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  • Copa América Final Offers Chile a Chance at Redemption

    July 3, 2015

    by AQ Online

    When Chile takes the field against Argentina in this Saturday's final of the Copa América football competition, they can do more than just win. They can redeem a "golden generation" that went before them, and make good on decades of missed opportunity.

    It was a 1989 World Cup qualifying match in Rio de Janeiro’s Maracanã stadium and things were not looking good for Chile. Down 1-0 to Brazil, the team known as La Roja had to win in order to qualify for the World Cup set to take place the following year.

    “The game was slipping away,” Chile’s goalkeeper Roberto “Condor” Rojas told The New York Times four years later. “I was waiting for the right opportunity.”

    With 20 minutes left to play, Rojas spotted his chance, and what followed would change Chilean soccer for a generation.

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    Tags: Chile, copa america, FIFA

  • Cuba’s ‘Major Victory’ in the Fight against HIV

    July 2, 2015

    by AQ Online

    Lost in the fanfare surrounding President Obama’s plans to re-open the U.S. embassy in Cuba was an announcement that may prove even more significant for the island’s inhabitants.

    On Tuesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed that Cuba had become the first country to successfully eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and Syphilis. By the WHO’s standards, that means that transmission levels are low enough not to constitute a risk to public health.

    In a statement, WHO Director General Margaret Chan said that "eliminating transmission of a virus is one of the greatest public health achievements possible," and that Cuba’s efforts marked a "major victory in our long fight against HIV and sexually transmitted infections."

    While remarkable, Cuba’s feat shouldn’t be surprising. The country already boasts the lowest HIV rate in the hemisphere, tied with Costa Rica and Nicaragua at just 0.2 percent of the adult population. One key to that success is a cost-free healthcare system that ensures expectant mothers access to essential care.

    In 2014, 100 percent of pregnant Cuban women—both those who knew their HIV status and those who did not—received the WHO’s recommended minimum of four prenatal care visits, according to the organization’s 2015 World Health Statistics report. Globally, only 64 percent received at least four visits.

    Early access to prenatal care, along with concurrent HIV testing and treatment, has been a pillar of Cuba’s collaboration with the World Health Organization. In 2013 and 2014, more than 95 percent of pregnant women in Cuba knew their HIV status and more than 95 percent of those who were HIV-positive received antiretroviral drugs. In 2013, only two babies in Cuba were born with HIV.

    "Cuba’s success demonstrates that universal access and universal health coverage are feasible and indeed are the key to success, even against challenges as daunting as HIV," said Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, director of the UN’s Pan American Health Organization.

    Still, despite progress fighting HIV, the country’s universal healthcare system is not without its drawbacks. After a raise last year, doctors in Cuba only make about $60 a month, and many have used the country’s medical missions program as a way to immigrate to other countries. In 2013, roughly 1,300 Cuban medical professionals defected to the U.S.

    As Cuba’s economy and its relationship with the U.S. changes, its healthcare outcomes may change as well. Cubans—and the world—will be watching to see if their small country can hold on to this year’s big accomplishment.

    Tags: Cuba, Healthcare, HIV/AIDS

  • United States and Cuba Set Date for Embassy Inaugurations

    July 1, 2015

    by AQ Online

    President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that the United States and Cuba will reopen embassies in their respective capitals on July 20, officially restoring diplomatic ties between the two countries. The opening of a U.S. embassy in Havana for the first time in over 54 years would be the most tangible sign of progress in the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement since Obama announced his intentions to normalize relations in December 2014.

    Wednesday’s news came after months of bilateral talks between Cuban and U.S. delegations, both in Havana and, most recently, in Washington on May 21 and 22. The U.S. cleared its biggest hurdle to opening an embassy in Cuba when it removed the country from its State Sponsors of Terrorism list on May 29.

    Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Obama reaffirmed his administration’s commitment to working with the Cuban government and moving beyond what he called a “policy of isolation” that “hasn’t worked for fifty years.”

    “American engagement,” he said, “...is the best way to advance our interests and support human rights."

    While significant, the reopening of embassies is only a step in what will be a bumpy road to reestablishing functional ties between Washington and Havana. The U.S. economic embargo on Cuba remains codified in U.S. law and can only be lifted by Congress. In light of the President’s announcement, the Cuban government said Wednesday that ending the embargo was “indispensable for the normalization of relations” between the neighboring countries.

    While a majority of Americans favor normalizing their country’s relationship with Cuba, some members of Congress have expressed opposition to the process. Hard-line politicians who feel the President’s agenda wrongly legitimizes the Castro government, such as Cuban-American senator and presidential candidate Marco Rubio, have promised to block the confirmation of any potential ambassador to Cuba. Others have introduced legislation that would restrict the funding of an embassy in Havana. 

    Americas Quarterly publisher Americas Society/Council of the Americas (AS/COA) welcomed the decision to reopen embassies in Washington and Havana. “The overwhelming support that this new course has received from leaders and people around the hemisphere and the world confirm that the Obama administration is moving in the right direction,” said AS/COA's President and CEO Susan Segal. “We look forward to seeing Congress further the goals of these new policies to bring positive tangible benefits to the people and businesses of the U.S., Cuba and the region."

    Tags: U.S.-Cuba relations, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, John Kerry

  • Afro-descendant women gather in push for racial justice

    June 30, 2015

    by AQ Online

    Artist and activist Bree Newsome became an internet sensation, this weekend, after she briefly took down the Confederate flag that stands on the grounds of South Carolina’s state capitol. Many viewed her act as an important statement about racial equality in the United States. But it was also a reminder of how Afro-descendant women are taking the lead advancing civil rights in the Americas as a whole.

    Indeed, at the same time Newsome was scaling a flagpole in Columbia, Afro-descendant women from throughout the region were meeting in Nicaragua’s capital, Managua, to discuss their own plans for advancing social justice at the First Summit Meeting of Female Leaders of African Descent of the Americas (Primera Cumbre de Lideresas Afrodescendientes de las Américas).

    The summit, held June 26-28, brought together 250 women from 22 countries to develop strategies for combatting racial exclusion and ensure the enforcement of treaties, laws and international conventions pertaining to Afro-descendant women’s rights. The result was the Political Declaration of Managua, a list comprising 17 demands related to reducing racial and gender-based discrimination in the Americas. The list covers issues from violence and anti-poverty programs to visibility in national statistics and reproductive rights.

    According to Dorotea Wilson, General Coordinator of the Network of Afro-Latin American, Afro-Caribbean and Diaspora Women (RMAAD), the declaration “is not an expression of good intentions; it is an official document demanding the implementation of public policies in all countries of the Americas…to start once and for all to recognize and give their rightful place to black populations on the continent.”

    The coalition will present their demands to the Organization of American States, as well as in participants’ home countries. Their aim is to see their objectives fulfilled before the end of the UN’s International Decade for People of African Descent, which began in January of this year. The UN considers the 200 million self-identified African-descendants in the Americas as among the region's most vulnerable, particularly to acts of violence. Changing that was a priority for the Afro-descendant leaders campaigners at the summit.

    “Hate crimes in the United States make the international headlines,” says Wilson, “but because the population of African descent is invisible in Latin America, racially-motivated killings in the region do not come to public attention.”
     

    Tags: Women in Latin America, Afro-descendent communities

  • This Week in Latin America: Dilma visits U.S.—DR defends immigration policy—Honduras protests—Colombia false positives

    June 29, 2015

    by AQ Online

    Here’s a look at some of the stories we’ll be following this week:

    Dilma and Obama Meet on Climate, Trade: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff travels to Washington, DC today to meet with President Barack Obama. The trip, partly the product of a yearlong charm offensive by Vice President Joe Biden, is a sign of warming relations between the U.S. and Brazil. Revelations that the National Security Agency (NSA) spied on members of the Brazilian government led Rousseff to cancel a previous state visit in 2013. Obama and Rousseff are expected to focus on areas of mutual interest, particularly trade, defense and efforts to build support for a global agreement on climate change.

    Domican Immigration Policy Under Scrutiny: On Tuesday, the Dominican Republic’s foreign minister, Andrés Navarro, will appear before the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States in Washington, DC. He is expected to respond to recent, widespread criticism of changes to his country’s immigration policies, particularly regarding the potential deportation of thousands of Haitian immigrants and their children. In a speech on Thursday at a Central American Integration System (SICA) summit in Guatemala, Dominican President Danilo Medina addressed critics, saying that the country’s policies were respectful of both Dominican law and human rights. “If in the United States, with all its resources, it’s difficult to properly document immigrants, it’s logical that it would be a challenge for us as well,” he added. Meanwhile, Haiti's prime minister last Thursday warned of a humanitarian crisis, saying that 14,000 people had crossed into Haiti in the space of a week.

    Anti-Corruption Proposal Rejected by Protestors: Protests continue to swell in Honduras, as thousands of marchers took to the streets on Friday in a fresh rejection of President Juan Orlando Hernández’s government. The protests marked the fifth straight Friday that marchers have gathered in the capital, Tegucigalpa, and came just days after Hernández presented a proposal for combatting corruption, a chief concern among protesters. The proposal calls for the creation of a new, “integrated system” against impunity and corruption. According to government officials, it is intended to spur dialogue among diverse sectors of the population who have been calling for Hernández’s resignation. James Nealon, U.S. ambassador to Honduras, responded to the proposal via Twitter writing that, while it is not the U.S.’ job to dictate how Central American countries deal with corruption, Hernandez’s ideas were “worthy of serious study.”

    False Positives Increase Pressure on Santos: Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos may have to weather another blow to peace talks with the FARC after a report released by Human Rights Watch implicated high-ranking members of the Colombian army in the false positive killings of the early 2000s. The report argues that several members of the military’s top brass knew about and may have even ordered these acts, in which civilians were killed by the military and falsely identified as guerrillas. Support for the negotiations is slipping and there are calls for the imposition of a deadline on the talks. Many wonder whether any peace deal can be negotiated without first renewing the ceasefire agreement with the FARC, which broke down in April.

    Tags: Dilma, DR deportations, Honduras protests, Colombia Peace Talks

  • How Guns N' Roses brought down Manuel Noriega

    June 26, 2015

    by AQ Online

    It was thanks in part to rock and roll hits from bands such as The Doors and Guns N’ Roses that Manuel Noriega, the former military dictator of Panama, fell from grace. In December 1989, with Noriega holed up at the Vatican embassy in Panama, the U.S. military installed a line of stereo speakers around the building blaring songs such as “Dead Man’s Party” and “All I Want Is You,” a sort of psychological warfare meant to force the notorious strongman to give himself up. On January 3, 1990, Noriega surrendered, and the man commonly ridiculed as "old pineapple face" has been sitting in court rooms and jail cells ever since. 

    Yesterday, in his first interview since 1996, a softened Noriega appeared on local television to plead forgiveness from the Panamanian people for atrocities committed under his regime. Speaking from a jailhouse in Panama with Telemetro, the now 81-year-old ex-dictator's hands trembled as he read a statement saying he wanted "to close the cycle of the military era as the last commander of that group asking for forgiveness.” 

    Noriega has spent the last 21 years in custody for a long list of crimes that include money laundering in France, murder, corruption, embezzlement and crimes against humanity in Panama, and drug smuggling and racketeering in the United States. In the interview, Noriega claimed to be "totally at peace" with himself, and said he decided to break his 19 year silence after a period of reflection with church members and family, denying any motivation of personal interests.

    But many family members of the victims of Noriega's regime were unsatisfied with his apology. Karina Ortega, whose father was a sergeant killed during a failed 1989 coup attempt, did not believe Noriega's words to be sincere. KIlmara Mendizabal, whose brother was disappeared under military rule, thought the ex-dictator's apology was significant but that he should "say where the remains are of every person disappeared under the dictatorship.” Noriega's statement, addressed to those “offended, affected, injured or humiliated” by the actions of his superiors and subordinates, did not mention any specific abuses.


    While his apology may be a step toward closure on Panama’s dark, painful past, the motivations of a man alleged to have faithfully worn red underwear to ward off the evil eye will likely remain a mystery. According to RM Koster, a biographer, “the problem with Noriega is you can never distinguish between what’s true or not.”

    Read More

    Tags: Manuel Noriega, Panama, Military Dictatorship

  • Panama's success isn't just about economics

    June 25, 2015

    by AQ Online

    Over the past decade, Panama has often been in the international spotlight thanks to robust economic growth rates that consistently outrank those of its neighbors in Latin America and the Caribbean. On Wednesday, the country received a different kind of attention after taking the top spot in the Gallup-Healthways Global Well-Being Index for the second year in a row.

    The index, which uses public surveys to assess factors such as health and sense of community, found that 53 percent of Panamanians were thriving in three or more of five key areas (social, financial, physical, community and purpose), and were more likely to have positive perceptions of purpose and physical well-being than the residents of any other country.

    Amid talk of a potential "economic miracle," Panama's position on the list offers a different perspective of the country’s success. But is there a connection between the country's economic achievements and the satisfaction Panamanians feel in their daily lives? Indeed, Panama’s broad economic gains over the past several years—the country averaged an annual growth rate of eight percent from 2003 to 2013—may suggest a correlation between its citizens’ sense of well-being and economic prosperity.

    High levels of investment, notably in infrastructure projects like the Panama Canal expansion and Panama City’s metro rail, a first for Central America, may affect residents' sense of where their country is headed. Panama attracts the highest level of foreign direct investment (FDI) among Latin America’s smaller economies and ranks first in the region in FDI as a proportion of GDP. This type of growth means a greater likelihood that the government will spend more on social programs, healthcare and education.

    Still, the extent to which Panama’s high level of well-being is driven by this economic success is difficult to ascertain, and there may well be other explanations. One is the neighborhood: countries from the Americas took 11 of the top 20 spots in Gallup-Healthways index, and according to Gallup, the "residents of many Latin American countries are among the most likely in the world to report daily positive experiences such as smiling and laughing, feeling enjoyment and feeling treated with respect each day.”

    Whatever the cause, the country certainly has room for improvement. Panama ranked ninth out of  17 countries in Americas Quarterly’s 2014 Social Inclusion Index, losing points for the government’s lack of efforts to report on socio-economic indicators and leaving it tied for last in protecting LGBT rights. Corruption remains a stumbling block, as does a large income gap. After a focus on economic growth under the previous administration, President Juan Carlos Varela, who was elected last year, has promised to make improving social inclusion a priority. If he follows through, one can expect Panama to see even more success in the well-being of its citizens.

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    Tags: Panama, Social Inclusion Index

  • Venezuelan opposition leader ends hunger strike after promise of elections

    June 24, 2015

    by AQ Online

    “Very soon, we will have a free and democratic Venezuela!” That was the promise from opposition leader Leopoldo López as he stood in front of thousands of supporters in the Chacaíto neighborhood of Caracas on February 18, 2014. With chants of “¡Si, se puede!” (Yes, we can!) echoing from the crowd and a Venezuelan flag in hand, López then turned himself over to authorities, pledging to stay in the country and carry on the fight for democracy in Venezuela.

    More than a year later, López is still in prison on charges of inciting violence during anti-government protests that February. But news this week suggests he may finally be closer to seeing his promise fulfilled. López ended a month-long hunger strike on Tuesday after the government met one of his demands by setting a date for congressional elections. According to the head of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council, Tibisay Lucena, official campaigning to choose all 167 members of the National Assembly will take place from November 13 to December 4, with elections set for December 6.

    As the country continues to suffer from high rates of inflation, widespread violence and chronic shortages of basic goods under the leadership of President Nicolás Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), a coalition of opposition parties, may be sensing an opportunity. Maduro's approval ratings fell to 25 percent in May, and some, like Venezuelan human rights activist Tamara Suju, think it's likely that the opposition will win a majority of the vote when elections are held.

    "The upcoming parliamentary elections are the last chance Venezuelans have to preserve the democratic spaces from which to fight in order to restore the state of law in [their] country,” Suju told AQ.

    Still, despite the prospect of change, the democratic Venezuela that López and many like him envision is not yet in hand. For one, Maduro remains confident about his chances in the elections. (On his Twitter account, he implored Venezuelans to "...unite all the forces of the people of Bolívar and Chávez to guarantee a battle and an admirable victory.”) Many fear the government may decide to postpone or cancel the elections to spare themselves an embarrassing defeat.

    Even if the elections go ahead as planned, some believe that an opposition majority in the assembly may not be enough to bring about significant change. “The elections won’t necessarily do much in terms of changing the regime or the policies,” Risa Grais-Targow, an analyst from the Washington-based consultancy Eurasia Group, told Bloomberg Business. “If the opposition does well, I think the government will either tweak the results or shift power away from the National Assembly,” which would further destabilize the country, according to Grais-Targow.

    Despite these concerns, the possibility of elections represents a critical opportunity for Venezuela's democracy. That's precisely why López insisted on them. In a Washington Post op-ed published last month, he called for the international community to focus its attention on Venezuela. As the December 6 election date approaches, that will surely be the case.

     

    Read More

    Tags: Venezuela, Elections, Leopoldo Lopez

  • Mexico's 'soda tax' leads families to cut back

    June 23, 2015

    by AQ Online

    Nearly a year after former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s anti-soda efforts fell flat in New York City, makers of sugary beverages still have plenty to worry about. In March, the first so-called soda tax in the U.S. went into effect in Berkeley, California, earning the city $116,000 in the first month alone. Legislation to tax sweetened beverages is reportedly coursing its way through statehouses in Connecticut, Illinois, Vermont and Hawaii. And while San Francisco voters rejected a soda tax in November, earlier this month the city's Board of Supervisors approved measures restricting soda advertising and barring the use of city funds to purchase sweetened drinks.

    The latest bit of bad news (for soda makers) comes out of Mexico, which passed the world’s first soda tax in late 2013. According to a study released by the University of North Carolina and the Mexican National Public Health Institute (INSP), the nation’s one peso per liter tax on sodas caused an average decline in purchases of 6 percent over the course of 2014.

    Contrary to earlier suggestions by Mexican bottling giant Coca-Cola FEMSA that the tax’s effect had waned over the course of the year, the report found that the decline in sales had accelerated over time. The tax especially influenced the country’s poorer households, which cut purchases of sugary drinks by an average of 9 percent.

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    Tags: Mexico, Health policy, Economic Policy

  • This week in Latin America: the Pope on climate change—teacher evaluations in Mexico—Brazil's corruption scandal—the beautiful game

    June 22, 2015

    by AQ Online

    Here’s a look at some of the stories we’re following this week:

    Religious Leaders Respond to Pope Francis' Climate Views: Reaction was swift and loud following the publication of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Friday. While his sweeping indictment of the global response to climate change inspired some to question the pontiff's understanding of economic policy, the reception in Latin America was more positive. Catholic leaders from Mexico to Peru echoed Francis' call for action in their own climate-related sermons on Sunday. The publication of the encyclical comes just weeks ahead of the pope’s trip to Bolivia and Ecuador, two countries with complicated histories when it comes to the environment, and Paraguay, where the government has positioned itself as an important player in UN climate negotiations, as Guy Edwards and Timmons Roberts argue this week in an AQ Online exclusive

    Education Reform Stunted in Mexico: An instructor evaluation program that began over the weekend was marked by low participation and protests by teachers groups. More than 17 percent of teachers who had been scheduled to take evaluation exams failed to show up. Emilio Chuayffet, Mexico's public education secretary, must now negotiate terms with the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (CNTE), a powerful and sometimes violent teachers union, whose opposition to reform contributed to low turnout and led to the outright suspension of evaluations in Oaxaca and Michoacan states. The difficulty in advancing even modest reform underscores a dramatic drop in President Enrique Peña Nieto’s political capital. After successfully pushing through changes to the country’s stiffly regulated energy sector last year, a series of scandals and increasing levels of violence have disrupted the president’s agenda. This week, responsibility for righting the ship lies largely with Mr. Chuayffet.

    Brazilian Construction Execs Arrested: An ongoing corruption scandal in Brazil reached new heights on Friday with the arrests of Marcelo Odebrecht and Otávio Marques, two high-level construction executives. The arrests came as part of Operation Carwash, a federal police investigation into decades of graft and bribery at the state-run oil company, Petrobras. The scandal has already lead to the indictment of dozens of government and business officials in the country, and weakened President Dilma Rousseff’s standing among a frustrated populace, though she has not been implicated directly. Still, the accusations may be getting a bit too close for the president’s comfort, and just how far the effects of the scandal will reach is an open question.

    Soccer Tournaments Near Conclusion: Finally, the beautiful game will be on display this week, as the Copa America (South America’s most important national soccer tournament) and the Women’s World Cup both enter their decisive knockout stages. The Copa America’s round of sixteen gets underway on Wednesday, with tournament host Chile taking on Uruguay. Despite student protests in the lead up to the tournament, drama on the field has captured most of the attention thus far. Meanwhile, three countries from the hemisphere are still competing at the Women’s World Cup. Canada has already locked down its place in the tournament’s final eight, but the other two regional players, the United States and Colombia, will go head-to-head tonight to determine who will progress. 

    Tags: Daily Focus

  • Cuba’s Internet: scarce, expensive and still censored

    June 19, 2015

    by AQ Online

    Cuba still lags far behind its Latin American counterparts on internet access, despite this week’s announcement that the government will provide Wi-Fi access to 35 state-run computer centers. Since the country’s first, humble 64kbit/s connection was established in 1996, not much has changed. Only 3.4 percent of Cuban households are connected, and a mere five percent of the population has occasional access to the Web, thanks largely to state agencies, foreign embassies and black market deals. As a result, it’s no surprise that the country continues to rank as having one of the world’s most repressive climates for information and communication technologies.

    Internet usage has increased by over 100 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean since 2008, where 44 percent of the population enjoyed regular internet access in 2014 (figures that align with worldwide trends in connectivity). In Cuba, however, the government’s telecommunications monopoly, ETECSA, strictly regulates citizens’ network access. The majority of Cubans are only allowed to see a kind of intranet, which mostly comprises a Cuban encyclopedia, Cuban websites, a national email network and foreign websites that support the Cuban government.

    Barriers to internet access in Cuba are not only a question of political will and weak infrastructure, but also of affordability. Thursday’s announcement revealed that, in July, the hourly price of internet access will be reduced from $4.50 to $2–a price that remains highly unaffordable for most on the island.

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    Tags: Cuba, U.S.-Cuba relations, Internet in Cuba

  • From Guatemala to Peru, Protests Sweep Across Latin America

    June 17, 2015

    by AQ Online

    In his 1982 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez spoke of the conflict and violence plaguing Latin America, including El Salvador’s 12 year civil war and Argentina’s Dirty War. “There have been five wars and seventeen military coups; there emerged a diabolic dictator who is carrying out, in God's name, the first Latin American ethnocide of our time,” he stated in his speech.

    Nearly 30 years later, Latin America is much more stable—most countries in the region are democratic, there is high voter turnout in elections, significant advances have been made in technology and innovation, and the region has experienced greater economic growth than before. While “Gabo” would be glad to see the progress in Latin America today, he might have been shocked by the new trend that is taking hold as protests, corruption scandals and political instability are burgeoning across the region, and an emboldened middle class is pushing back.

    Every Saturday for nearly two months thousands of protesters have filled the Constitution Square outside Guatemala’s City Palacio Nacional de la Cultura (National Palace of Culture) demanding the resignation of President Otto Perez Molina amid a customs corruption scandal. In Honduras, protesters are calling for President Juan Orlando Hernández’s resignation after he was accused of accepting illegal funds from the Honduran Social Security Institute to help finance his presidential campaign in 2013. Dissention in both countries is arising from the middle class and is being led by social media and grass roots organizations.

    Similarly in Peru, President Ollanta Humala’s approval rating has fallen to a new low according to a report by Ipsos published Sunday in the Peruvian newspaper El Comercio. The newspaper claimed that several factors are contributing to Humala’s declining approval rating, including the recent allegations of corruption against his wife, Nadine Heredia, over a money-laundering operation. In Ecuador, President Rafael Correa also faces low approval rates due largely to his new plans to raise taxes on inheritances and real estate profits, spurring nationwide protests.

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    Tags: corruption, Scandals, Central America

  • In Boost to Colombia Peace Talks, FARC to "Hand Over" Child Soldiers

    June 16, 2015

    by AQ Online

    The use of child soldiers by armed groups is one of the most regrettable aspects of Colombia’s long-running internal conflict, and is a sticking point in the peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, that began in November 2012. Human rights organizations have accused the rebel group of forcibly recruiting children, and the Colombian military reports that the FARC have trained children for dangerous combat duties such as using grenades and planting mines. 

    FARC representatives have vacillated between downplaying and justifying the presence of children among their ranks. In an interview with AQ published last fall, Andrés París, a negotiator for the FARC in Havana asserted that the forces practices adhered to international humanitarian law. “We are the people’s army, so all people have the right to participate: children, women and adults,” París said, adding, “we don’t have 10-year-old kids carrying AK-47s.”

    No one knows for certain how many children currently remained mired in the conflict. While the Colombian government estimates that the FARC alone retains 2,000 underage combatants, FARC negotiator Iván Márquez stated in an interview last February that the guerrilla had determined that only 13 fighters younger than 15 are among its ranks.

    In a hopeful sign, FARC negotiators announced yesterday that they expect to reach an agreement for the “handover” of children under the age of 15 who are within their ranks. According to a statement, the guerrilla’s negotiators hope to “finalize, together with the government delegation, the protocols needed to make good on this promise during the course of” the next round of peace talks, which begin tomorrow.

    The FARC announced in February that it would put an end to the recruitment of individuals younger than 17 years old. After the announcement was criticized for not going far enough, the guerilla organization declared for the first time that it would work to discharge children younger than 15.

    Speaking from Stockholm, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said, “Let’s hope it’s true. That would be a step in the right direction.”

    The announcement comes at a time of increasing tension in the peace process. While the two sides reached an agreement to establish an independent truth commission to look into human rights violations perpetrated over the course of the conflict, talks have been strained by a resumption of violence since the FARC’s declaration of a unilateral ceasefire in December, including a ground attack by the FARC on April 15. In his remarks from Stockholm, President Santos said of the attacks, “They are completely irrational acts that undermine people’s confidence in the peace process.”

    Tags: Colombia Peace Talks, child soldiers, FARC

  • Monday Memo: Mexican Same-Sex Marriage—Haitian Deportation—U.S. and Venezuela Meeting—Nicaraguan Protest—ELN Leader Death

    June 15, 2015

    by AQ Online

    This week’s likely news stories: Dominican Republic set to deport individuals of Haitian descent; Mexican high court paves way for full marriage equality;  U.S. and Venezuelan officials meet in Haiti, address strained relations; Nicaraguans protest Chinese-funded canal project; top ELN commander killed in Colombia

    Dominican Republic to Deport Dominicans of Haitian Descent: The Dominican Republic will proceed as planned on Wednesday with the mass deportation of over 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent who have not been regularized under the Plan Nacional de Regularización (National Regularization Plan). These individuals, many of whom were born in the Dominican Republic and have never been to Haiti, will be rendered stateless. According to the Nation, police trucks have begun nightly limpiezas (cleanings) in poorer neighborhoods, detaining “Haitian[s] or dark-skinned Dominicans with Haitian facial features.” Created following the passage of Sentencia 168-13 in September 2013, the Plan Nacional retracts citizenship from anyone born to undocumented parents residing in the country.  It has received widespread criticism and has failed in the eyes of human rights organizations—many have been unable to register due to the government’s failure to provide residents with the necessary government identification documents to apply.

    Mexico’s Supreme Court Deems State Laws Banning Same-Sex Marriage Unconstitutional: Mexico’s Supreme Court quietly opened to the door to the nation-wide legalization of same-sex marriage on Friday. The court ordered the publication of a jurisprudential thesis in which it declares that any state-level law that defines marriage’s purpose as “procreation, and/or defines [marriage] as being celebrated between a man and a woman is unconstitutional.”  The finding does not overturn state laws, but obligates the country’s district judges to grant injunctions to individual couples claiming that their marriage rights have been denied. “What has to happen is that the state laws have to be reformed so that couples have the same rights and they don’t have to spend time and money,” said José Luis Caballero, a constitutional scholar at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City. “A couple with resources can get married. A couple without resources can't.”

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    Tags: Dominican Republic-Haiti relations, Same-Sex Marriage, John Kerry, Nicaragua Canal, Ejército de Liberación Nacional

  • Judge Finds Probable Cause for Murder Charge in Tamir Rice Death

    June 12, 2015

    by AQ Online

    In Thursday’s ruling, Judge Ronald Adrine found probable cause to prosecute Cleveland officer Timothy Loehmann with murder, involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide and dereliction of duty for the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. The Cleveland municipal judge also announced grounds to prosecute Officer Frank Garmback, Loehmann’s partner, who was at the scene, with negligent homicide and dereliction of duty. Judge Adrine wrote that he was “still thunderstruck by how quickly this event turned deadly,” after reviewing the surveillance video.

    After waiting nearly seven months for a decision, the Rice family considered the ruling a victory. “We are very much relieved and it is a step towards procedural justice and people having access to their government,” said Walter Madison, one of the Tamir family’s attorneys, to the Guardian. Madison said the ruling communicates that “the police are public servants and not the public’s master.”

    However, arrests cannot be made until the county prosecutor for the case, Timothy J. McGinty, files a complaint. While Madison said on Thursday that he could not foresee any justifiable obstacle to a prosecution, McGinty released a statement the same day indicating hesitation to rush filing a criminal complaint. “This case, as with all other fatal-use-of-deadly-force cases involving law enforcement officers, will go to the grand jury,” he stated. “That has been the policy of this office since I was elected. Ultimately, the grand jury decides whether police officers are charged or not charged.”

    Rice was fatally shot by Officer Timothy Loehmann on November 22 after his pellet gun was mistaken for a firearm. He was with his 14-year-old sister when a 911 caller reported Tamir waving his air-soft gun, emphasizing that the gun was “probably fake.” Somehow this information was not relayed to responding officers Loehmann and Garmback. Within two seconds of arriving at the scene, Loehmann fired two shots, fatally hitting Rice in the torso. Tamir’s sister ran to him, but was forced to the ground, handcuffed and placed in the police car. The officers stood beside Tamir’s body for at least four minutes without giving first aid and it took the ambulance eight minutes to arrive.

    Tamir’s death came at a time of serial shootings of unarmed black individuals by law enforcement, sparking protests across the country calling for reforms in race relations and police use of force. This movement, coined Black Lives Matter, has prompted national dialogues on police brutality—an occurrence that is also widespread throughout other countries in the hemisphere. In 2013, Brazilian police officers killed at least 2,212 people in 2013, according to the Brazilian Public Security Forum, compared to 461 deaths caused by police in the United States the same year. Brazil’s pacificação (pacification) processes, police occupation of favelas, have also coincided with increasing violence against women in Rio. Protestors from Mexico’s movement for the Ayotzinapa 43 stood in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Movement during New York City’s Million’s March last December, calling for an end to state repression.

    Tags: police brutality, U.S., Black Lives Matter

  • Copa América Begins in Chile Amid Protests

    June 11, 2015

    by AQ Online

    In an environment of international soccer scandal and domestic frustration, Chile will kick off its run as host of the Copa América today when it takes on Ecuador in the first match of the three-week tournament. Chilean President Michele Bachelet will help inaugurate the tournament Thursday as student protesters try to draw attention to the country’s education system.

    A wave of student protests marked the lead-up to the event, beginning in the country’s capital of Santiago on Monday. Protestors have promised to continue demonstrations throughout Copa América’s duration. Students are protesting the country’s education system, which many say continues to foster inequality and diminish student autonomy.

    In May, Bachelet responded to years of student protests by signing into law a bill that bans for-profit universities and aims to progressively end family co-pays for schools that receive public funding. While the bill addresses key student demands, activists have called the move insufficient, and protests have revamped as the president’s approval rating has fallen to historical lows in the midst of political scandals and a cabinet reshuffle.

    The Confederación de Estudiantes de Chile (Confederation of Chilean Students —Confech), the country’s leading coalition of university students, estimated that 200,000 “students, professors, workers, and citizens” attended a march it led in Santiago on Wednesday.

    "We are seeing the support from Chilean society for our demands, which are essential for change and the transformation of education in Chile,” Confech spokesperson Nicolás Fernández told reporters. On Thursday, high school students and striking teachers marched through Santiago’s main thoroughfare.

    Meanwhile, a year after Latin America’s impressive collective success at the 2014 World Cup, the Copa América will determine a winner from 12 teams from South America’s Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries, along with Jamaica. Competition is expected to be tough, with Argentina, Brazil and defending champions Uruguay the favorites to take the title. Colombia and Chile, which is looking to end a nearly 100-year losing streak, are considered dark horses.  The tournament will conclude on July 4.

    Tags: copa america, Chile student protests, Education reform

  • Brazil Plans to Fight Economic Woes with $64 Billion Infrastructure Plan

    June 10, 2015

    by AQ Online

    On Tuesday, the Brazilian government unveiled a 198.4 billion reais ($64 billion) infrastructure plan aimed at restoring economic growth through private investments in the country’s depleted roads, rail and ports. “The increase of investments in the Brazilian economy must be done by the private sector,” said Brazilian Planning Minister Nelson Barbosa. “There is a huge demand for better infrastructure in Brazil.”

    Battered by high inflation, rising unemployment and a corruption scandal at state oil company Petrobras, Brazil is on the brink of a recession that is expected to be the worst in 25 years. During a ceremony to announce the spending plan on Tuesday, President Dilma Rousseff said the government plans to use market-friendly procedures to calculate the return rate on projects such as roads, where concessions will go to bidders that offer the lowest toll rate.

    The government also aims to reduce its role in infrastructure projects, as the planned concessions will feature reduced subsidized funding from the Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social (National Social and Economic Development Bank—BNDES).

    “Our model of concessions will guarantee that consumers get quality services at fair prices and companies get an adequate return on their investments,” said Rousseff during the ceremony. The concessions include about 2, 715 miles of highways, expansion of existing freight railways and even a railway linking the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean via Peru. Repairing the roads will allow Brazil to get its commodities like soy beans to the market.

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    Tags: Dilma Rousseff, Brazil, Infrastructure Investment in Brazil

  • Colombia Strikes Physical Exam Requirement for Gender Change

    June 9, 2015

    by AQ Online

    Ten transgender Colombians will today be the first people to take advantage of new rules  that simplify the process by which individuals can legally change their gender. The decree, which was signed by the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of the Interior and went into effect last Friday, eliminates the need for psychiatric or physical examinations to prove an individual’s gender identity.

    Under the new rules, individuals need only submit a copy of their civil registry form, a copy of the identification card and a sworn declaration expressing their wish to change their gender identity in the civil registry to a notary public. The notary public has five business days to complete the procedure. Any subsequent change to one’s legal gender identity can only be made after ten years, and an individual can only change his or her gender identity twice.

    According to a statement released by the Ministry of Justice yesterday, the rules will have “positive consequences for [Colombia’s] trans population, which, until now, has been subjected to tedious judicial procedures.”

    The ministers of justice and the interior, Yesid Reyes and Juan Fernando Cristo, along with representatives from various transgender rights organizations, will attend proceedings today at a notary public in Bogotá to publicly present the decree

    “Judges used to order bodily inspections to determine if people had physically changed their sex, or demanded a psychiatric exam to know if the applicant had gender dysphoria,” Reyes said. “Both exams were profoundly invasive of privacy rights and were rooted in unacceptable prejudice. The construction of sexual and gender identity is an issue that doesn’t depend on biology.”

    Tags: Colombia, LGBT Rights, Transgender

  • Monday Memo: Mexican Elections—G7 Climate Summit—EU-CELAC Summit—Argentine Debt—Honduras Protests

    June 8, 2015

    by AQ Online

    This week’s likely news stories: Mexico’s ruling party wins the congressional elections; Canada and Japan block a G7 statement on carbon emissions; Latin American officials to discuss Mercosur at EU-CELAC Summit; Argentina’s debt inflates after U.S. court ruling; protestors demand Honduran president’s resignation.

    Mexico’s Ruling Party to Maintain Majority in Lower House after Elections: Despite nationwide protests over its handling of a housing scandal and the unresolved disappearance of 43 students last October, Mexico’s ruling party appeared likely to keep its congressional majority after Sunday’s legislative, mayoral and gubernatorial elections. Mexico’s national electoral institute projected that President Enrique Peña Nieto’s Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) and its allies would secure between 246 and 263 seats in the country’s 500-member lower house. One of the notable governor races was in the state of Nuevo León, which elected the country’s first independent governor since a 2014 reform allowed independent candidates to run. Jaime Rodríguez Calderon, nicknamed “El Bronco,” called his election “the beginning of a second Mexican revolution.”

    Canada Blocks G7 Statement, Agrees to Cutting Carbon Emissions: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper committed to reducing carbon emissions by 2050 during the second day of the G7 climate change summit in Bavaria today. Both Canada and Japan had blocked an earlier statement on greenhouse gas reductions  in order to avoid binding targets, and were referred to as “the most difficult [countries] on every issue on climate” by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, host of the G7 summit. Senior government officials from Canada stated that Canada will make efforts to reduce carbon emissions by means of a “target that is in line with other major industrialized economies.” The G7 countries—Canada, the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States—will continue climate change talks in France this December.

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    Tags: Partido Revolucionario Institucional, Stephen Harper, Mercosur, Argentina, Juan Orlando Hernández

  • FARC and Colombian Government Agree to Truth Commission

    June 5, 2015

    by AQ Online

    On Thursday, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC—Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrillas and the Colombian government announced an agreement to establish an independent truth commission to investigate human rights violations committed during Colombia’s 50-year internal conflict.

    The 11 anticipated commissioners, to be elected by a seven-member committee, will carry out investigations for a period of three years. However, according to the statement, the commission does not have the authority to impose penalties and any information unearthed by the commission will be inadmissible in a court of law. Cuban and Norwegian representatives from the Havana peace talks said that the commission would begin to function after the parties sign a final agreement and the FARC lay down their arms.

    While this marks a milestone for the two-and-a-half-year peace talks in Havana, the agreement may receive pushback from victims and relatives seeking legal remedy and redress.

    Moreover, violence continues to threaten the peace negotiations. During a televised speech in March, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos declared a suspension of aerial bombing after the FARC announced an indefinite unilateral ceasefire in December. However, he reinitiated air strikes after guerrillas killed 10 soldiers in a ground attack on April 15. The FARC ended the ceasefire in May due to what they said was Santos’ “inconsistency.” On May 21, three bombing raids resulted in the death of 27 rebels.

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    Tags: Colombia, FARC, Colombia Peace Talks

  • Report Accuses Red Cross of Failed Haiti Relief Efforts

    June 4, 2015

    by AQ Online

    A joint report by ProPublica and NPR released Wednesday alleges that the Red Cross “repeatedly failed” in its efforts to provide adequate support to Haiti after the country’s 2010 earthquake. Among other shortcomings, the report says the aid group only built six houses, despite announcing two high-profile housing projects and raising nearly $500 million in the earthquake’s aftermath.

    The investigation—which includes field studies in Haiti, interviews with Haitian officials and former Red Cross employees, and transcripts of internal memos and emails—found the organization’s claims that it has housed 130,000 Haitians to be false. Among other allegations, the report says the Red Cross consistently used its earthquake recovery efforts to raise funds—which ultimately exceeded the amounts actually needed for the group’s efforts on the ground—and then failed to be sufficiently transparent in how those funds were used.

    Responding to the investigation’s allegations, the Red Cross released a statement Wednesday, saying that it was “disappointed” by NPR and ProPublica’s reporting, citing a “lack of balance, context and accuracy” which it believes is characteristic of the multiple critical pieces about the group that ProPublica has published in recent months.

    On its impact in Haiti, the group said it has helped more than 100,000 people move into “safe and improved housing” and “continues to meet the needs of the Haitian people” despite challenges arising from “changes in government, lack of land for housing and civil unrest.” In its statement, the Red Cross did not cite specific examples of its funding or projects, nor did it address the NPR/ProPublica claims that large amounts of funding were lost to overhead and management costs, accusations that conflict with claims from the Red Cross’ CEO that 91 percent of donations go to help Haitians.

    In addition to its statement, the Red Cross released a fact sheet on their website listing what it calls “myths” about its recovery process in Haiti and referring readers to its Haiti Assistance Program.

    Tags: 2010 Haiti earthquake, Red Cross, Natural Disasters

  • Bachelet’s Approval Rating Drops to Historic Low

    June 3, 2015

    by AQ Online

    Despite last month’s cabinet shuffle in response to a series of corruption scandals that have shaken Chile’s political establishment, President Michelle Bachelet’s approval rate has dropped to an all-time low of 29 percent, according to a poll conducted by Gfk Adimark.

    “Both the anticipated Cabinet change and her annual State of the Union address had marginal positive effects […] however, the tense climate of mistrust and accusations surrounding how political activities are financed were ultimately more important,” said the pollster.

    Since taking office for her second term in May 2014, Bachelet has been faced with many challenges, including a series of corruption scandals within her government and family. Last September, an independent national prosecutor’s office and the Internal Tax Service discovered that one of Chile’s largest financial holdings companies, Penta Group, used false invoices and tax fraud to circumvent electoral laws and conceal illegal corporate financing for political campaigns. Additionally, in February, Bachelet’s son, Sebastián Dávalos, was accused of using his influence to obtain a $10 million loan to buy land for his wife’s consulting firm, Caval.

    Bachelet has responded to the corruption scandals with a series of anti-corruption measures aimed to restore public faith in Chile’s political system. In addition to her cabinet reshuffle, Bachelet appointed an advisory council to propose new regulations on the ties between politics and business. In her May 21 State of the Union address, Bachelet acknowledged the difficulties facing her government and stated that she was not going to sweep the nation’s recent troubles “under the carpet.” She also discussed her plans to reduce inequality in Chile by providing housing subsidies, greater access to healthcare, labor reform to strengthen unions, and a bill to make universities free for the majority of students. 

    While Bachlelet has passed important reforms in education, taxation and the electoral system and has announced measures to curb corruption, she faces a challenging job ahead. “There is a political crisis when over 70 percent of the population believes that the political system doesn’t work, that people lie and that the system should change,” said Marta Lagos, director of the regional public opinion firm Latinobarómetro. “As long as the government doesn’t address this crisis, its program of reforms will take a back seat.”

    Tags: Chile, Michelle Bachelet, corruption

  • Civil Society Groups Decry Education Reform Rollback in Mexico

    June 2, 2015

    by AQ Online

    A group of civil society organizations and ordinary citizens denounced on Monday the suspension of a key provision of the sweeping education reform package signed by President Enrique Peña Nieto in September 2013. The provision—which provided for the evaluation of Mexican teachers and linked raises and promotions to candidates’ performance on these evaluations—was suddenly and indefinitely suspended last Friday by the Secretaría de Educación Pública (Public Education Secretariat—SEP).

    In a statement released yesterday, organizations including México Evalúa (Mexico Assesses), a public policy think tank, the Instituto Mexicano de la Competitividad (Mexican Institute for Competitiveness) and Mexicanos Primero (Mexicans First) asserted that the suspension of teacher evaluations “nullifies the education reform, betraying millions of students in our country.”

    The move has also been denounced by the Instituto Nacional para la Evaluación de la Educación (National Institute for the Evaluation of Education—INEE), an autonomous organization created by the education reform package. “The measure that has been announced is an assault on the INEE’s competency and a violation of its constitutional autonomy,” the INEE declared in a statement on Saturday.

    The introduction of standardized teacher evaluations has been a hot button issue since the beginning, generating strong opposition from the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (National Coordinator of Education Workers—CNTE) a dissident faction of the national teachers’ syndicate that largely represents teachers from Mexico’s poorer, southern states. Teachers in the states of Michoacán, Oaxaca and Guerrero remained on strike after the original reform package passed, claiming that the reforms were discriminatory towards teachers from these poorer, more Indigenous regions.

    More recently, the CNTE had threatened to disrupt the upcoming June 7 elections. On Monday, CNTE members in Oaxaca reportedly broke into two electoral offices in the state—destroying ballots and other electoral materials—and blockaded several more.

    Tags: Mexico, Education reform, Enrique Peña Nieto

  • Monday Memo: Marches in Venezuela—Guatemalan Protests—Chilean Education Law—Transgender Inmates in Rio—Colombian Murder Trial

    June 1, 2015

    by AQ Online

    Thousands Amass in Venezuela for Anti-Government Protest: Nearly 3,000 Venezuelan demonstrators clothed in white marched in Caracas on Saturday in the largest protest since last year’s surge of anti-government demonstrations. In a video filmed from his jail cell prior to the protests, former opposition Mayor Leopoldo López encouraged supporters to protest peacefully to demand the release of political prisoners, an end to censorship and a date for the nearing legislative elections. López and former Mayor Daniel Ceballos were both imprisoned in 2014 for mobilizing protests in 2014 that resulted in 43 deaths, and both men went on hunger strikes last week to protest their imprisonment. Protestors in Caracas spoke out against inflation, violent crimes and shortages, and smaller protests occurred in other cities across the country.

    Guatemalans Call for President Resignation: Nearly 20,000 protestors from across Guatemala gathered in the capital on Saturday to call for the resignation of President Otto Pérez Molina over charges of corruption. Protestors converged in the Plaza de la Constitución for the sixth consecutive weekend after scandals in the government have prompted several government officials, including former Vice President Roxana Baldetti, to resign.  While Pérez Molina has not been accused of any crimes, his administration has been troubled by allegations of pervasive corruption. Presidential elections are set for September, and the president has vowed not to step down before completing his term.

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    Tags: Leopoldo Lopez, Otto Perez Molina, Michelle Bachelet, LGBT Rights, Luis Carlos Galán Sarmiento

  • Cuba Officially Removed from U.S. Terrorism List

    May 29, 2015

    by AQ Online

    The era of acrimonious relations between Cuba and the U.S. may soon come to a close as Cuba’s designation on the U.S. Department of State’s list of state sponsors of terrorism (SSOT) has officially been rescinded after a final decision from Secretary of State John Kerry today.

    On April 14, President Barack Obama announced his plan to remove Cuba from the list after declaring that Cuba had “provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.” Cuba’s inclusion on the SSOT list—where it was listed alongside Iran, Sudan and Syria—had been cited by Cuba as a major impediment to restoring relations.

    Congress’s 45-day window to block Obama’s decision to lift the SSOT designation expired today with no override from Congress—despite the fact that Obama’s decision was initially met with mixed reactions.   Cuba will also be removed from the Department of Treasury’s sanctions list, “a place reserved for nations that repeatedly provide support for international acts of premeditated, politically motivated violence against non-combatants,” according to the Bradenton Herald.

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    Tags: Cuba, SSOT, U.S.-Cuba relations

  • FIFA Officials Arrested on Corruption Charges

    May 28, 2015

    by AQ Online

    Swiss authorities arrested fourteen people—including a number of top FIFA officials—in Zurich on Wednesday on corruption charges involving the international soccer governing association. Twelve of those arrested are from Latin America and the Caribbean.

    The U.S. Justice Department in New York issued the charges, which included accusations of money laundering, wire fraud and racketeering. Those indicted—including Jeffrey Webb, who is president of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONACAF)—have been accused of receiving bribes totaling more than $150 million over the past 20 years to determine where matches would be held and who would televise games, among other decisions. All FIFA officials arrested in Zurich are resisting extradition to the United States.

    Following the arrests, a second, separate investigation was opened by the Swiss Office of the Attorney General into the bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups scheduled to take place in Russia and Qatar.

    Latin American football fans and soccer stars like Argentina’s Diego Maradona and Brazil’s Romario have publicly welcomed the corruption charges. While the arrests could potentially affect the Copa América tournament in Latin America, set to begin on June 11 in Chile, so far the tournament is set to continue.

    President of FIFA Sepp Blatter, who is up for re-election to a fifth term on Friday and has resisted calls to step down, was not among those charged. FIFA issued a statement supporting the investigation and “welcoming actions that can help contribute to rooting out any wrongdoing in football.”

    Read more about FIFA in Americas Quarterly Hard Talk: Does FIFA’s corruption hurt the beautiful game?

    Tags: Soccer, FIFA, corruption

  • Rousseff Signs Investment Agreements with Peña Nieto

    May 27, 2015

    by AQ Online

    Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff met Tuesday with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico City to foster a closer relationship between the two largest markets in Latin America and the Caribbean. This event was Rousseff’s first official visit to Mexico since she first became president in 2011.

    Rousseff kicked off her official visit to Mexico on Monday evening and was welcomed by the Minister of Foreign Relations José Antonio Meade. She arrived with a delegation of business representatives interested in exploring investment opportunities in Mexico.

    On Tuesday, Rousseff and Peña Nieto signed investment agreements and other accords to increase air travel and tourism. They also agreed to review their bilateral preferential trade agreement (the acuerdo de complementación económica Brasil–México, known as ACE 53) in an effort to lower tariffs overall and extend reduced tariffs to over 6,000 new products. As ACE 53 currently stands, less than half of the products that Brazil exports to Mexico are included in the list of goods with reduced tariffs.

    Together, the Brazilian and Mexican economies comprise 62 percent of Latin America’s GDP and make up 58 percent of Latin America’s exports. The bilateral trade between the two countries stood at $9.2 billion in 2014, up from $ 5.7 billion in 2006. With the new agreements, the countries hope to double their trade within the next decade.

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    Tags: Dilma Rousseff, Enrique Peña Nieto, trade, investment

  • Colombia Recognizes Sexual Violence Victims

    May 26, 2015

    by AQ Online

    On Monday, Colombia commemorated the first annual National Day for the Dignity of Female Victims of Sexual Violence caused by the Internal Armed Conflict in an effort to highlight the toll the country’s ongoing conflict has taken on women.

    Colombia’s National Victims Registry estimates that during Colombia’s five-decade-long civil war, members of armed rebel groups and national security forces have sexually violated nearly 9,000 women and girls and just over 1,000 men and boys.

    On a national level, Colombia’s National Health Institute reports that 5,243 cases of sexual violence have been reported thus far in 2015, an average of 38 per day.

    Last year President Juan Manuel Santos signed into law Decree 1480, which seeks to provide justice for victims of sexual violence in the context of the armed conflict. Earlier in 2014, a report from Zainab Hawa Bangura, the UN’s special representative on sexual violence in armed conflict, found that in 2012 and 2013, 154 people were victims of sexual violence related to the ongoing civil conflict.

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    Tags: FARC peace negotiations, Sexual violence, Jineth Bedoya

  • Additional Guatemalan Officials Resign Amid Allegations of Corruption

    May 22, 2015

    by AQ Online

    Guatemala’s Ministers of Interior, Energy and Mining, Environment, and the Secretary of Intelligence resigned on Thursday, amid a series of corruption scandals. The resignations come two weeks after Vice President Roxana Baldetti was forced to step down due to a top aide’s involvement in customs fraud.

    Despite the resignations, President Otto Pérez Molina refuted claims that his government is collapsing. “[Rumors] that the cabinet is being dismantled [are] totally false, none of the ministers have indicated that they want to leave, not even in the most difficult of moments. I am making this decision with each one of them. Therefore, this is just a speculation. They are leaving their post at my request,” the president said.

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    Tags: Guatemala, corruption

  • Pinochet’s Former Secret Police Chief Receives Additional Sentence

    May 21, 2015

    by AQ Online

    Manuel Contreras, the former police chief during Chile’s 1973-1990 military dictatorship under Augusto Pinochet, received a 15-year sentence for murder on Wednesday, adding to the 490-year term he is currently serving. In 2013, the Supreme Court convicted Contreras, 86, for the December 1974 disappearance of Alejandro de la Barra and Ana Maria Puga, members of the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR—Revolutionary Left Movement). Four other officials from the Pinochet era were also convicted by the Court.

    The Court’s rulings are a historical feat in Chile, marking the first time that disappeared Chileans have been acknowledged as victims of secuestro permanente (permanent kidnapping), which enables the crimes to be prosecuted despite the country’s 1978 amnesty law. The only way Contreras would have been able to evade a prison term on permanent kidnapping charges was “by producing the remains of the disappeared person or fully demonstrating that he or she is indeed dead,” according to Latin America Press.

    Contreras has been found guilty of a slew of atrocities. Throughout Pinochet’s dictatorship, Contreras headed the Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA—National Intelligence Directorate), an agency responsible for managing torture centers where hundreds were slain. Contreras completed a seven-year prison term between 1994 and 2001 for the 1976 assassination of former Ambassador Orlando Letelier in Washington DC. In 2004, Contreras was sentenced to 12 additional years in prison for the kidnapping and disappearance of a MIR guerrilla member Miguel Ángel Sandoval. Contreras received a 490-year sentence for crimes against humanity carried out during the early years of the military regime.

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    Tags: Chile, Augusto Pinochet, Rule of Law

  • Immigration Activists Mark National Day of Action

    May 20, 2015

    by AQ Online

    Immigration reform activists staged rallies and protests across the United States on Tuesday as part of a national day of action, calling for the implementation of President Barack Obama’s executive actions for undocumented immigrants. The day of action fell on May 19, the original date that one of the president’s blocked executive action programs, Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA), was to begin accepting applications.

    Under DAPA, certain undocumented parents of U.S. citizens or permanent residents would be eligible for deportation relief and could apply for work permits. DAPA is an offshoot of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which was to be expanded on February 18. On February 16, a federal judge in Texas issued an injunction against DACA’s expansion and DAPA’s launch, and both programs remain delayed.

    Still, proponents of DACA and DAPA are pressuring lawmakers to push for the programs’ implementation and are preparing members of the undocumented community to be ready if and when this happens.

    On Tuesday—six months after Obama first announced DAPA—immigrant rights and labor groups held demonstrations, voter registration drives and town-hall meetings in 33 cities in 20 states, many outside government buildings and the offices of lawmakers who have supported a multi-state lawsuit against the program. On social media, DAPA advocates—including presidential candidate Hillary Clinton—used the hashtag #Fight4DAPA to keep the programs on the national agenda.

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    Tags: DAPA, executive action, Undocumented immigrants

  • Mexico and Canada Threaten U.S. with Sanctions over Meat-Labeling Rule

    May 19, 2015

    by AQ Online

    Mexico and Canada won a final appeal from the World Trade Organization (WTO) yesterday, when the trade body upheld an early decision that found that U.S. country-of-origin labeling (COOL) requirements for meat products violated international trade law. Both countries have warned that they may pursue punitive measures against U.S. exports unless the requirement, which was adopted in 2009 and amended in 2013, is dropped. The USDA describes COOL as a “consumer information program.”

    The Canadian Ministers of International Trade and Agriculture and Agri-Food, along with the Mexican Secretaries of Economy and Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food, issued a statement yesterday that said, “Once again, the WTO has confirmed Canada and Mexico’s long-standing position that the United States’ mandatory COOL requirements for beef and pork are blatantly protectionist and are a violation of the United States’ international trade obligations,” adding that “our governments will be seeking authorization from the WTO to take retaliatory measures against U.S. exports.” According to estimates, the COOL requirements have cost Canada $1 billion a year. Industry groups have argued that the rule hampers trade in livestock due to the added costs of tracking animals along the supply chain and separating them according to country of origin.

    Republican lawmakers in the U.S. have signaled that they will move to repeal the legislation. “It is important now more than ever to act quickly to avoid a protracted trade war with our two largest trade partners,” said Michael Conway, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, whose office has reportedly downplayed the impact of COOL requirements on food safety.

    U.S. consumer groups, however, have decried the ruling. “Today’s WTO ruling ... effectively orders the U.S. government to stop providing consumers basic information about where their food comes from," said Lori Wallach, director of Global Trade Watch at Public Citizen, a consumer group.

    Meanwhile, U.S. beef and cattle producers have offered mixed responses. Ron Prestage, president of the National Pork Producers Council, called the prospect of Mexican and Canadian tariffs on U.S. exports a “death sentence for U.S. jobs and exports,” urging Congress to act quickly. Others, including Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, maintain that any resolution to the dispute “must involve continuation of a meaningful country-of-origin labeling requirement.”

    Tags: WTO, Country of Origin Labeling, NAFTA

  • Monday Memo: Guatemalan Protests—Costa Rican Discrimination—Chinese Investment—Guyana Election—Technology in Honduras

    May 18, 2015

    by AQ Online

    Demonstrators Call for Pérez Molina’s Resignation:  Thousands of protestors marched across 13 cities in Guatemala on Saturday to call for President Otto Pérez Molina’s resignation. The protests came as a response to a customs tax fraud scandal uncovered by the Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala—CICIG) in April that led to the resignation of Vice President Roxana Baldetti earlier this month, though she denies involvement in the scheme. The protests were organized via social media, without any clear leadership. While Pérez Molina had originally announced his intent to let CICIG’s mandate expire, the scandal later prompted the president to announce that he will request a two-year extension.

    Costa Rica orders Executive Action against LGBT Discrimination: In honor of International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia on May 17, Costa Rican Vice President Ana Helena Chacón announced new legislation that will punish public workers found discriminating against others on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. While the decree does not outline what the sanctions for discrimination will be or how they will be issued, the decree does mandate training on equal access for employees of public organizations, as well as the redefining of a couple or partner to include same-sex partners for all institutions under the executive branch. Chacón, who has long been a supporter of LGBT rights, announced the decree on Friday at Costa Rica’s Casa Presidencial. Despite the new measure, same-sex marriages and civil unions are currently not recognized in Costa Rica.

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    Tags: President Otto Pérez Molina, LGBT Rights, Chinese Investment in Latin America, David Granger

  • Dominican Republic Denies Extension Request from 18 Haitian Migrant Rights Organizations for the National Regularization Plan

    May 15, 2015

    by AQ Online

    On Wednesday, the Dominican Republic government denied a deadline extension request for applications to the Plan Nacional de Regularización (National Regularization Plan) from 18 advocacy organizations dedicated to defending Haitian migrant workers’ rights. The deadline for registration is scheduled for June 17. Roudy Joseph, spokesman for the coalition of organizations, announced that a document would be submitted to Haitian Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Daniel Supplice, calling on the Haitian government to formally appeal for an extension until December.

    The decision to deny the extension request comes during a time of deteriorating relations between the Dominican Republic and Haiti following the passage of Sentencia 168-13 in September 2013, a law that effectively rendered hundreds of thousands of Haitians residing in the Dominican Republic stateless. The ruling retracted citizenship from anyone who was born to undocumented parents residing in the country. After immense pressure from the international community, the Dominican government established the Plan Nacional de Regularización in June 2014 to offer legal status to immigrants, primarily Haitian, who either entered the country illegally or who had been rendered stateless as a result of Sentencia 168-13. Over 200,000 people have already applied to register. Those unable to meet the deadline may face deportation.

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    Tags: Haiti, Dominican Republic, Dominican Republic-Haiti relations, citizenship

  • Brazil’s Lower House Passes Amendment to Austerity Bill in Setback for Government

    May 14, 2015

    by AQ Online

    On Wednesday, Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies passed its second austerity bill in a week, just hours before approving an amendment that changed the bill’s direction and increased federal spending for retirees. If passed by the Senate, the amended bill faces a possible presidential veto and represents a roadblock to the government’s strategy for increasing revenues.

    The initial bill, which passed by 277 votes to 178, limited sick leave and restricted access to social security pensions for relatives of deceased employees in an attempt to save an estimated 7.5 billion reais ($2.47 billion) in public funds. The measure was a key component of the government’s strategy to balance fiscal accounts and avoid an impending credit downgrade, and its initial passage represented a win for President Dilma Rousseff’s current fiscal agenda.

    However, amid backlash from the country’s largest labor union, the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (Unified Workers' Central—CUT) and members of the president’s Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT), the lower house passed the amendment with a vote of 232 to 210. Nine PT members approved the changes to the bill, while five did not attend the vote. O Globo reports that the bill would not have been changed had all PT members in the lower house voted against the amendment.

    Bloomberg called the amendment to the austerity measure the “first major setback” for Finance Minister Joaquim Levy, who has pushed an austerity agenda in order to reduce a growing federal deficit. Levy called last week’s approval of a bill reducing social-security benefits a “victory for all of society.”

    Rousseff has threatened to veto the second bill after Wednesday night’s amendment passed, and is negotiating with labor unions and lawmakers to avoid a congressional override of the veto.

    Seven more amendments to the bill were scheduled for a vote on Thursday.

    Tags: Joaquim Levy, Austerity, Brazil budget

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