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  • FARC Releases Two Hostages in Colombia

    November 25, 2014

    by AQ Online

    FARC delegates in Havana released two hostages today in an apparent effort to revive peace talks suspended since last week. The two soldiers, Paulo César Rivera and Jonathan Andrés Díaz, were captured on November 9 in Arauca department and were released to the Colombian army this morning.

    The FARC has said that it plans to release General Rubén Darío Alzate and two other hostages on Thursday, although the rebels warned earlier this week that the release could be cancelled due to the significant military presence in the region where the hostages are being held. General Alzate was captured along with corporal Jorge Rodríguez and lawyer Gloria Urrego on November 16 while travelling unarmed and without bodyguards in Chocó. Alzate and his companions are allegedly still there.

    The November 16 kidnapping led President Juan Manuel Santos to suspend peace talks in Havana, ongoing since 2012. There is some controversy as to how a general could have stumbled on to FARC territory without any security, but the talks will remain suspended until Alzate, Rodríguez and Urrego are released. 

    On Sunday, the defense ministry announced the temporary cessation of operations in part of the northeast of Colombia in order to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross access to the area where Rivera and Díaz were being held to assist with the process.

    As of yet, President Santos has denied the FARC’s offers for a ceasefire.

    Tags: FARC, Red Cross, Peace Talks, General Rubén Darío Alzate

  • Monday Memo: Colombia Peace Talks — Mercosur and Pacific Alliance — Uruguay Elections — Walmart in Panama — Goldcorp in Argentina

    November 24, 2014

    by AQ Online

    This week's likely top stories: Colombia to resume peace talks with FARC once hostages are released; Mercosur and Pacific Alliance convene to discuss regional cooperation; Uruguayans return to polls on Sunday to elect president; Panama courts Walmart for its regional distribution center; Goldcorp to inaugurate Cerro Negro mine in Argentina.

    Hostages Released and Peace Talks to be Resumed: Peace talks between the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia- FARC) will resume after the two parties reached an agreement to free hostages kidnapped by the FARC over a week ago. The FARC will release a total of five hostages, including General Ruben Dario Alzate Mora, the highest-ranking military captive ever taken by the FARC. The Colombian delegation will return to Havana and resume peace talks as soon as the captives are liberated and the humanitarian operations by the Red Cross to return the captives home are underway. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos ordered the suspension of the peace talks on November 17, just after the kidnappings took place.

    MERCOSUR and Pacific Alliance Meet in Santiago: Chilean President Michelle Bachelet inaugurated a meeting today in Santiago between Latin America’s prominent regional integration blocs, the Alianza del Pacífico (Pacific Alliance)—comprising Chile, Mexico, Colombia, and Peru—and the Mercado Común del Sur (Southern Common Market—Mercosur)—which represents Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Venezuela. The meeting, a follow up to Chilean Foreign Relations Minister Heraldo Muñoz’s proposal last February to design a formal trade alliance between the entities, brings together representatives from both sides, including trade officials, academics, union members, and business leaders, in order to dialogue about opportunities for cooperation on climate change, infrastructural development, public health, tourism, and the export of manufactured goods. In her opening statement, Bachelet said, “We are hoping that this historic meeting sets us on our first steps down the shared path of developing our Latin America and each one of our countries.”

    Uruguayans Vote for President on Sunday: Uruguayan voters will return to the polls this Sunday, November 30, to elect the country’s next president in a runoff vote. Former president and Frente Amplio (Broad Front—FA) candidate Tabaré Vázquez is almost assured a victory after a November 12 Cifra poll showed that 52 percent of eligible voters plan to elect Vázquez, compared with the 35 percent of voters who plan to vote for challenger Luis Lacalle Pou of the Partido Nacional (National Party—PN). Other polls have made similar predictions, and Lacalle Pou recently said that he fully expects to be defeated by Vázquez in the second round. Vázquez just missed an outright victory after he won 47.8 percent of votes during Uruguay’s first round election on October 26, falling short of the 50 percent plus one required to avoid a runoff. Vázquez served as Uruguay’s president from 2005 to 2010.

    Panama Courts Walmart to Host Distribution Center: Panamanian business leaders have asked U.S. multinational Walmart to build a Latin American distribution center in Panama’s free trade zone, the Zona Libre de Colón (ZLC). ZLC Manager Surse Pierpoint said that Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela has sent a letter to Walmart executives asking them to consider the proposal, which Pierpoint said will “elevate the status and image of the ZLC” and attract additional companies to Panama. Pierpoint and other business leaders, including the head of the Consejo Empresarial Logístico (Business Logistics Council) and the Cámara Marítima  (Maritime Chamber) are seeking a meeting with Walmart executives, expected to take place in December or January, to pitch the proposal.

    Goldcorp to Open New Mines in Argentina: Today, the Argentinian Secretary of Mining, Jorge Mayoral, announced in a memo following an on-site meeting with Goldcorp’s Vice President and COO of Central and South America, Eduardo Villacorta, that the company’s Cerro Negro mine will be inaugurated in February 2015. In 2010, Canadian gold giant Goldcorp acquired the Cerro Negro mine, located in the Santa Cruz province of Argentina, and invested $1.67 million in its reconstruction. Cerro Negro is expected to forge between 130,000 and 180,000 ounces of gold before the end of 2014, and once fully operational, the mine will maintain a production capacity of 4,000 tons per day of concerted gold and silver throughout its 23 year lifespan. Cerro Negro marks the Vancouver-based miner’s second Argentinian venture, after its 37.5 percent share of the Alumbrera copper mine in Catamarca.

    Tags: Mercosur, Pacific Alliance, Colombia Peace Talks, Argentina

  • Obama Announces Executive Action on Immigration

    November 21, 2014

    by AQ Online

    In a primetime address to the nation last night, President Obama announced sweeping executive action on immigration.  The president’s plans include a new deferred action program that will reportedly protect as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. “Our immigration system is broken, and everybody knows it,” Obama said.

    The announcement belatedly fulfills the president’s promise to issue executive orders on immigration in the face of Congress’s failure to pass a comprehensive reform bill. “I continue to believe that the best way to solve this problem is by working together to pass that kind of common sense law. But until that happens, there are actions I have the legal authority to take as president,” Obama said.

    According to statements by the Republican congressional leadership, the president’s action may have put Congress’s stalled efforts to pass a bipartisan, comprehensive bill into deep-freeze. “With this action, the president has chosen to deliberately sabotage any chance of enacting bipartisan reforms that he claims to seek,” said John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House.

    The action expands the scope of “administrative relief” first offered in June 2012 through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)—an action that gave temporary legal status to 1.2 million undocumented youth brought to the U.S. as children. Protection from deportation will now also include the parents of U.S. citizen children and legal permanent residents who have lived in the U.S. for at least five years, and expands eligibility of DACA by not including an age limit of those eligible, as long as they came to the U.S. before the age of 15. In addition to deferred action, Obama outlined plans to beef up border security efforts, recalibrate law-enforcement strategies around immigration violations, and reform specific authorizations and benefits associated with existing visa programs.  

    The president is due to attend an event at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas, Nevada on Friday afternoon to build support for his initiative. Obama unveiled plans for comprehensive immigration reform at Del Sol nearly two years ago.

    Tags: Obama, Immigration, executive action

  • Colombian Soccer Team Blacklisted for Money Laundering

    November 20, 2014

    by AQ Online

    The United States Treasury accused Medellin-based soccer club Envigado of laundering money for a drug trafficking group this Wednesday. According to the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, the soccer club, owned by Juan Pablo Upegui Gallego, worked together with the crime syndicate Oficina de Envigado to cover up drug trafficking money through the club’s balance sheets.

    The Treasury’s announcement comes after ten years of investigations, including the collection of testimonies from paramilitaries and narco-traffickers, to collect the necessary evidence against the soccer team, Upegui Gallego and others involved. The club and its associates have been placed on the U.S. "kingpin list," which prohibits any financial transaction with U.S. citizens and freezes the assets of those involved. A total of eight members of the syndicate, which was founded by Pablo Escobar, were blacklisted.

    “The Oficina de Envigado has played a significant role in large-scale drug trafficking and money laundering activities, and this action […] will strike at the financial core of this violent criminal network and impede its efforts to operate in the legitimate financial system,” said Adam Szubin, the director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control.

    Envigado is not the first soccer club to be blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury. In 1999, the club America de Cali was listed.​

    Tags: Envigado, Money Laundering, Juan Pablo Upegui Gallego

  • Venezuelan Opposition Leader Denied Release

    November 19, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Leopoldo López, a Venezuelan opposition leader and founder of the Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) party, appeared in court on Tuesday for the first time since the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) found his detention illegal and called for his immediate release on October 9. He had refused to appear until presiding judge Susana Barreiro ruled on the recommendation.

    Judge Barreiro rejected the WGAD recommendation last week, saying that it was not binding. Using the same argument as Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, Barreiro argued that Venezuela is a sovereign nation and rejects international interference. López’ lawyers have appealed Judge Barreiro’s decision in the Court of Appeals.

    López has been in pre-trial detention since he was arrested on February 18 for his alleged involvement in inciting violence during widespread protests. President Maduro has said that he believes that López is “responsible for crimes, violence, destruction, (loss of) human lives,” and that “he has to pay, and he's going to pay.”

    Various high-profile world leaders have called for the release of López and the other political prisoners arrested during Venezuela’s tumultuous protests in February, including UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, U.S. President Barack Obama, Pope Francis I, and OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza. On Monday, Socialist International joined the growing lists of international groups and human rights organizations calling for López’ release.

     

    Read More

    Tags: Leopoldo Lopez, Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela protests

  • Argentina Creates New Regulatory Body for Foreign Trade

    November 18, 2014

    by AQ Online

    The Argentine government published a decree on Monday that establishes the Unidad de Seguimiento y Trazabilidad de las Operaciones de Comercio Exterior (Tracking and Tracing of Foreign Trade Transactions Unit), which will monitor the flow of goods, services, and currency into and out of the country. According to Decree 2103/2014, the new agency will operate under Chief of the Cabinet of Ministers Jorge Capitanich, and will be made up of representatives from the Central Bank, the Economy Ministry, the AFIP tax bureau, the Financial Information Unit, the Bureau for Economic Crimes and Money Laundering (Procelac), and the National Securities Commission (CNV).

    According to the government, the new agency is meant to “assure macroeconomic stability,” yet the decree also notes that it was created because of an increase in foreign trade as well as illegal operations like tax evasion. The government claims there have been 9,600 cases of suspected Criminal Foreign Exchange Regime violations. The regulatory body will monitor trade and currency flows in order to prevent tax evasion, especially by companies earning money on imports.

    In recent months, tax employees have carried out a number of raids in Buenos Aires and across Argentina due to a prosperous black market for U.S. dollars. The informal market started to flourish in 2011, when the Kirchner administration made it difficult for Argentines to get dollars through legal means in response to the alarming decrease in international reserves. After a devaluation of the peso in January 2014, the “blue” dollar exploded.

    Alejandro Vanoli, who took over as head of the Central Bank in October 2014, has been imposing measures to limit the fall in the Central Bank’s reserves, including raiding cuevas, the informal currency exchange houses, and arbolitos, people who sell dollars illegally on the street. At Tuesday’s Central Bank conference, Vanoli noted that Argentina’s reserves grew by $800 million in the last month and stressed that the government would continue to fight tax evasion and money laundering.

    Tags: Criminal Foreign Exchange Regime, AFIP, Jorge Capitanich

  • Monday Memo: Colombia Peace Talks — U.S. Refugee Status — Petrobras Arrests — Cuba Tourism — Pemex Investments

    November 17, 2014

    by AQ Online

    This week's likely top stories: Colombia’s peace talks suspended over kidnapping; U.S. will grant refugee status to select minors from Central America; Brazilian police arrest 27 in Petrobras corruption scandal; Cruise ship tourism is booming in Cuba; Pemex invests millions in hydrocarbon production and exploration.

    Kidnapping Halts Colombian Peace Talks: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has suspended peace talks with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) after the rebel group kidnapped a Colombian army general this weekend. General Rubén Darío Alzate Mora—who was apparently dressed as a civilian when captured—and two other people were reportedly abducted on Sunday by the FARC’s 34th front in the western department of Chocó, making General Alzate the first general ever to be kidnapped by the guerrillas. Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón deployed hundreds of troops to the area on Sunday. On Santos’ orders, Colombian government peace negotiators will not travel to Havana today to participate in the second round of the two-year-old peace talks with the FARC.

    Some Central American Minors to Receive Refugee Status: Vice President Joe Biden announced on Friday that the U.S. government will grant refugee status to minors from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador if their parent is a legal U.S. resident. The program, to be launched next month, will permit immigrant parents to request refugee status for any children under age 21 living in any one of the three Northern Triangle countries. Upon arrival, the children will be eligible to work and will eventually be eligible for permanent residency and citizenship. Currently, a maximum of 4,000 Latin American immigrants per year from Colombia and Cuba only are eligible for refugee status in the United States. Biden’s announcement comes amid growing concerns about the surge of unaccompanied Central American migrant youth who entered the U.S. illegally this year. The Obama administration is expected to announce further reforms to the immigration system in the coming weeks.

    Brazilian Police Arrest 27 in Petrobras Corruption Scandal: In response to mounting political pressure to resolve the Petrobras corruption scandal, Brazilian police made 27 arrests on Friday in connection with the investigation by order of federal prosecutors at the Ministério Público Federal (Federal Public MInistry). Those arrested included Renato Duque, the former director of engineering and services at the state-owned oil company, as well as nine executives from construction firms who signed fraudulent contracts with Petrobras. Authorities also froze $277 million in assets belonging to 36 suspects and three unnamed companies. Former Petrobras director Paulo Roberto Costa, arrested in March, first disclosed the details of the company’s alleged decade-long, $3.8 billion dollar kickback scheme to buy influence among the members of the ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT). Responding to the arrests, President Dilma Rousseff, who chaired the board of Petrobras from 2003-2010 while serving as energy minister, commented that “This will change forever the relationship between Brazilian society, the Brazilian state and private companies.” Following Petrobras’ statement that it would delay the release of its third quarter earnings, the company’s stock fell five percent on the IBOVESPA exchange.

    Hike in Cruise Ship Tourism Projected in Cuba: The state-run Cuban tourism agency, Cubatur, announced late last week that it is expecting the arrival of more the 200 cruise ships at ports throughout the island during the upcoming winter season, which ranges from late November to April. Tourism is the nation’s second largest source of income (after technical and medical expertise), and it brought 2.85 million visitors to the island in 2013. The resurgence of cruise ship tourism reflects the Cuban government’s attempt to diversify its tourist offerings. The cruise ship industry had been all but abandoned in Cuba since the Spanish firm Pullmantur was acquired by the U.S.-owned Royal Caribbean cruises in 2006 and subsequently shut down all operations to the island. The Cuban government has rejuvenated the cruise ship tourism sector by establishing joint operations with international companies. This was made possible by the Foreign Investment Law, inaugurated in 2014, which aims to attract foreign investment through concessions such as new tax breaks, more flexible labor policies, and a reinforcement of the offer of allowing 100 percent ownership.

    Pemex to Invest Millions in Upstream Oil Industry: Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) announced to investors today that it is planning to invest up to $161.7 million between 2015 and 2019—or 78 percent of its available capital—to its upstream search for potential underground and underwater sources of hydrocarbons. Pemex’s investment may cover shale gas extraction from the Agua Nueva deposit in the Tampico-Misantla Basin and deep-water drilling across the Perdido Fold Belt in the Western Gulf of Mexico. By comparison, only $34.4 million will be rerouted back into downstream activities—such as refining, marketing and distribution—to increase the efficiency of oil refineries like the complexes in Tula, Salmanca, and Salina Cruz. Since peaking in 2004, Pemex’s crude oil production has fallen by nearly one million barrels a day. Moreover, this past October, the state-owned oil company posted its eighth consecutive quarterly loss. Against this grim background, the redistribution of capital resources into upstream projects represents Pemex’s long term objective of achieving national energy security by diversifying the national energy portfolio.

    Tags: Petrobras, Colombia Peace Talks, Comprehensive Immigration Reform

  • Latin American Leaders Seek Chinese Investment at APEC

    November 14, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Beyond seeking to deepen trade links with Asia, the leaders of Chile, Peru and Mexico—the three Latin American member states of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)—used their time in Beijing to push for greater Chinese investment in their countries. The three leaders also backed a Chinese-led proposal for a Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP).

    Peruvian President and Ollanta Humala and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet met with President Xi separately on Wednesday. In his meeting with Ollanta, the Chinese leader is reported to have proposed a bilateral trade agreement with Peru. The two leaders also reportedly signed a memorandum supporting the creation of a trilateral group with Brazil to plan the construction of a rail link between Peru and Brazil.

    While Bachelet left China empty handed in terms of signed agreements, she made her objectives clear. “We have a high level of trade, but we have not made any progress in investments,” she said at a meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang on Monday. However, both Xi and Bachelet expressed confidence that the establishment of a Chilean branch of the China Construction Bank next year will spur future Chinese investment in Chile.

    In a sign that the relationship between China and Mexico may not have been seriously damaged by Mexico’s recent cancellation of a bid awarded to a Chinese consortium for the construction of a high-speed rail link, the Chinese leader and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed 14 separate agreements and investment contracts at a meeting yesterday. Peña Nieto also announced plans to create a joint fund between three Chinese companies and the Mexican oil company Pemex, with the goal of raising up to US $5 billion for energy projects in Mexico.

    Tags: APEC, China, Foreign Investment

  • Obama’s Executive Action on Immigrants in the Works

    November 13, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Today, U.S. officials said that President Barack Obama is planning to announce a broad overhaul of the national immigration enforcement system to protect up to 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation.

    The official announcement could come as early as next week, and Obama’s actions will be manifold. First, an enforcement memorandum would direct federal law enforcement and judicial agencies to deprioritize the deportation of undocumented immigrants with strong family ties and no criminal history. Another component of the executive order would allow many parents of children who are American citizens or have legal status to obtain legal work documents, thus quelling fears of family separation.

    Depending on the strictness of the White House’s final resolution, these protections would be extended to at least 2.5 million of these parents who have been in the country for at least 10 years—and potentially to 3.3 million more who have been in the country for 5 years, plus the 1 million unauthorized immigrant youth.  Lastly, Obama’s executive order would expand opportunities for immigrants with high-tech skills, reroute security resources to the border, and revive the immigration enforcement program called Secure Communities.

    Read More

    Tags: Barack Obama, Comprehensive Immigration Reform, Midterm Elections

  • Unrest Over Missing Students Escalates in Mexico

    November 12, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Demonstrations in Mexico intensified on Tuesday as protesters in Guerrero state took a police chief prisoner and set fire to the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) state headquarters in two separate protests related to the disappearance of 43 students missing since September.

    Protests have escalated after last week’s announcement that Guerreros Unidos (United Warriors) drug cartel members had confessed to killing the students after they were handed over to the cartel by municipal police in the southern city of Iguala. On Monday, thousands of protestors clashed with police and blocked access to Acapulco’s airport.

    Yesterday, the families of the missing students met with Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong and Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam for two hours to discuss the latest developments in the investigation. The presumed remains of the students have been sent to a specialized lab in Austria for identification. However, because the remains were burned for 14 hours, Murillo says that the chances for positive identification are slim. The parents of the students have repeatedly stated that they will presume their children alive until conclusive tests prove otherwise.

    The students’ disappearance has intensified the debate over the effectiveness of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s security strategy in the country. Both the UN and international human rights organizations have expressed concern over the government’s response to the crisis.

    Tags: Mexico, missing students, Crime and Security

  • São Paulo asks for $1.4 billion for Infrastructure Projects to Alleviate Drought Crisis

    November 11, 2014

    by AQ Online

    São Paulo Governor Gerardo Alckmin presented a $1.4 billion plan for eight infrastructure projects to mitigate the state’s drought crisis in a meeting with President Dilma Rousseff in Brasília yesterday.

    The meeting took place at the Palácio do Planalto between Rousseff, Alckmin, Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira and Planning Minister Miriam Belchior, with Belchior voicing concern over how the projects would be implemented. Some of the projects will not be done until the end of 2015, and others will take up to three years to complete. Governor Alckmin acknowledged that the projects do not create an immediate solution to the drought, but will alleviate water shortages in the longer-term. 

    Brazil is currently experiencing its worst drought in over 80 years. In São Paulo, the Cantareira reservoir system, which provides water for many of the city’s approximately 20 million inhabitants, had fallen to below 11.3 percent of its usual capacity as of November 9. Critics have complained that the presidential elections only served to deepen the crisis, as São Paulo’s opposition politicians were afraid to advocate for fines and regulations regarding water use for fear of losing votes. Given that Brazil produces 12 percent of the world’s fresh water, a lack of planning is a key source of the problem.

    The federal government indicated that it was willing to assist the São Paulo state financially with the drought crisis, but is awaiting further details before approving the payments. Next Monday, November 17, a new working group will meet to further discuss the projects and define how many people each project aims to benefit.

    Not only have residents had trouble getting water for personal consumption, but the economy is also starting to feel the adverse effects, with industrial as well as agricultural production dropping. Scientist Antonio Nobre has warned that deforestation of the Amazon is related to the current drought and said that continued deforestation could cause an even worse crisis. He has urged the country to act now to stop deforestation.

    Tags: Brazil Drought, Cantareira System, Sao Paulo

  • Monday Memo: Brazil Military Drills — Mexico High-Speed Rail — Colombia FARC Trials — AT&T Expands — Mexico Protests

    November 10, 2014

    by AQ Online

    This week's likely top stories: Brazil’s military launches training operation in Amazon; Mexico cancels high-speed rail contract to Chinese-led consortium; Indigenous court in Colombia convicts seven FARC members; AT&T purchases Iusacell; Mexico erupts in protests over reported discovery of remains of the 43 missing students.

    Brazilian Military Trains in the Amazon: According to the chief of Brazil’s Amazon Military Command, Gen. Guilherme Cals Theophilo Gaspar de Oliveira, today Brazil will launch Operation Machifaro, a five-day training exercise simulating a foreign invasion of the Amazon by a superior force, in an attempt to “consolidate a doctrine of jungle combat.” The exercise consists of 550 troops who will conduct drills in Manaus, the Amazon’s largest city, and other regional outposts. Despite the peaceful relations that Brazil maintains with its smaller neighbors and the unlikelihood of a foreign invasion, the defense of the Amazon and protection of its resources has been a top concern of Brazilian national security historically. 

    Mexico Cancels High-Speed Rail Contract with China:  Only three days after awarding a $4.3 billion contract for Mexico’s first high-speed rail project to a consortium led by China Railway Construction Corp., Mexico rescinded the contract last Thursday and will re-open the auction to new bids for six months. Given Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s diplomatic mission to Beijing this week, the cancellation comes as a surprise, but Peña Nieto’s administration said the move represents an attempt to increase government transparency. The China Railway group—which plans to bid again in the new round—was the only consortium to submit a proposal for the project in the first round.  After the original decision had been announced, the opposition Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN) had accused the government of favoritism, arguing that the sole bid was too expensive. On Sunday, the website Aristegui Noticias revealed that the president’s private home was built by a subsidiary of Grupo Higa, one of the companies belonging to the China Railway-led consortium.

    Colombian Indigenous Community Convicts FARC: Members of the Nasa tribe in Colombia’s southwestern Cauca department have convicted seven FARC guerrillas for the murder of two members of the Nasa’s unarmed Indigenous Guard, which patrols and protects tribal territory. Manuel Antonio Tumiñá Jenbuel, 42, and Daniel Coicué Julicue, 63, who had asked the guerrillas to leave their land, were shot and killed by members of the FARC on November 5 after they started to take down signs that the FARC had posted in their community. Thousands of people participated in a tribal assembly in Toribio to sentence the rebels, deliberating for hours before sentencing five of the defendants to between 40 and 60 years in prison and destroying the guerrilla’s weapons. Two teenagers received a lighter sentence of 20 lashes each.  Colombian Indigenous authorities have jurisdiction over their own territories under Colombian law. The FARC’s Iván Márquez addressed the community on Sunday, tweeting “we regret what happened with the Nasa community of Toribio.”

    AT&T Buys Mobile Carrier Iusacell from Grupo Salinas: This weekend, U.S. mobile phone carrier AT&T Inc. purchased Iusacell SA, the third-largest Mexican mobile phone carrier, from billionaire Ricardo Salinas for $2.5 billion. AT&T will absorb Iusacell’s 8.6 million subscribers onto its regional 3G network as well as the company’s $800 million of outstanding debt. The acquisition of Iusacell enters AT&T in tough competition against Carlos Slim’s mobile carrier, América Móvil SAB. Remarking on President Peña Nieto’s business friendly policies that paved the way for this deal, Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T, said that the “acquisition of Iusacell is a direct result of the reforms put in place … to encourage more competition and more investment in Mexico.” In light of its purchase of DirecTV for $48.5 billion earlier this year, AT&T has solidified its expansion into the Latin American telecommunications market.

    Mexico Outraged By Massacre of 43 Missing Students: Mexico erupted in protests this weekend after Mexican Attorney General Jesús Murillo said on Friday that 43 students who disappeared six weeks ago in the town of Iguala, Guerrero, were massacred and their remains incinerated shortly after a protest on September 26. Murillo said that corrupt police in Iguala arrested the students on orders from the town’s former mayor, and handed them over to the Guerreros Unidos drug gang, which carried out the killings. Members of the gang have confirmed that they participated in the murders, but relatives of the missing students have said they will not allow the government to close the case until there is concrete proof of the students’ fate. More than 70 people, including the former mayor of Iguala and his wife, have been arrested in connection with the murders. Protesters took to the streets and to social media this weekend, using the hashtag “YaMeCanse” to decry violence, corruption, and the federal government’s failure to stop the murders.

    Tags: Amazon, Mexican telecommunications, high speed rail, missing students, FARC

  • Guatemalan President to Launch Reparations Program for Chixoy Victims

    November 7, 2014

    by AQ Online

    This Saturday, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina will formally launch a reparation program for communities affected by the repression and violence surrounding the construction of the Chixoy Dam in the 1980s, according to the Asociación para el Desarrollo Integral de las Víctimas de la Violencia en las Verapaces Maya Achí  (Association for the Integral Development of the Victims of Violence in the Verapaces, Maya Achi—ADIVIMA).

    The Chixoy hydroelectric dam was built in the early 1980s with money from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. Opposition to its construction by members of the communities facing displacement was met with a fierce military crackdown. In 1982, more than 400 people were killed in a series of massacres. Many more were displaced or otherwise victimized.

    Facing pressure by victims’ families and the international community, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina signed an agreement on October 14 with the Coordinadora de Comunidades Afectadas por la Construcción de la Hidroeléctrica Chixoy (Coordinator of Communities Affected by the Construction of the Chixoy Hidroelectic Dam—COCACICH), and approved a reparation policy. That agreement was officially published on Thursday, and will benefit 33 Indigenous communities who will receive an investment of 1.2 billion quetzales (about $153 million) between 2015 and 2029.

    The agreement is the latest development in affected communities’ struggle for recognition of and reparations for the atrocities of 1982. Earlier this year, U.S. President Barack Obama signed an appropriations bill that effectively instructed the U.S. directors of the World Bank and the Inter-American Development bank, which co-financed construction of the dam, to take steps to implement an earlier reparation plan. The bill also suspended U.S. military aid to Guatemala until “the Secretary of State certifies that the Government of Guatemala is taking credible steps to implement the Reparations Plan.”

    Tags: Chixoy, reparations, COCACICH

  • Thousands Protest in Mexico Over Missing Students

    November 6, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Thousands of Mexicans from across the country took to the streets yesterday to demand answers about the fate of 43 students who are still missing after they disappeared in the city of Iguala in late September.

    The protest is part of a 72 hour strike staged by nearly 100 universities throughout Mexico and also includes family members of the missing students, as well as fellow students from their teaching training school in Ayotzinapa. In Mexico City, demonstrators marched from Los Pinos, the official residence of the president, to the Zócalo, demanding that the students be returned, dead or alive.

    The former mayor of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca, and his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, were arrested on Tuesday in Mexico City for their alleged roles in the students’ disappearance. Mexican Attorney General Jesús Murillo accused Abarca of ordering police to attack the students to prevent them from disrupting a speech being given by his wife.

    President Enrique Peña Nieto has addressed the disappearances by deploying federal police to Iguala in mid-October and by meeting with relatives of the missing students last week. Although Mexico’s homicide rate has decreased over the past two years, protests have intensified as enraged Mexicans cite a lack of institutional accountability for the more than 20,000 people that have gone missing in Mexico over the past decade.

    Tags: Mexican students, Iguala, disappeared students

  • Senator Rubio to Visit Colombia

    November 5, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) will travel to Colombia today for a two-day meeting with Colombian government officials, businesses and civil society organizations to discuss security, trade and human trafficking, his office said Tuesday.

    Senator Rubio will be traveling to the South American nation in his capacity as a member of the Senate’s intelligence and foreign relations committees. “Colombia is a key U.S. ally, and Florida has also benefited from all of the security and economic gains they have made in recent decades,” said Rubio, who represents the state with the largest Colombian immigrant community in the United States. Rubio’s trip comes on the heels of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ securing financial aid from the European Union to continue the peace process.

    While the details on the amount of funding provided by the EU is yet to be determined, German Chancellor Angela Merkel offered her support of the peace process and Germany’s state-owned development bank pledged $100 million over the next two years to support projects born from the peace negotiations.

    The recently released issue of Americas Quarterly  has demonstrated that experts are divided on whether or not the peace talks, which began in October 2012 in Oslo, will be successful in ending the 50-year conflict between the Colombian government and the guerilla Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC). In the past, Senator Rubio has expressed his skepticism that negotiations will be enough to deter the FARC.

    President Santos will be in Europe during Senator Rubio’s visit.

    Tags: Marco Rubio, Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia Peace Talks

  • Bolivian Ombudsman Denounces Increased Violence Against Girls

    November 4, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Bolivian Ombudsman Rolando Villena voiced his alarm yesterday at the recent uptick in sexual violence against women, and particularly young girls, in the wake of the rape and murder of a four-year-old girl last week in the town of Palos Blancos. This attack follows the death of a five-year-old girl in the Cochabamba region who was raped in a medical center, allegedly by a nurse.  Villena noted that not only has there been an increase in attacks against girls in Bolivia, but also in the brutality of the violence.

    The ombudsman’s statement reported that 14,000 cases of rape are recorded annually in Bolivia, and 34 percent of minors have been sexually abused by the time they reach the age of 18. A Pan American Health Organization report from 2013 found that Bolivia had the most gender violence of the 12 Latin American countries surveyed.

    Villella criticized both local and national governments for failing to adequately protect girls, and denounced the “complacency” of authorities in the face of increased attacks. “We don’t know how many attacks it will take before the government accepts that we’re facing an unsustainable situation of violence against women, and especially girls,” he said. The ombudsman announced that his office would establish a committee to travel to Palos Blancos to investigate the murder and report on the spike in rapes and feminicides in the area so that Bolivian authorities and organizations can work together to address the violence.

    In October 2014, the Bolivian government enacted a new law to fight violence against women that establishes shelters for victims and the strengthens the Special Forces Against Violence, a police force formed in 2013 to combat sexual assault and domestic abuse.

     

    Tags: Sexual violence, feminicide, Pan American Health Organization

  • Monday Memo: Ecuador Amendments — P&G Tax Fraud — Brazil Solar Parks — U.S. Midterm Elections – Colombia Paramilitary Sentenced

    November 3, 2014

    by AQ Online

    This week's likely top stories: Ecuador's National Assembly dismisses referendum on controversial constitutional amendments; Argentina suspends Proctor & Gamble for fiscal fraud; Brazil grants contracts for 31 new solar parks; U.S. gears up for midterm elections and immigration reform; Colombian court sentences AUC paramilitary leader to 8 years.

    Ecuador’s National Assembly Strikes Down Referendum on Amendments: On Friday, the Ecuadorian Constitutional Court dismissed the proposal for a referendum on a package of constitutional amendments sponsored by President Rafael Correa’s ruling party, Alianza País (Country Alliance—AP). Instead, the decision will be passed on to the National Assembly, where parliamentary approval of the amendments is virtually guaranteed given the AP’s two-thirds majority. The most contentious of the reforms would allow for the indefinite re-election of public officials, which would effectively permit Correa, who is currently serving his third and last term as president, to run again in 2017. Despite Correa’s high approval rating, a September poll found that 73 percent of Ecuadorians supported the referendum, which was called by Guillermo Lasso, a former presidential candidate and leader of the opposition party Creando Oportunidades (Creating Opportunities—CREO).

    Argentina Bars P&G from Business for Tax Fraud: The Argentinian tax bureau, Administración Federal de Ingresos Públicos (Federal Administration of Public Revenue—AFIP), announced on Sunday that it has suspended the operations of multinational consumer products corporation Proctor & Gamble for alleged fiscal fraud and capital flight. AFIP stripped P&G of its importers/exporters registration upon discovering that the company evaded paying duties totaling up to $138 million on hygiene products imported from Brazil by billing through a Swiss subsidiary. P&G, which has been operating in Argentina since 1991, will be allowed to resume business once it has paid its tax bill and fines accordingly. In asking Argentine courts to place travel restrictions on top officials at the local P&G affiliate, AFIP chief Ricardo Echegaray commented, “Our main goal is for P&G to repay the Central Bank the stolen currency as well as the customs sanctions and the income tax that has been evaded.” P&G responded by announcing that it is working to understand and resolve the allegations. 

    Brazil Grants Contracts for 31 New Solar Parks: As the output from key hydroelectric plants in Brazil has decreased substantially amidst the worst drought in 80 years, the country has kickstarted the solar power industry by granting contracts for the construction of 31 solar parks on Friday. Brazil’s energy regulator brought the country’s first solar energy auction to a lucrative close on Friday by signing 20-year energy supply contacts with companies to invest $1.67 billion to begin powering the national grid by 2017.  The parks, which are the first large-scale projects of their kind in Brazil, will have a combined capacity of 1,048 megawatts (MW), and at a price of $89 per megawatt-hour, the Brazilian government has earned itself one of the lowest rates in world.  Brasília has been a latecomer to the photovoltaic industry—which currently supplies a meager 1 percent of the country’s electricity—because the government levies high tariffs on imported solar panels.

    U.S. Midterm Elections and Immigration: U.S. voters will go to the polls on Tuesday in midterm elections that will be crucial for the future of immigration reform in the United States. Recent polls suggest that the Republican candidates are outperforming Democrats in several key states, and thus the GOP could pick up six new seats to take control of the Senate. Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said on Sunday that if Republicans win the Senate, comprehensive immigration reform will be a top priority. Last year, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) refused to bring a bipartisan immigration bill passed in the Senate to a vote. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama is expected to use his executive authority to overhaul immigration rules shortly after Tuesday’s elections.

    Sentenced AUC Leader Says Colombian Military Collaborated: In sentencing Colombian paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso to a maximum sentence of eight years on Friday, Judge Alexandra Valencia said that “the military and the army were institutionally responsible” for the deaths of hundreds of civilians in northern Colombia. Mancuso, who led the Colombian paramilitary Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia—AUC) between 2004 and 2006 and was later extradited to the U.S., said that the Colombian army was complicit in the AUC’s military offensives in the late 1990s that led to the deaths of hundreds of civilians. As part of a plea bargain with Colombia’s special Justice and Peace prosecution unit, Mancuso admitted to leading four massacres and committing hundreds of crimes. According to Mancuso, the Colombian military gave him special access, trained paramilitaries, and had informants in both the police force and the regional prosecutor’s office to warn paramilitaries of investigations or raids. “Without the action or inaction of the State, we wouldn’t have been able to grow the way we did,” he said.

    Tags: Midterm Elections, Rafael Correa, Alternative energy and renewables

  • Argentine Congress Passes Energy Bill, Opens Door for Shale Gas Development

    October 31, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies passed a bill yesterday that updates the country’s 47-year-old hydrocarbon law. The bill, which has President Christina Fernández de Kirchner’s support and has already been approved by the Senate, would ease foreign investment in energy exploration and production. Significantly, it includes regulations for off-shore and shale gas production—categories that were not included in the 1967 law.

    The bill provoked significant debate along party lines, and passed largely on the strength of President Fernández de Kirchner’s Frente Para la Victoria (Front for Victory—FPV) representation in Congress.

    Argentina’s energy deficit is estimated to reach $7 billion this year. The new bill is part of an attempt to set the country on a course towards energy independence by ramping up domestic production—especially in the country’s Vaca Muerta region, which is considered one of the largest reserves of shale oil and gas in the world. Faced with dwindling foreign reserves and access to credit, the government has looked to increased foreign investment. To do attract investment, the bill would lower the level of investment needed for companies to avoid export taxes and foreign exchange control to $250 million from $1 billion.  “The desired horizon for Argentina is only possible if there are investments,” said Mario Metaza, a deputy for the FPV.

    Opposition lawmakers have accused the government of steam-rolling provincial interests and selling off strategic resources. “They are ratifying the concept of hydrocarbons as a commodity and not as a strategic resource and a common good,” said Claudio Lozano, a deputy for the Frente Amplio Progresista (Broad Progressive Front—FAP). Outside observers have also raised questions about the current administration’s ability to manage any potential windfall derived from the energy reform, pointing to the mismanagement of the country’s wealth during the economic boom of 2003-2008.

    Tags: energy, Foreign Investment, Shale Gas

  • Medical Marijuana Planted in Chile

    October 30, 2014

    by AQ Online

    In a pilot pain prevention program, the municipality of La Florida planted the first marijuana seeds for medical use in Chile on Wednesday. Once the marijuana plants have been cultivated, oil from the plants will be used to treat 200 selected patients as part of a clinical study on the effect of cannabis as a pain medication, administered by the Fundación Daya (Daya Foundation), a nonprofit dedicated to alleviating human suffering.

    Daya Foundation employees planted a total of 850 seeds of the Durga Mata II, Wappa, IceCream and Pandora varieties imported from the Netherlands, which will grow on a plantation surrounded by electric and barbed wire fences. The plants will be heavily guarded to stave off any potential thieves.

    The Chilean Ministry of Agriculture approved the cultivation of medical marijuana in September, and the harvest will begin in April of 2015, with treatments using cannabis oil scheduled to take place in May.

    According to the United Nations, Chile is the third largest consumer of marijuana in South America, but while fellow South-American country Uruguay recently become the first country in the world to legalize the cultivation, production and state-run market of marijuana, the Chilean government has no plans to legalize the plant beyond medical use. “This is about providing people who are suffering from cancer with a natural, healthier and cheaper treatment for their pain,” said Rodolfo Carter, mayor of La Florida.

    Both Carter and the Chilean actress Ana María Gazmuri, president of the Fundación Daya, were present for the planting of the first seeds.

    Despite government support for the cannabis program, many in Chile’s medical community disapprove of the use of marijuana for medicinal use. Jorge Las Heras, a representative of the Chilean Medical Society, spoke out against the project on Wednesday, saying that there are “sufficient therapeutic alternatives” to marijuana, and that cannabis oil can have negative side effects, such as “convulsions, nausea and other conditions that have even led to death.”

    Tags: Chile, medical marijuana, Fundacion Daya

  • UN Condemns Cuba Embargo in Near-Unanimous Vote

    October 29, 2014

    by AQ Online

    The United Nations General Assembly voted for an end to the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba for the twenty-third time on Tuesday. For the second year in a row, 188 countries voted in favor of a non-binding resolution calling for the end of the embargo, with Palau, Marshall Islands and Micronesia abstaining. Only two countries—Israel and the U.S. itself—voted against the measure.

    The vote, which has become an annual occurrence in the General Assembly, was first approved in 1992, with 59 votes in favor, three votes against, 71 abstentions, and 46 countries refused to participate at all. Since the end of the Cold War, however, support for the embargo has waned. The European Union lifted sanctions on the island in 2008, and agreed to begin negotiations to restore bilateral relations with Cuba on February 10 of this year, leading to speculation that the U.S. would follow its lead through executive action.

    While it would take an act of Congress to formally repeal Helms-Burton, which codified the U.S. embargo into law, President Barack Obama has recently taken steps to ease travel and remittance restrictions for Cuban-Americans and reinstate people-to-people travel to the island.

    Recent polls from the Atlantic Council and Florida International University have shown that a majority of Floridians—including Cuban Americans—support ending the half-century long embargo.

    Tags: Cuba Embargo, U.S.-Cuba relations, UN General Assembly

  • IACHR Urges U.S. to Close Immigrant Detention Centers

    October 28, 2014

    by AQ Online

    The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urged the United States yesterday to close detention centers for immigrant children and their families. IACHR member Felipe González noted that the Commission has continually affirmed that children should not be held in detention centers. However, the U.S. currently has three detention centers open in Pennsylvania, Texas and New Mexico that house immigrants while their deportation is being processed.

    The Commission conveyed its disapproval of the way that the U.S. has handled the recent immigration crisis, in which an estimated 60,000 children crossed the U.S.-Mexico border fleeing poor and often dangerous conditions in their home countries—mainly Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The IACHR also called on the U.S. to install an independent committee to investigate alleged abuses at the detention centers and evaluate requests for asylum. The Commission announced that a report would soon be approved to propose solutions for the displacement of Central American citizens due to violence.

    In response to the observations, U.S. State Department Coordinator of the Working Group on Unaccompanied Minors Timothy Zúñiga-Brown said in a press conference that all of the government’s procedures for working to resolve the crisis follow national and international laws.

    The IACHR held a series of meetings on Monday to discuss human rights issues involving the United States, Ecuador, Colombia and Cuba. However, just before the Ecuador meeting was scheduled to begin, the Ecuadorian government sent a message criticizing the Commission and declining to attend. The IACHR’s main concern with Cuba was poor prison conditions, while issues with Colombia involved military impunity and peasants’ land rights.

    Tags: unaccompanied minors, detention centers, IACHR

  • Monday Memo: Brazil Elections – Uruguay Elections – Citgo Petroleum – Protests in Haiti – Chiquita

    October 27, 2014

    by AQ Online

    This week’s likely top stories: Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff is re-elected; Uruguayan elections move to a second round; Venezuela scraps the sale of Citgo Petroleum; Haitians protest a lack of elections; a Brazilian consortium acquires Chiquita.

    Dilma Rousseff Re-elected President of Brazil: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was narrowly re-elected on Sunday in a runoff election that will extend the ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT) government’s mandate until 2019. Rousseff captured 51.6 percent of the vote, defeating challenger Aécio Neves of the Partido da Social Democracia (Brazilian Social Democracy Party—PSDB), who received 48.4 percent after nearly all ballots were counted. Rousseff’s victory marks the fourth straight presidential victory of the PT, although the party has recently come under public scrutiny due to a kickback scandal involving state oil company Petrobras, and has been criticized for an underperforming economy. In her victory speech, Rousseff acknowledged the challenges ahead, saying, “I want to be a much better president than I have been until now.”

    Uruguayan Election Goes to Runoff: After Sunday’s election failed to deliver an outright majority to any presidential candidate, Uruguayans will return to the polls on November 30 to make a final decision between former President Tabaré Vásquez of the ruling Frente Amplio (Broad Front—FA) and Luis Lacalle Pou of the Partido Nacional (National Party). Pedro Bordaberry of the right-wing Partido Colorado (Colorado Party) endorsed Lacalle Pou shortly after the results came in, forming a conservative alliance to challenge Vásquez in the next round of voting. Also at stake in the election is the fate of Uruguay’s historic marijuana legislation, passed by outgoing President José “Pepe” Mujica, which legalizes the production, distribution and sale of marijuana to Uruguayan adults. The FA has governed Uruguay since 2005, with Vázquez serving as president from 2005-2010.

    Venezuela Fails to Sell Citgo Petroleum: Venezuela will not sell the state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA)’s U.S.-based refining subsidiary Citgo Petroleum Corp, the government announced Sunday. Strapped for cash yet unable to find a buyer for Citgo, PDVSA needed the estimated $8 billion to $10 billion from the sale of Citgo to help offset falling oil prices, scheduled debt payments to China and Russia, and the country’s economic recession. In a memo to its clients this month, Barclays Plc predicted that Venezuela would be forced to adjust its economic policies, and could consider curbing subsidized oil to PetroCaribe members, devaluing the bolivar, and renegotiating loans from China. Another possible reform package could include hiking domestic gasoline prices

    Protestors in Port-au-Prince Demand a Vote: Haitian protestors armed with voting cards marched through the downtown slum of Bel Air in Port-au-Prince on Sunday to demand a chance to vote in legislative and local elections overdue since 2011. Although President Michel Martelly called for elections earlier this year, a stalemate over electoral law between the government and six opposition senators has left voters unable to exercise their basic sovereignty. While Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe accuses  opposition politicians of seeking to extend their time in office without election, the opposition candidates say they are defending the Haitian Constitution against an administration seeking to remain in power by decree. One of these candidates, Sen. Moise Jean Charles, led the protesters through the streets of the capital on horseback. As the terms of 10 senators will expire in mid-January, the Haitian government is under pressure to organize a vote on Martelly’s electoral law before Parliament dissolves in early 2015.

    Brazil’s Cutrale-Safra Purchases Chiquita Brands: The Brazilian Cutrale-Safra consortium agreed on Monday to acquire U.S. banana behemoth Chiquita Brands International Inc., formerly United Fruit, for about $682 million. The Cutrale Group—owned by “Orange King” Jose Luis Cutrale—and Safra Group—a network of companies controlled by Brazilian banker Joseph Safra—snagged Chiquita for $14.50 per share. The takeover was approved only three days after Chiquita shareholders voted to reject the company’s proposed merger with Irish banana producer Fyffes Plc., which would have created the world’s largest banana seller. Safra, who is seeking to diversify his $16 billion portfolio, and Cutrale, who is looking to expand the family business because of a global decline in orange juice consumption, overcame three previous failed attempts to acquire Chiquita. The transaction is expected to close by early 2015, after regulatory approvals have been made.

    Tags: Dilma Rousseff, Citgo Petroleum, Chiquita

  • Argentine Bishop Urges Faithful to Assist in Search for Dirty War’s Kidnapped Children

    October 24, 2014

    by AQ Online

    The President of the Episcopal Commission for Social Pastoral Work in Argentina, Bishop Jorge Lozano, issued a call on Wednesday urging the country’s faithful to share information they may have regarding the fate of the children kidnapped during Argentina’s “Dirty War.” In the document, Bishop Lozano notes that, “There has been a network of silence and complicity that has kept the truth covered up.” The Church and its members have historically been a part of this network, Bishop Lozano admitted.

    The announcement follows a meeting at the Vatican earlier this year between Pope Francis, formerly Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, and the leader of the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo (Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo), Estela de Carlotto. Carlotto and the Abuelas asked the pope to open Church archives that could lead to information regarding 400 children suspected of being kidnapped during the dictatorship. Francis reportedly told Carlotto, “Count on me.” The meeting was a turning point in the relationship between the Abuelas and Bergoglio, whom Carlotto has criticized for his silence on the issue of the kidnapped children.

    The Church’s record during Argentina’s dictatorship is checkered. While many priests and other religious figures were among the victims of the regime, elements of the Church are considered to have been either tacitly or actively complicit in the worst abuses of the Dirty War. In the wake of his election, Francis’s own record was the subject of intense scrutiny and debate. Since then, a number of survivors have claimed that future pope secretly helped funnel potential victims to safety.​

     

    Tags: Dirty War, Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, Catholic Church

  • Gulf Cartel Leader in Federal Court

    October 23, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Juan Francisco Sáenz-Tamez, the 23-year-old head of Mexico’s Gulf Cartel, has made his first court appearance, the U.S. Department of Justice announced on Tuesday. Sáenz-Tamez was arrested by federal officials in Edinburg, Texas on October 9 and faces life in federal prison if convicted of drug charges.

    Sáenz-Tamez was arrested on charges of money laundering and conspiring to distribute cocaine and marijuana earlier this month. The infamous Gulf cartel is best known for its bloody clashes with the Zetas cartel in northeastern Mexico. Despite his age, Sáenz-Tamez allegedly “oversaw much of the violence and bloodshed that has plagued Mexico,” says Michele M. Leonhart, administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

    Sáenz-Tamez’ arrest comes on the heels of the high-profile captures of other drug kingpins on both sides of the border, such as the October apprehensions of Hector “El Ingeniero” Beltran Leyva of the Arturo Beltran Leyva (ABL) cartel and Vicente Carrillo Fuentes of the Juárez drug cartel, as well as the February 22 capture of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, head of the Sinaloa cartel.

    Sáenz-Tamez has plead not guilty to all charges.

    Tags: Mexico, Drug war, Gulf Cartel

  • Ecuadorian Minister Denounces Human Rights Watch Report

    October 22, 2014

    by AQ Online

    In a televised interview Tuesday, Ecuador’s Minister of the Interior, José Serrano, denied allegations of torture and police abuse detailed by a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released on Monday, calling the report one-sided and an attack on progressive governments.

    The HRW report details police brutality that took place on September 17 and 18 when thousands of people staged demonstrations in Quito and across the country to protest increased transportation costs, policies concerning extractive industries, and access to education. According to the report, 270 individuals were detained with dozens more subject to beatings and other physical abuse such as electric shocks and pepper spray to the face.

    “Correa has shown no concern for the rights of protesters. On the contrary, he applauded the police who hit them, and threatened lawyers and journalists who exposed this brutal mistreatment,” said Jose Miguel Vivano, the Americas Director at HRW.

    However, Serrano responded by saying that the report fails to take into account that members of the police force were attacked by students with rocks and sticks. According to Serrano, the police did not even use tear gas against attackers, and of the 2,600 police officers participating in the operation only three are being investigated for alleged attacks against protestors.

    “What Vivanco says [in the report] is a series of lies—manipulations of human rights,” said Serrano during the interview, who also called on the organization to reveal the origin of its funding for such reports.

    Tags: Ecuador, José Serrano, Human Rights Watch

  • UN High Commissioner Calls for Release of López

    October 21, 2014

    by AQ Online

    On Monday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called for the release of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López and former mayor of San Cristóbal Daniel Ceballos, as well as other prisoners detained over protests in February. Commissioner Zeid stated yesterday that “the prolonged and arbitrary detention of political opponents and protestors in Venezuela […] is only exacerbating the tensions in the country." He urged the government to release the prisoners, which number at least 69, and adhere to international standards of due process in all trials.

    The High Commissioner had previously spoken with Leopoldo López’ wife, Lilian Tintori, and their lawyer, Jared Genser, in Switzerland last Friday, regarding the delicate human rights situation in the country. Tintori told reporters after the meeting that she described to the High Commissioner the murders, disappearances and the overwhelming sense of helplessness that Venezuelans are currently facing. The UN Human Rights office has information indicating that more than 3,300 hundred people were detained between February and June 2014, and that over 150 cases of abuse have been reported.

    In early October, a UN working group released a document determining that the detention of López was arbitrary and urging his release. In response, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Rafael Ramírez gave a press conference during which he asserted that working groups should not interfere with the legal process taking place in Venezuela. However, last week the country won a temporary seat on the UN Security Council, making it all the more important that Venezuela complies with the organization’s demands.

    A public hearing for Leopoldo López has been set for October 28.

    Tags: Leopoldo Lopez, United Nations (UN), Lilian Tintori

  • Monday Memo: Cuba's Ebola Response – Petrobras Scandal – Morales' Third Term – Federal Police in Guerrero – Hurricane Gonzalo

    October 20, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Cuba to ramp up Ebola response:  Cuba is expected to host the leaders of the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Bolivarian Alliance for Americas—ALBA) countries today to strategize an increased response to the Ebola crisis. Cuba, which was among the first to respond to the crisis in West Africa with human resources, has deployed 165 medical professionals throughout Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone—the largest medical response of any single country. In a rare move, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry commended Cuba on Friday for being one of the “nations large and small stepping up in impressive ways to make a contribution on the front lines.” The small island-nation of 11 million plans to send 300 more medical professionals to the affected countries.

    Petrobras scandal ignites debate in Brazil: In a televised debate this weekend, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff admitted that there was evidence substantiating a claim that the national oil company, Petrobras, illegally diverted funds to her Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT). The allegations surfaced when Paulo Roberto Costa, a former senior Petrobras executive who was arrested in March on money laundering charges, recently accepted a plea deal from prosecutors to testify about the illegal funds. While Rousseff has called the accusations an attempt to deface her campaign for reelection, opposition candidate Aécio Neves said that the scandal shows proof of corruption and negligence in Rousseff’s governance. Polls indicate that both candidates, who made it through the first round of voting on October 5, are neck-and-neck with voters, with no clear winner. The final debate between Rousseff and Neves will air on TV Globo on Thursday before the second round of voting on October 26.

    Electoral officials confirm Morales’ third term victory: Bolivia’s top electoral court, the Tribuno Supremo Electoral (Supreme Electoral Tribunal—TSE), has officially confirmed Evo Morales’ reelection to a third consecutive term, which will last through 2020. Morales’ Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement for Socialism—MAS) party collected 61 percent of the vote, routing his closest rival, Samuel Doria Medina of the Unidad Demócrata (Democratic Unity—UD), by more than 30 percentage points and winning eight out of nine departments across the country. Although there will be a recount in the Oruro and Santa Cruz providences, it is unlikely to have an impact on the final result. Amidst allegations of authoritarianism, Morales maintains that he has no intentions of amending the constitution to allow for the possibility of running for a fourth term. Instead, Morales has said that he will focus on reducing poverty by sustaining the popular social programs from natural gas export revenues.

    Federal police sent to Guerrero State: Nearly a month after 43 students went missing in the town of Iguala, Guerrero, after clashing with local police during a demonstration, federal forces have taken control of 12 municipalities across the state. According to National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido García, a recent federal investigation found that municipal police in these jurisdictions had “presumed links to organized crime.” As a result, federal forces will take over security operations in the controlled municipalities, while municipal officers are interviewed. Meanwhile, the incident has provoked division within the left Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution—PRD), which is the party of Guerrero’s Governor, Ángel Aguirre. On Sunday, PRD Senator Alejandro Encinas declared that “the governor no longer is in control of the state.” Nevertheless, a national council for the PRD voted on Saturday to continue the party’s support for Aguirre.​

    Second Storm Rocks Bermuda: Hurricane Gonzalo hit Bermuda on Friday, causing flooding and power outages in 31,200 homes, and damaging buildings. The storm was the second to affect the Caribbean island this month, after Tropical Storm Fay damaged homes and knocked down trees and power lines on October 12. Gonzalo is considered to be the worst storm in ten years and touched down on the island with winds of 110 miles per hour. However, what started as a category 4 storm was reduced to category 2 before hitting the island, and Bermudan Premier Michael Dunkley noted that citizens were relieved to find less damage than originally anticipated. Dunkley stated that the cleanup has gone well, although over 18,000 homes were still without electricity on Saturday night.

     

     

    Tags:

  • Venezuela Wins UN Security Council Seat

    October 17, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Venezuela Wins UN Security Council Seat

    Venezuela secured a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council in the first round of voting yesterday, earning 181 votes in support of its candidacy—52 over the 129 vote threshold it needed to clinch the seat. The win was trumpeted by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro as a sign that the broader international community holds the country—which is caught in dire economic straits and has been roundly criticized for its record on human rights—in high esteem.  “We are a country beloved and admired by the whole world,” Maduro is reported to have said upon receiving news of the ballot results.

    Venezuela’s last bid for a non-permanent seat on the Security Council, in 2006, was strongly opposed by the U.S. and ultimately foundered. This year the country ran unopposed to fill the one available seat on the council from Latin America, and received unanimous support from a caucus of 33 Latin American and Caribbean nations. Significantly, the Obama administration did not mount a diplomatic campaign against the country’s bid, despite calls by U.S. lawmakers for such an effort.

    However, Venezuela’s win has provoked some criticism. After the vote, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, said in a statement that “Venezuela’s conduct at the UN has run counter to the spirit of the UN Charter, and its violations of human rights at home are at odds with the Charter’s letter.” According to the UN Director of Human Rights Watch, Philippe Bolopion, “The security council’s new membership could prove more problematic on human rights issues, with several generally rights-friendly countries leaving and others coming on board with poor voting records.” Venezuela’s election to the Security Council comes just weeks after the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions called on the country to release opposition political leader, Leopoldo López.

    Tags: Venezuela, UN Security Council, Human Rights

  • Hostages Released in Paraná Prison Standoff

    October 16, 2014

    by AQ Online

    After a 48-hour uprising, inmates at Guarapuava prison in the Brazilian state of Paraná yielded to authorities yesterday and released the 13 hostages that were being held in protest of poor prison conditions. Authorities reached an agreement with the prisoners, complying with at least one of their requests to move 29 inmates to a different penitentiary in Santa Catarina. Other demands included improving facility conditions, such as better food and treatment by guards.

    The rebellion began on Monday morning when over 30 prisoners overpowered guards and took other inmates and prison guards hostage, transporting them to the roof where many were hooded and beaten. Only one wing of the penitentiary was overtaken, but close to 80 inmates participated in the uprising over the two days, burning mattresses, among other things.

    While the rebellion was the first major uprising at Guarapuava in 15 years, prison rebellions are becoming more common in Brazil, with this being the twenty-first penitentiary rebellion in the state of Paraná this year. According to the International Centre of Penitentiary Studies, 247 out of every 100,000 Brazilian residents are serving time in prison, and Brazil currently has the world’s fourth-largest incarcerated population with 550,000 total inmates—coming in behind the U.S., China and Russia.

    Tags: Brazil, Guarapuava, Prison Rebellion

  • Morales Tackles Domestic Violence in Bolivia

    October 15, 2014

    by AQ Online

    On Tuesday, Bolivian President Evo Morales—fresh from his reelection to a third term on Sunday—moved to strengthen legal measures that would help reduce domestic violence against women in the Andean country. Law 348, titled Ley Integral para Garantizar a las Mujeres una Vida Libre de Violencia (Comprehensive Law to Guarantee Women a Life Free of Violence) was enacted on March 9, 2013, but lacked a regulatory provision causing the implementation process to stall.

    The regulation, which President Morales enacted Tuesday, creates mechanisms and policies for the prevention of domestic violence and violence against women and care for victims and provides much needed funds for the creation of domestic violence shelters and enhancement of the Fuerza Esdpecial de Lucha contra la Violencia (Task Force to Combat Violence—FELCV). The president acknowledged that the law alone would not curb violence against women and advocated for education, which he sees as a major contributing factor to the violence.


    A 2013 report from the World Health Organization found that more than half of Bolivian women had experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. While justices have been criticized for their handling of domestic violence cases, District Attorney José Ponce drew attention to the lack of resources and the caseloads of overburdened districts. In the Max Paredes district of La Paz alone, each prosecutor has more than 500 cases a year, with only 10 prosecutors who are specially trained for domestic violence cases available.

    Tags: Bolivia, Evo Morales, Violence Against Women

  • Anti-Riot Police Sent to Guerrero After Protesters Set Fire to Government Palace

    October 14, 2014

    by AQ Online

    On Monday, hundreds of demonstrators protested at the Palacio de Gobierno (Government Palace) in Chilpancingo, in the Mexican state of Guerrero, demanding that the government take further action to locate the remaining 43 students that went missing on September 26. The demonstrators called for the resignation of Governor Ángel Aguirre, vandalized various government buildings and set fire to the Palacio and the town hall, prompting the deployment of anti-riot police.  

    Protesters threatened more extreme actions if the authorities do not speed up the investigation, but Chilpancingo Mayor Mario Moreno Arcos urged the protestors to remain peaceful and reminded them not to lose sight of their goal of finding the missing students. Among the protesters were the families of the missing individuals, as well as other students and employees of the Coordinadora Estatal de Trabajadores de la Educación Guerrero (State Coordinator for Education Workers of Guerrero). Governor Aguirre denounced the attack on the Palacio and claimed that the protests and acts of violence yesterday had a political motive.

    The students originally went missing following clashes with the police last month that led to the death of six students in Iguala. Protesters accused police of finding the missing students and then giving them up to Guerreros Unidos (Warriors United), a local drug cartel. Police have arrested 34 people allegedly connected to the disappearance of the students, including 26 police officers and four Guerreros Unidos members. Last week, the Attorney General’s Office reported that authorities are examining new graves that were recently discovered in Iguala, to determine if any of the bodies belong to the missing students.

    Tags: Guerrero, protests, missing students

  • UN Finds Venezuela’s Detention of Leopoldo López Illegal

    October 10, 2014

    by AQ Online

    The family of imprisoned Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López announced yesterday that the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled in Opinion No. 26/2014 that López is being held illegally, and called for his release. The Working Group consists of five members appointed by the UN Human Rights Council that investigate possible cases of arbitrary detention, and they have been working on the Lopéz case since he was arrested on February 18 for the alleged incitement of violence during widespread protests.

    López, the national coordinator of the opposition party Voluntad Popular (Popular Will), is being held at the Ramo Verde military prison in Miranda state. In addition to determining that López’ detention was “arbitrary,” the Working Group asked the Venezuelan government for reparations for his detention. President Nicolás Maduro’s government had previously met with the Working Group to defend its treatment of López and argue against López’ claims, although they were unsuccessful. The group further noted that his imprisonment appeared to be motivated by political opinion.

    The government detained hundreds of demonstrators involved in the anti-government protests that erupted in February, including Mayors Daniel Ceballos and Enzo Scarano from San Cristobal and San Diego, respectively. The government is currently facing numerous allegations of human rights violations surrounding both the arrests and the treatment of its prisoners. International criticism of the detentions has increased in recent weeks, with calls for the release of prisoners from U.S. President Barack Obama and OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza.

    Tags: Leopoldo Lopez, Nicolás Maduro, United Nations (UN)

  • Pressure Mounts to Find Missing Mexican Students

    October 9, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Thousands took to the streets across Mexico on Wednesday over a group of 43 students that have been missing since September 26, when student protestors clashed with police in the town of Iguala in the state of Guerrero. The incident left six dead—including three students and three locals—and 56 students reported missing. As a result, the Peña Nieto administration has faced increasing criticism domestically and internationally.

    Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticized the government in an 11-page letter to Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, Mexico’s Interior Minister, saying that despite attempts by the president to find missing persons and aid their families, success has been marginal, not only in the case of Iguala but in recent years with increased numbers of disappearances and an inadequate system for dealing with and preventing such cases. “Mexico is facing a national human rights and security crisis that demands a far more serious response from the federal government,” said José Miguel Vivanco, director of HRW’s Americas division. The Organization of American States and the United States government have also put pressure on Mexican authorities to locate the missing students.

    Although 13 students have since returned home, the whereabouts of 43 are still unknown and some claim to have last seen those missing being driven away in police vehicles following the September clash. On Saturday 28 bodies were found in shallow, mass graves outside of Iguala, but were burned too badly to be identified, although many believe they are the remains of some of the missing students.

    Earlier this week, President Enrique Peña Nieto deployed federal troops to Iguala and 30 people have been detained in relation to the incident. “Like all the Mexican society, I am shocked by this situation and I can assure you that there will be no impunity,” said president Peña Nieto on Twitter.

    Tags: Mexican students, Guerrero Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto

  • Venezuelan Opposition Leader Has Sights Set on 2015 Elections

    October 8, 2014

    by AQ Online

    Jesus Torrealba, the new chief of Venezuela’s Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Democratic Unity Roundtable—MUD) opposition coalition, has targeted Venezuela’s 2015 parliamentary elections as the opposition’s next strategic opportunity to end chavista rule. After narrowly losing the presidential election to President Nicolás Maduro in 2013, the opposition coalition is now looking to win a majority in the National Assembly next year in order to put pressure on the president and potentially force a recall referendum in 2016.

    Although the ruling Partido Socialist Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela—PSUV) maintains control over the executive and legislative branches, Maduro’s administration has been beleaguered by a rapidly declining economy, 63 percent inflation, high crime rates, and shortages of basic goods.

    In addition to the months-long protests against the Maduro government that engulfed several major cities in Venezuela earlier this year, the administration has also come under fire from a dissident faction on the Left critical of what it sees as a departure from the Bolivarian Revolution’s ideals. "What we have now is deterioration ...This is chavismo's worst moment ever," Gonzalo Gomez Frieire, leader of the dissident Marea Socialista (socialist tide) told Reuters.

    While the MUD has historically been known as a fractured party—most notably when former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles and imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo López responded differently to the popular protests in February—many see an equally fractured PSUV as the primary explanation for Maduro’s lack of an adequate response to Venezuela’s recession.

    President Maduro’s approval rate dropped to 35 percent in September in light of the continued economic crisis.

    Tags: Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, MUD, PSUV

  • U.S. Takes Step toward Marriage Equality

    October 7, 2014

    by AQ Online

    The United States Supreme Court yesterday refused to review a series of appeals court decisions that overturned same-sex marriage bans in five states. The decision effectively legalizes same-sex marriage in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin, bringing the total number of U.S. states where same-sex marriage are legal to 24. That number could soon rise to 30, given that the same appeals courts whose decisions the Supreme Court declined to review have jurisdiction over another six states with same-sex marriage bans.

    While the high court’s action was lauded by LGBT rights advocates, the decision to put off a review of the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans leave the country without a coherent, national policy on the issue. “[…T]he court’s delay in affirming the freedom to marry nationwide prolongs the patchwork of state-to-state discrimination and the harms and indignity that the denial of marriage still inflicts on too many couples in too many places,” said Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, a marriage equality advocacy organization.

    According to a report by the Pew Research Religion & Public Life Project, the only other country to share such a patchwork approach to same-sex marriage legalization is Mexico. In the Americas, four countries have legalized same-sex marriage at the national level—Argentina, Brazil, Canada, and Uruguay. With the exception of Canada—which is not included in the report—these countries all scored higher than the U.S. on LGBT rights in the latest AQ Social Inclusion Index, published in the Summer 2014 issue.

     

    Tags: Supreme Court, LGBT Rights, Same-Sex Marriage, Social inclusion

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