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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Brazil’s presidential elections lead to runoff: As predicted, Brazilians will return to the polls on October 26 to vote for president in a second round of elections—but in a last-minute surprise, challenger Aécio Neves of the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (Brazilian Social Democracy Party—PSDB) will face Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. In Sunday’s first-round election, Rousseff earned 41.5 percent of the first-round votes, while Neves won 33.7 percent and Marina Silva of the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (Brazilian Socialist Party—PSB)—widely thought to be Rousseff’s main challenger—captured only 21.3 percent of the vote. Since Rousseff failed to capture more than 50 percent of the vote, she and Neves will continue to campaign, as will gubernatorial candidates in the states of Rio Grande do Sul, Ceará, and Rio Grande do Norte. Former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who supports Neves, said Sunday that he hoped Silva would throw her support behind Neves to unseat Rousseff.
U.S. Supreme Court rejects appeals of gay marriage: In a surprising judicial decision on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected appeals of lower court decisions reversing same-sex marriage bans in five states—Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. As a result of the decision, the number of U.S. states permitting same-sex marriage increases to 24, plus the District of Columbia. The court’s decision will likely also permit same-sex couples to marry in Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wyoming, where appeals courts have already struck down the states’ same-sex marriage bans. Although the U.S. Supreme Court could still hear future cases on same-sex marriage, its decision today sends a strong message to lower court judges that “rulings striking down marriage bans are consistent with the U.S. Constitution.”
Domestic renewable energy market opens in Chile: This week, new legislation in Chile that opens up the country’sdomestic renewable energy market to Chilean homeowners is now in effect. In late September, the Chilean Controller approved regulatory language to implement Law 20.571, which provides incentives for Chilean homeowners to install renewable energy sources and will allow “residential generators” in Chile to connect their energy systems to the grid and receive payments for surplus electricity. Last month, Chile also became the first South American country to tax carbon dioxide emissions in an attempt to encourage cleaner sources of energy and cut greenhouse gas emissions. Presently, about 80 percent of Chile’s energy is generated by fossil fuels.
Missing Mexican college students may be buried in mass graves: Mexican authorities have discovered six mass graves in Iguala, Mexico that may contain the bodies of dozens of college students who were training to be teachers and who went missing last week after deadly protests in Guerrero state. While 15 of the missing students were later located alive, another 43 students are still missing. So far, at least 28 bodies have been recovered from the mass graves, but Guerrero state Health Minister Lázaro Mazón said it could take weeks before the remains are identified. Meanwhile, two hitmen interrogated by authorities admitted that they killed 17 students on orders from a leader of the Guerreros Unidos gang shortly after the protests.
Peruvian elections marred by violence and corruption: Sunday’s municipal and regional elections in Peru have highlighted political corruption and drug violence in the Andean nation, where at least seven gubernatorial candidates are currently under investigation for drug trafficking or related crimes. The Friday before the elections, Shining Path rebels ambushed a four-vehicle police convoy, killing two and wounding five officers tasked with protecting election materials in the Apurimac and Ene River Valley in Ayacucho, where over half of Peru’s cocaine is produced. Before the election, two mayoral candidates from coca-growing towns were also assassinated. According to independent watchdog group Transparencia, 1,395 of the 126,000 candidates running in Sunday’s elections were convicted of a crime.
New mining district to be created in Catamarca: The government of Catamarca province in Argentina will create a provincial mining district to help advance two mining projects in the region—the Agua Rica and Cerro Atajo projects. Catamarca's government has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Canada-based Yamana Gold, which has a stake in both mining projects. The agreement would establish a working relationship between Yamana and the government, create a combined entity that includes the Agua Rica and Cerro Atajo projects, and would enable the state-owned provincial mining company CAMYEN to own a maximum 5 percent stake. Yamana is considering devloping the Agua Rica project in conjunction with others, though the project is currently 100 percent owned by Yamana.
Germán Goyeneche Ortega—an alleged financial operator for the Beltrán Leyva cartel—may be linked to a number of local and national politicians in Mexico, according to reports in the Mexican news media. Since Goyeneche’s arrest on Tuesday with cartel leader Héctor Beltrán Leyva, news reports have surfaced linking Goyeneche to members of the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN) and the Partido Verde Ecologista de México (Ecologist Green Party of Mexico—PVEM)—including the current and former municipal presidents of San Miguel de Allende and two members of the federal Chamber of Deputies.
Goyeneche was a member of the PVEM and reportedly was close to the party’s secretary general and federal deputy from Querétaro, Ricardo Astudillo. Astudillo recommended Goyeneche for the presidency of the Querétaro chapter of the Parlamento Ciudadano de México (Citizen's Parliament of Mexico—Pacime), a position Goyeneche ultimately received. According to the PVEM’s leader in the Chamber of Deputies, Arturo Escobar, Goyeneche’s political rights within the party have been suspended.
In addition his links to the PVEM, Goyeneche is alleged to have ties to prominent politicans in the PAN. On Monday, two days before his arrest, Goyeneche—who had invested in a real estate development in San Miguel de Allende—attended a pre-campaign event for federal Deputy Ricardo Villareal García of the PAN. La Jornada has reported that Villareal admitted to knowing Goyeneche in a phone interview with its reporters yesterday. “San Miguel is a very small municipality and when someone comes and invests a lot of money, everyone knows about it,” Villareal said. “I have no reason to deny knowing him, but I have no relationship to him, none.”
If a closer relationship between the panista and Goyeneche is confirmed, it would represent yet another blow in what has been a difficult summer for the party that broke Mexico’s history of single-party rule—and for the Villareal clan. Earlier this year, Villareal’s brother, Luis Alberto Villareal, was replaced as party leader in the Chamber of Deputies after a video emerged that showed him dancing with young women described as “table dancers.”
An election poll released on Wednesday—conducted by Ipsos, a France-based global market research company—showed that Bolivian President Evo Morales is on course to be elected to a third term on October 12. Morales is predicted to receive 59 percent of the vote—over 40 points more than his closest opponent, Samuel Doria Medina, a business man representing Unidad Demócrata (Democratic Unity—UD) party, who followed with 13 percent. Of the remaining three candidates vying for the office, Jorge Quiroga of the Partido Demócrata Cristiano (Democratic Christian Party—PDC) is predicted to receive 8 percent of the vote, Juan del Granado, leader of the Movimiento Sin Miedo (Movement without Fear—MSM) to receive 3 percent and Fernando Vargas of the Partido Verde de Bolivia (Bolivian Green Party—PVB) to receive 1 percent, according to the poll.
Despite the predicted victory, opposition candidates have accused the election process of being highly fraudulent—with the Supreme Electoral Tribunal being biased in favor of the incumbent, and the government favoring Morales propaganda and television air time over the opposition. Moreover, Doria Medina accused Bolivian polls of being biased and having a margin of error of over 30 percent. Morales would need to win at least 50 percent of the vote, or 40 percent of the vote if the margin is at least 10 points above his closest opponent.
The survey was conducted between September 8 and 23, interviewing 3,000 men and women 18 years or older across the nine departments of the country. The margin of error was +/- 1.79.
Samuel Santos López, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nicaragua, called for a reform of the United Nations system, and specifically of the Security Council, in his address during the last session of the UN General Assembly yesterday. The foreign minister joined several other regional leaders who called for reform of the UN’s most influential body.
In his address, Santos asked the Council to take into account the “voices and votes of developing countries in the categories of permanent and non-permanent members.” While many leaders of developing countries believe that the time is right to add new permanent members to the Council, obstacles to the inclusion of these countries remain. Some have pointed to competing regional interests—such as Brazil and Mexico, and India and Pakistan—as well as Brazil and India’s voting records on human rights and democracy, as impediments to moving forward with reform.
The Security Council currently has 15 seats with five permanent members—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.—that have veto power. There are also 10 rotating members—currently Argentina, Australia, Chad, Chile, Jordan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Nigeria, Rwanda, and South Korea—without veto power.
At a hearing yesterday, U.S. Federal Judge Thomas Griesa decided to hold Argentina in civil contempt of court, asserting that the country’s recent efforts to circumvent his ruling on debt repayment are illegal. Argentina’s Congress passed a law on September 11 that would replace Bank of New York Mellon Corp. as a bond trustee with a branch of Banco de la Nación. This would allow the country to pay the bondholders that agreed to restructuring in 2005 and 2010 in country, while avoiding payment to creditors that rejected restructuring.
Griesa’s ruling came the same day that the Kirchner Administration sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry requesting that the U.S. avoid holding Argentina in contempt and asking for support against the federal judge. After yesterday’s decision, Argentine Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman released a statement claiming that Griesa’s decision was a “violation of international law,” and called for the U.S. to allow the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to preside over the case. The Argentine government filed a suit at the ICJ in August, claiming that the New York court ruling violated their national sovereignty, but no action will be taken by the ICJ until the U.S. agrees to its jurisdiction in the case.
Argentina is scheduled to make a $200 million deposit of an interest payment on restructured debt today in the Banco de la Nación Fideicomiso, and a Central Bank source has indicated that the deposit will be made in spite of the ruling. Timerman affirmed yesterday that the country will continue to fight the blatant violation of Argentina’s autonomy as a nation.
Griesa previously warned Argentina about the potential ramifications of refusing to pay the holdout creditors the approximately $1.5 billion owed to them. However, when NML Capital Ltd. lawyer Robert Cohen called for a daily $50,000 penalty until Argentina pays in full, Griesa declined and stated that potential penalties will be considered at a later, as yet unspecified date.
This week’s likely top stories: Canadian businessman Cy Tokmakjian is sentenced to 15 years in Cuba; Mexico searches for 58 missing students; Venezuela’s bolivar hits a new low; Peru arrests two suspects in the murder of Indigenous activists; Colombian peace negotiator Humberto de la Calle says his e-mail was hacked.
Canadian executive jailed in Cuba: A Cuban court sentenced the president of the Ontario-based Tokmakjian Group, Cy Tokmakjian, to 15 years in jail for bribery, and sentenced two other Tokmakjian Group employees to eight and 12 years in prison. Company lawyers were notified of the sentences on Friday. Tokmakjian, who denies the charges against him, was detained in 2011 as part of an anti-corruption investigation carried out by the Cuban government. The court has also seized the assets of The Tokmakjian Group, which sold transportation, mining and construction equipment to Cuba. The company is now suing Cuba for $200 million through the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris and Canada’s Ontario Superior Court.
Mexican students go missing after protest: Mexican authorities are searching for 58 students from the Ayotzinapa teacher training college who went missing in Guerrero state late last Friday. The students were protesting discriminatory hiring practices for teachers when a group of armed assailants accompanying the police shot at the protesters, resulting in the deaths of at least six people, including two students. The students apparently went missing in the aftermath of the shootings, and authorities said they may have fled into the surrounding hills. The Mexican prosecutor’s office has arrested 22 policemen thought to be involved in the violence, and Guerrero’s public security ministry is searching for the students. Guerrero’s state government has said that the students are not believed to be in the custody of the municipal, state, or federal government, nor under the custody of the army.
Venezuelan bolivar hits a new low: The Venezuelan bolivar’s value on the black market has sunk to a new low of 100 bolivares to the U.S. dollar, according to dolartoday.com, a website that tracks the currency on Venezuela’s “parallel” currency market. Venezuela’s currency control system has three tiers, with the best exchange rate of 6.3 bolivares to the dollar available only for critical goods like medical supplies and important food staples. As of Friday, the dollar is 16 times more expensive on the black market than it is on Venezuela’s official currency market. At this time last year, the dollar was worth 41 bolivares on the black market.
Suspects arrested for murder of Indigenous activists in Peru: Peruvian authorities have arrested two suspects in the murder of four Asháninka tribal leaders and environmental activists who fought illegal logging on their land. The leaders—Edwin Chota, Leoncio Quintisima, Francisco Pinedo, and Jorge Ríos—were shot and killed earlier this month in a remote part of the Amazon jungle near the Brazilian border, despite asking both the Peruvian and Brazilian governments for protection. According to Peruvian prosecutor Eder Farfan, the two suspects arrested are loggers; more arrests are expected as the investigation continues.
Colombian peace negotiators hacked again: Colombian government negotiator Humberto de la Calle said on Saturday that his e-mail and cellphone had been hacked by people looking to sabotage Colombian peace negotiations with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC). The negotiators had just released copies of three preliminary agreements made during the peace talks in Havana to make the discussions more transparent. Earlier this year, the Colombian media revealed that a secret military intelligence unit was also spying on Colombian government negotiators in Havana and intercepting their e-mails.
In a report released on Thursday, Amnesty International stated that El Salvador’s total ban on abortion is killing women and infringing upon human rights progress. Enacted in 1998, the law makes any form of abortion illegal, even in cases of rape, incest, when the mother’s life is in danger, or when the fetus has serious defects.
The report was compiled after nearly two years of infield research and interviews with women and children who have been affected by the law, as well as with health care professionals and social workers. It details the effects of the abortion ban, including the number of women that have died as a result, and misappropriated charges of abortion in cases of miscarriages.
According to the report, El Salvador has a lethal combination of high rates of teen pregnancy and clandestine abortions, lack of maternal education, and a paternalistic society that discriminates against women and girls. In fact, with 23 percent of teenage girls getting pregnant at least once between the ages of 15-19, El Salvador has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the region and suicide is the cause of death for over half (57 percent) of pregnant teenage girls.
Despite over 74 percent of Salvadorans in favor of selective abortion, those women and girls found guilty of abortion face two to eight years in prison, and those accused of aggravated homicide as a result of an abortion can face up to 50 years. “The ban on abortion reflects the low position of women in society and discrimination and violence against women in El Salvador,” said Erika Guevara, the Americas director at Amnesty International.
Four other Latin American countries currently have a full ban on abortion, including Chile, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic.
In his first address to the UN General Assembly, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced yesterday that Mexico is prepared to participate in UN Peacekeeping Missions. He noted that Mexico’s collaboration would be limited to “humanitarian work,” nevertheless qualifying the announcement as “a historic step in [Mexico’s] commitment to the UN.” According to the Mexican news site Animal Político, such collaborations could involve deploying military or civilian personnel. In a separate announcement, the Mexican Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores (Ministry of Foreign Affairs—SRE) said the country will step into this new role “gradually.”
The announcement marks the clearest reversal so far of Mexico’s decades old policy of non-intervention in foreign matters. The last time the country participated in a UN Peacekeeping mission was in Kashmir in 1949. Since then, Mexican forces have been deployed abroad to aid in humanitarian crises, such as after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 or the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. However, until now, the idea of Mexicans donning the UN’s blue helmets has been practically taboo.
In an editorial in El Universal that coincided with Peña Nieto’s announcement, the former Mexican ambassador to the U.S., Arturo Sarukhan called explicitly for Mexico's participation in UN peacekeeping missions. Framing the issue in terms of Mexico’s role as an emerging world leader, he wrote, “we cannot chart the future of our foreign policy out of a foreign policy from the past.” Meanwhile, the president of the Comisión de Derechos Humanos del Senado (Senate Human Rights Commission), Senator Angélica de la Peña, warned that, “a decision such as this cannot be taken unilaterally, and should obligate us to promote a public discussion about its ramifications vis-à-vis our pacifist tradition and vocation.” The senator also noted that any future participation in a UN Peacekeeping mission would require the Senate’s approval.
Iván Márquez, the chief negotiator for the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC), accused Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ administration of negligence on Tuesday for refusing to agree to a bilateral ceasefire. The Santos administration maintains that doing so would provide the FARC with an opportunity to take advantage of the ceasefire to build up their forces, as the FARC has done in the past.
While the peace negotiations have faced criticism, most notably from former President Álvaro Uribe, the Colombian government and the rebels have reached several partial agreements on three points of their agenda—the political participation of the FARC after disarmament, eliminating illicit drug production and implementing agrarian reform. However, due to the lack of a ceasefire, Colombian military forces have continued to clash with the FARC in the Colombian countryside.
Throughout the peace process, which began in Oslo in November 2012 and has since moved to Havana, the FARC has declared four unilateral ceasefires. Victims of both sides of the conflict called for a bilateral ceasefire earlier this month.
Brazilian Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira stated yesterday that Brazil will not sign a global anti-deforestation initiative that will be announced at the United Nations Climate Summit today. Teixeira affirmed that the UN failed to confer with Brazil on the matter and instead simply gave the country a copy of the document and requested that they endorse it without the possibility of modifications.
Charles McNeill, a UN Development Program adviser on environmental policy, refuted the claim, stating that the UN attempted to contact Brazilian government officials without success. McNeill highlighted Brazil’s importance for any anti-deforestation plan, given its significant role in defending and maintaining the Amazon rainforest, and noted that they will continue to attempt to garner the support of Brazil and other countries until the December 2015 climate change negotiations in Paris.
In an interview, Teixeira differentiated between legal and illegal deforestation and asserted that “our national policy is we want to stop illegal deforestation.” The country’s main concern with the pending UN initiative is that it will limit legal, controlled deforestation, thus harming the logging industry. The environment minister noted that Brazil is already working unilaterally to reduce deforestation to 3,900 square kilometers (963,711 acres) per year by 2020, compared to 5,843 square kilometers (1,443,837 acres) recorded between August 2012 to June 2013.
Various companies, countries and environmental advocacy groups are expected to pledge support for the anti-deforestation proposal today.
This week’s likely top stories: World leaders gather for the UN General Assembly; Leopoldo López’ trial resumes in Venezuela; U.S. to approve aid to El Salvador; 8 killed in Guatemala conflict over cement plant; Clorox discontinues operations in Venezuela.
World leaders converge in New York; thousands march for action on climate change: Some 140 heads of state have arrived in New York City to participate in the UN General Assembly at United Nations headquarters, where the General Debate opens on Wednesday, September 24. Along with U.S. President Barack Obama, the presidents of Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic and Honduras are expected to speak on Wednesday, followed by more speeches from Latin American leaders throughout the week. Meanwhile, this Sunday, over 300,000 demonstrators marched through Manhattan to call for international leaders to take action regarding climate change. The march came ahead of Tuesday’s 2014 UN Climate Summit, where world leaders will be discussing ways to reduce emissions, promote sustainable agricultural practices, and develop clean energy, among other goals, and large companies will be making pledges to reduce their carbon footprint. This week’s summit comes ahead of two global summits on climate change in Peru and France—the COP20 conference in Lima in December, and the COP21 conference in Paris in 2015.
Leopoldo López goes to trial: The trial of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López will resume today over López’ role in the national protests that rocked Venezuela this spring. López has been imprisoned for seven months on charges that he had incited violent protests in February, including charges of criminal association and arson. López and his family have maintained his innocence, and human rights groups have said that López and other Venezuelan political prisoners should be released. Until now, López’ defense team has not been allowed to produce evidence or witnesses to support his case. López could face more than 13 years in prison if he is found guilty.
U.S. will provide $277 in aid to El Salvador: The U.S. is expected to sign off on a $277 million economic aid package for El Salvador now that the U.S. Treasury Department has confirmed that it will not hold up the funds due to its concerns about money laundering. El Salvador is currently in the process of reforming its standards to police money laundering and corruption more effectively, recently passing a bill to report on the financial transactions of powerful individuals and their families. $101 million of the U.S. aid package has been allocated to provide job training for young Salvadorans who might otherwise leave the country and migrate to the United States.
Clash over cement factory in Guatemala kills 8: At least eight people were killed and dozens injured in a clash late Friday between community members in the town of Los Pajoques, about 25 miles from Guatemala City. The chain of violent events is one in a series of conflicts surrounding a cement plant and highway that have been under construction in the town of San Juan Sacatepéquez since July 2013, and that many community members oppose due to environmental concerns. Cementos Progreso, which owns the plant, said that its employees and the families that have sold their land have been harassed by the plant’s opponents. Meanwhile, protesters who have opposed the project since 2007 say that they have received threats from people they believe are affiliated with the project.
Clorox to leave Venezuela: Clorox Company announced today that it will immediately discontinue its operations in Venezuela due to hyperinflation, supply shortages and price freezes. The company is seeking to sell its assets, but the move will cost Clorox $65 million. The household products company said that the economic situation in Venezuela forced Clorox to sell products at a loss, and the company could not break even, despite price increases approved earlier this year by the Venezuelan government. A number of other U.S. companies, including Exxon Mobil and American Airlines, have either left Venezuela entirely or drastically cut their operations in the country.
Chilean police arrested three people early yesterday morning in connection to a bomb attack carried out in a Santiago metro station last week. In a statement made after the arrest, Southern Metropolitan Regional Attorney Raúl Guzmán, who is leading the prosecution, said, “We hope that they will be sentenced for these extremely serious acts.” The attack injured 14 and elicited a strong response from the Chilean government, which declared the bombing a “terrorist act” and vowed to charge suspects under the country’s Anti-Terrorist Law.
Guzmán has claimed that authorities have scientific evidence linking the suspects to the bombing. Nevertheless, the authorities have not ruled out that more people may have been involved in the attacks. “We are carrying out an investigation and will follow all leads in order to determine whether there are others who are responsible for these acts,” Guzmán said.
Authorities have not released the suspects’ identities. However, Interior and Security Minister Rodrigo Peñailillo indicated that two men and a woman had been detained. According to Attorney General Sabas Chahuán, they are members of an “enclosed anarchist cell.” Only one of the suspects is believed to have carried out the attack, while the other two are being held as accomplices. The government alleges that the suspects are also connected to another Santiago subway bombing carried out in July. That attack did not cause any injuries.
The Chilean branch of a Greece-based anarchist organization known as Synomosía Pyrínon Tis Fotiás (Conspiracy of Cells of Fire or Conspiración de células del fuego—CCF) has allegedly claimed responsibility for both the July and September bombings. In a statement published online, the group attempted to deflect responsibility for the attack’s casualties onto the police, claiming that the group alerted authorities about the bomb ten minutes before it detonated. The communiqué goes on to state that the CCF did not intend to injure “consumers and/or workers” but rather sought to target “power’s structures, property, and thugs.”
Colombian lawmakers accused former President Álvaro Uribe of links to right-wing paramilitary groups during a polemic Senate debate on Wednesday. Senator Ivan Cepeda led the questioning of Uribe during a 90-minute presentation in which he introduced documents supporting the former president’s alleged ties to paramilitary groups and drug cartels, including the Medellin Cartel financier Luis Carlos Molina Yepes. Cepeda also played an audio clip allegedly of Uribe congratulating Salvatore Mancuso—then-second in command of the paramilitary group Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia—AUC)—on successfully defeating guerrilla groups in the Córdoba department.
“Colombia is at a crossroads between perpetuating war, hate and violence or opening the difficult path to reconciliation and peace. Knowing the truth is key for the political process our country is undergoing,” said Cepeda. Uribe, who served as president from 2002 to 2010, was reelected to the Senate in 2014, has long been accused of associations with paramilitary groups, but rebuffed Cepeda’s accusations and eventually left the room in protest. The former president in turn accused Cepeda of “inciting violence” and Senator Jimmy Chamorro of dealing with drug traffickers.
Colombian newspapers live streamed the debate, which was also broadcast on live television. Tweets with hashtags like #DebateParamilitarismo #EstoyConUribe, #UribeCobarde and #SeRetiraComoUribe flooded Twitter throughout the presentations. The debate comes in the midst of President Juan Manuel Santos’ administration’s ongoing peace talks with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC), taking place in Havana, Cuba.
Stay tuned for Americas Quarterly’s upcoming Fall 2014 issue, which will take in in-depth look at the current peace talks and ongoing conflict between the Colombian government and paramilitary groups.
Latin America has set a record in the developing world for reducing food insecurity, achieving a 9 percent drop in hunger in the last 24 years. The UN announced on Tuesday that hunger in the region fell from 14 percent of the population in 1990 to 5 percent in 2014. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) specifically commended Bolivia and Brazil for their hunger reduction programs, citing them as examples for other countries.
Brazil, in particular, celebrated being removed from the World Hunger Map as a result of increased spending on food security and social programs. The federal government increased social spending by 128 percent between 2000 and 2012, leading to a more than 80 percent decrease in the number of undernourished Brazilians. The Fome Cero (Zero Hunger) program has also led to poverty reduction, with poverty dropping from 24.3 percent to 8.4 percent between 2001 and 2012, and extreme poverty falling from 14 percent to 3.5 percent in the same period.
In the Andean region, the FAO labeled Bolivia and Ecuador exceptional cases for their investment in social programs that specifically target typically marginalized communities, such as the large Indigenous populations in both countries. By instituting programs across various sectors, Bolivia was able to reduce extreme poverty by 17.2 percent, and reduce overall poverty by 7.4 percent between 1994 and 2008.
While other development challenges such as crime and low economic growth exist, Latin America is on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal of halving the percentage of people living in extreme poverty by 2015.
Three Argentine medical professionals that participated in the clandestine delivery of babies born to female prisoners during the military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983 will be prosecuted for the first time this week. Doctors Norberto Bianco and Raúl Martín, obstetrician Luisa Arroche, as well as former dictator Reynaldo Bignone and retired military general Santiago Riveros will be tried by the Oral Federal Court No. 6 On Wednesday for their role in kidnapping nine babies that were allegedly delivered in the secret maternity ward of the Campo de Mayo Military Hospital between 1976 and 1978.
During the dictatorship, at least 17 pregnant dissident women were abducted and brought to the military hospital where births were often induced by cesarean section. The babies would then be taken from their mothers and adopted by families that supported the dictatorship, including police and military officers. Prior to this week’s trial, the court had concluded that the kidnapping of babies was a systematic terror tactic used by the military government. Thus far, five of the kidnapping victims were able to discover their true identities.
On Sunday, human rights lawyer Víctor Abramovich voiced his concern over delays in prosecuting crimes against humanity that took place during the dictatorship, accusing “certain sectors of the judiciary” and defense lawyers of blocking investigations in order to postpone trials for older defendants.
Over 30,000 citizens are estimated to have been disappeared or killed over the course of the dictatorship. In a 2012 trial, Reynaldo Bignone and Argentine dictator Jorge Videla were sentenced to 15 and 50 years in prison, respectively—though Videla died the following year—and nine others were also convicted for their role in kidnapping an estimated 500 children. Last May, the Attorney General Alejandra Magdalena Gils Carbó noted that there were 74 repressors that had been charged with crimes against humanity and were currently on the run.
This week’s likely top stories: Venezuela is expected to win a seat on the UN Security Council; Brazilian President Rousseff and Marina Silva are tied in a new poll; U.S. deportations are at their lowest level since 2007; Santander’s new chairwoman will maintain the bank's current strategy; Ecuadorian President Correa asks supporters to mobilize against anticipated protests.
Venezuela likely to earn seat on UN Security Council despite critics: As the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly opens in New York this week, Venezuela is poised to gain a long-awaited seat on the UN Security Council. At a meeting in July, Venezuela obtained unanimous regional support for its candidacy to represent Latin America. While the country still has to gain a two-thirds majority in a secret vote among all 193 UN member countries, there is no rival candidate in the region and Venezuela is likely to win. Critics of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro are concerned about his impact on the Security Council, given the current human rights allegations against his administration. When Venezuela tried to gain a seat in 2006, the U.S. successfully blocked the attempt, claiming that Venezuela would be a “disruptive” influence. U.S. President Barack Obama will preside over a UN Security Council summit the week of September 22.
President Rousseff and Marina Silva tied in recent poll: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her chief political challenger, Marina Silva, are now statistically tied in the polls as Brazil’s October 5 presidential elections approach, according to a poll released Friday by the Instituto Brasileiro de Opinião Pública e Estatística (Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics—Ibope). The poll indicates that in a run-off vote, Silva would receive 43 percent of the vote while Rousseff would take 42 percent—a much closer race than the previous nine-point gap that put Silva in the lead. In the likely event that no single candidate wins a majority of votes on October 5, a run-off election will take place on October 26.
U.S. Deportations at lowest level since 2007: U.S. immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials reported that ICE deported 258,608 immigrants between October 1, 2013 and July 28, 2014—the lowest level reported for that 10-month period since 2007, and the greatest decline in deportations since President Barack Obama has been in office. Last year, 320,167 people were deported from the United States during the same period. More than 2 million immigrants have been deported during the Obama administration, but a White House spokesman said that the president’s decision to shift resources to the border to deal with an influx of unaccompanied minors from Central America may be one reason for the recent decline in deportations.
Santander’s new chairwoman says bank will stick to strategy: After the death of former Santander chairman Emilio Botín, newly-appointed chairwoman Ana Botín said on Monday that she would continue her late father’s strategy to increase international diversification and maintain the bank’s generous dividend policy with shareholders. On Monday, shareholders also agreed to buy 25 percent of the bank’s Brazilian unit, Santander Brasil, for $6 billion. The bank has major operations in ten countries, including Brazil, Mexico and Argentina, and reported a 22 percent increase in profits in the first half of 2014.
Correa calls on supporters for impending protests: Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa on Saturday asked supporters to rally against expected workers’ protests against his government this coming week. Ecuadorian workers’ organizations are planning a Jornada Nacional de Movilización (National Mobilization) on Wednesday to mobilize for labor rights and to call for reforms to the country’s penal code, water policies, and education system, among other concerns. “If there are 3,000 of them on Wednesday, there will be 30,000 of us,” Correa said.
Just days after a bomb exploded in a Santiago metro station, Chile commemorated what is perhaps the most divisive event in the country’s modern history—the September 11, 1973 military coup that interrupted Chile’s democracy, and ushered in the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
In a speech at the presidential palace, La Moneda, on Thursday, President Michelle Bachelet linked the two events, saying that “there is no room for violence and fear” in Chile. Calling democracy the country’s “most precious asset,” Bachelet went on to declare that “we will not allow the culture of respect, of rights and of peace that we are celebrating today, which belongs to all of us, to be trampled, abused or scorned by anyone.”
The day, however, was marked by violence and signs of general unease. According to local reports, confrontations between security forces and protesters left 10 police injured and led to the arrest of at least 30 individuals. Police sources also reported receiving 35 false bomb alerts over the course of day. It is unclear who is responsible for the false alerts, or whether they are related to Monday’s bombing. Authorities are still investigating Monday’s attack, though government officials have blamed “terrorists.”
The government also announced yesterday that it intends to repeal the country’s 1978 Amnesty Decree Law. The law covers the period from 1973-1978, and critics say that it shields members of the Pinochet regime accused of human rights abuses from prosecution. The effort to repeal the law was announced by Justice Minister José Antonio Gómez. In an unrelated event, a national legislator, Rosauro Martínez, was arrested in connection to the death of three Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (Movement of the Revolutionary Left—MIR) activists in 1981.
Early this morning, the lower house of the Argentine Congress passed a bill that will allow for the restructuring of its sovereign debt. After entering into session Wednesday afternoon, members passed the law Thursday morning with a vote of 134 to 99, just over the 129 votes needed for its approval.
The vote comes after the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a new resolution on Tuesday in favor of protecting countries' ability to restructure sovereign debt, with 124 countries in favor, 11 against and 41 abstained. The United States was one of the few countries that voted against the measure.
Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman expressed his approval of the UN result. “The time has come to give a legal framework to the financial system for restructuring sovereign debt that respects the majority of creditors and which allows countries to come out of crises in a sustainable manner,” he said.
After entering into selective default on its debt on July 30, the new law will help Argentina pay back its creditors before its new September 30 payment deadline by allowing the payment site to be moved from New York to either Buenos Aires or Paris. However, New York District Judge Thomas Griesa—who froze $539 million in Argentine deposits in the Bank of New York Mellon and ordered the country to repay hedge funds in full before paying back creditors—has declared the law illegal and threatened to take legal actions against it.
Not everyone in Argentina is in favor of the new bill though. Alfonso Prat Gay, former president of the Central Bank of Argentina, stated that “the fight with the holdouts will be tremendously negative for the country’s future.”
U.S. Deputy Representative to the UN Economic and Social Council Terri Robl also expressed his concerns about the consequences of the new bill. “If lenders face higher uncertainty regarding repayment they may be less likely to provide financing and will likely charger higher risk premiums, potentially stifling financing to developing countries,” he said.
A survey published on Tuesday by the polling firm MDA and commissioned by the Confederação Nacional do Transporte (National Transport Confederation—CNT) showed that Brazilian incumbent President Dilma Rousseff would be statistically tied with Partido Socialista Brasileiro (Brazilian Socialist Party—PSB) candidate Marina Silva if the elections went to the second round on October 26. The poll, which surveyed 2,002 respondents from September 5 to September 7, revealed a 4.9 percentage point improvement for President Rousseff and her Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers' Party—PT) from two weeks ago.
The President had seen her numbers slump in the face of a struggling economy including less than 2 percent growth per year under the PT leader, a recession during the first half of the year, 6.5 percent inflation, and a threat from Moody’s Investor Service to downgrade Brazil’s credit rating. President Rousseff’s popularity also suffered from frustration over the lack of public services that led to over one million people protesting across 100 Brazilian cities shortly before the 2014 World Cup.
Despite popular frustration, the president’s approval rating seemed to improve in the polls after frontrunner Marina Silva faced criticism for withdrawing her support of marriage equality and nuclear energy. It’s unclear how the corruption scandal at the state-run oil company Petróleo Brasileiro S.A. (Petrobras) will affect the president’s numbers as details continue to emerge.
The first round of the general elections will be held on October 5, and they will proceed the second round if any one candidate fails to garner more votes than the other two candidates combined. While the MDA poll shows her leading the first round with 38.1 percent, it would not be enough to overcome the combined 48.2 percent support for Silva and Social Democrat Aécio Neves.
An explosion at a fast food restaurant in Santiago, Chile on Monday injured 14 people and has led Chilean authorities to investigate a potential terrorist attack. No one has claimed responsibility for the blast, which occurred at a mini mall next to the Escuela Militar metro station in the residential Las Condes neighborhood. The station remained closed while authorities investigated, although the metro continued to run normally.
Government spokesman Álvaro Elizalde condemned the incident as a “terrorist act” and affirmed that the government will invoke harsh anti-terrorism laws, which allow for tougher sentences, to bring those responsible to justice. So far in 2014, there have been 30 bombings or attempted bombings in Santiago. In July, another explosion occurred in the metro, though no bystanders were hurt in the incident.
With Monday’s injuries, citizens will be looking to President Michelle Bachelet for action regarding the increase in bombings in recent years. Bachelet denounced the attacks as “cowardly,” but claimed that Chile is still a safe country.
This week, Chile will mark the 41st anniversary of the 1973 military coup d’état that overthrew socialist President Salvador Allende and installed a 17 year-long military government in which thousands of political dissidents were disappeared and killed. The week of September 11 in Chile is often a time of increased protests and violence in the country.
This week’s likely top stories: Barack Obama delays executive action on immigration; a former Petrobras director names 40 politicians in scandal; former Salvadoran President Flores turns himself in; private equity fundraising in Latin America this year could reach $8 billion; Chileans remember September 11, 1973.
Immigration reform stalled: U.S. President Barack Obama’s promise to use his executive authority to reform immigration has hit a roadblock in the run-up to midterm elections, angering immigrant rights activists who hoped he would take action to ease deportations after Congress’ August recess. Polls conducted this summer revealed that voters in states like Arkansas and Iowa were overwhelmingly opposed to executive action on immigration, and a July survey by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press showed that a majority of respondents believed Obama had mishandled the surge of unaccompanied minors at the border this summer. A White House official said this weekend that the president will take action on immigration at the end of the year.
Petrobras corruption scandal: Paulo Roberto Costa—a former director of Brazilian state-run oil company Petróleo Brasileiro S.A. (Petrobras) who was arrested in 2013 for corruption—alleged that more than 40 Brazilian politicians received commissions for contracts signed with Petrobras between 2004 and 2012. Brazilian media revealed on Saturday that most of the individuals Costa named were members of the ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT), further complicating President Dilma Rousseff’s re-election bid on October 5. Costa struck a plea deal with prosecutors before naming the politicians. Rousseff said Saturday that she would await official information to “take all appropriate measures” to investigate the scandal.
El Salvador’s Francisco Flores under house arrest: Former Salvadoran President Francisco Flores, of the ARENA party, turned himself in to Salvadoran authorities on Friday, four months after a warrant for his arrest was issued in May. Flores was accused of misappropriating $15 million during his 1999-2004 presidential term, funds allegedly provided by Taiwan to help with reconstruction efforts after two earthquakes, as well as to fight drug trafficking and crime. On Friday, Flores—who had been missing for months—said he had turned himself in “voluntarily and out of respect for the law.” He is currently under house arrest and denies the charges against him.
Private equity push in Latin America: Private equity and venture capital fundraising in Latin America has already reached $3.5 billion in the first half of 2014, indicating that year-end totals could reach as high as $8 billion, according to new data from the Latin American Private Equity & Venture Capital Association (LAVCA). In 2011, a record $10.27 billion was raised, and in 2013, investments reached a six-year high—but have decreased by 10 percent for the same period this year. According to LAVCA, information technology attracted 30 percent of total investments, followed by healthcare.
Chileans march in memory of September 11: Thousands of Chileans marched through Santiago on Sunday to commemorate the anniversary of the September 11, 1973 military coup that overthrew President Salvador Allende and led to the death or disappearance of some 3,000 people. The march was largely peaceful, according to Chilean police, although four journalists were injured when some of the protesters threw objects at the police. More marches are planned for Thursday, September 11.
The number of reported cases of torture and ill-treatment perpetrated by Mexican security forces has skyrocketed by 600 percent in the last decade, according to a report published by Amnesty International on Thursday. Last year alone, Mexico’s Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos (National Human Rights Commission—CNDH) received nearly 4,000 complaints regarding human rights violations by federal institutions. Of these, 1,505 specifically reported instances of torture. However, the problem extends far beyond the country’s federal forces. “Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment plays a central role in policing and public security operations by military and police forces across Mexico,” the report states.
Ordinary Mexicans seem to have taken note of the reported increase in state violence. Amnesty International’s Americas Director, Erika Guevara Rosas, notes that, according to a recent survey carried out by the organization, “64 percent of Mexicans report being fearful of being tortured in the event of being detained.” In the report’s view, however, the Mexican government seems far less alarmed. In a challenge to earlier statements by President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government regarding his administration’s efforts on this issue, the report cites, “a lack of clear political leadership and real political will by successive governments” as a key factor in the increase in abuses.
The report is the latest in a string of critical assessments of Mexico’s human rights situation. In another report published earlier this year, Human Rights Watch found evidence of “widespread killings, enforced disappearances, and torture.” And after visiting the country in April, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Méndez, declared, “there is an epidemic of torture that needs to be corrected.”
On Wednesday morning, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet pledged $510 million for the restoration of Valparaiso after large wildfires devastated parts of the city in April. The blazes lasted several days and killed 15 people and destroyed or damaged at least 15,000 homes in the port city, which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003.
The money will be disbursed over eight years and will be divided into three tiers—the city overall, neighborhoods and individual homes. Destroyed homes will receive almost $100 million, with the rest of the money being put towards urban development, cultural spaces, public transportation and city infrastructure to reinforce and protect inhabitants from future fires, including safety devices such as fire alarms and sprinklers. Seventy-one percent of the restoration and construction is expected to be completed by March 2018.
President Bachelet said that the plan’s benefits would go beyond Valparaiso and is meant to reactivate the Chilean economy. “This plan is about more than normalizing life in the city; it is a commitment to change the urban development of the country,” she said.
While the plan will help the 2,600 families affected by the fire, it is facing criticism for being too narrow in scope. Renzo Trisotti, deputy of the Unión Demócrata Independiente (Independent Democratic Union—UDI) party of Chile’s Tarapacá region expressed his concern with the omission of the northern regions of Chile, also affected by natural disasters earlier this year. “Five months after the two earthquakes affected the northern regions, there are still families living and tents and there is no plan for reconstruction,” he said.
The Venezuelan government opened an investigation against U.S.-based television network TNT on Tuesday because of the depiction of President Nicolás Maduro on the fictional spy drama “Legends.” In the third episode of the season, the Venezuelan executive is accused of stockpiling chemical weapons to use against anti-government protestors, referencing the protests that engulfed Venezuela in February.
On Monday night, Venezuela’s Information Minister Delcy Rodriguez requested via Twitter that Conatel—the South American country’s national telecommunications commission—open an investigation because of the “lies and manipulations” against President Maduro on the series. Fox 21, the producer of the series, apologized to President Maduro in an official statement, emphasizing that the representation of the president was purely fictional and that producers “did not intend to imply that the show was reporting any actual events.”
President Maduro’s approval rating dropped 15 points to 35 percent in the past nine months amid the continued economic crisis that sparked the initial mass protests, according to a recent Datanálisis poll. While the Central Bank of Venezuela has not released economic data since May, the research firm Ecoanalítica has indicated that with its shrinking GDP, limited foreign currency, and car manufacturing collapse, the country is headed toward a recession.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.