Estonia and Wales and conflicts in the Middle East will likely delay it until mid-September.
Teachers continue to strike in Asunción, Paraguay today, demanding salary increases and greater public investment in education. The strike began across the country yesterday after continuing labor negotiations between the Paraguayan Ministry of Labor and representatives from the education sector failed to reach an accord on Tuesday. Several streets were closed due to the protests and classes were canceled for two days.
Last week, Education and Culture Minister Marta Lafuente rejected demands set by the Unión Nacional de Educadores (National Educational Union—UNE-SN) for a 10 percent salary increase for all teachers, stating that only those making less than minimum wage should receive a raise. UNE-SN’s demands also include a static investment of 7 percent of Paraguay’s GDP to be allocated to the education sector for better resources and infrastructure improvements.
“To speak of a quality education is to talk about a better salary, training, better infrastructure, school lunches, and additional benefits,” said union leader Blanca Ávalos. However, the Ministry of Education and Culture claims that they do not have the funds for the additional $27 million that would be needed in order to raise salaries for teachers per UNE-SN’s demands.
“It’s very easy to grant raises, but we ask for time—we have to know when to give. We can’t be populists and give what we don’t have,” said President Horacio Cartes, asking for the teachers for patience with regard to the reforms.
Students and medical professionals showed their solidarity with the teachers through their own organized protests throughout the week as discontent with the Cartes Administration continues to mount. This afternoon the teachers will evaluate whether to extend their strike.
Following a week of debate, Peru’s Congress approved President Ollanta Humala’s new 20-person cabinet yesterday, which will be led by Prime Minister Ana Jara. The cabinet was voted on a third time after the first two votes had too many abstentions to be valid, and approval was ultimately granted by a minimal margin for victory: 55 in favor, 54 against, and 9 abstentions.
Opposition legislators had made various demands of the administration before the debate, including that Energy and Mines Minister Eleodoro Mayorga resign. President Humala refused to get rid of any of his ministers, but did make concessions to the opposition, including suspending a law that required independent workers to pay into a pension fund.
Reacting to the news, Mesías Guevara, secretary-general for the Acción Popular (Popular Action) centrist opposition party said that President Humala “practically lives in a bubble” if he believes that the newly-approved cabinet is a strong one. The vote by Congress bolsters the Humala Administration at a time when it has been involved in frequent disputes with the legislative branch and the president’s approval rating is a paltry 25.8 percent.
Sixteen former Puerto Rican police officers were convicted of using their position to run a criminal organization, the Department of Justice announced Monday. The charges include racketeering, robbery, extortion, and firearms charges for using their police-issued firearms to commit their crimes. The convicted officers will be sentenced in December.
The officers stole property, cash and narcotics from suspected criminals, planted evidence in order to extort victims in return for their release, and accepted bribes in return for giving false testimony or failing to appear in court at all, court documents revealed.
Puerto Rico has been subject to scrutiny since 2011 due to high rates of police corruption and drug trafficking-related violence. The federal government intervened by expanding Operation Caribbean Resilience, a joint initiative focused on dismantling criminal organizations in Puerto Rico led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) with support from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Coast Guard, and the Puerto Rican Police Department, in 2012. The previous year, the murder rate reached a record 1,117 per year, six times that of the U.S. mainland and by 2012 more than 70 percent of homicides on the island that year were related to drug trafficking.
Puerto Rico’s police department recently released its first report detailing changes to the department as mandated by the federal government after a 2011 report highlighted illegal killings, corruption and civil rights violations within its 17,000-person police force.
This week’s likely top stories: Mexico launches a new civilian police force; Peru shows slow economic growth in key commodity sectors; the Colombian military held its first meeting with the FARC in Havana; a U.S. federal judge rejects Argentina’s local debt swap plan; Brazilian authorities are negotiating the release of hostages taken in a prison riot in Paraná state.
Mexico launches new elite police force: On Friday, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced the inauguration of a new federal police force or gendarmerie—technically a military force tasked with police duties—aimed at quelling outbreaks of violent crime. The 5,000 new officers will function as a division of the 36,000-strong civilian federal police. National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido García said the gendarmerie will protect Mexico’s economic assets—like oil, mines, and farms—from organized crime, especially in rural areas where criminal activity has negatively impacted commerce or tourism. The new police force comes as a result of Peña Nieto’s 2012 campaign promise to reduce violence. Although homicides have been steadily decreasing since 2011, critics say that the relatively small police force will not significantly impact issues of insecurity, especially in Mexico’s urban centers where most of the violent crimes are occurring nationwide.
Peru shows slow second quarter growth: Peru’s GDP grew just 1.7 percent in the second quarter of this year, as compared to 6.2 percent this time last year. Meanwhile, domestic demand grew 2.2 percent, versus 7.1 percent in 2013. Peru’s commodity-driven economy experienced a boom over the last decade that saw average growth of 6.4 percent, but Colombia has now overtaken it as the fast-growing large economy in the region. The country’s halted growth comes as a result of weak performance from the mining, fishing and agriculture sectors. "Mining investments have decelerated, but that will be replaced by a cycle of investments in infrastructure projects," said Scotiabank economist Pablo Nano, who still expects 4.0 percent growth on the year.
Military leaders join FARC in Havana for first meeting: The first meeting between Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) leaders and the Colombian military occurred in Havana last Friday. General Javier Florez, head of Colombia's joint chiefs of staff and one of the FARC's strongest adversaries, represented the military, joining the Colombian government and FARC negotiators for the first time. Humberto de la Calle, the leader of the government's negotiating team, stressed that there is no current discussion to negotiate a cease-fire, but that the government has formed a subcommittee to determine the procedure for implementing a cease-fire once the two sides have reached a final agreement. Lead FARC negotiator Iván Márquez affirmed that the meeting showed just how much the peace talks have progressed since they began in 2012. Negotiators have already discussed land reform, political participation of the FARC and drug trafficking, while disarmament and the final peace deal have yet to be addressed.
U.S. rejects Argentina's proposal for local debt swap: U.S. Federal Judge Thomas Griesa ruled last week that Argentina's latest plan to avoid its default is illegal and “lawless.” The ruling comes in response to President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s proposal to allow defaulted bond holders the opportunity to swap out their debt for locally-issued debt. The plan was aimed at resuming interest payments to investors who accepted restructured bonds while evading payment to the hedge funds that are owed approximately $1.3 billion. Griesa had previously ruled that Argentina cannot make interest payments to bond holders that accepted restructuring until the Argentinean government paid the holdouts. Griesa strongly criticized the plan but did not hold the country in contempt, explaining that it would not inspire a willingness to cooperate, and instead pressed the two sides to negotiate an agreement.
Riot in Paraná prison leaves four dead: Four prisoners have been killed and several others injured during an inmate riot at a penitentiary in the southern state of Paraná, Brazil that began Sunday morning. The riot started when a group of inmates overpowered prison guards and in the ensuing chaos, as many as 1,000 prisoners took over several parts of the facility. The riot is said to be caused by prisoners' frustration regarding inadequacies in sanitation and diet at the prison, although many gangs are taking advantage of the chance to seek revenge on enemies. Two guards are currently being held hostage, and Brazilian authorities resumed negotiations today in an attempt to secure their release and end the riot.
Thousands of students marched in the streets of Santiago and other cities throughout Chile yesterday to express their impatience with the lack of progress made on education reform—a key promise made by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet after she was reelected in 2013. The Universidad de Chile’s (University of Chile) student organization Federación de Estudiantes de la Universidad de Chile (University of Chile Student Federation—FECh) estimated that 80,000 students marched in Santiago yesterday, while the government put the number at 25,000.
FECh President Melissa Sepúlveda addressed the protesters at the march, warning that, “This is a direct call to the Ministry of Education, so that the agreements from the Right [parties] are not included in the Education Reform [bill].” After Sepúlveda and other student leaders had finished speaking, dozens of mostly young encapuchados, hooded delinquents, destroyed traffic lights, burned dumpsters, threw sticks and rocks toward the Carabineros, the Chilean police force. The Carabineros responded by spraying the protestors with water, shooting tear gas at them, and removing those occupying the Faculty of Law at the Universidad de Chile. According to Observadores Derechos Humanos Chile (Human Rights Observers in Chile), there were 17 arrests.
Bachelet sent the first part of her education reform to congress in May, eliminating subsidies for for-profit schools and ending selective entrance policies, but the bill is still being debated in the lower house. Meanwhile, a second round of reforms that would make university education free will be sent to congress later this year. FECh leaders expressed their dissatisfaction with the exclusion of students from the deliberations, and voiced concern over “deals behind closed doors,” and “agreements that would benefit education businesses.”
General Rudy Israel Ortiz Ruiz was one of five military officials involved in a helicopter crash Wednesday morning. After the Fuerza Aérea Guatemalteca (Guatemalan Air Force—FAG) helicopter Bell 206 took off from Huehuetenango for a routine fly-over inspection of units along the Mexican border, the pilot rerouted from landing in Ixquisis to Las Palmas due to inclement weather before crashing into a mountainous forest area 1.2 miles from the El Aguacate village.
In the helicopter with Ortiz were Brigadier General Braulio Rene Mayen Garcia, Colonel Rony Adolfo Anleu Del Aguila, Major Selvin Ricardo Raymundo, and the pilot, Colonel Juan de Dios Lopez Gomez. According to Defense Minister Manuel Lopez, there were no survivors. Due to the terrain of the crash location, it took over four hours for soldiers and civilians to recover the bodies. Several helicopters were sent by the FAG and the Policía Nacional Civil (National Civil Police—PNC), but the bodies had to be transported by foot to an air base in Huehuetenango before they could be air-lifted to the capital.
Huehuetenango is known for being a drug trafficking route plagued by Mexican and Guatemalan drug cartels. However, the helicopter was reportedly in good condition and there is no reason to suspect foul play, although there is an investigation underway.
Ortiz, 51, had served in the armed forces for over 32 years and had been chief of the Estado Mayor de la Defensa Nacional (General Staff—EMDN) since July 2013. Many speculated that Ortiz was in line to become the next minister of defense. Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina gave his condolences to the families of Ortiz and the other officers, praising them for their service to the nation, and declared three days of mourning for the death of the five officials.
Yesterday, Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB) concluded their investigation of the Lac-Mégantic, Quebec train derailment that occurred on July 5, 2013. According to the final report, the accident was caused by a runaway train carrying crude oil that was parked at the top of a hill for the evening, but upon its brakes failing, slid down the tracks and crashed near the center of town resulting in an explosion killing 47 people. The TSB determined that eighteen factors led to the catastrophe, but emphasized a “weak safety culture” as one of the major causes.
TSB found that the rail operator, Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA), which has since filed for bankruptcy, had a weak safety management system and lacked effective training and maintenance procedures. Their report also criticized the transportation ministry, Transport Canada, for a lack of management and regulation. The investigation found that Transport Canada was aware that MMA carried a higher risk of accidents in recent years due to an increase in the transportation of crude oil, yet performed few audits and failed to follow up when it uncovered problems.
The report recommends more comprehensive audits and improved technology to prevent runaway trains caused by brake failure. In January, the safety boards of Canada and the U.S. collaborated on suggestions to improve safety, given that crude oil transportation by train has increased considerably in the last ten years due to advanced technology and the subsequent shale boom. New Democrat Member of Parliament Hoang Mai has attributed the accident to the fact that “conservatives have left companies to monitor themselves,” and other opposition politicians have also blamed the federal government for the disaster.
Three members of Pope Francis’ family were killed on a provincial road between Rosario and Cordoba in Argentina this morning. Emanuel Bergoglio, the pontiff’s nephew, remains in the hospital in critical condition after surviving the traffic collision that claimed the lives of his wife and two small children.
The family was traveling to Buenos Aires when they were struck by a truck. Pope Francis just finished a five-day tour of South Korea where he appealed for unification of the Korean peninsula and humanitarian assistance for the economically beleaguered North Korea. The pope, who joked about his own mortality and tenure as the leader of the Catholic Church on Monday, was ”deeply pained” by the news of the crash and asked that believers join him in prayer when informed of the deaths, said Vatican spokesman Reverend Federico Lomabrdi.
Argentina registered 12.6 traffic deaths per 100,000 people in 2010, putting it slightly behind the Chile and United States in traffic safety.
This week’s likely top stories: Marina Silva agrees to face Dilma Rousseff in Brazil’s presidential election; victims of Colombia's armed conflict speak to peace negotiators; Mexico will announce new energy projects; Julian Assange plans to leave Ecuador’s embassy “soon”; classes in Mexico are suspended due to a copper mine’s toxic spill.
Marina Silva agrees to run for president: Former Brazilian Environmental Minister Marina Silva has agreed to run for president in the place of the late Eduardo Campos, who died August 13 in a plane crash in the Brazilian city Santos. Silva’s entry into the race will raise new challenges for President Dilma Rousseff. Although Rousseff maintains her lead in the polls, Silva has quickly gained almost three times the support that Campos had–around 21 percent–and would defeat Rousseff in a hypothetical second-round contest, according to polling company Datafolha. Silva was Campos’ vice presidential running mate for the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (Brazilian Socialist Party–PSB) before he was killed last week, and she also ran for president in Brazil’s 2010 election. Over 100,000 people attended Campos’ funeral in Recife on Sunday, including Rousseff, presidential candidate Aécio Neves from the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (Brazilian Social Democracy Party–PSDB), and former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
Victims of Colombia’s armed conflict address peace negotiators: Twelve victims of Colombia’s 50-year-old internal conflict met with members of the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) on Saturday to urge a peace agreement in Havana. The participants, whose loved ones are among the 220,000 people killed during the armed conflict, said that they were willing to forgive the killings by the FARC, paramilitary groups, and government security forces, as long as the negotiators reach an agreement. A total of 60 victims’ relatives chosen by the UN, Roman Catholic Church and National University are expected to speak to the peace negotiators in the coming weeks. The negotiators have already reached agreements on three points of the six-point peace agenda, but must still decide on victims’ rights, disarmament, and the implementation of a peace deal.
New Mexican energy projects to be announced: Mexico’s Comisión Federal de Electricidad (Federal Electricity Commission—CFE ) is expected to announce 16 new electricity projects today worth a total of nearly $4.9 billion, according to a report obtained by the daily newspaper El Financiero. The projects—which are expected to include four pipelines, three electricity plants, upgrades to an existing plant, and eight new transmission lines and substations—will be the first auctions under the energy sector reforms signed into law by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto last week. Those reforms opened Mexico’s oil, gas and electricity sectors to private investment.
Julian Assange to leave Ecuadorian embassy in London: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been seeking refuge at the Ecuadorean embassy in London for over two years, announced Monday that he will be leaving “soon” because of anticipated legal reforms in Britain that would help him avoid extradition to Sweden. Assange did not mention a specific date of departure from the embassy. In 2010, two women accused Assange of sexual assault and rape, and he faces questioning by prosecutors in Stockholm. Yesterday, Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino, accused the British government of human rights abuses and questioned their commitment to finding a diplomatic solution. Assange denied that he will be leaving the embassy for health reasons, as the UK Press has reported.
First day of classes suspended because of toxic spill in Mexico: A toxic spill at a copper mine in northern Mexico has closed 88 schools in the Mexican state of Sonora due to concerns that contaminants have entered local drinking water. The spill occurred on August 6 at the Buenavista copper mine near the U.S.-Mexico border, reportedly after a poorly-designed holding area containing toxic materials overflowed due to heavy rains. The Sonora state government has distributed clean drinking water to between 80 and 90 percent of local residents, although those living in more isolated areas have not yet received potable water. Classes were supposed to start today in seven municipalities affected by the spill; they are expected to begin later this week.
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon traveled to St. Louis yesterday to address the tense situation developing in Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb, after Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager, was killed by a white police officer on Saturday. Gov. Nixon faces criticism for his slow response to the crisis following four nights of protests that have resulted in police firing teargas and rubber bullets at protestors.
Journalists from Al Jazeera America were also targeted with tear gas on Wednesday night forcing them to abandon their cameras. Two other reporters, Ryann J. Reilly from the Huffington Post andWashington Post reporter Wesley Lowery, were arrested at a McDonald’s. A St. Louis City alderman, Antonio French, and the legislative aid to the president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen were also arrested.
On Thursday, President Barack Obama responded to the events unfolding in Ferguson by criticizing protestors who have taken advantage of the “tragedy” for vandalism and looting, but also said that “police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their jobs.” Georgia Congressman John Lewis, himself a victim of police brutality in a 1965 march in Selma, Alabama, has called on the president to “declare martial law” and “federalize the Missouri National Guard to protect people as they protest.”
Ferguson police accused Michael Brown of being combative, but eyewitnesses say that Brown had his hands up and was unarmed before being shot several times. The Ferguson police department has not yet released the name of the officer responsible for the shooting. As the situation has escalated, Gov.Nixon removed the St. Louis County Police from Ferguson, placing Missouri Highway Police in charge of the situation instead.
The situation in Ferguson became calmer on Thursday night as the Missouri Highway Police took over, but vigils and demonstrations were carried out in several other cities including Chicago, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Baltimore, New York and Miami—where eight people were arrested.
In a press release Wednesday, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) announced that it would create a special fund for reparations for victims of the armed conflict. The group also asked the Colombian government to take tangible actions to protect the rights of said victims.
The release came on the second day of the twenty-seventh convening of the peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC taking place in Havana. The topic of restitution for the victims of the conflict is the fourth point of a six point peace agenda, and by far the most controversial subject being negotiated. A total of 60 victims’ testimonies will be presented before two teams of negotiators, with the first 12 victims arriving in Havana to testify this Saturday.
In their statement, the FARC recognized that finding a solution to this issue will not be easy but emphasized the necessity of doing so. “This matter is very important because it is going to hand us the keys to clear the path toward the reconciliation of the Colombian family,” said Iván Márquez, the FARC’s chief negotiator. Land reform, political participation of the FARC and drug trafficking have already been discussed, while disarmament and the way in which the final peace deal will be incorporated are the final two topics that have yet to be addressed.
Colombia currently has the greatest number of displaced people in the world at over 5 million due to the armed conflict over the past 50 years. While peace talks have been ongoing since November 2012, both the FARC and the Colombian government continue to blame each other for the over 220,000 individuals killed and the millions more displaced.
Brazilian presidential candidate Eduardo Campos and six other people were killed Wednesday morning when the plane they were traveling in crashed in the coastal city of Santos in São Paulo state. Brazilian television reports said that the plane, a Cessna 560XL, struggled in bad weather and hit a three-story building in the neighborhood of Boqueirao, killing all those aboard.
Campos, 49, the former governor of Pernambuco state, was the presidential candidate for the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (Brazilian Socialist Party). The latest opinion polls showed him in third place behind Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff of the ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers' Party) and challenger Aécio Neves, of the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (Social Democracy Party).
President Rousseff temporarily suspended her re-election campaign and declared three days of national mourning for Campos and the other victims of the crash. Meanwhile, the Partido Socialista Brasileiro must submit the name of a new presidential candidate within 10 days. Campos' running-mate, vice presidential candidate Marina Silva, previously ran for president in 2010 and may be a possible contender.
Eight masked gunmen disguised as airport workers robbed an armored money transportation truck at Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport in Santiago on Tuesday, stealing over 6 billion pesos ($10 million)—the largest robbery in Chile’s history. The truck belonged to the U.S. security firm Brinks, and the money was due to be a loaded onto a flight for delivery at various banks and mining sites in Copiapó and Antofagasta in the north of Chile.
The thieves fled the scene in two vans headed in opposite directors and scattered nails in their wake to thwart potential pursuers, prompting Chilean Vice President Rodrigo Peñailillo to say that the gang was “obviously well organized.” Meanwhile, Chilean Sub-Secretary of the Interior Mahmud Aleuy Peña y Lillo called the security at the airport, which is handled by civil aviation authorities, “an embarrassment.”
Tuesday’s robbery tops a 2006 heist where thieves stole $1.6 million from a similar Brinks truck at the same airport terminal. In that case, the assailants were apprehended by police and are currently serving time in prison.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released Monday revealed that 51 percent of Americans oppose President Barack Obama's plan to fast track deportations for unaccompanied Central American children apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border. The online poll had a sample size of 1,566 people.
The poll showed a divide in public opinion over how long the children should be allowed to remain in the U.S. Thirty-eight percent of responders said that the children should be allowed to stay "until it was deemed safe for them to return home," while 13 percent supported an indefinite stay and 32 percent favored immediate removal. The results broke down along party lines, with 48 percent of Democrats, 30 percent of Republicans and 37 percent of independents supporting allowing the children to stay until conditions are safer.
The latest roadblock in addressing the border crisis has been the lack of legal representation available to the minors—many of whom are under the age of 14—during their immigration hearings. Vice President Joe Biden made an appeal to law firms to allow their lawyers to provide pro bono representation to these children after House Republicans stripped federal funding for the legal counsel of the unaccompanied minors on August 1.
The credibility interval of the Reuters/Ipsos poll was plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.
This week’s likely top stories: President Juan Manuel Santos announces new ministers; Venezuela and Colombia crack down on smuggling; Codelco’s CEO has new plans for Chuquicamata Mine; Bolivia deports an Argentine accused of crimes against humanity; a fire at a Pemex refinery kills at least four people.
President Santos to announce new Cabinet: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is expected to announce new Cabinet ministers today as he launches his second term in office. Of the 16 Cabinet positions, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón, Minister of Finance Mauricio Cárdenas, and Minister of Foreign Relations María Ángela Holguín will retain their titles, while former Minister of the Interior Aurelio Iragorri will now be Minister of Agriculture, and Juan Fernando Cristo, former president of the Senate, will take Iragorri’s place at the ministry of the interior. At his inauguration address last week, Santos said that in addition to signing a peace agreement with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC), he will focus on education and equality as pillars of his 2014-2018 presidential term.
Venezuela to shut its border with Colombia at night: Effective today, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos have agreed to close the Colombia-Venezuela border between the hours of 10 pm and 5 am each night in an effort to reduce smuggling. Heavily subsidized Venezuelan goods—such as food and fuel—can be sold at much higher prices in Colombia, causing tax losses for the state and profits for drug gangs and guerrilla groups. So far this year, the Venezuelan government has seized 21,000 tons of food and 40 million liters of fuel that were destined for Colombia. Maduro and Santos agreed to the measures on August 1 at a summit in Colombia.
New Codelco CEO says open-pit mine must go underground: Nelson Pizarro, the new CEO of Chile’s state-owned copper mining company Codelco, said on Sunday that Chile’s open-pit Chuquicamata Mine should be transformed into a subterranean mine to make it profitable. Pizarro, who was named Codelco’s CEO at the end of July and will officially take over on September 1, faces opposition from the miners’ unions, who say that the plan to revamp the mine will cause many to lose their jobs because many are not trained to work underground. Pizarro replied that “if the unions don’t do their part, there will be no future for Codelco.” Codelco is currently the largest producer of copper in the world.
Bolivia deports Argentine accused of Dirty War crimes: Jorge Horacio Páez Senestrari, a former infantry captain during Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship, has been deported back to Argentina after he was captured on Friday in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Páez was accused of committing crimes against humanity in the Argentine province of Santa Cruz during the dictatorship. He had been temporarily released from prison in San Juan in 2011 to await his trial, but after he failed to attend his hearing, local police and Interpol issued an international alert for his arrest. Now that he has returned to Argentina, Páez’s trial is expected to resume.
Pemex refinery accident in Mexico: A fire that broke out on Friday at a Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) oil refinery in Ciudad Madero, Mexico, had killed at least four people as of Sunday night. Seven refinery workers were still hospitalized, according to Pemex officials. The latest explosion happened as workers performed maintenance on an empty petroleum coke tank, which was used to hold a solid carbon by-product of the oil refining process. On July 24, a different fire had broken out at the refinery, injuring 23 workers. Last week, the Mexican government passed secondary legislation to open its energy sector to private and foreign investment for the first time in over 70 years, in an effort to increase production and attract foreign expertise and technology.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos began his second term yesterday after winning reelection in the second round in June, defeating Óscar Iván Zuluaga who was backed by former President Álvaro Uribe. Santos based his campaign on the promise of a peace, with the hope of coming to an agreement the left-wing guerrilla group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC).
When Santos initiated the process of peace talks with the FARC in 2012, he broke with Uribe, his former mentor, who had a military-based approach toward dealing with the guerrilla groups. In response, the FARC announced a cease-fire—though the group has engaged in some acts of violence since this announcement—and the Colombian government began peace negotiations in Havana, Cuba in November 2012.
The Corte Constitucional de Colombia (Constitutional Court of Colombia) decided on Wednesday that it will allow guerrillas who give up their arms to participate in politics, unless they have been accused of committing crimes against humanity or genocide. This is seen as another victory for Santos, as Rafael Guarín, a former vice minister of defense and uribista, had previously challenged Santos peace reform in court, attempting to block any future political participation of guerrillas in the Colombian government.
Santos will face an uphill battle, with 61 percent of Colombians skeptical that FARC is interested in peace, and 50 percent disapproving of Santos’ approach towards peace. He also has faces opposition from Uribe, who now serves as a senator, and his allies in congress, as well as a smaller guerrilla group, the Ejército de Liberación Nacional, (National Liberation Army—ELN), who have recently been stepping up attacks on infrastructure.
After 36 years of searching, Estela de Carlotto, president and founder of the Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo (Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo) was reunited with her grandson in a private meeting in La Plata on Wednesday evening. Ignacio Hurbán, named Guido Montoya Carlotto by his biological mother, discovered his true identity after taking a DNA test Tuesday resulting in a 99.9 percent match with the Carlotto family.
Guido met with his grandmother and his aunt and uncles, Claudia, Kibo and Remo Carlotto, in an undisclosed location from 3 pm to 9:30 pm Wednesday evening, catching up on the decades that had passed since Guido was taken from his 23 year-old mother Laura, who was being held prisoner of the state by the Argentine military dictatorship and had her baby stolen from her only five hours after giving birth.
While recuperated children's identities are carefully guarded to protect the individuals who may be suffering from shock, the news of Guido quickly spread to local and national news. The 36 year-old musician was brought up in Olavarría, a town just under 200 miles from Buenos Aires, by a family with no direct connection to the dictatorship.
During the Argentine military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983—during which time more than 30,000 people were taken prisoner, tortured and killed or disappeared—over 500 babies were stolen from prisoners as "botín de guerra" (spoils of war) and adopted by military and other families. Guido is the 114th grandchild to be recovered after the Abuelas started a DNA bank to help reunite stolen children with their biological families.
The impact of finding Guido has spread across the country. The Abuelas, which usually receive between 10 to 40 calls a day regarding identity, had to bring in additional help on Wednesday to attend to the 100 calls received. While the Abuelas are hopeful of reuniting all of the stolen children with their biological families, they are also cognizant of the difficulty of doing so.
“If it took us 36 years to find 114 grandchildren, calculate how much time will have to pass for us to find the rest of the 400 we’re missing,” said Rosa Roisinbilt, vice president of the Abuelas.
Due to the high volume of unaccompanied minors coming from Central America, the Texas state government announced yesterday that it would relax the rules governing the required conditions in its shelters. The regulatory changes reduced the number of square feet required for each child, increased the number of children assigned to a single toilet, sink and shower, and allows the minors to sleep on cots when standard beds are unavailable.
The announcement comes one day after the U.S. Department of Health and Human services said that it would be closing three emergency shelters currently situated on military bases in California, Texas and Oklahoma. The shelter at Fort Sill in Oklahoma could close as early as Friday. More than 7,700 children have been housed at the three shelters since May, many of whom have since been reunited with family.
And in a last-minute vote on Friday—hours before the start of August recess—the Republican majority in the House of Representatives approved legislation that would modify a 2008 anti-human-trafficking law in order to make it easier to deport unaccompanied minors and block President Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The chamber also approved $694 million in emergency funding for federal agencies dealing with the crisis, far less than the $3.7 billion requested by President Obama. It is unlikely that these bills will pass the Democrat-controlled Senate.
There were 600 fewer homicides in Honduras as compared to the same period last year, President Juan Orlando Hernández announced on Monday. In the first semester of 2014, there were 2,893 murders in the small Central American country, which is home to 8.2 million inhabitants.
Honduras averaged about 19 murders a day in 2013, but President Hernández remained hopeful that the drop in the rate would become a pattern for the embattled country. He blamed the complexities of organized crime and security issues for the elevated number of homicides, and emphasized that patterns and trends will not become apparent to the general populace for several years, as was the case in Colombia and Guatemala. An International Crisis Group report released in June identified the 2009 coup d’état that deposed former President Manuela Zelaya as a primary cause in the increase in drug-related crime in the country.
The high rates of violence contributed to Honduras’ low score in the 2014 Social Inclusion Index where it ranked sixteenth out of 17 countries, behind El Salvador and Paraguay. Social exclusion and the lack of citizen security have been highlighted as two of the primary drivers in the unaccompanied minor crisis at the border.
This week’s top stories: USAID is accused of running a secret program in Cuba; Mexican energy reform passes in the lower house; U.S. Republicans pass immigration bills before recess; the value of the Argentine peso drops over debt woes; a bridge in Montería, Colombia collapses.
USAID and Cuba: In a statement this morning, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has criticized an Associated Press report that alleges that the agency secretly sent non-Cuban Latin American youth to Cuba to recruit anti-government activists on the island. USAID states that their work “is not secret, it is not covert, nor is it undercover,” and that it was part of “democracy programming in Cuba.” The program, which the AP says was run by USAID and the Washington-based Creative Associates International, allegedly recruited a dozen young people from Venezuela, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico to “identify potential social-change actors” while running civic programs in Cuba, such as an HIV prevention workshop.
Mexico’s lower house passes energy reform: Mexico’s lower house passed secondary legislation to reform the Mexican energy sector on Saturday, making small modifications to proposals submitted by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and the Mexican Senate. The reforms, which must now be re-approved by the Senate, are expected to bring billions of dollars of investment in the production of Mexican oil and shale gas. The reforms will allow private companies to produce oil under production-sharing and profit-sharing contracts with the Mexican government for the first time in nearly seven decades. One of the most controversial components of the legislation is a requirement that the federal government, financed by Mexican taxpayers, pay a portion of Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) and the Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE)’s pension liabilities.
Immigration bills: In last-minute votes on Friday before the August recess, the Republican-led House of Representatives passed two bills that would modify a 2008 anti-human-trafficking law in order to make it easier to deport unaccompanied minors from Central America, and also block the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which defers deportations for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children. The Republican bills have come under criticism from Democrats and U.S. immigrants’ rights groups, who say that the legislation would return children to the violent situations in their home countries that they are trying to flee. Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called the legislation “a low point for our country.” Those in favor of the bills say they will strengthen enforcement and reduce incentive for young immigrants to come to the United States. The legislation approved $694 million in funding for federal agencies to address the surge of migrants, far less than the $3.7 billion requested by President Barack Obama. Congress is on recess this month, and the measures are unlikely to become law due to strong opposition. President Obama said on Friday that he was “going to have to act alone” due to the lack of funding to respond to the surge of young migrants.
Argentine peso could drop 10 percent in value: After last month’s failed negotiations between Argentina and holdout creditors over Argentina’s debt, investors expect a 10 percent drop in the value of the Argentine peso over the next 90 days. Traders’ expectations for the peso hit a six-month low on August 1—at 9.15 per dollar—two days after the country missed its July 30 deadline to pay $539 million in interest to restructured bondholders. The Argentine government has argued that the country is not in default because it has continued to make deposits to its bondholders with the BNY Mellon, though the payments are being held back due to the court ruling by the U.S. district court judge Thomas Griesa, who ruled that holdout creditors must be paid first. Argentina has asked Judge Griesa to find a replacement for mediator Daniel Pollack as negotiations continue, saying that he has been biased in favor of the holdouts.
Collapse of bridge in Montería, Colombia leaves at least 27 wounded: A bridge being built to reduce traffic at Los Garzones airport in the city of Montería in northern Colombia collapsed around 9 p.m. on Sunday and left at least 27 workers wounded, while one worker remains trapped in the debris. It is unclear why the bridge collapsed, although some believe that it may have been an error in engineering in the construction’s wooden framework. Transport Minister Cecilia Álvarez will visit the zone today to make an inspection.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.