Likely top stories this week: Argentine opposition gains influence in midterms; Brazil and Germany lead a UN anti-spying initiative; lobbyists push for U.S. immigration reform; Paraguay to represent Mercosur in negotiations with EU; hostage Kevin Scott Sutay is released by the FARC.
Argentines Vote in Midterm Elections: With 72 percent of the votes counted in Argentina's Sunday midterm elections, the governing party of Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner retains a narrow majority in Congress, but Fernández de Kirchner’s chance of running for a third presidential term appears to be gone. In the face of rising consumer prices and a weakening currency, the opposition has won a key House of Deputies race in Buenos Aires province, with a convincing victory by opposition leader Sergio Massa, the former mayor of Tigre. Massa is seen as a potential presidential contender in 2015. Sunday’s elections also marked the first time that 16 and 17 year-old Argentines were allowed to vote.
21 Countries On Board for UN Anti-Spying Resolution: Twenty-one countries, led by Brazil and Germany, have agreed to meet for talks to draft a UN resolution that would condemn and monitor electronic surveillance. Brazil and Germany proposed the resolution last week after leaked reports that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) was spying on heads of state, including Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. According to the Wall Street Journal, the White House ordered an end to the eavesdropping on foreign leaders this summer after a wiretapping program targeting about 35 leaders was disclosed to the White House. The NSA said Sunday that its director never notified Obama about the program. On Monday, El Mundo reported that the NSA monitored 60 million Spanish phone calls in one month.
Immigration Lobbying Intensifies in Washington DC: A major lobbying effort is expected to intensify in Washington DC this week, targeting Republican members of Congress to take action on immigration reform. Approximately 600 business, religious and agricultural leaders—most of them conservative—are expected to put added pressure on 80 Republicans from the House of Representatives to pass one of four immigration reform measures approved by the House Judiciary Committee. The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill in June.
Paraguay to Represent Mercosur in Brussels: Paraguay appears to have made progress in its quest to rejoin Mercosur after a meeting between Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes and Uruguayan President José Mujica on Friday in Montevideo. Upon returning to Asunción this weekend, Cartes said that Paraguay was prepared to represent Mercosur in negotiations with the European Union in December, though the country has not yet officially rejoined the trade bloc after being suspended in June 2012 following the controversial impeachment of former Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo.
FARC Releases U.S. Citizen: The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) released former U.S. soldier Kevin Scott Sutay on Sunday after he was kidnapped by the rebels in late June. Scott appeared to be in good health after he was released to the International Committee of the Red Cross and representatives from Colombia, Cuba and Norway.
A Washington, DC-based advocacy organization began running pro-immigration reform advertisements on the websites of local newspapers in Republican Congressional representatives’ districts on Thursday. In order to pressure the House of Representatives to vote on pending immigration reform legislation, Americas Voice’s web ads target news outlets in Republican members’ districts that, according to recent polling data, overwhelmingly support such reform.
Ads ran on the two California papers’ websites—the Fresno Bee and the Modesto Bee—highlighting data from a poll conducted by Magellan Strategies showing that the majority of voters in the state’s congressional districts 10, 21, and 22 support immigration reform along the lines of bill proposed by House Democrats on October 2. The bill, titled the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (H.R. 15), is similar to a bi-partisan bill passed in the Senate in June and includes a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States.
The ads implore the Republican representatives from these districts—Representatives Jeff Denham, David Valadao, and Devin Nunes, respectively—to vote for H.R. 15. Similar ads will be run in local newspapers in Nevada and Colorado next week targeting Republican Representatives Mike Coffman (CO-6) and Joe Heck (NV-3), whose constituents similarly polled to show overwhelmingly support reform. Seventy-four percent of likely voters support legislation along the lines of H.R. 15, including 71 percent of Republicans in both Representative Coffman and Hoff’s districts.
In a televised speech on Thursday, President Obama urged House Republicans to vote for a comprehensive overhaul that includes a path to citizenship, noting that “anyone still standing in the way of this bipartisan reform should at least explain why.”
Likely top stories this week: Gay marriage begins in Uruguay; Venezuela is not invited to the Paraguayan president’s inauguration; Amnesty International demands the release of Cuban prisoners; U.S. House of Representatives Republicans reject Senate approach to immigration reform; Brazilian police officers are sentenced for the 1992 Carandiru massacre.
Same Sex Marriage Starts in Uruguay: The first gay couple was registered for marriage on Monday morning in Uruguay, 90 days after Uruguayan President José Mujica signed a law legalizing same-sex marriage that was passed by the Uruguayan Senate in April. Rodrigo Borda and Sergio Miranda, a gay couple that has been together for 14 years, were the first to sign their names on a waiting list of couples to be married officially, and will be able to determine the date of their wedding by August 16. When the law was signed, Uruguay was only the second Latin American country after Argentina to make same-sex marriage legal nationwide, followed one month later by Brazil. Uruguay also allows adoption by gay couples and permits openly gay people to serve in the country’s armed forces.
Venezuela Left Out At Cartes Inauguration: The Paraguayan government has not invited Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to the inauguration of Paraguayan President-elect Horacio Cartes, set for August 15. Venezuela is the only country in the region that has not received an invitation, and both countries have recalled their respective envoys to Caracas and Asunción. Paraguay and Venezuela's relationship has worsened since Paraguay was suspended from Mercosur in June 2012, following the controversial impeachment of Paraguay’s then-president, Fernando Lugo. Following Paraguay’s suspension from Mercosur, Venezuela was incorporated as a full member without the approval of the Paraguayan government.
Amnesty International Calls for Release of Cuban Prisoners: New York-based human rights organization Amnesty International designated five Cuban prisoners being held in eastern Cuba "prisoners of conscience" and demanded their immediate release. Rafael Matos Montes de Oca, Emilio Planas Robert and brothers Alexeis, Diango and Vianco Vargas Martin all belong to the Unión Patriótica de Cuba (Patriotic Union of Cuba—UNPACU), an organization that advocates for greater civil liberties on the island, and are considered dissidents. Planas and Matos were convicted of "dangerousness" last September, while the Vargas Martin brothers, who are accused of violence or intimidation against a state official, were arrested in November and December and have not been formally charged with a crime. The Cuban government says that it is not holding any political prisoners.
Republicans Offer Own Approach to Immigration Reform: Members of the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives indicated on Sunday that they have no intention of taking up a comprehensive immigration reform bill passed by the U.S. Senate in June, indicating that representatives would instead opt to take a piecemeal approach to tackling immigration reform rather than addressing the issues of border security, workplace enforcement, and citizenship all at once. Saying that a separate bill on border security should come before any other bill, Rep. Paul Ryan proposed that the country's 11 million undocumented immigrants undergo "probation" in order to "get right with the law." House Majority Leader Eric Cantor promised that "we will have a vote on a series of bills at some point." This month, lawmakers are returning to their home districts for a five-week summer recess.
Brazilian Police Sentenced for Carandiru Deaths: Twenty-five Brazilian police officers who were involved in the October 1992 massacre of 111 inmates at São Paulo's Carandiru prison were each sentenced to a 624 years in jail, yet each would serve no more than 30 years in prison according to Brazilian law. The sentences were part of an ongoing trial to investigate the deaths of 52 of the murdered prisoners, and the process is not expected to be finished until January 2014. At that point, the defense is expected to appeal the police officers' sentences. The police officers, most of whom were convicted of the prisoners’ deaths in April, are currently free and nine of them remain on active duty. O Globo newspaper reported that the nine officers will now lose their jobs. Carandiru prison was closed in 2002 and has been demolished.
Likely top stories this week: Michelle Bachelet wins Chile’s opposition primaries; Cuban state-run produce markets go private; President Rousseff’s popularity dips; U.S. immigration reform moves to the House of Representatives; Edward Snowden stuck in Moscow.
Bachelet Wins Chilean Opposition Primaries: Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet won a landslide victory on Sunday in Chile’s primary elections, paving her way to run as the Concertación candidate in the November presidential election. Bachelet received 73.8 percent of the vote, while her nearest rival, Andrés Velasco, earned only 12.5 percent of voter support. The ruling coalition's candidates were much closer, with Pablo Longueira getting 51.1 percent of the vote to Andrés Allemand's 48.9 percent. Longueira will face Bachelet on November 17.
Cuban State-Run Co-ops Go Private: One hundred state-run produce markets in Cuba are scheduled to become private cooperatives on Monday as the country moves ahead with economic reforms. The private co-ops will create an alternative to small and medium-sized state-run businesses, and will be able to set prices and divide profit as they see fit. The co-ops can also purchase produce from individual farmers as well as state farms and wholesale markets. According to the Cuban government, more than 430,000 people now work in the non-state sector, not counting agricultural cooperatives and small farmers.
Protests at Brazil's Confederations Cup Final: Several thousand Brazilian protesters marched outside Rio de Janeiro's iconic Maracanã stadium on Sunday as Brazil's national soccer team won the Confederations Cup 3-0 over Spain. The protests for improved public transport and services that started over a month ago show no sign of abating, while President Dilma Rousseff's approval rating has plummeted from 57 percent to 30 percent during the month of June. More than 80 percent of the 4,717 respondents in the poll by Datafolha, conducted on the June 27 and 28, said that they supported the protests in Brazil.
Immigration Reform Moves to the U.S. House: U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer predicted on Sunday that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will pass the comprehensive immigration reform bill approved by the Senate last Thursday, despite resistance from House Republicans. Schumer said he believed the House would pass the bill "by the end of this year," due to concerns about the party's future in an increasingly diverse country. However, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte said that the preference is to “examine each of these issues separately,” rather than take up the Senate legislation.
Edward Snowden Still Stuck in Moscow: Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said that former U.S. contractor Edward Snowden "is in the care of Russian authorities" and reprimanded an Ecuadorian government official who provided Snowden with a travel document that Correa said had been issued without consulting officials in Quito. Correa spoke to U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on the phone on Saturday about Snowden, whose U.S. passport has been revoked. Correa said that Snowden’s asylum request would only be considered if he enters Ecuador or an Ecuadorian embassy.
As the U.S. Congress continues discussions on immigration reform, every interest group is struggling to get their respective voice heard. As with everything in Congress, money talks. To that end, the Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan Congressional ombudsman, reported last week that the Senate bill currently under consideration could inject nearly $900 billion into the government's yawning budget deficits over the next 20 years.
But a more subtle provision of the immigration bill is more streamlined non-immigrant visa processing, including sweetheart constituency provisions and political favors for groups ranging from Polish tourists to Canadian retirees. But it must not be overlooked how Latin American tourists create real value for the American economy and expand the country's soft power in a crucial region.
Many tourists, particularly those from visa-waiver countries in Europe and select other countries, take for granted that they can hop on a plane to the U.S. with no more than a passport in hand and a brief online registration. In 2011, nearly 20 million of these visitors came to the United States.
But for tourists from across Latin America, the process involves a long wait for an appointment, a hefty fee to pay regardless of the visa decision, and a stressful interview about their intentions to visit. Many choose not to go through the process because of the arduous process, others sour on visiting the U.S. after being rejected, and still many more are unable to plan and pay for trips given the uncertainty and randomness of the visa process. Governments have soured too, with many countries in the region requiring visas and reciprocity fees for U.S. tourists, giving Americans a taste of their own medicine.
In 2012, more than 8 million nonimmigrant tourist visas (those not eligible for the Visa Waiver Program) were issued by the State Department, up significantly from previous years, making this a lucrative opportunity for tourist-oriented businesses in the U.S. to capitalize on the growth.
It only takes a brief look at the numbers to show how central Latin Americans are to the State Department's visa operations and to the value of foreign tourism in the United States. Last year, of the 8,000,000 nonimmigrant visas issued, nearly 50 percent of the global total were issued to Latin Americans. Compare that to Latin America's less than 10 percent share of world population, and the statistics become even more eye-popping.
Top stories this week: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff responds to national protests; The U.S. Senate will vote on immigration reform; Coca farmers clash with police in Colombia; Uruguayan voters uphold abortion law; Judicial leaders meet in Bolivia; Ecuador considers asylum request.
Protests Expand Across Brazil: Hundreds of thousands of Brazilians marched in cities across the country on Saturday and Sunday, in a third week of protests against corruption and public spending related to the country's upcoming mega sporting events. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff called on protesters to refrain from violence after demonstrators threatened to disrupt the Confederations Cup soccer tournament on Saturday. More than 1 million Brazilians protested last week, and there are no signs that the demonstrations will end any time soon: a major protest is scheduled for next Sunday’s Confederation Cup final in Rio de Janeiro.
Immigration Reform Up For Senate Vote: U.S. President Barack Obama urged Congress on Saturday to pass immigration reform as the U.S. Senate approaches a key vote on Monday. The Senate will consider an amendment containing enhanced border security provisions that was filed on Friday, doubling the number of border patrol agents along the U.S.-Mexico border in an effort to garner the bipartisan support necessary to pass the bill. Senators will decide on Monday evening whether to proceed to debate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that he hopes that the final vote will take place at the end of the week, and Republican Senator Mike Lee said he believed the bill is “likely to pass” with up to 70 votes. Opponents of the bill predict that it will die in the more-conservative House of Representatives.
Protests Turn Deadly in Colombia; President Santos Asks FARC to "Play Clean": At least two protesters in Norte de Santander were killed on Friday in clashes between thousands of protesting coca farmers and Colombian police. Police involved in the conflict claim that the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) have infiltrated the protests, which involved at least 10,000 farmers. Meanwhile, at a march on Sunday in Carmen de Bolívar for victims of Colombia's armed conflict, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos urged the FARC to "play clean" and respect the agenda for peace currently being negotiated in Havana between the guerrillas and the Colombian government. However, experts believe that land disputes and drug-related violence will continue in Colombia's southern and border zones, regardless of any peace deal.
Uruguayan Voters Uphold Abortion Law: Uruguayan voters elected to uphold South America’s most liberal abortion law by refusing to go to the polls in a consultation ballot on Sunday. If one-quarter of Uruguay’s voting population had participated in Sunday’s vote, they could have paved the way for a popular referendum on the law, which was passed last October and permits abortions in the first three months of pregnancy. However, only 226,653 of the necessary 655,000 voters participated in the election. Uruguayan President José Mujica defended the abortion law, saying it would save many women’s lives, and supporters of women’s reproductive rights celebrated across the country. However, the law’s political opponents vowed to remain active, and a number of doctors in Uruguay have refused to perform abortions.
Judicial Leaders from Six Countries to Meet in Bolivia: Lawyers from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Spain and Italy will meet in La Paz on Monday for a three-day forum on judicial independence organized by the European Union and the UN. The forum coincides with an effort by the Bolivian government to strengthen its judicial institutions in accordance with the country's new constitution.
Ecuador Considers Granting Asylum to Snowden: Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño confirmed on Twitter this weekend that former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden is seeking asylum in Ecuador after fleeing Hong Kong to avoid arrest for leaking classified documents about U.S. Internet and phone surveillance. Snowden is currently in Moscow, but this morning he reportedly did not board a flight he was expected to take to Cuba and his exact whereabouts remain unknown. Patiño said on Monday that Snowden's request for asylum in Ecuador is being analyzed. The U.S. government has revoked Snowden’s passport and has asked foreign countries not to grant him passage.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Colombian civil society holds forum on political participation; Venezuela’s election audit begins on May 6; the U.S. Supreme Court upholds a lower court’s immigration ruling; Honduran police officials resign in the midst of a police crisis; and Brazil’s Maracanã stadium reopens after three years.
Colombian Civil Society Weighs in on Peace Negotiations: Hundreds of civil society groups convened in Bogotá on Sunday for a week-long forum on political participation in Colombia to discuss ways of integrating former FARC guerrillas into Colombian politics. The forum, organized by the UN and Universidad Nacional de Colombia, is the second to take place at the behest of the Colombian government and FARC negotiators after a forum on agrarian reform in December. Participants will send their suggestions to the peace negotiators in Havana on May 20. Former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, who has been highly critical of the peace negotiations, said that his political movement would not participate in the forum this week.
Venezuelan Vote Audit to Begin on May 6: Venezuela's Consejo Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Council—CNE) announced that an audit of ballots from the April 14 presidential election will begin on May 6 and last until June 4, but said that it was “unfeasible” to conduct a full recount of the vote. Opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who lost the election by less than 2 percentage points to rival Nicolás Maduro, called the audit a "joke" and has alleged dozens of cases of voter fraud and voter coercion during the elections. He said on Sunday that he would use “all the available instances” to fight Maduro’s victory.
U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Decision to Block Portions of Alabama Immigration Law: The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal by the state of Alabama to enact portions of the state’s controversial immigration law that was blocked by a federal appeals court last year. The Supreme Court’s decision allows last year’s ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to stand, meaning that Alabama cannot prosecute people who harbor or transport undocumented immigrants, but will still allow police to check people’s immigration papers if they are stopped by law enforcement. Justice Antonin Scalia was the only Supreme Court justice to dissent from the high court’s decision not to take the case.
Honduran Police Officials Resign: Following a strike of almost 2,000 police officers in Honduras this week, President Porfirio Lobo accepted the resignations of police officials Eduardo Villanueva and Mario Chinchilla, who led the country’s Dirección de Investigación y Evaluación de la Carrera Policial (Office of Investigation and Evaluation of Police Officers—DIECP). DICEP, the investigative body in charge of purging the Honduran police force of corruption, has been crippled by a lack of funds and by unrest among underpaid officers making only about $150 a month. Honduras’ Consejo Nacional de Seguridad Interior (National Internal Security Council—CONASIN) will convene Monday to propose candidates to take over the posts of Villanueva and Chinchilla.
Maracanã Reopens: Rio de Janeiro's iconic Maracanã stadium reopened on Saturday after three years of renovations intended to prepare the stadium for Brazil’s upcoming international sporting events. Maracanã will host the 2014 World Cup final and the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Olympics. However, media attending Saturday’s exhibition match reported that several parts of the stadium are still incomplete, even though the project was delayed by four months. Maracanã is the fourth of twelve World Cup stadiums to open. The stadium will be officially inaugurated on June 2 in a match between Brazil and England.
As the U.S. Senate “Gang of Eight” prepares to unveil their comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill, tens of thousands of immigrants and their allies marched on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to demand a pathway to citizenship.
The same day, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) held a closed-door meeting with his Republican colleagues in the senate to assure them that the overhaul will amount to the “toughest immigration enforcement laws in history.” A number of Democrats will have to be convinced of the same before they vote in favor of the bill.
In order to secure bipartisan support for the bill—which is crucial to its eventual passage by a divided Congress—any proposed pathway to citizenship will clearly be accompanied by stepped-up enforcement. This is not inherently a bad thing. With 11.1 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the U.S.—most of whom overstayed their visa, rather than crossing one of our two borders—there is a clear need for a legal framework that enforces the law, while also honoring the economic contributions that immigrants make and creating mechanisms for naturalization and integration. The framework must also recognize that immigration-related violations are civil charges, not criminal ones.
Unfortunately, our current immigration enforcement system couldn’t be farther from that reality. The status quo of enforcement is overly punitive and grossly expensive, making the prospect of a significant increase through CIR worrisome.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Nicolás Maduro and Henrique Capriles kick off their campagins; U.S. business and labor leaders reach an agreement on immigration; Argentina faces a court ruling on its debt; Brazil faces more stadium-related woes; and Venezuela auctions $200 million in foreign currency.
Maduro and Capriles Face Off: Venezuela’s interim president, Nicolás Maduro, said Saturday that opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles was trying to incite violence by scheduling his first campaign rally in Barinas state, the birthplace of the late President Hugo Chávez. Maduro and Capriles had both scheduled rallies on Tuesday to kick off their respective campaigns in Barinas state. On Sunday, Capriles announced that he would move the kickoff of his campaign to Monagas state on Tuesday, and campaign in Barinas on Wednesday.
Business and Labor Groups reach Agreement on Immigration: U.S. business leaders and labor groups have reportedly reached an agreement to implement a guest worker program that would introduce a new type of visa – the “W” visa – for low-skilled, year-round temporary workers. The deal was reached during a conference call on Friday between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO that was convened by Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), who is one of eight senators negotiating an overhaul of the U.S. immigration system. Friday’s deal is a positive sign that the bipartisan group of senators will introduce a broad immigration reform bill within the next few weeks.
Argentina’s Day in Court: A New York court is set to rule at any moment on whether Argentina must pay $1.4 billion to holders of its defaulted debt. Argentina submitted a proposal last week to pay back the debt at a discounted rate. If Argentina is forced to pay the holdout bondholders immediately, the country would owe $43 billion in additional claims. Argentina may still appeal to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, a federal law that limits suits against foreign governments.
Another Setback for Brazil’s 2016 Olympics: Brazilian officials suddenly closed Rio de Janeiro’s Engenhão stadium last weekend after declaring the structure unsafe, cancelling a scheduled match between the Botafogo and Vaco da Gama soccer teams in the process. Engenhão is scheduled to host the track and field events in the 2016 Olympic Games, but authorities have said there is a danger that the roof of the stadium could blow off. Meanwhile, Rio officials must find an alternate location for the Confederations Cup in June if repairs to the stadium aren’t completed before then.
Venezuela Auctions Foreign Currency: The Venezuelan government’s decision to auction $200 million in foreign currency to a group of chosen companies last week has triggered a de facto currency devaluation, according to analysts. According to the government, 383 companies participated in an auction under the government’s new Sistema Complementario de Administración de Divisas (Complementary System of Currency Administration—SICAD) plan. The official exchange rate is currently 6.3 Venezuelan bolivars per dollar, but the government did not name the sale price of the dollar in the auction. Investment bank Barclays Capital has said that the government’s decision not to publicize the sale price of the dollar in the auction was a way of “avoiding the political cost of the announcement of a second devaluation.” Venezuelan Finance Minister Jorge Giordani said that the SICAD program will make it possible for individuals to obtain foreign currency with transparency.
White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod said yesterday that immigration reform legislation is coming “early” in President Obama’s second-term agenda. Axelrod’s comments followed shortly after Obama’s inauguration address in Washington DC in which he only briefly touched on immigration. Axelrod went on to say that the president could push for reform as soon as the State of the Union speech in three weeks.
The near-record turnout by Latino voters in November favoring Obama over former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney by a margin of 71 to 27 percent gave the president a new mandate to reform the U.S. immigration system. A number of immigrant reform groups organized events around the inauguration to make sure the issue of got the attention it deserved. For example, 120 members of advocacy group Casa de Maryland—many of whom worked on the Obama campaigns in 2008 and 2012—marched on the National Mall yesterday calling for sensible reform that goes beyond Deferred Action.
Legislation will likely include measures that seek to resolve the status of the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the U.S.—especially for young arrivals and so-called “Dreamers”—while stepping up enforcement mechanisms like E-verify. Other components of immigration reform legislation will likely also address visas for high-skilled workers and entrepreneurs with agricultural visas a likely sticking point between the two parties. Immigration reform was expected to be the president’s first order of business in 2013, but the Newtown shooting and the consequent push for gun control legislation mean that introduction of a bill is now expected to occur in the spring.