Likely top stories this week: Salvadoran presidential candidates are running neck-in-neck; former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe wins a Senate seat; Chilean President-elect Michelle Bachelet meets regional leaders before her inauguration; UNASUR countries gather in Chile to discuss Venezuela; Brazil inaugurates its ninth World Cup stadium, with three more to go.
Salvadoran Elections Remain “Too Close to Call”: Salvadorans went to the polls on Sunday in a runoff election between presidential candidates Salvador Sánchez Cerén and Norman Quijano. The country’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal asked both candidates to refrain from claiming victory until the results have been fully calculated—which may take until Thursday, according to officials. Vice President Sánchez Cerén, of the Farabundo Martí Liberation Front (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional—FMLN) and a former guerrilla, was just ahead of Quijano, of the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (Alianza Republicana Nacionalista—Arena) party, in the latest polls, with a razor-thin .22 percentage point lead.
Uribe elected to Senate in Colombian Elections: In Sunday’s legislative elections, President Juan Manuel Santos’ coalition claimed 47 out of 102 Senate seats and 92 out of 166 seats in the Lower House, while voters elected former President Álvaro Uribe of the Democratic Center (Centro Democrático) to a seat in the Senate. Uribe has been highly critical of Santos’ government’s peace talks with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) in Havana. Santos congratulated Uribe and said, “I hope that we can leave aside the hatred and resentments, and can work for the country.” Santos is running for re-election in May’s presidential elections.
Bachelet to Meet with Maduro Before Inauguration: Chilean President-elect Michelle Bachelet will have an intense day of meetings before her inauguration on Tuesday, including a meeting with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and other regional leaders. More than 20 countries are sending representatives to the inauguration. Vice President Joe Biden will represent the United States, and met with Bachelet this morning.
UNASUR Meeting in Chile: Latin American foreign ministers and heads of state in the Union of South American Nations (Unión de Naciones Suramericanas—UNASUR) will meet in Chile on Wednesday to discuss the political unrest in Venezuela, where an estimated 21 people have died in continuing protests. This morning, the Venezuelan National Guard reportedly dismantled barricades in the city of San Cristobal. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa announced the UNASUR meeting last Thursday, adding that the Venezuelan president “would never be capable of repressing his own people.”
Brazil Inaugurates World Cup Stadium: On Sunday, Brazil inaugurated its ninth World Cup stadium in the Amazonian city of Manaus. The stadium, Arena da Amazonia, was inaugurated a month later than expected and is still not yet fully completed, but 20,000 people attended a regional championship match there on Sunday. Three workers were killed in the stadium’s construction, and it cost $70 million more than expected. Brazil still needs to complete construction on three stadiums before June: Itaquerão in São Paulo, the Arena Pantanal in Cuiabá, and the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba.
This week, AQ entered our Fall 2013 Media in the Americas: Threats to Free Speech cover in the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) Readers’ Choice Award contest on Facebook. We are currently in first place in the "Brainiest" magazine category—which includes publications like The Atlantic, Wired, and Business Week, among others—and we need your help to win it!
Please click here and “Like” on Facebook to vote for our Fall cover. We are the only Latin American title in the running. In doing so, you'll be supporting us, the region, our community, and our work for quality journalism, writing and public debate.
You have until Sunday, March 9, at midnight to vote by clicking “Like” on the ASME Facebook page. We only have a few days left: now more than ever, your vote counts!
At least seven military police were injured in a confrontation with Indigenous Mapuche in the Araucania region of Chile on Wednesday.
The clash began on Monday when 30 hooded individuals, presumed to be Mapuches took over the privately-owned El Canelo farm in an act to reclaim land they believed to be theirs by ancestral rights. After the perpetrators set fire to the land, military police intervened and were met with pellet guns, resulting in seven wounded officers, who are currently in stable condition at the Talcahuano Naval Hospital.
General Ivan Bezmalinovic, head of the police force in the eighth region of Chile where the conflict occurred, stated that a special operations group was sent in to prevent further fire outbreaks from land invaders. However, according to the Mapuche community, the fire at El Canelo was not an ambush, but rather an act of self-defense against new police assaults on land the group claims as their own.
The incident comes days after a Mapuche leader was sentenced to 18 years in prison for arson and the resulting deaths of the property owners. Conflicts between indigenous communities and private land holders and extractive corporations are ongoing, particularly in southern Chile where there is a population of nearly one million Mapuche. The International Labor Organization's Convention 169 went into full effect in Chile on September 15, 2009, which recognizes the land rights of such communities; however tensions remain high.
Stay tuned for Americas Quarterly's Spring 2014 issue for in-depth analysis of ILO 169, land rights, and previous consultation.
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A U.S. federal judge ruled in favor of Chevron Corp. yesterday, dealing a blow to the 30,000 Amazonian villagers who successfully sued the California-based oil company for $9.5 billion over environmental damage in 2011.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan wrote that U.S. courts could not be used to collect the $9.5 billion sum, citing wrongful conduct on the part of the prosecution. The court found that New York City lawyer Steven Donziger and Ecuadorian lawyers corrupted the case in Ecuador by submitting fraudulent evidence and bribing an Ecuadorian judge with $500,000 to rule in their favor.
Donziger responded that his team would quickly appeal the decision, while Chevron called the ruling a “resounding victory for Chevron and our stockholders.”
In 2011, a judge in Ecuador awarded $18 billion to five Amazonian tribes suing Chevron for environmental damage caused by Texaco—which was later bought by Chevron—between 1972 and 1990 in the Lago Agrio region. Ecuador’s highest court upheld the judgment, but reduced the amount to $9.5 billion.
Chevron claims that a 1998 agreement it signed with Texaco absolves it of liability for any the 18 billion gallons of toxic waste and 17 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the rainforest.
The Ecuadorian Embassy in Washington, which is not involved in the case, issued a statement saying that yesterday’s ruling "does not exonerate Chevron from its own legal and moral responsibilities resulting from its decades of contamination of the rainforest that has endangered the lives, culture, and environment of countless poor, indigenous people."
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The U.S. Supreme Court signaled that it would leave contentious immigration issues to the jurisdiction of the legislative branch on Monday when it decided against hearing appeals from Farmers Branch, Texas and Hazleton, Pennsylvania.
The two towns had sought to overturn decisions by appeals courts that struck down ordinances that criminalized the occupation of property by any individual who did not have a license certifying that he or she is a U.S. citizen. The local laws also allowed towns to fine landlords who rented property to tenants without licenses as well as businesses that knowingly hire undocumented immigrants.
The lengthy legal battle cost Farmers Branch more than $6 million over an eight-year period. Five out of six similar housing ordinances have been struck down by U.S. District Courts.
There is speculation that a similar ordinance from Fremont, Nebraska, which was left untouched by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last June and was adopted via a new vote last month, will be appealed in the Supreme Court. The United States’ highest court hasn’t heard a major case on immigration since 2012.
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Likely top stories this week: Nicaraguans vote in local elections; protests continue in Venezuela; the FARC says it will continue peace talks during elections; a Mapuche leader is sentenced to prison; Chileans no longer need visas to enter the United States.
Nicaraguan Elections: Nicaraguans overwhelmingly supported the ruling Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (The Sandinista National Liberation Front—FSLN) Sunday in elections for regional councilmembers in the country’s two autonomous regions—the North Atlantic Autonomous Region and the South Atlantic Autonomous Region. Opposition leaders alleged that Sunday’s elections were marred by irregularities as well as violence, but the FSLN said that the elections were conducted in an orderly and peaceful manner and attributed five deaths in El Tortuguero on Sunday to common crime. 300,000 Nicaraguans of African, mestizo or Indigenous descent were registered to vote in the elections.
Protests Continue in Venezuela Despite Carnival: Protesters marched through the streets of Caracas on Sunday to protest the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, as the death toll from three weeks of conflict has risen to at least 17 people. Maduro encouraged Venezuelans to observe the Carnival holiday, hoping to dampen the protests. On Sunday, the Venezuelan state prosecutor’s office announced that it had released 41 detainees. The anniversary of Hugo Chávez’ death is on Wednesday, March 5, and may spark more clashes.
Peace Talks to Continue During Colombian Elections: Peace negotiators for the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) confirmed on Sunday that the guerrillas will continue to negotiate with the Colombian government even as elections take place on March 9. Colombians will elect legislators next Sunday, and vote for president and vice president at the end of May. On Friday, members of the FARC said that they had invited the United States government to join in the peace talks, but the U.S. State Department said it was unaware of efforts to make the U.S. a party to the peace negotiations.
Chilean Indigenous Leader Sentenced: Mapuche leader Celestino Cordova was sentenced to 18 years in prison on Friday for his role in an arson attack in southern Chile that killed an elderly couple last January in a dispute over Indigenous land rights. The attack coincided with the five-year anniversary of the death of Mapuche student Matias Catrileo, who was killed by policemen in a land dispute in January 2008. Cordova’s lawyers plan to appeal the ruling, saying that there is no evidence to prove that he was involved in the attack.
Chile, U.S. Waive Visa Requirements: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced on Friday that Chilean citizens do not need a visa to enter the United States, making Chile the only country in Latin America to join the list of 38 countries in the U.S. visa waiver program (Mexico enjoys its own special status). U.S. citizens will now also be able to avoid a $160 “reciprocity fee” that they paid upon entering Chile. Chileans will no longer need a visa to enter the United States starting on May 1.
The United States released the second member of a group of five Cuban prisoners—known as the “Cuban Five”—from an Arizona prison on Thursday. Fernando González, 54, was convicted in 2001 of spying on military bases and Cuban exiles in South Florida, and is expected to be deported back to Cuba within days.
René González, a native of Chicago with dual citizenship, was the first member of the group to be freed in 2011, and returned to Cuba last year. The other members, Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labaniño, will complete their terms in 2017 and 2024, respectively. The last member, Gerardo Hernández, is serving a double life sentence for conspiracy to commit murder after two planes flown by a Cuban exile group, Brothers to the Rescue, were shot down in 1996.
Over the last decade, the “Cuban Five” have been at the center of diplomatic tensions between the U.S. government and the Castro regime. The Cuban government allegedly offered to release the jailed USAID contractor Alan Gross in exchange for the freedom of the five Cuban prisoners, but Washington rejected the deal, saying that Gross did not engage in any intelligence-gathering on the island. The Cuban government jailed Gross on charges of committing crimes against the state, and he remains in prison.
González’ release comes two weeks after a national poll found that the majority of Americans support normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro invited opposition leaders to the presidential palace on Wednesday for a peace conference in an effort to quell the worst unrest in in the country in a decade that has claimed 13 lives thus far.
Some have questioned the sincerity of Maduro’s peace conference efforts. Henrique Capriles, the presidential opposition candidate who lost by a narrow margin to Maduro in 2013, called the meeting an empty appeal and nothing more than a photo opportunity. Jorge Arreaza, vice president of the opposition group Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Democracy Unity Roundtable—MUD), slammed the conference saying that “we will not lend ourselves to a sham dialogue that would end in a mockery of our compatriots.”
Meanwhile, a number of international leaders, including Pope Francis and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, have called for an end to the escalating violence that began on February 12, and urged more dialogue between parties. Former U.S. President and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Jimmy Carter has urged Maduro and Capriles to retain the population’s right to peaceful protests and unbiased trails for those arrested and announced his hopes to meet with leaders from both sides during a trip to Venezuela planned for April 29.
Read updates on the crisis in Venezuela in AS/COA’s Venezuela Resource Guide.
A Mexican judge ruled on Tuesday that Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán will stay in Mexico to face drug-trafficking charges. The former head of the Sinaloa cartel will not be extradited to the U.S. in the near future and will remain locked up in the country's highest security prison while he awaits trial.
Guzmán, who was captured on Saturday after 13 years on the run, faces charges in at least seven U.S. jurisdictions. The U.S. attorney's office had announced on Sunday that the U.S. would seek the extradition of "El Chapo," whose cartel is said to be responsible for 80 percent of the drug trade in some of the U.S.'s biggest cities, and federal prosecutors in New York have indicted Guzmán for drug trafficking and money laundering. Mexican officials have announced that Guzmán must face local charges before they consider his extradition to the U.S.
"If and when we receive an extradition request, it will be analyzed by the appropriate Mexican legal authorities and if granted, Mexico will decide upon the right moment to execute that possible extradition request," Ambassador Eduardo Medina-Mora said in a statement on Tuesday. Guzmán escaped from a maximum-security prison in January of 2001, seven years into a 20-year and nine-month sentence. Mexican officials have said he must face his original sentence and new charges in Mexico. Guzmán's attorneys have filed a request to stop his extradition.
Hundreds of Mexican vigilantes held memorial mass in Apatzingan, Michoacán Monday, remembering those who died in the struggle to expel the Knights Templar (Caballeros Templarios) drug cartel and celebrating the one year anniversary of the creation of the autodefensas (self-defense) movement. The groups, which have no legal authority, have been credited with ridding mountain towns of the cartel’s influence after national security forces failed to do so.
The self-defense groups first emerged in Michoacán a year ago to combat the violent drug cartels, and just this month they reclaimed control of the city of Apatzingan with the aid of the military and local police. The groups’ tactics have since spread to neighboring Guerrero, where villagers have created the Council of Upper Towns to counter the La Familia cartel on Sunday.
After the capture of Knights Templar kingpin Dionisio Loya Plancarte late last month, the federal government announced that it would collaborate with the vigilantes and absorb qualifying members into the military controlled Rural Defense Corps. The move came after the government’s unsuccessful attempt to disarm the autonomous groups in the rural western region.
Likely top stories this week: Venezuelans seek a solution to the escalating political conflict; Ecuadorians vote in municipal elections; young immigrants demand action from U.S. President Barack Obama; Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos says his e-mails were hacked; the U.S. seeks to extradite “El Chapo” Guzmán.
Venezuelan Leaders May Meet to Discuss Conflict: This week, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro may meet with political leaders from across the country to discuss the escalating political conflict. At least eleven people have died since February 12, when student protests set off violent clashes between opposition protesters, Venezuelan security forces, and government supporters. Meanwhile, Maduro, who has said that the United States is behind the current political unrest in Venezuela, has called for a dialogue with U.S. President Barack Obama to “put the truth out on the table.”
Ecuadorian Municipal Elections Conclude: Rafael Correa's Alianza País (Country Alliance) party lost mayoral races in Ecuador's three biggest cities—Quito, Cuenca and Guayaquil—on Sunday when Ecuadorians voted in municipal elections. According to the preliminary results from the National Electoral Council, former presidential candidate Mauricio Rodas of the Suma-Vive alliance was elected mayor of Quito with 58.9 percent of the vote and Jaime Nebot of the Partido Social Cristiano (Social Christian Party) was re-elected mayor of Guayaquil with 57.5 percent of the vote. Mauricio Cabrera, a former mayor who is part of the Igualdad-Participa (Equality-Participate) alliance, captured 44.4 percent of the vote in that city. In addition to mayors, Ecuadorians voted for governors and council members.
Young U.S. Immigrants Demand Presidential Action on Immigration: About 500 young immigrant leaders gathered in Phoenix, Arizona this weekend for an annual congress of the United We Dream Network, expressing frustration with both U.S. Republicans and Democrats for Congress’ inaction on comprehensive immigration reform. Members of the United We Dream network said that they would instead press President Barack Obama to act unilaterally through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to allow young undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States. However, the Obama administration has deported more than 1.9 million foreigners—more than any other president.
Santos Says His E-Mails Were Hacked: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said Sunday that unknown opponents have hacked more than a thousand of his personal e-mails, as well as e-mails of family members. Santos said he believed the hackers were “motivated by political reasons,” and vowed to investigate the incident as he campaigns for the upcoming May 25 presidential elections. Earlier this month, it was revealed that a Colombian military intelligence unit had been spying on government peace negotiators who were speaking with the FARC in Havana.
U.S. to Seek Extradition of "El Chapo" Guzmán: After Mexican authorities captured Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” (“Shorty”) Guzman in the resort town of Mazatlán on Saturday, U.S. judicial authorities said that they will seek his extradition to the U.S. to face drug smuggling charges. However, the Mexican attorney general’s office said that Guzman will have to serve the remainder of his Mexican jail sentence before he is extradited. Guzman escaped from prison in 2001. He is currently being held in a maximum-security prison outside the Mexican city of Toluca.
Venezuela will deploy military units to San Cristobal, Táchira, where demonstrators continue to protest the arrest of opposition leader Lepoldo López, government officials announced today. Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres said that the decision is a measure to restore public order.
In addition to the deployment of the military troops on the ground military jets have been flying over that state of Táchira and internet access has been cut following 16 days of protests. Rodriguez has denied knowledge of the cause of the internet blackout.
The Venezuelan attorney general, Luisa Ortega Díaz, confirmed that there have been 8 deaths and 137 injuries to date, resulting in what human rights activists have called the worst violation of human rights in Venezuela in 15 years.
Read updates on the crisis in Venezuela in AS/COA's Venezuela Resource Guide.
Venezuelan opposition leaders have condemned President Nicolas Maduro’s government for the violent backlash to what started as peaceful student protests last week. The National Police, National Guard and government-backed colectivos (armed militias) have filled the streets firing freely at protesters. At least eight people have died since the protests turned violent last week and many have been injured.
Although the Venezuelan media has not fully covered the violence, social media sites have been flooded with photos and videos of the clashes documented by protesters themselves. Maduro and his supporters have claimed that the escalation of the violence is part of an attempted coup by right-wing “fascist” opponents backed by the U.S. On Monday, Maduro gave three U.S. diplomats 48 hours to leave the country, after being accused of fomenting a coup against the Venezuelan government.
The leader of the opposition movement, Leopoldo López, turned himself in to police on Tuesday and is being held in Caracas' Ramo Verde jail on charges of terrorism. President Maduro has called López, a 42-year-old Harvard-educated economist, “the face of fascism.”
Among other voices condemning the repression of the protests are Henrique Capriles, former Venezuelan presidential candidate, and President Barack Obama, who urged Maduro to stop making “false accusations” and address the protesters’ demands during his recent visit to Mexico.
The opposition movement is planning more marches for Saturday.
Read updates on the crisis in Venezuela in AS/COA's Venezuela Resource Guide.
North American heads of state met in Mexico on Wednesday to discuss the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Presidents Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico and Barrack Obama of the United States, widely known as the "three amigos," commemorated two decades of NAFTA in Toluca, Mexico and discussed what's next for North American trade, among other issues.
Perhaps the most significant outcome of the meetings were the negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trading pact between 12 countries in Asia and the the Americas. "The Trans-Pacific Partnership is an opportunity to open our markets and to open ourselves to new markets in the Asia-Pacific region, one of the fastest growing and most promising in the world," President Obama said.
Among other issues, two that were anticipated hot-topics were travel and energy. A trusted traveler program was proposed, which would allow frequent travelers more ease when moving between borders. Also agreed upon was improvement in customs data and infrastructure to decrease drug movement across borders.
The energy discussion hit a snag, however, given that Obama and Harper still have yet to reach a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline project, which has been a source of tension between the two countries.
Read more about NAFTA in the Winter 2014 issue of Americas Quarterly.
Curitiba, Brazil narrowly avoided losing its spot as a 2014 World Cup venue city on Tuesday, after the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (International Federation of Association Football—FIFA) threatened to exclude the city from the tournament. The news comes one month after FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke said that the delays in construction of Curitiba’s Arena da Baixada amounted to a “emergency situation.”
With less than four months before Iran and Nigeria play the first group stage match in Curitiba on June 16, organizers have imported hundreds of extra workers to complete the 43,000-capacity stadium. After speaking with representatives the city of Curitiba, its local football club Atlético Paranaense, and the State of Paraná, Valcke confirmed yesterday that the stadium will be ready for the tournament, calling the Curitiba "a special city in terms of sustainability and passion for football” and confirming that it will remain part of the FIFA World Cup lineup.
However, Valcke made clear that the remaining construction must continue at the “highest pace,” and that the process will require “regular monitoring.”
Of the six stadiums that missed the December 31 construction deadline set by FIFA, Curitiba’s was the furthest behind schedule. Construction still has to be completed on four other stadiums, including the Arena de São Paulo, which will host the World Cup opener on June 12, even though the stadium is not expected to be finished until April.
In addition to the June 16 match, the Arena da Baixada is scheduled to host four group stage matches, including Honduras vs. Ecuador (June 20), Australia vs. Spain (June 23) and Algeria vs. Russia (June 26).
Student protests in Venezuela intensified as they entered their fifth straight day on Monday. Thousands of anti-government protestors flooded the streets of Caracas denouncing the nation's deteriorating economy, inflation, shortages of staple supplies, and security issues. Pro-government protestors are expected to counter-protest today.
Three protestors—two anti-government and one pro-government—were killed and hundreds were injured last Wednesday in the largely student-led protests that took place in cities across Venezuela. Over a dozen anti-government protestors have been arrested since the protests began.
The arrests and violence at the protests have drawn international scrutiny; U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called on protestors on both sides to work together peacefully, while publicly worrying about anti-government protestors' freedom of expression. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has stated that he will not allow further protests to take place in Caracas.
Three American diplomats were expelled from Venezuela on Sunday after Venezuelan authorities accused them of meeting with the students who led he demonstrations. American officials deny the claim.
U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden is set to visit Chile and the Dominican Republic with his wife Jill in mid-March. The visits will mark his third trip to the region. Biden will attend Chilean President-Elect Michelle Bachelet's inauguration before traveling to the Dominican Republic to discuss bilateral relations and regional cooperation with President Danilo Medina.
The vice president has been seen as an integral part of President Obama's Latin America strategy. Despite visits by both leaders to the region last year, the administration's foreign policy has focused primarily on Asia and the Middle East. The U.S. was seen as taking a positive step towards strengthening ties with the region last November when Secretary of State John Kerry declared that the Monroe Doctrine had come to an end.
This year is critical for U.S. trade in the region as NAFTA turns 20 and the U.S. continues its participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.
Student-organized protests against the Nicolás Maduro Administration turned violent yesterday when pro-government groups began shooting into the crowd in Caracas.
Several thousand students and protesters took to the street with more protests cropping up throughout the country as the day went on. Anti-government groups denounced the administration for current economic and widespread crime, demanding the constitutional removal of President Maduro. At the same time, pro-government groups set to the streets to show their support of the Venezuelan socialist government. Amongst gun shots, fire and chaos, at least three people were killed, including 24 year old Bassil da Costa, a student protester, and Juan Montoya, a government supporter. Many more were injured and detained as the demonstrations escalated.
Leaders from both sides of the protests riled up street crowds, including former mayor and opposition supporter Leopoldo Lopez, who addressed a group of nearly 10,000 people in Caracas’ Plaza Venezuela. “All of these problems--shortages, inflation, insecurity, the lack of opportunities--have a single culprit: the government” said Lopez. The Venezuelan government, however, has retaliated, calling the protest groups “Nazi-fascists” and assuring supporters that they won’t back down to attempts to destabilize the government. Diosdado Cabello, the president of the national assembly, threatened over state television that the murderers of comrade Montoya would pay.
Protests against the Maduro Administration have been occurring in smaller numbers since he took over the presidency in April 2013, after the death of former populist leader Hugo Chávez. Wednesday’s protest occurred on Youth Day, a commemoration of student participants in the fight against colonial power in the nineteenth century.
Americas Quarterly's Nafta @20 and in 20 event on Thursday, February 13 has been postponed due to inclement weather and will be rescheduled at a later date. We apologize for the inconvenience.
Welcome and Introduction:
Registration Fee: $10 for all registrants*. Prior registration is required.
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Press: Adriana La Rotta | email@example.com | 1-212-277-8384
Cancellation: Contact Juan Serrano-Badrena at firstname.lastname@example.org, before 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday, February 12, 2014
A new poll by the Atlantic Council released yesterday found that a majority of Americans are now in favor of stabilizing U.S.-Cuba relations. Of those sampled nationwide, six out of 10 said they favor policy changes that would allow more business transactions between the two countries, as well as the lifting of restrictions that don’t allow Americans to travel and spend money in Cuba as a result of the embargo.
According to the poll, 56 percent of Americans favor changes in U.S.-Cuba policy. Sixty-three percent of adults in Florida—which holds the largest concentration of Cuban-Americans in the country—and 62 percent of Latinos favor removal of all travel restrictions. Although support is stronger among Democrats, the poll found that 52 percent of Republicans are also in favor of normalizing relations with the country. Sixty-one percent of Americans, and 67 percent of Floridians, also believe that Cuba should not be considered a state sponsor of terrorism.
The poll points to growing disapproval of the U.S.’s economic embargo on Cuba, which has been condemned by the international community 22 years in a row. The trade embargo aimed to collapse the Castro government more than 50 years ago, but has been unsuccessful.
“The Cuba embargo is hampering the United States’ ability to maximize cooperation with allies in the hemisphere at a moment when there is increasing stability, growth, and opportunity,” says the report. Based on the findings, the poll suggests that although the U.S. should demand reciprocal gestures from the Cuban government, such as the release of imprisoned USAID contractor Alan Gross, naming a special envoy for Cuba could be a first sign by the Obama Administration of its willingness to begin deepen ties with the country.
Two members of the U.S. Congress sent a letter yesterday to Roger Goodell, commissioner of the National Football League (NFL), asking that the league change the Washington Redskins’ controversial name and logo.
Senator Maria Cantwell, a Democrat from Washington State and chairwoman of the Indian Affairs Committee, and Representative Tom Cole, a Republican from Oklahoma and member of the Native American Caucus, wrote that “The NFL can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur,” adding that the league was on the “wrong side of history.” The letter also questions the NFL’s 501(c)(6) tax-exempt status.
The Redskins franchise, which has a profile of a Native American man as its logo, has recently come under fire by groups like the NAACP, the Anti-Defamation League and the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). However, the Redskins responded to Monday’s letter with a statement saying it received more than 7,000 letters and emails in favor of keeping the name, with "almost 200 from people who identified themselves as Native Americans or as family members of Native Americans.”
The NFL continues to stand by the team and its owner, Dan Snyder, claiming that public opinion favors the current name. At a press conference before the Super Bowl last month, Goodell cited a survey of 768 self-identified Indians or Native Americans conducted by the University of Pennsylvania in 2004 that found that only 9 percent found the Redskins’ name offensive. Another national study done by Public Policy Polling in January of this year found that 71 percent of Americans oppose a name change, 18 percent support it, and 11 percent are undecided. But some Native American leaders have questions the validity of such studies.
Last year, the NCAI called for the end of Native American stereotypes and mascots in professional and recreational sports, and aired an ad prior to this year's Super Bowl that said the term "Redskins" is was "the one thing Native Americans do not call themselves." In addition to the Redskins, other professional teams using Native American names and imagery include the Kansas City Chiefs (football), the Atlanta Braves (baseball), and the Cleveland Indians (baseball), among others.
Knights Templar and Vigilante Groups Clash in Apatzingan, Michoacán: Vigilante self-defense groups drove into the town of Apatzingan, Michoacán on Saturday, bolstered by support from local police and army personnel. The town, previously a command center for the Knights Templar drug cartel, has been caught in a bloody battle since the self-defense groups launched an offensive against the cartel in early January. The Knights Templar cartel says that the self-defense groups are actually a proxy for the rival New Generation cartel from neighboring Jalisco, an accusation that the self-defense forces deny. Meanwhile, the Mexican government has granted the self-defense groups legal status by defining them as “rural defense corps.”
Venezuelan Newspapers Say They May Close Due to Currency Controls: Venezuelan newspapers say they may have to shut down due to a paper shortage caused by paper importers’ inability to obtain dollars due to strict government controls. Newspaper employees and media advocates have been staging protests outside the Venezuelan currency-exchange board, warning that the scarcity of newsprint will silence opposition voices and curtail free speech. The Venezuelan advocacy group Espacio Público said that 12 newspapers have recently closed and another 15 may follow suit. The government has declined to comment on the paper shortage. Venezuela imports most of its newsprint from Canada.
Manaus Stadium Workers Threaten Strike After Another Death: After a third construction-related death at Amazonia Arena in Manaus, Brazil on Friday, workers are threatening to go on strike. A 55 year-old man died in an accident while disassembling a crane for the stadium’s roof. Two other workers have died at the stadium in less than a year. Amazonia Arena is scheduled to host four matches for this year’s World Cup, and was expected to be inaugurated this month.
Public Awaits Decision on Keystone Pipeline: A week after the U.S. State Department released its environmental impact assessment of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, spurring a wave a protests from environmental activists, President Obama is expected to make a decision on whether or not to approve the pipeline in the coming days. The State Department report claimed that the pipeline, which would cross through six U.S. states, would have a somewhat larger carbon footprint than other sources of oil but would not likely affect the rate at which oil from Canada’s tar sands is extracted. Obama has said that he would approve the pipeline as long as it did not “significantly exacerbate” climate change.
Nine People Die in Guatemala Massacre: Armed gunmen killed nine people in Petén, Guatemala on Saturday, killing seven adults, a 5-year-old girl, and a 3-month-old baby. Guatemalan Security Minister Mauricio López said that the shooting appeared to be related to drug trafficking in the area, but no arrests have yet been made. Petén shares a border with Mexico and organized crime has been a major problem. Meanwhile, Guatemala’s attorney general, Claudia Paz y Paz, will be forced to step down early from her four-year term in May, due to a ruling last week by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court that upheld a claim that her term began in May 2010, when her predecessor was appointed, rather than in December 2010. Paz y Paz has been recognized for her prosecution of organized crime and retired military officers accused of human rights abuses.
Yesterday, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) effectively squashed the possibility of passing comprehensive immigration reform legislation this year, blaming President Barack Obama for stalled negotiations. During a midday news conference on Capitol Hill, Boehner said “There’s widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws,” and that reform has a slim chance of passing until that perception among House Republicans changes.
The announcement comes a week after the GOP released a statement of principles for immigration policy—including a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants—which were seen by some as a positive step toward making a deal on reform. However, facing increasing conservative opposition to pursuing reform in a midterm election year, Boehner has decided to back down for now. Representative Raúl Labrador (R-ID) went so far as to say that Boehner’s earlier support of reform legislation should cost him his speakership.
The White House defended President Obama’s record of enforcing border security and other immigration laws, having already deported nearly 2 million immigrants. And while the chances for comprehensive reform appear bleak, House Republicans like Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and others are still working on piecemeal legislation to address Dreamers, visas for low-skilled workers, and increase security enforcement.
The future of the expansion work on the Panama Canal was put into question on Wednesday over cost disputes between the construction company and the canal’s authority.
Negotiations between the Spanish based construction company Sacyr and the Panama Canal Authority over who should foot the bill for the $1.6 billion additional, unforeseen costs unraveled, leaving construction and 10,000 jobs in limbo. The project, originally scheduled to be completed in June of 2015, has already cost an estimated $5.2 billion and is in jeopardy of being set back several years due to cost conflicts.
While Manuel Manrique, the president of Sacyr, has denied that there has been a complete halt in construction, he has acknowledged possible delays associated with the controversy. “Without an immediate solution, we face years of disputes in national and international tribunals” he said. Jorge Quijano, the Canal Administrator, has also spoken with other companies, though he is willing to continue talks with Sacry. Many doubt that the Canal construction would be handed over to a new company given that it is already 70 percent complete.
First inaugurated in 1914, the Canal celebrates its one-hundreth anniversary this year. The widening of the Canal, in the works since 2009, would allow larger ships to pass through the waterway, carrying up to 12,000 containers—over twice the currently allowed 5,000 containers.
Two top Colombian intelligence officers were dismissed on Tuesday after allegations that the Colombian military was spying on government peace negotiators.
General Mauricio Zúñiga, chief of army intelligence, and General Jorge Andres Zuluaga, director of the army’s national intelligence center, were dismissed from their positions after an investigation by the Colombian newsmagazine Semana found an undercover intelligence-gathering site set up by an army team in Bogotá. According to the investigation, the army recruited hackers to break into the email accounts and text messages of government officials associated with the peace talks in Havana.
Army General Juan Pablo Rodríguez said in an interview that the military knew about the site, which was one of their “many intelligence gathering activities.” However, Rodríguez said that the military never approved of spying on government officials.
President Juan Manuel Santos has ordered an in-depth investigation. He said that military spying on the country’s own citizens and officials is unacceptable, and questioned whether the incident is linked to plans to sabotage the peace negotiations.
This is not the first time that Colombia’s security forces have been linked to illegal spying and wiretapping. During the administration of former President Álvaro Uribe, the Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (Administrative Department of Security—DAS), the country’s main intelligence service, faced allegations of illegally wiretapping public figures and collaborating with paramilitary groups. After Santos’ election, the DAS was dismantled and several of its agents were prosecuted.
Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro García Padilla plans to present Puerto Rico’s balanced budget plan a year early in response to the Switzerland-based financial services company UBS AG’s credit downgrade forecast.
“Given the myriad obstacles facing Puerto Rico, we believe that at least one rating agency will [downgrade Puerto Rico’s general-obligation bonds] within the next 30 days,” analysts Thomas McLoughlin and Kristin Stephens wrote in a report released last week.
The downgrade to junk status would limit demand for the commonwealth’s debt, as it would be below investment grade.
Meanwhile, the balanced budget plan, which the governor had pledged for 2016, will go into effect for the 2014-2015 fiscal year. The current administration has pledged to change pensions and raise taxes to help close the budget gaps. Details of the changes have not been released.
The announcement is expected to generate negative backlash from Puerto Ricans, who have seen the cost of commodities soar while nearly half the population lives under the poverty line. The passage of pension cuts in January led to a two-day teacher’s strike and a lawsuit filed by the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (Teacher’s Association of Puerto Rico) in Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court.
Governor García Padilla is expected to introduce the detailed budget in the coming weeks.
Likely top stories this week: presidential candidates in Costa Rica and El Salvador will advance to runoff elections; the dispute over the Chile-Peru border continues; Colombia brings charges against the U.S.-based coal company Drummond; heavy rains in Uruguay lead to flood warnings in most of the country.
Costa Rican Presidential Elections: Costan Rican voters on Sunday sent former San José Mayor Johnny Araya of the Partido de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Party) and Partido de Acción Ciudadana (Citizen Action Party) candidate Luis Guillermo Solís to a runoff election that will decide who becomes the country’s next president. With 82 percent of the vote counted, Solís had received 30.9 percent of the vote, while Araya received 29.6 percent. The two candidates will face each other again on April 6.
El Salvador Presidential Elections: Salvadorans will vote in a March 9 runoff election for president after neither Salvador Sánchez Cerén, an ex-guerrilla from the Frente Farabuno Martí para la Liberación Nacional (Farabuno Martí National Liberation Front—FMLN) and Normán Quijano, from the Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (National Republican Alliance—Arena) won a majority of the vote in Sunday’s election. With 81 percent of the vote counted, Sánchez Cerén narrowly missed a first round victory, capturing 49 percent of the vote. This will be the first time since 1994 that El Salvador will vote for its president in a runoff election.
Peru-Chile Border Ruling: A week after the International Court of Justice in The Hague redrew the maritime border between Peru and Chile in a historic ruling that largely favored Peru, the two countries are continuing to debate the ownership of a small portion of land known as the triángulo terrestre (land triangle). According to Chile, the 3.7-hectare triangle of land is Chilean because the ICJ ruling determined that the maritime border begins at a landmark known as “Hito 1” and not at a point further south called “Punto Condordia.” Meanwhile, the Peruvian government maintains that the land is Peruvian, adding that the ICJ ruling only refers to the maritime border between the two countries, and not to land.
Colombia Plans to Sue U.S. Coal Company Drummond: Colombian Chief Prosecutor Eduardo Montealegre said Friday that the country will bring charges against Drummond, an Alabama-based coal company, after crane operators dumped tons of coal into the sea off Colombia’s Caribbean coast in January 2013. The crane operators were attempting to rescue a sinking barge. Drummond has been ordered to pay a $3.5 million fine and Montealegre said that six of the company’s employees will face charges. Colombia has since banned the use of cranes and barges in all its ports to prevent spillage and pollution.
Flooding in Uruguay: The Uruguayan government declared a flood warning in 13 of the country’s 19 departments on Sunday night after heavy rainfall over the weekend led to the evacuation of more than 150 people from their homes. The rains affected a large portion of the country and may jeopardize the country’s agricultural production this year.
Republican leaders in the House of Representatives released a long-awaited list of standards on immigration reform legislation on Thursday. The announcement comes seven months after the Senate approved its own comprehensive bill that stalled in the House.
The GOP standards include a pathway to citizenship for young people brought to the U.S. as children, and legal status for the remaining 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the country. Like the Senate bill, the Republican standards also support changes to the visa system, increased border security and create a biometric system to track who is entering or exiting the United States.
"I believe these standards represent a fair, principled way for us to solve this issue, beginning with securing our borders and enforcing our laws," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said. Even with the standards, however, it remains to be seen whether comprehensive immigration reform—a priority for President Barack Obama—will become law this year.
The thirty-three countries that make up the Latin America and Caribbean Economic Community (CELAC), wrapped up their second summit by declaring the region a “zone of peace,” on Wednesday. Heads of state including Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico, Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, and recently elected Michelle Bachelet of Chile signed an accord vowing to resolve conflicts respectfully and peacefully.
According to the summit declaration, the meeting provides an opportunity for coordination within the region and emphasizes the need for pluralistic and respectful cooperation. This year’s summit highlighted issues of crime, economic hardship and inequality in the region, the potential economic benefit of free trade, and support for Argentina’s claims over the Falkland Islands.
The summit culminated with a commitment to non-intervention, cooperation and respect of "the inalienable right of every state to choose its political, economic, social, and cultural system, as an essential condition to guarantee peaceful co-existence among nations," read Cuban President Raul Castro, outgoing CELAC president.
CELAC was created in 2011 as an alternative to the Organization of American States, which has excluded Cuba since 1962. Costa Rica will assume the CELAC’s rotating presidency at the end of the summit.
The Mexican government announced a temporary agreement on Monday that will incorporate vigilante groups in the state of Michoacán into national law enforcement.
Over the past year, civilian groups have taken arms to combat the violent Knights Templar drug cartel (Caballeros Templarios) based out of Apatzingan, Michoacán. The government moved to integrate the local groups into the Rural Defense Corps, a preexisting organization that is controlled by the military, after failing to disarm vigilantes in the region earlier this month.
The plan comes after the leader of the Knights Templar, Dionisio Loya Plancarte, was captured on Monday. Some see the move to combine state forces with the vigilantes as a major development in the fight against drug cartel related violence. “This is the start point of the new dynamic in which we are going to work together, the state and federal governments, with civil society,” said Alfredo Castillo, the federal government envoy to Michoacán.
In a landmark case, judges at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) redrew the maritime border between Peru and Chile yesterday, granting Peru parts of the Pacific Ocean that had formerly been considered Chilean territory. However, the United Nations’ highest court’s ruling on the maritime dispute left the rich, coastal fishing grounds in Chile’s possession. Both countries had previously pledged to respect the ICJ’s ruling.
Peru had asked the ICJ to rule on the maritime border in 2008, despite arguments by Chile that the border was legally set by treaties in 1952 and 1954. The ruling found a compromise between the two sides by maintaining “the course of the maritime boundary between the parties without determining the precise geographical coordinates," Judge Peter Tomka said.
While the lucrative anchovy fishing grounds remain in Chile’s possession, the ruling was celebrated in Peru as an issue of national pride—Peru and Bolivia lost territory to Chile during the War of the Pacific from 1879 to 1893.With the new nautical border, Peru gained access to shark and mackerel fishing grounds.
Bolivia filed its own lawsuit against Chile stemming from territorial losses from the War of the Pacific in the ICJ last April.
Likely top stories this week: the International Court of Justice will rule on the Chile-Peru Maritime border; the CELAC Summit begins on Tuesday in Havana, Cuba; Argentina begins easing restrictions on purchasing US dollars; protesters of the World Cup clash with police in Sao Paulo; Belize and Guatemala sign an agreement at the OAS.
International Court to Rule on Chile-Peru Maritime Dispute: The United Nations’ International Court of Justice in The Hague is due to make a decision today on Peru and Chile’s disputed maritime border. The ruling will decide which country owns 38,000 square kilometers (14,670 square miles) of ocean, which includes one of the world’s richest fishing grounds with an annual catch of $200 million. If Peru wins the dispute, some 2,000 Chilean fishermen fear they could lose their jobs. Presidents of both countries have each said they will adhere to whatever decision the court makes.
CELAC Summit Begins in Havana: World leaders from around the hemisphere are traveling to Havana, Cuba this week for the two-day Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) summit, which begins tomorrow. Thirty-two heads of state will be attending the summit, including presidents Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina, Evo Morales of Bolivia and Raul Castro of Cuba, among others. Dozens of dissidents have been detained in a new “wave of political repression” ahead of the summit. Activist Guillermo Farinas has been kept under house arrest for three days, and as many as 100 members of the Ladies in White have been arrested to prevent them from attending a forum on human rights on Tuesday.
Argentina Lifts Restrictions on Purchasing U.S. Dollars: Argentina’s Economy Minister Alex Kicollof announced on Friday that it was relaxing restrictions on the purchase of U.S. dollars starting Monday. The decision came amid a 28 percent inflation rate and the sharpest slide in the value of the Argentina peso since the 2002 economic collapse. However, in an interview published by Pagina 12 on Sunday, Kicillof said that the lowering of the tax rate on credit card purchases made in U.S. dollars from 35 percent to 20 percent would not happen on Monday, with no indication of when the change will happen. It’s not clear whether the easing of restrictions will be enough to stabilize the country, given the already high inflation rate and the general lack of confidence in the government—from chronic blackouts, recent looting in the provinces, and President Kirchner’s recent absence—that has grown.
World Cup Protests in São Paulo Turn Violent: Protesters clashed with police this weekend in São Paulo, where thousands had taken to the street to protest the cost of the 2014 World Cup. More than 130 protesters were arrested, and one man is in critical condition after being shot by police for allegedly carrying an explosive in his backpack. The Anonymous Rio protest group organized the demonstrations using social media and called it “Operation Stop the World Cup”. Following the massive protests last year, Brazil has seen “rolezinhos”—flash mobs by young people from the favelas targeting affluent shopping malls —crop up across the country.
Belize and Guatemala Sign Bilateral Agreement: The foreign ministers of Belize and Guatemala met with Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General José Miguel Insulza over the weekend, and signed on to a “Road Map and Plan of Action” to deepen transnational cooperation. According to Insulza, the agreement will allow the two countries to “develop significant projects in the areas of the environment, security, labor, immigration, health or education, (which) helps people to get to know and value each other.” Through the agreement, both nations also pledged that they will adhere to the International Court of Justice’s ruling on the pending territorial dispute.
The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent federal privacy review board, has concluded that the National Security Agency (NSA)’s phone call record collection program is illegal and should be discontinued. The 238-page report published yesterday finds that the spying program “lacks viable foundation” under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, violates the First and Fourth Amendments and poses threats to privacy and civil liberties.
The report comes a week after President Barack Obama’s speech on limiting the reach of the NSA in order to protect civil liberties, during which he pledged to change how the NSA collects civilian telephone records in order to increase transparency on surveillance activities. The president also said he would alter the metadata gathering program, moving the bulk information out of government hands into a third party where privacy can be protected, but U.S. officials have expressed concern about the feasibility of achieving these changes.
The NSA’s surveillance tactics have also recently sparked debate about the impact on U.S. foreign relations, the topic of the Americas Quarterly Winter 2014 Hard Talk Forum. Responding to international criticism, President Obama proposed setting limits on the surveillance of foreign heads of state as part of the planned reform. Many Americans remain skeptical of government surveillance programs according a Pew Research Center/USA Today poll released Monday, with as many as 73 percent saying they don’t believe the proposed changes will make a significant difference.
The Argentine government adopted new legislation limiting online buying on Tuesday in an effort to defend domestic production.
The resolution, adopted by Argentina’s tax agency, the Administración Federal de Ingresos Públicos , and published in the Boletín Oficial, restricts Argentines to two tax-free purchases of up to $25 on foreign-based websites per year, with a 50 percent tax imposed on any additional amount spent.
Argentines will also no longer be able to have items purchased on foreign websites delivered directly to their residences, but will have to pick up their packages at a customs office. The new resolution changes the way the government gathers information on shipments, requiring the buyer to fill out paper work on their transaction before picking up their order. Prior to the resolution, increased online spending made it difficult for Argentine Customs to track online transactions, but with the newly imposed measures, the government expects easier application of the import tax.
While international online purchasing will have tax restrictions, national online spending will still be unlimited. With Argentine reserves at $30 billion—their lowest levels since 2006—and a 30 percent drop since last year, the resolution aims at decreasing dollars from leaving the country, which can occur when purchasing from foreign countries. According to Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich, Internet purchases in Argentina have doubled over the past year, and Argentines spent almost 30 million dollars during an organized Cyber Monday sale last month.
The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (International Federation of Association Football—FIFA) warned officials in the Brazilian city of Curitiba on Tuesday that it could be excluded as a host site of the 2014 World Cup if preparations remain behind schedule.
FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke said that renovation of the 43,000-capacity Arena da Baixada stadium is so far behind schedule that it represents an “emergency situation.” FIFA will decide on February 18 whether to keep Curitiba, the capital of Paraná state, as a host city. The Paraná state government and FIFA have pledged to invest an extra $17 million in the renovations to speed up progress.
Curitiba’s stadium is one of six venues in Brazil that missed FIFA’s December 31 deadline for completion and are still not tournament-ready. Arena da Baixada is scheduled to host its first World Cup match between Iran and Nigeria on June 16, as well as Spain vs. Australia, Honduras vs. Ecuador, and Algeria vs. Russia.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff defended the country’s preparedness for the World Cup earlier this month, saying via Twitter, “We love soccer, and that’s why we’ll host this Cup with pride and make it the Cup of Cups.” President Rousseff was responding to an interview with FIFA President Sepp Blatter published by the Swiss newspaper 24 Heures, in which Blatter claimed that the South American nation failed to begin preparations for the mega-tournament early enough.