Top stories this week are likely to include: President Obama discusses immigration reform in the State of the Union; Ecuador prepares for presidential and congressional elections; Colombia and FARC make progress in peace negotiations, Venezuela’s currency devaluation goes into effect; and Mexican farmers begin to release suspected criminals in negotiations with Guerrero state.
President Obama to Discuss Immigration, Guns in State of the Union Address: U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to renew his demand for comprehensive immigration reform, gun control and climate change in this Tuesday’s State of the Union speech, according to senior officials. Obama has called for a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. and told House Democrats that immigration reform will be a “top priority and an early priority” of his second term. Meanwhile, Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a Cuban American and one of eight U.S. Senators in a bipartisan effort to overhaul the U.S. immigration system, will deliver the Republican response—a signal that the GOP is seeking to overcome its poor standing with Latino voters in the last election. “The president and Senate negotiators have laid out two different visions with respect to a path to authorized status for undocumented immigrants. The principles to be laid out in Tuesday’s speech will set a marker of just how much the president is willing to negotiate,” said AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak. Tuesday’s speech will be the 100th State of the Union address.
Ecuador Prepares for Elections Next Sunday: Ecuador's presidential race will enter its final week as voters at home and abroad prepare to elect the country's next president and members of the national assembly on February 17. President Rafael Correa is heavily favored to win re-election to a third term. A survey last week by polling agency Perfiles de Opinion showed that 62 percent of expected voters support Correa, while only 9 percent of voters say they support his nearest rival, Guillermo Lasso. Correa has held office since 2007, and if he wins Sunday’s elections, he will serve a four-year term that will end in 2017.
Colombia and FARC say they are Nearing an Agreement on Land Reform: The Colombian government and FARC leaders said Sunday that they are making progress in the latest round of peace negotiations in Havana, which included an "exhaustive analysis" of land reform. During a press conference on Sunday, the FARC said that they are prepared to free two police officers and one soldier captured by the rebel group in January, fulfilling demands by the Colombian government to release the hostages at once. FARC negotiator Rodrigo Granda said Sunday that the negotiations were on track and advancing at “the speed of a bullet train.” The sixth round of peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC will start on February 18.
Venezuelan Currency Devaluation Takes Effect Wednesday: The Venezuelan government's long-expected currency devaluation, announced last Friday, will officially go into effect on Wednesday. The official exchange rate will change from 4.3 bolivars to the dollar to 6.3 bolivars to the dollar, the fifth time the country’s currency has been devalued in a decade. Venezuelan Vice-President Nicolás Maduro, currently leading the country in the absence of the ailing President Hugo Chávez, said that the devaluation was needed to fund the country’s social programs, and was also a response to attacks on the bolivar by capitalist “speculators.” The impending devaluation has already caused a rush of panicked last-minute shoppers to buy domestic appliances and other goods over Carnival weekend.
Mexican Farmers Begin Turning over Hostages: Mexican farmers in the township of Ayutla who detained 53 suspected criminals in January released 11 of their hostages last Friday after negotiations with the Guerrero state government. The farmers, fed up with recent drug-related violence and kidnappings in their community, have formed so-called “self-defense” forces to set up checkpoints, capture and imprison suspected criminals before trying them before an ad-hoc town assembly. The vigilante justice has been criticized by human rights groups, but the farmers say they are acting to protect themselves in the absence of the state, which has so far tolerated the movement. The Guerrero state government said the farmers agreed to turn over "the first 20" detainees, though it's not clear whether more will be released. The farmers have said they will not back down until the government proves it is capable of protecting them and establishing peace in the region.