Months-long protests against a copper mining project in Peru’s Arequipa region continued yesterday in the city of Mollendo, as close to 150 mourners— some carrying signs that read “farming yes, mines no”— joined the funeral procession of Victoriano Huayna Mina. The 61-year-old farmer was killed on Wednesday after police shot into a crowd of about 500 farmers protesting the Tía María mining project.
A forensic examination proved that Huayna Mina died of a bullet wound, countering initial claims by local police chief Enrique Blanco that a fall had caused the farmer’s death. Local health director Walter Vera confirmed that 12 other protesters were wounded in the clash after being hit by shotgun pellets.The police reported that 11 officers also were hurt during Wednesday’s confrontation with demonstrators.
After visiting a local hospital on Thursday where victims were being treated, Interior Minister José Luis Pérez Guadalupe announced that officers had orders prohibiting the use of lethal force against the protesters. He added that police involved in the confrontation had been placed on administrative leave while their actions are investigated. The minister also called for renewed dialogue with the protesters, saying “no one wants more deaths.”
Farmers, anti-mining activists and local leaders who oppose the $1.4 billion open-pit mine worry that it will contaminate irrigation water in the fertile lands of Peru’s Tambo Valley. Southern Copper Corporation, the Mexican group that owns the project, said the mine would use desalinated ocean water that would never touch local waterways, and that dust from the mine would also be controlled. Peru’s Minister of Environment, Manual Pulgar-Vidal supported the claims, saying the mine was “safe for the environment.”
The Peruvian government supports the mine, saying it would yield 10,000 tons of copper over 18 years. Minister of Agriculture Juan Manuel Benites, who has been holding dialogues with the protesters, said Thursday that the protests have not only put the mining project at risk, but have alsoendangered “Peru’s reputation as a country that can attract investment in a responsible manner.”
The Tía María mining project has attracted controversy for years. In 2011, the project was temporarily halted after the deaths of 3 protesters. Last month, Southern Copper Corporation threatened to cancelthe project due to protests, but confirmed on April 15 that the project would continue.
On Wednesday, Spain recalled its ambassador to Venezuela for consultations, citing “insults, calumnies, and threats" from the Venezuela government. The government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has taken an increasingly hostile stance toward Spain after the country passed a resolution last week calling on Venezuela to release jailed opposition figures.
Since the motion, Maduro has accused the Spanish government of “supporting terrorism” and of being party to an “international conspiracy” to overthrow his presidency. Maduro took aim at Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, whom he called a “racist” whose government was a “group of corrupt [leaders], bandits and thieves.”
In a press release, Rajoy called the accusations of supporting terrorism “particularly offensive,” due to Spain’s history of suffering terrorist attacks.
Today, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner will kick off her state visit to Russia with a meeting of members of the Russian and Argentine business communities in Moscow. Fernández de Kirchner and Russian President Vladimir Putin are scheduled to meet on Thursday to review and follow up on a series of trade, energy and military deals that were signed in July 2014, when Putin visited Argentina.
Fernández de Kirchner landed in Russia on Tuesday. Members of her delegation include Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman, Legal and Technical Secretary Carlos Zannini, Defense Minister Agustín Ross, and other government officials. The president recently tweeted, “We are meeting with CEOs of Russian companies that want to invest in our country.”
Indeed, Argentina's National Commission for Atomic Energy (Comisión Nacional De Energía Atómica) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Rusatom on the sidelines of the Argentine-Russian business meeting headed by Fernández de Kirchner today. The MOU states that Rusatom’s subsidiary, TVEL, a nuclear fuel manufacturer, will supply nuclear fuel to scientific and power-generating reactors in Argentina.
Mexico ranks second to last, after the Philippines, in an international study of impunity in 59 countries that was published yesterday.
The study, carried out by researchers at the Universidad de las Américas Puebla (University of the Americas Puebla—UDLAP), looked at data pertaining to countries’ security, justice and human rights systems, as well as these systems’ efficacy and vulnerability to impunity. The research initially looked at the United Nations’ 193 member states and 14 additional territories, but only 59 countries were deemed to have sufficiently robust data in the three areas measured by the study to be included in the index.
Referring to Mexico, the report states that “Mexico does not need to devote ever more resources to increasing the number of police, but rather to the processes that would guarantee the efficacy of their actions.” Researchers found that while the country’s ratio of police per capita is significantly higher than the global average (355 per 100,000 inhabitants), there were only an average of four judges per 100,000—well below the global average of 17 per 100,000. Croatia, which the study found to have the lowest levels of impunity, had a ratio of 45 judges per 100,000 inhabitants.
Increasing the number of judges in Mexico’s judicial system “would have an immediate impact,” the report claims. “Increasing their numbers could reduce the number of prisoners awaiting sentencing and, consequently, reduce the overcrowding of prisons.” Researchers found that nearly half of Mexico’s prison population (46 percent) consists of detainees who have not been sentenced.
This week’s likely top stories: U.S. trade delegation arrives in Cuba; Venezuela receives a $5 billion Chinese loan; Caribbean’s longest fiber optic cable nearly complete; NGO says Honduras leads the world in per capita murders of environmental activists; Argentina sues five companies over Falklands oil exploration.
Governor Cuomo and U.S. Companies Visit Cuba: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo led a trade mission to Cuba on Monday, joined by executives from Pfizer, MasterCard and JetBlue, as well as State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and officials from the Plattsburgh International Airport, the New York Genome Center and the State University of New York. The trip is the first of its kind since U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced renewed diplomatic relations between the two countries in December 2014. According to Cuomo, the members of the delegation from New York will “serve as ambassadors for all that New York state has to offer and will help form the foundation for a strong economic relationship between New York and Cuba as legal restrictions on trade are eased in the future.” The delegation plans to meet with several Cuban officials and businesses during their 26-hour trip.
Venezuela Accepts $5 Billion in Loans from China: On Sunday, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced that his government has received $5 billion in Chinese financing for development. Maduro traveled to China in January 2015 and announced at the time that the country would be providing Venezuela with over $20 billion in investment. However, Maduro did not confirm yesterday whether the $5 billion was part of that amount. The loan will be helpful for Venezuela, which is currently suffering rising inflation and shortages of goods amid falling oil prices.
On Thursday, the U.S. government imposed sanctions on three leaders of Mara Salvatrucha (“MS-13”), a gang of 30,000 members spread throughout El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and the United States. The gang, whose leadership is concentrated in El Salvador, has been listed as a Transnational Criminal Organization since 2012 by the U.S. Department of Treasury for crimes that include human trafficking, drug operations, kidnapping and murder.
One of the founding members of MS-13, José Luis Mendoza Figueroa, was among the three men—all Salvadoran nationals—hit with sanctions. The other two, Élmer Canales Rivera and Eduardo Erazo Nolasco, are members of regional “cliques” that take direction from the gang’s central leadership. The three men are imprisoned in El Salvador, but, according to the U.S. Department of Treasury, have been able to direct gang operations (such as moves into new territories and recruitment of new members) from behind bars.
MS-13 cliques in the United States generate money that is funneled to gang leadership in El Salvador. The sanctions permit the U.S. government to freeze any assets the three men may have in the United States and bans American companies and citizens from doing business affiliated with the gang.
John Smith, acting director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in a statement that “MS-13 ranks among the most dangerous and rapidly expanding criminal gangs in the world, and poses a direct threat to communities across the United States and Central America […] Today’s designation will disrupt these illicit activities and help to further protect the United States and international financial system from abuse.”
In a related effort to curb Central American gang operations, El Salvador Prisons Director Rodil Hernandez announced from San Salvador on Thursday that 31 gang members, including sanctioned MS-13 member Erazo Nolasco, had been transferred from regular prisons to the isolated maximum security institution Zacatecaluca. Hernandez explained the move was part of the reclassification of the most dangerous prisoners after investigations proved they had ties to recent gang attacks on state institutions.
On Wednesday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos ordered the resumed bombing of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) after an early morning attack by the rebel group killed at least 10 soldiers and left 17 injured. In the deadliest clash since the FARC announced a unilateral cease fire nearly four months ago, guerillas ambushed the soldiers with grenades and firearms in the rural southwestern province of Cauca.
In a televised press conference, Santos described the attack as “deliberate” and said it “implies a clear rupture of the promise of a unilateral ceasefire.” Santos’ order to resume bombing suspends the truce he made in March in response to the FARC’s adherence to its cease fire.
The killing of the soldiers is a significant setback to the ongoing peace talks between the government and the FARC that, after more than two years, seemed to be making conclusive progress. Since the FARC’s December announcement of a unilateral cease fire and Santos’ subsequent ban on air raids on FARC camps, the FARC had agreed to end its recruitment of child soldiers and the two groups recently agreed to work together on a historic landmine removal project. The group had also reached agreements with the government on land reform, political participation of ex-rebels, and joint cooperation against drug trafficking.
On Tuesday, President Obama’s announcement of his intention to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism (SSOT) was received with both praise and dissent from Cuban and U.S. politicians. Despite the controversy, the announcement marks a significant change in not only U.S.-Cuba relations, but also U.S.-Latin America relations.
The announcement followed President Obama’s meeting with Cuban President Raúl Castro at the Summit of the Americas in Panama last week, where Cuba made an inaugural appearance and where the two countries’ heads of state met officially face-to-face for the first time since 1959. Cuba’s designation as an SSOT was one of the “sticking points” in the negotiations to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba.
President Obama said that Cuba had "provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.” White House press secretary Josh Earnest added that although the U.S. still had differences with Cuban policies and actions, they were not "relevant" to the terror list.
The director of U.S. relations at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, Josefina Vidal, acknowledged the U.S.’s move in a statement: “The government of Cuba recognizes the just decision made by the President of the United States to remove Cuba from a list on which it never deserved to belong [...] As the Cuban government has reiterated on multiple occasions, Cuba rejects and condemns all acts of terrorism.”
On Tuesday, the White House announced that it plans to remove the designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism (SSOT), representing another step forward in the normalization of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba.
The first announcement of this nature was made on December 17, 2014, when U.S.–Cuba rapprochement was first announced. President Barack Obama instructed the U.S. State Department to review Cuba’s status as an SSOT. This was completed on April 9, prior to the Summit of the Americas held last week in Panama, with Secretary of State John Kerry recommending that Cuba be removed from the list.
Cuba was designated as an SSOT on March 1, 1982. The removal of the SSOT designation will allow a broader range of goods to be exported to Cuba, certain federal financial assistance to be directed towards Cuba, and will ease companies’ disclosure requirements of activities involving Cuba, among other changes.
In order for the SSOT designation to be officially lifted, the U.S. State Department's report must justify that Cuba has not provided support for international terrorism in the past six months, and that the Cuban government will not do so in the future. Congressional leadership has 45 days to review and act on this report.
Although the removal of Cuba from the SSOT list is an important diplomatic step towards normalizing U.S. relations with Cuba, the key provisions of the U.S. embargo against Cuba, including restrictions on investment, trade, and financial transactions with Cuba, will remain in place.
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Chilean President Michelle Bachelet signed a law on Monday allowing same-sex civil unions. The law, known as the Acuerdo de Unión Civil (Civil Union Accord—AUC), falls short of recognizing same-sex marriage, but establishes “civil cohabitation” as an officially recognized marital status that affords many of the same rights as marriage, such as visitation, inheritance and pension rights.
Same-sex marriages established abroad will be recognized as civil unions in Chile. “We are taking a fundamental step forward in rights, justice and respect for individual freedom,” Bachelet said at a ceremony at the presidential palace.
Monday’s signing ceremony marks the end of the law’s four-year-long political odyssey, and fulfils a promise Bachelet made as a candidate to support the law, which was originally introduced under a different name by her predecessor, Sebastián Piñera. “We are truly excited, because as of next October, couples will be able to legally enter into a bond that, years ago, was a dream, even a taboo,” said Rolando Jiménez, the director of the Movimiento de Integración y Liberación Homosexual (Homosexual Liberation and Integration Movement—Movilh), an LGBT rights organization.
The government now has six months to draft the regulations that will guide the law’s implementation. The Civil Registry, which will be responsible for registering the new unions, is undertaking a training program for its employees to avoid discrimination. Because the law establishes a new marital status—rather than extending an existing status to LGBT couples—the registry is also developing new software in preparation for the law’s implementation. It is estimated that over 2 million Chileans may be eligible to contract civil unions once the law goes into effect.
This week’s likely top stories: Brazilians demonstrate against corruption; Colombian generals investigated; Obama and Castro hold meeting; Puerto Rico seeks debt help; Chilean communities fight mining companies over water.
Hundreds of Thousands Protest Corruption in Brazil: Hundreds of thousands of Brazilians took to the streets on Sunday to protest government corruption. Estimates of participants vary, but police say almost 700,000 citizens protested, while organizers of the demonstrations claim the number was closer to 1.5 million people. The protests, which took place in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and across Brazil, were smaller than the ones that took place in mid-March 2015. Demonstrators then and now claim that President Dilma Rousseff was aware of the bribery taking place at Brazil's state oil company, Petrobras, during her tenure there, and yesterday, many called for the president's impeachment. Rousseff’s approval rating sank to just 13 percent following last month’s protests.
Colombian Generals Are Investigated for “False Positives”: The office of the Attorney General of Colombia announced on Sunday that approximately 22 army generals are being investigated for their suspected involvement in the “falsos positivos” (“false positives”) scandal during the term of former President Álvaro Uribe. The case involves thousands of civilians who were promised jobs and then murdered and dressed up as paramilitaries by the armed forces in order to up the military’s kill count. So far, 800 members of the military have been imprisoned and over 5,000 linked to the scheme. Attorney General Eduardo Montealegre Lynett stated that the investigation should conclude by the end of 2015.
Presidents Obama and Castro Meet at Summit of the Americas: At the seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama on Friday and Saturday, a showing of anti-U.S. sentiment by Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and the Venezuelan and Bolivian delegations was overshadowed by a historic meeting between Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro. The face-to-face meeting—which was the first between presidents of the U.S. and Cuba in over 50 years—was mostly symbolic, but demonstrated the two leaders' willingness to work together despite ideological differences. Latin American leaders praised the U.S. for renewing relations with Cuba, and experts are now analyzing how Obama can best leverage the renewed credibility. The leaders did not issue a joint declaration at the end of the summit, as a result of President Nicolás Maduro’s demand to include a denunciation of U.S. sanctions in Venezuela.
Puerto Rico Calls on Former IMF Officials to Help with Debt: Puerto Rico’s government and investors have asked former International Monetary Fund (IMF) officials for help in resolving the island's debt crisis. Puerto Rico has hired Anne Krueger, the IMF’s former first deputy managing director, as a consultant, and hedge funds that own Puerto Rican bonds have reportedly approached Claudio Loser, the former director of the IMF’s Western Hemisphere department. Puerto Rico has over $7 billion in debt, and last month, Fitch Ratings downgraded its debt to a “B” rating. On Wednesday, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority faces a debt payment deadline, but is currently negotiating with creditors about restructuring.
Chilean Citizens and Mining Company Continue Dispute: Citizens in Caimanes, a small community in the north of Chile, are locked in a dispute with mining company Antofagasta Minerals over water, a precious resource in the arid region. Citizens claim that the Los Pelambres copper mine’s tailings dam is contributing to water scarcity and that the mine’s activity is contaminating water in their community. Juan Olivares, one of the citizens that has criticized Antofagasta Minerals, said this weekend, “They say we are looking for an economic reward. That has never been the goal […] We want the law to be respected in Chile.” A recent court ruling ordered the company to demolish the dam, but the company will appeal the decision, and is also exploring further investment in the area.
Argentina and the U.K. summoned each others’ ambassadors this week as tension between the two countries escalated over the territorial dispute involving the Falkland Islands, known as the Malvinas in Argentina.
Yesterday, the Argentine government announced that Deputy Foreign Minister Eduardo Zuain had called in British ambassador John Freeman to demand an explanation over media reports that the U.K. had conducted mass electronic surveillance on Argentina between 2006 and 2011 to prevent Argentina from launching attempts to reclaim the Falklands. The allegations, made earlier this month by the online publication The Intercept, were based on documents previously released by U.S. National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.
A statement released by the Argentine Foreign Ministry indicated Zuain also warned Freeman that Argentina would initiate legal action against multiple British energy companies for carrying out petroleum exploration activity on the continental shelf off the coast of the Falklands without the permission of Argentina’s Energy Secretariat. Later on Thursday, Argentina filed a lawsuit at the general prosecutor's office in Buenos Aires against the British firms Rockhopper Exploration Plc, Premier Oil Plc, Falkland Oil & Gas Ltd, Noble Energy Inc. and Edison International Spa. The lawsuit follows press releases from the oil companies Premier Oil Plc and Falkland Oil & Gas Ltd. on April 2 that they had made an oil well discovery off the South Atlantic Islands after nine months of drilling.
The events in Buenos Aires were preceded by a diplomatic meeting in London on Wednesday between British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and Argentine ambassador Alicia Castro. Hammond reportedly told Castro that his government disapproved of the “unacceptable” statements made by Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in recent weeks. On April 2—exactly 33 years after the 10-week Falklands War (Guerra de las Malvinas) broke out between the UK and Argentina in 1982—Fernández de Kirchner had stated that “International law and dialogue, not militarization, are the path to a reunion and sovereignty. We will see the islands form part of our territory again. It’s not just wishful thinking.”
A British Foreign Office spokesman said on April 9 that the U.K. “has no doubt about its sovereignty over the Falkland Islands and surrounding maritime areas, nor about the Falkland Islanders’ right to decide their own future. We object strongly to recent statements by the Argentine president and the Argentine ambassador to London and so summoned the ambassador to account for these.”
Clashes between Cuban and Venezuelan dissidents and pro-government supporters marked the initial proceedings of the Summit of the Americas in Panama City on Wednesday, two days before the summit officially begins. Cuba’s participation in the summit for the first time has sparked encounters between pro-Castro supporters and the Cuban exile community, many members of which are critical of Cuba’s invitation to the summit and the U.S. government’s warmed ties with the country.
A civil society forum, attended by Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, began an hour late after Cuban officials and supporters staged a protest against the presence of Cuban dissidents, whom they referred to as “mercenaries” and “terrorists,” as reported by EFE and AP. Venezuelan representatives also left the event in a show of support for the Cuban delegation.
Also on Wednesday, police reportedly arrested 12 people after supporters of the Cuban government came to blows with dissidents outside the Cuban embassy.
Cuban activists began arriving in Panama over the weekend, when it was reported that Rosa Mariá Payá, a high-profile Cuban dissident, was detained by Panamanian authorities upon her arrival in the country. Officials later released Payá and issued an apology.
Meanwhile, a protest in a Panama City park reportedly drew approximately 300 Venezuelans who demanded the release of political prisoners in their country.
Lilian Tintori, the wife of imprisoned Venezuelan opposition figure Leopoldo López, arrived in Panama Wednesday alongside Mitzy Capriles de Ledezma, the wife of imprisoned Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma. On Tuesday, prosecutors in Venezuela formally charged Ledezma with attempting to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro. The two women have decried what they describe as a deteriorating respect for human rights Venezuela and have called for the release of their husbands and more than opposition 30 mayors detained by the government. Tintori is reportedly expected to meet with President Bill Clinton while in Panama City.
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The IMF released a study yesterday that urges advanced and emerging economies to make increasing potential output a policy priority. The study also seems to support the idea that the global economy is in a period of “secular stagnation”—a period of chronic low growth, low interest rates and low inflation—a theory that has been debated by several economists since the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008.
The study, “Lower Potential Growth: A New Reality,” one of the analytical chapters of the IMF’s April 2015 publication of the World Economic Outlook, states that global potential output growth fell sharply since the onset of the financial crisis and is expected to remain lower than pre-crisis levels. Potential output is defined as the level of economic growth consistent with stable inflation. For advanced economies, the slowdown began in the early 2000s, when potential growth fell from 2.4 percent to 1.9 percent between 2001 and 2007. In emerging economies, potential growth during this period actually increased from 6.1 percent to 7.4 percent.
The study highlights how potential growth for all economies rest on the following three factors: employment growth, capital growth and productivity growth, which includes human capital growth. The financial crisis’ effect on these three factors differed for advanced and emerging economies. For advanced economies, the financial crisis meant lower employment levels (due to demographic changes), lower capital growth linked to decreased investment, and a short-term drop in total factor productivity. For emerging economies, total factor productivity suffered the most after the crisis—especially by those countries with higher foreign direct investment inflows from the United States—while employment growth was stable and capital growth actually increased.
The Comisión de Recursos Hidráulicos (Hydraulic Resources Commission) of Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies initiated a period of public hearings today to inform a new draft of the Ley General de Aguas (General Water Law), which will regulate the management of country’s water resources.
An earlier draft of the water bill, which appeared to have been “fast-tracked” for approval, provoked concern among civil society organizations, agrarian groups, academics, and some opposition lawmakers about the privatization of water services and the process that produced the bill, which critics said was not transparent. Concerns include the bill’s proposals to limit the human right to water to 50 liters per day, to liberalize water provision and management—including the licensing of private enterprises for the development of large-scale hydraulic projects—and to limit the independent study and testing of the country’s water resources.
According to a statement released by the commission, the earlier bill—popularly known as the Ley Korenfeld (Korenfeld Law) after the bill’s principal framer, David Korenfeld, the director of the Comisión Nacional del Agua (National Water Commission—CONAGUA)—“must give way to a new one based on public hearings where specialists, officials, community representatives, civil society organizations, research and higher education institutions, business and chamber of commerce representatives and the general public can make their proposals.” Korenfeld is currently under fire for employing a government helicopter for private use.
Meanwhile, proponents of the original bill have rejected claims that the the provisions it contains regarding the licensing of private companies to perform water management and provision services constitutes an effort to “privatize” the country’s water resources. The president of the Comisión de Aguas y Saneamiento (Water and Sanitation Commission) of the Chamber, Kamel Athié, denied that granting such licenses constitutes privatization of the resource and noted that the bill includes language describing water as a national security issue.
This week’s likely top stories: The Summit of the Americas commences in Panama; petition criticizes U.S. action against Venezuela; Argentine Central Bank inspects Citibank; TSJ initiates missiles trial in Bolivia; Canada and Venezuela discuss investment in Venezuelan oil.
Americas Summit Begins This Week in Panama: The seventh Summit of the Americas will take place this week from April 10 to 11 in Panama City, the first summit in which the leaders of all 35 countries in the hemisphere—including Cuba—will participate. Topics such as climate change, immigration, violence, and energy needs will be on the agenda, although U.S.–Cuba relations may dominate the summit. Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro will meet in person for the first time since they announced renewed diplomatic relations in December 2014, and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson confirmed on Friday that there would be an “interaction” between the two leaders. Meanwhile, Cuban dissidents have been invited to a separate meeting for civil society at the summit. Cuban dissident Rosa María Payá A. stated on Twitter yesterday that Panamanian authorities stopped and searched her at the airport upon arrival in Panama, and she was released after several hours.
Petition against Obama’s Action on Venezuela Gains Ground: Critics of President Barack Obama’s March 9 executive action that declared Venezuela a national security threat have circulated a petition that had gained over 8 million signatures by Saturday. The petition began in Venezuela, although many countries throughout the region have expressed their support for Venezuela. In March, all member nations of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) rejected Obama’s action against the country, which also included sanctions against select Venezuelan officials accused of human rights abuses and corruption. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro thanked supporters via Twitter on Sunday. Growing tension between the U.S. and Venezuela, which have not had full diplomatic relations since 2008, threatens to overshadow other issues to be discussed at the Summit of Americas this week.
Argentina’s Central Bank Sends Inspectors to Citibank for Supervision: On Monday, the Argentine Central Bank sent regulators to Citibank headquarters in Buenos Aires for an inspection. Central Bank president Alejandro Vanoli said that the inspection aimed to ensure that Citibank would be able to run normally without CEO Gabriel Ribisich, who was dismissed by the Central Bank on Wednesday for not following local regulations regarding Argentine interest payments on restructured debt. The Central Bank gave Citibank 24 hours to find a replacement for Ribisich, but the deadline was extended to Monday, due to the closure of banks for local holidays. Local entities, such as the Argentine Banks Association, the Argentine Business Association and the United States Chamber of Commerce in Argentina expressed their support for Citibank and criticized the decision. Citibank could still appeal the decision today.
On Wednesday, nearly 800 people filed a $1 billion lawsuit against Johns Hopkins University for its role in a research study that infected more than 1,600 Guatemalans with sexually transmitted diseases in the 1940s and 1950s. The plaintiffs include family members of individuals who died from complications from diseases they contracted during the study, which sought to study penicillin’s effect on the spread of gonorrhea, chancres and syphilis among sex workers, mental patients, prisoners, and soldiers.
The research, known as the U.S. Public Health Service Sexually Transmitted Disease Inoculation Study of 1946-1948, came to light in 2010, prompting apologies from President Barack Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to then-Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom. The next year, a presidential commission on bioethical research called the study a “gross violations of ethics,” and said the experiments constituted “especially egregious moral wrongs because many of the individuals involved held positions of public institutional responsibility.”
Such individuals included the U.S. surgeon general, the U.S. attorney general, Army and Navy medical officials, the presidents of the American Medical Association and the National Academy of Sciences, and experts from Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and the Universities of Pennsylvania and Rochester, who participated on a government committee that reviewed the research proposal and approved it for funding.
Johns Hopkins spokesperson Kim Hoppe called the lawsuit an “attempt by the plaintiffs’ counsel to exploit a historic tragedy for monetary gain.” Robert Mathias, the lead counsel for Johns Hopkins, called the lawsuit "baseless,” saying the university “did not initiate, pay for or direct” the study. A Rockefeller spokesperson called the experiments "morally repugnant," but said the foundation would fight the lawsuit, stating that it had no role in the study’s planning, funding or execution.
The lawsuit, filed in Baltimore Circuit Court, also named the Rockefeller Foundation and pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb as defendants. The victims’ lawyer, Paul Bekman, said the case was about “accountability and responsibility.”
Wednesday’s lawsuit isn’t the first related to the nearly 70-year-old study. Victims and their families filed a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. government in 2012, but the government rejected the suit on the grounds that the U.S. government can’t be sued for damages it caused abroad.
With the conclusion on Tuesday of the first formal talks between Cuba and the United States on human rights, both countries agreed that they were capable of holding a “respectful, professional [and] civilized conversation” on the issue of human rights.
Representatives from both countries met yesterday in Washington DC in the first of many dialogues to be held between the U.S. and Cuba as part of the process to normalize bilateral relations, first announced by U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro on December 17, 2014.
The U.S. delegation was led by Tom Malinowski, the U.S. undersecretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor. Meanwhile, Pedro Luis Pedroso, deputy director of multilateral affairs and international law at the Cuban Foreign Ministry, headed the Cuban delegation.
Cuban Ambassador Anaysansi Rodríguez Camejo acknowledged “differences” between the two sides in terms of how human rights “are protected and promoted in their respective countries as in the international arena.”
The companies being investigated by Brazil's Federal Public Ministry include large banks such as Santander, as well some of Brazil’s largest public and private enterprises, among them Embraer and the country’s embattled state-run oil giant, Petrobras. The companies are suspected of paying bribes to members of Brazil’s Conselho Administrativo de Recursos Fiscais (Administrative Council of Tax Appeals—CARF), a body within the Finance Ministry that deals with tax disputes, in order to reduce or avoid fines for tax evasion.
The federal investigation, called Operação Zelotes (Operation Zealots), began in 2013 but exploded into the public consciousness last Thursday, when federal police raided CARF headquarters and the offices of several of the companies and individuals believed to be involved in the scheme. While no arrests were made, authorities seized 1.3 million reais in cash (about $400,000), as well as reams of documents. Investigators have shown that the scheme has cost government coffers $1.8 billion, but believe that the real number could be as high as $5.9 billion.
Several companies, including Brasil Foods (BRF) and Marcopolo, have released statements denying any wrongdoing. In a press release, BRF stated that it will “take all measures necessary to protect its interests.” Others have taken a different tack. Federico Paiva, one of the prosecutors leading the investigation, indicated yesterday that several of the companies under investigation have signaled their willingness to enter into a plea bargain. The Federal Public Ministry has reportedly begun to analyze those proposals today.
This week’s likely top stories: Bolivia holds local elections; Cuba and the U.S. to discuss human rights; Caribbean Bitcoin exchange launches; UNASUR head urges closing of U.S. military bases in the region; Chile rejects Bolivian aid for flood victims.
Bolivia’s MAS Party Loses La Paz in Local Elections: Bolivian citizens elected local government leaders on Sunday, with President Evo Morales’ party, Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement Towards Socialism—MAS) winning most governments, according to unofficial results. MAS won four out of nine provinces (Pando, Potosí, Oruro and Cochabamba) outright, and led in two other provinces that will now advance to a second round of votes on May 3, due to a close race. However, MAS lost La Paz, as well as Santa Cruz and Tarija provinces. Félix Patzi, from the Solidaridad y Libertad party (Solidarity and Liberty) secured approximately 52 percent of the votes for the governorship of La Paz. Official results are expected later on Monday.
U.S. Confirms Human Rights Meeting with Cuba: On Friday, a U.S. government spokesperson confirmed that U.S. and Cuban officials will meet on Tuesday, March 31 in Washington, DC for a preliminary discussion on human rights. The undersecretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, Tom Malinowski, will lead the U.S. delegation. Pedro Luis Pedroso, deputy director of multilateral affairs and international law at the Cuban Foreign Ministry, said that the Cuban delegation will detail the country’s current and past successes in the area of human rights. This will be the fourth round of talks since the re-establishment of ties between the two countries. U.S. President Barack Obama hopes to re-open embassies before the Summit of the Americas in Panama on April 10-11.
Caribbean Bitcoin Exchange Launched: The Caribbean Bitcoin exchange “Bitt,” which is based in Barbados, was launched on Monday. Bitt, powered by digital currency exchange software company AlphaPoint, will be operating after confirming $1.5 million in seed funding from venture capital group Avatar Capital. The exchange will allow customers to trade in 11 fiat currencies, including the U.S. dollar and the euro. CEO Gabriel Abed praised the positive impact that Bitt will have. “By facilitating trade between traditional and digital currency markets, Bitt is creating the platform for very low-cost international commerce and remittance between the people who need it most—the millions of unbanked and underbanked citizens in the Caribbean,” he said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov culminated a four-country tour of Latin America on Thursday in what was widely seen as Moscow’s latest bid to counteract Western sanctions over Russia’s policies in Ukraine and Crimea. Earlier this week, Lavrov met with heads of state Raúl Castro in Cuba, Juan Manual Santos in Colombia and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. Lavrov ended his trip Thursday after visiting Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina and meeting top officials at the Central American Integration System (SICA) in Guatemala City to discuss Russia's relationship with Central America.
This is the second visit the foreign minister has paid to the region within the last year—in April 2014, barely a month after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, he traveled to Nicaragua, Cuba, Chile, and Peru. Several months later, in July 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin also made stops in Argentina, Cuba and Nicaragua prior to attending the BRICS international conference in Brazil.
Lavrov said that one of his main objectives in Havana on Tuesday was to discuss U.S. trade policies with the island. While he remarked that the normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations is viewed positively by Russia , he also called for an immediate end to the U.S. trade embargo. Lavrov also declared Washington’s policies “totally inconsistent,” comparing the U.S. détente with Cuba to its tense relationship with Venezuela.
“Even as the U.S. was taking this step with Cuba, it was simultaneously pressuring Venezuela, declaring it a threat to U.S. national security. We would like the United States to stop looking for enemies in its geographical surroundings and listen to a unanimous voice of Latin America and the Caribbean Basin,” he stated.
Despite recent speculation that Nicaragua and Russia intend to re-establish military ties through Nicaragua’s purchase of Russian fighter jets, reports from the meeting in Managua on Wednesday did not include specifics about such negotiations. Instead, Ortega voiced a desire to collaborate on projects related to agriculture, transportation infrastructure, civil aviation, satellite navigation, and the pharmaceutical industry.
On March 25, Chile’s Interior Ministry declared a state of emergency for cities in the country’s northern Atacama and Antofogasta regions after flash flooding from the worst rains in two decades left at least four people dead and 22 missing. Meanwhile, high temperatures and strong winds in southern Chile are making it harder for authorities to fight forest fires that have raged for weeks and have affected over 11,000 acres in three protected areas.
Overflowing rivers in northern Chile forced residents out of their homes and onto roofs, while mudslides cut off road access to several small towns. Approximately 1,500 people had to take refuge into shelters. On Wednesday evening, 48,000 people were without drinking water and 38,500 were without electricity.
In response to the flooding, President Michelle Bachelet traveled to Copiapó in Atacama on Wednesday evening after authorizing the armed forces to assist in rescue operations.
On Monday night, Uruguayan Minister of Foreign Affairs Rodolfo Nin Novoa announced that Uruguay will no longer offer asylum to additional Guantanamo prisoners, amid reports that one of the ex-prisoners currently living in Montevideo is threating to go on a hunger strike.
Novoa said in a press conference that the decision by Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez’ administration to not receive any more ex-prisoners from Guantánamo Prison was “definitive.” The minister also added that Uruguay would postpone the arrival of refugees from Syria until the end of the year due to “cultural and infrastructural shortcomings” and a need to better plan “these kinds of operations.” Forty-two Syrian refugees arrived in Uruguay last October after the government admitted them on humanitarian grounds.
Minister Novoa’s announcement marks a departure from the foreign policy agenda of former Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, who received a total of six released prisoners from Guantánamo on December 7, 2014, making Uruguay the second country, after El Salvador in 2012, to receive detainees from the U.S. prison in Cuba. This February, prior to his departure from office, Mujica visited five of the six former prisoners in their home and encouraged them to learn Spanish as quickly as possible so they can go back to work and restart their lives. Four of the former prisoners are from Syria, one is Palestinian, and another is Tunisian.
Former prisoner Jihad Ahmed Mustafa Dhiab, 43, reportedly said that he would begin a hunger strike and chain himself outside the walls of the U.S. embassy in Montevideo in order to demand that the U.S. offer compensation for the years of torture and imprisonment he has suffered. However, Dhiab’s lawyer told the press in Uruguay that Dhiab has no such plans.
Brazil’s economy is expected to contract by 0.83 percent this year and inflation to climb to 8.12 percent, according to the Brazilian Central Bank’s weekly survey of financial experts, which was released yesterday. The growth forecast for 2016 was also lowered from 1.3 percent last week to 1.2 percent this week. According to Bruno Rovai, an analyst at Barclays, “[…] incoming data supported our view that Brazil will face a recession this year, and that any strong recovery will be hard to achieve next year.”
Yesterday’s survey marks the 12th consecutive week of worsening forecasts on the Brazilian economy, and come at a tense time for Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who is dealing with an escalating corruption scandal involving the state-run oil company, Petrobras. Rousseff has also received criticism, including from traditional allies, for austerity measures that her government has introduced to manage Brazil’s deficit and inflation woes.
“We do not discard the possibility that political risks could increase in the next few weeks, given Petrobras’ audit result deadline or corruption investigations escalating further,” said Rovai. Petrobras is due to publish its audited fourth quarter results at the end of the month.
This week's likely top stories: Intelligence chiefs to be replaced in Peru; Citigroup is permitted to process Argentine debt payment; Costa Rica sets global clean energy record; former Spanish PM to defend Venezuelan opposition leaders; Ayotzinapa victims’ families visit Amnesty International.
Peruvian Intelligence Chiefs Fired amid Spying Allegations: The Peruvian Presidency of the Council of Ministers issued two resolutions that were published on Sunday, announcing the dismissal of Ivan Kamisaki, the executive director of the National Directorate of Intelligence (DINI), and accepting the resignation of Javier Briceño, the national intelligence director. Kamisaki and Briceño were accused of spying and misconduct after media outlets published information allegedly gathered by DINI on citizens, including former President Alejandro Toledo and current Defense Minister Pedro Cateriano. In February, Prime Minister Ana Jara announced that DINI would be temporarily closed for restructuring in response to complaints that it had spied on opposition politicians.
U.S. Judge Authorizes Citigroup to Process Argentine Debt Payments: Citigroup announced in a statement on Saturday that U.S. judge Thomas Griesa has authorized the bank to resume processing interest payments for Argentine bonds, with payments now scheduled for March 31 and possibly June 30, 2015. The bank had been caught in the middle of the dispute between the Argentine government and U.S. “holdout” creditors who refused to restructure their debt, leading Argentina to go into default for the second time in 13 years in August 2014. Previously, Griesa had permitted Argentina to pay restructured bond holders, but later decided that Argentina could not pay those creditors until it had paid holdouts. NML Capital, one of the holdouts, said it had reached an agreement with Citibank on Sunday to allow the interest payments to resume. The bank recently said it could lose its banking license in Argentina if it is not allowed to make interest payments.
Costa Rica Sets Renewable Energy Record: On Sunday, Costa Rica set a global record for renewable energy use, cementing its status as a world leader in clean energy. The Central American nation has experienced heavy rainfall in recent months, and on Sunday, the country set a record by going 75 days in a row using 100 percent renewable energy. Costa Rica relies on four hydroelectric dams to supply its energy needs, has not used fossil fuels since December 2014. Renewable energy expert Jake Richardson warned that the country should make sure to diversify its renewable sources, as the availability of hydro power can vary widely with the seasons, and hydroelectric dams can harm river ecosystems.
Former Spanish Prime Minister to Defend Venezuelan Opposition Leaders: Felipe González Márquez, Spain’s Socialist Prime Minister from 1982 to 1996, will join the defense team of imprisoned Venezuelan politicians Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma, announced his spokesperson Joaquín Tagar on Monday. González, a lawyer by profession, has expressed concern about the current political and economic crisis in Venezuela. López has been incarcerated since February 2014 and Ledezma, the mayor of Caracas, was arrested in February 2015 for an alleged plot against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
Families of Missing Mexican Students Appeal to Amnesty International: Felipe de la Cruz, the father of one of the survivors of the tragic attack on students in Ayotzinapa, Mexico in September 2014, spoke to the U.S. branch of Amnesty International on Saturday in New York City. The families of the students went to Amnesty International to present their case in hopes of receiving recommendations from the human rights organization on how to advance their cause. The families also aim to visit the United Nations, but a meeting has not yet been confirmed. Saturday’s presentation was part of “Caravana 43,” a tour of 43 cities across the U.S. to boost support for an independent investigation into the victims’ fates.
On Thursday, Chilean president Michelle Bachelet announced new measures to curb corruption in Chile’s public sector. Speaking from the government palace La Moneda in Santiago, Bachelet declared that all public sector officials will be required to annually submit a declaration of financial assets, with the first submission deadline set for April 30, 2015. Bachelet also plans to amend the constitution to mandate that former presidents continue to file the declaration of assets even after they have left office. Bachelet asserted that she will make the first move by declaring her own assets.
While outlining the plan, Bachelet remarked that “solutions must be at the institutional level to keep our democracy strong. The Chilean state is based on public trust, respect for institutions and that pact of trust must be renewed.”
The declaration comes amid a series of political scandals that have troubled the country in recent months, including a case involving Bachelet’s son, Sebastián Dávalos. Dávalos resigned from his position as socio-cultural director of the presidency in February following allegations that his family received preferential treatment for a private-sector bank loan they sought to purchase land. In a separate high-profile case, several political figures that founded the financial company Penta Group were detained earlier this month on charges of tax fraud and bribery. A third recent case of corruption involves the Chilean fertilizer group SQM, which is accused of illicit campaign financing.
Bachelet’s plan received mixed responses. Opposition leaders said the plan did not go far enough to fight corruption. Eduardo Engel, president of Chile’s anti-corruption board, argued that while the plan sends a strong signal, it would not be the end of the corruption battle. “This is a very powerful first step […] but it must only be seen as the first step and not as something that completely solves the problem.”
On Monday, a lawyer for the Indigenous Rama people in Nicaragua told the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) that there could be serious repercussions for the Rama if Nicaragua’s $50 billion canal project is allowed to continue.
Rama leader Becky McCray, the lawyer for the tribe, said that the Rama were likely to lose their language along with their land if the group is displaced by the canal. Currently, the Rama language is only spoken by several dozen people in the world. Fifty-two percent of the route of the Grand Canal passes through lands belonging to the Indigenous Rama and the nearby Afro-descendant Kriol community.
In December 2014, in Brito, Nicaragua, government officials and the Hong-Kong based HKND Group inaugurated the construction of a 186-mile-long (300-kilometer-long) canal that would connect the Pacific to the Caribbean, rivalling the Panama Canal. Despite the Nicaraguan government’s enthusiasm for the project and promises that it will lift more than 400,000 people out of poverty by 2018, the canal is the center of heated controversy.
Carmen Aristegui, perhaps Mexico’s most well-known journalist, was fired Sunday night after a brief but public spat with her broadcaster, MVS Noticias. The clash began last week, and is allegedly related to Aristegui and her team’s involvement in the launch of MéxicoLeaks, an online platform meant to facilitate anonymous leaks relating to government wrongdoing.
MVS has claimed that Aristegui and her team improperly used the MVS brand in connection to the site without “express authorization,” making it seem that the broadcaster was a sponsor of the platform. After running ads disavowing any connection to the site, MVS fired two members of Aristegui’s investigative unit, Daniel Lizárraga and Irving Huerta, on Thursday.
In her Friday broadcast, Aristegui condemned the move, saying, “Instead of firing them, they should be given prizes.” The journalists had unearthed some of the biggest stories in Mexico last year, such as the “casa blanca” scandal, which exposed an alleged conflict of interest involving a multimillion dollar mansion reportedly designed for Mexico’s presidential family, and owned by a contractor doing business with the government. Aristegui made Lizárraga’s and Huerta’s reinstatement a condition for her continued collaboration with MVS. By Sunday, the broadcaster had announced her removal. “MVS Radio does not accept Carmen Aristegui’s ultimatum,” the broadcaster said in a statement.
The move was met with dismay, both on social media and outside MVS headquarters in Mexico City, where over 500 people gathered to protest last night. There is widespread speculation that the firing was politically motivated. “This is as if the Washington Post fired [Bob] Woodward and [Carl] Bernstein in the 1970s,” Mexican political scientist Sergio Aguayo told the Los Angeles Times.
Appearing outside MVS headquarters on Monday, Aristegui vowed to fight the decision. “Our lawyers tell us that they don’t have the right to do what they are doing, our lawyers tell us that we are going to fight, that this is a blow to freedom of expression,” she said.
This week’s likely top stories: Opposition alarmed by President Maduro’s power of decree; U.S. and Cuba continue talks; Brazilian citizens protest corruption; Bolivia and Brazil to sign energy agreement; Cuba allows first public wi-fi center.
President Maduro Given Power to Rule by Decree: Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was given the power to rule by decree on issues of defense and public security after new legislation was passed by the National Assembly on Sunday. Maduro asserted that the Enabling Law gives him the power “to defend peace and sovereignty” in the country. The legislation was passed in response to new U.S. sanctions last week on Venezuelan officials. Maduro claimed that the decree, which lasts through December 31, 2015, will help him fight the threat posed by U.S. imperialism. The measure spurred new fears among the opposition about government abuses. On Saturday, UNASUR nations called on the U.S. to retract its recent measures against Venezuela.
U.S. and Cuba to Continue Negotiations: United States Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson traveled to Havana on Sunday to begin the third round of talks between Cuba and the U.S. to discuss the re-opening of embassies in the context of renewed diplomatic relations. Jacobson will meet with Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s lead negotiator on U.S. issues. Talks began on Monday and may continue through Wednesday. The U.S. hopes to come to an agreement before the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Panama on April 10-11. Despite progress, there are still difficult issues to work through, such as Cuba’s desire to be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism and the U.S. request for unrestricted travel for diplomats on the island.
Mass Protests against President Rousseff in Brazil: Protests against President Dilma Rousseff erupted across Brazil on Sunday. In Rio de Janeiro, thousands of citizens participated in the demonstrations against Rousseff and the governing Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT). Many protesters called for the president’s impeachment, claiming that she must have been aware of the corruption in the state oil company, Petrobras. Rousseff’s popularity has plunged recently, though she denies any involvement in the scandal. The largest demonstration took place in São Paulo, with over 200,000 participants, according to polling agency Datafolha. On Monday, the government sent a package of anti-corruption laws to Congress for consideration.
Bolivia and Brazil to Sign Memorandum on Hydroelectric Project: Bolivian Hydrocarbons and Energy Minister Luis Alberto Sánchez announced on Sunday that Brazil and Bolivia will soon sign a memorandum of understanding on two hydroelectric power projects, with the goal of increasing electricity generation as well as promoting energy exchanges between the two countries. Sánchez visited Brazil last week and held discussions with Eletrobras officials and Brazilian Mines and Energy Minister Eduardo Braga. The executives are expected to finish up negotiations in Bolivia this week. The planned agreement aims to strengthen the capabilities of the Rio Madera and Cachuela Esperanza hydroelectric projects.
Cuba Allows First Public Wi-fi Center in Havana: Etecsa, Cuba’s state telecommunications agency, has authorized Cuban sculptor Kcho to provide the island’s first public wireless Internet access at his cultural center in Havana. Kcho has strong connections to the Cuban government. Kcho is paying out of his own pocket to run the public Internet service, which is expected to cost him roughly $900 a month. Approximately 5 percent of Cubans currently have Internet access due to prohibitively high costs.
U.S.-based IDT Domestic Telecom, Inc. and the state-run telecommunications compnay Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba, S.A. (Cuban Telecommunications Enterprise, S.A.—ETECSA) have re-established a direct telephone link between the two countries. ETESCA announced the connection via a press release on Wednesday, but did not specify when the service went into effect. “The re-establishment of direct communications between the United States and Cuba will help offer greater ease and quality of communications between the people of both nations,” the statement said.
This marks the first commercial agreement between the two countries since the Obama administration announced in December 2014 that it would allow telecoms to operate in Cuba as part of its broader rapprochement with the island. However, IDT’s efforts to re-establish direct calls to Cuba precede these changes. “We had conversation for a period of years hoping there would be interest and nothing happened,” said Bill Ulrey, IDT’s Vice-President of Investor Relations, according to the Miami Herald. “But then we submitted it to them again last year and we began to negotiate it but it’s not clear whether their willingness was a part of the ongoing negotiations.”
Previously, calls between the U.S. and Cuba needed to be routed through a third country, elevating costs. IDT has not yet announced new rates for international calls.
After a nearly four hour debate, the Peruvian Comisión de Justicia y Derechos Humanos del Congreso (Congressional Committee on Justice and Human Rights) voted against a proposal for legalizing same-sex civil unions Tuesday night. The final vote count was four in favor, seven against, and two abstentions.
“Today, you have seen which lawmakers are backwards, those that want to deny the rights of others, who feel superior and consider that there are second-class Peruvians. We are on the right side of history, and we are sure this is going to be approved,” said Congressman Carlos Bruce, the leader of the same-sex civil union proposal.
The bill has been controversial across Peru. A march in Lima this weekend brought together 500 people advocating for approval of same-sex civil unions. However, many in the Catholic-dominated country have aggressively spoken out against the proposed bill, including Congressman Julio Rosas, who lauded the vote for “defending the natural family,” and Luis Bambarén, the Bishop emeritus of Chimbote, who publically used a derogatory, homophobic term to speak about Bruce, who is gay. Bambarén later issued a written apology.
Despite the outcome of the Peruvian vote, same-sex civil unions and same-sex marriage are becoming more of a norm in South America, and those in favor of the bill think it will eventually be passed in Congress’ next session. Mauricio Mulder, one of the four legislators who voted in favor of the civil union bill, has already submitted a request for reconsideration of the bill.
After a January 28 vote, Chile now allows same-sex civil unions, along with Colombia and Ecuador. Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay allow same-sex marriage.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff signed a new law on Monday that sets harsher penalties for gender-based killings of women and girls. The new legislation gives a legal definition for femicide under Brazil’s criminal code as any murder that involves domestic violence, contempt or discrimination against women. Convicted offenders will now face jail sentences of 12 to 30 years, with even longer jail terms for crimes committed against pregnant women, girls under 14, women over 60, and people with disabilities.
The new legislation expands on a previous domestic violence law known as the Maria da Penha Law, enacted in 2006 by Rousseff’s predecessor, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Maria da Penha is a women’s rights activist who became paraplegic after her ex-husband beat her for 14 years and attempted to murder her twice. The 2006 legislation had three main components: it prevented aggressors from being punished with alternative sentences, increased the maximum sentence for domestic violence to three years, and mandated that abusers distance themselves from the women they had attacked.
After Rousseff signed the most recent law, she enumerated statistics about the violence women face in her country—15 women are killed daily in Brazil, many through domestic violence, and an estimated 500,000 Brazilian women and girls are raped annually, but only 10 percent of survivors report the crimes.
On the BBC radio show “World Have Your Say” on Tuesday, women’s rights activists lauded the new law as a victory for women’s rights, but also cautioned the audience not to overestimate the law’s potential to eradicate gender-based violence, due to the difficulty of convicting criminals in the first place. Julia Pá, a filmmaker based in Brasília and a guest on the program, remarked that misogyny “is so ingrained in Brazilian society, and even in the judicial system itself, that you’re going to need to instruct judges and[…] people working with this on women’s issues and the importance of protecting women.”
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) opened its 58th session on the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) on Monday in Vienna, Austria, with several Latin American countries—Mexico, Colombia, Uruguay and Bolivia—lobbying for a reform of global counternarcotic strategy. The CND special opening session will meet until March 13 to prepare for the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the World Drug Problem, with the annual session continuing until March 17.
The last UNGASS on drugs was held in 1998 with the goal of creating “A Drug Free World” by eliminating the illicit production of coca, cannabis and opium and reducing large scale demand by 2008. In 2009, the new Political Declaration and Action Plan of Action largely echoed the 1998 document and set the next UNGASS for 2019. But in September 2012, the presidents of Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico called for a conference on drug policy reform. With support from 95 other countries, the global drug policy summit meeting was set for 2016 to discuss drug use from a public health perspective.
Latin America is one of the most drug-stricken regions of the world. According to the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), Central America has seen an increase in the production and consumption of drugs since 2009. A UN study reported less 200 million drug users worldwide in 2005, but more than 250 million in 2012.
“[Current] drug policies are not producing the expected results and, as such, cannot continue without modifications,” said Yesid Reyes, Colombia’s minister of justice. He advocated for a thorough review of international policy to make it “more humane and efficient.” Mexican Under Secretary for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights Juan Manuel Gómez Robledo echoed the sentiment: “[The world cannot] repeat actions from the past and expect different results,” he said.
This week’s likely top stories: Colombia and FARC agree to clear landmines; Peru recalls ambassador to Chile; Citigroup to sell Central American entities; Puerto Rico debates possible VAT; Chilean officials charged with corruption.
Colombia and FARC to Remove Landmines: The Colombian and the FARC guerrilla group reached an agreement on Saturday to work together to clear the country of landmines and explosive devices. Their joint statement was read by Cuba and Norway, the two guarantor countries for the peace process, and the Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) will assist in the de-mining efforts. This weekend’s agreement marked important progress in the negotiations; for the first time, high-level military commanders were present, and the removal of mines and explosives is a major step toward disarmament. Over 11,000 Colombians have been hurt or killed by landmines in the last 15 years.
Peru Recalls Ambassador to Chile: On Saturday, Peru recalled its ambassador to Chile over spying accusations. Last month, the Peruvian government announced that three Peruvian naval employees were being investigated for allegedly disclosing military information to Chile. On February 20, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala sent Chile a diplomatic note requesting an answer regarding the claims, although Peru has not yet received a response. Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz stated that Chile “does not promote or accept acts of espionage in other states or its own territory.” Peruvian Prime Minister Ana Jara claimed that Peru will not send its ambassador back to Chile until the issue is addressed. Chile and Peru have long harbored tensions over their borders.
Citigroup Inc. to Sell Central American Operations: Citigroup Inc. may soon sell its Central American retail units to Banco Popular Español S.A., which is based in Madrid, Spain. According to a source’s comments on Saturday, Citigroup aims to sell its retail operations in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Panama in an effort to leave markets yielding low revenues and to streamline operations. Citigroup hopes to sell for $1.5 billion. The deal is not yet finalized and is subject to change. Spokesmen for both banks declined comment on the matter.
Puerto Rico Proposes Plan to Combat Tax Evasion: Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro García Padilla is supporting a new plan to impose a 16 percent value-added tax (VAT), in an effort to reduce the territory’s $73 billion public debt. The plan, which is currently being considered by lawmakers, would replace Puerto Rico’s current tax rate of 7 percent and would curb tax evasion on the island. Pending approval, producers would pay the VAT on raw materials, and include it in the price given to retailers, and the VAT would eventually be paid by consumers. Charging the VAT at each stage in the sales process would ensure proper collection. Currently, Puerto Rico’s informal economy is estimated to be worth $16 billion, a figure representing approximately 25 percent of the GDP. García Padilla is expected to make an announcement regarding the plan today.
Chilean Corruption Scandal Racks Opposition Party: After court hearings last week, a tax auditor, a former government official and four executives from the Penta Group, one of Chile’s largest financial groups, were jailed on Saturday for tax fraud, bribery and money laundering. Ten defendants were implicated in the scandal, including two tax officials and two politicians from the Unión Demócrata Independiente (Independent Democratic Union—UDI) opposition party. In a public declaration on Monday, La Superintendencia de Bancos e Instituciones Financieras (Superintendency of Banks and Financial Institutions—SBIF) announced that the Penta executives, including owners Carlos Délano y Carlos Eugenio Lavín, would be unable to maintain their positions as shareholders in the company.