This week's likely top stories: Colombia to resume peace talks with FARC once hostages are released; Mercosur and Pacific Alliance convene to discuss regional cooperation; Uruguayans return to polls on Sunday to elect president; Panama courts Walmart for its regional distribution center; Goldcorp to inaugurate Cerro Negro mine in Argentina.
Hostages Released and Peace Talks to be Resumed: Peace talks between the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia- FARC) will resume after the two parties reached an agreement to free hostages kidnapped by the FARC over a week ago. The FARC will release a total of five hostages, including General Ruben Dario Alzate Mora, the highest-ranking military captive ever taken by the FARC. The Colombian delegation will return to Havana and resume peace talks as soon as the captives are liberated and the humanitarian operations by the Red Cross to return the captives home are underway. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos ordered the suspension of the peace talks on November 17, just after the kidnappings took place.
MERCOSUR and Pacific Alliance Meet in Santiago: Chilean President Michelle Bachelet inaugurated a meeting today in Santiago between Latin America’s prominent regional integration blocs, the Alianza del Pacífico (Pacific Alliance)—comprising Chile, Mexico, Colombia, and Peru—and the Mercado Común del Sur (Southern Common Market—Mercosur)—which represents Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Venezuela. The meeting, a follow up to Chilean Foreign Relations Minister Heraldo Muñoz’s proposal last February to design a formal trade alliance between the entities, brings together representatives from both sides, including trade officials, academics, union members, and business leaders, in order to dialogue about opportunities for cooperation on climate change, infrastructural development, public health, tourism, and the export of manufactured goods. In her opening statement, Bachelet said, “We are hoping that this historic meeting sets us on our first steps down the shared path of developing our Latin America and each one of our countries.”
Uruguayans Vote for President on Sunday: Uruguayan voters will return to the polls this Sunday, November 30, to elect the country’s next president in a runoff vote. Former president and Frente Amplio (Broad Front—FA) candidate Tabaré Vázquez is almost assured a victory after a November 12 Cifra poll showed that 52 percent of eligible voters plan to elect Vázquez, compared with the 35 percent of voters who plan to vote for challenger Luis Lacalle Pou of the Partido Nacional (National Party—PN). Other polls have made similar predictions, and Lacalle Pou recently said that he fully expects to be defeated by Vázquez in the second round. Vázquez just missed an outright victory after he won 47.8 percent of votes during Uruguay’s first round election on October 26, falling short of the 50 percent plus one required to avoid a runoff. Vázquez served as Uruguay’s president from 2005 to 2010.
Panama Courts Walmart to Host Distribution Center: Panamanian business leaders have asked U.S. multinational Walmart to build a Latin American distribution center in Panama’s free trade zone, the Zona Libre de Colón (ZLC). ZLC Manager Surse Pierpoint said that Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela has sent a letter to Walmart executives asking them to consider the proposal, which Pierpoint said will “elevate the status and image of the ZLC” and attract additional companies to Panama. Pierpoint and other business leaders, including the head of the Consejo Empresarial Logístico (Business Logistics Council) and the Cámara Marítima (Maritime Chamber) are seeking a meeting with Walmart executives, expected to take place in December or January, to pitch the proposal.
Goldcorp to Open New Mines in Argentina: Today, the Argentinian Secretary of Mining, Jorge Mayoral, announced in a memo following an on-site meeting with Goldcorp’s Vice President and COO of Central and South America, Eduardo Villacorta, that the company’s Cerro Negro mine will be inaugurated in February 2015. In 2010, Canadian gold giant Goldcorp acquired the Cerro Negro mine, located in the Santa Cruz province of Argentina, and invested $1.67 million in its reconstruction. Cerro Negro is expected to forge between 130,000 and 180,000 ounces of gold before the end of 2014, and once fully operational, the mine will maintain a production capacity of 4,000 tons per day of concerted gold and silver throughout its 23 year lifespan. Cerro Negro marks the Vancouver-based miner’s second Argentinian venture, after its 37.5 percent share of the Alumbrera copper mine in Catamarca.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet unexpectedly canceled her trip to Venezuela for today’s Mercosur Summit yesterday afternoon. Alvaro Elizalde, a spokesman for the Bachelet administration, confirmed that Heraldo Muñoz, Minister of Foreign Affairs, will represent the Chilean delegation at the summit in Caracas.
In addition to the Mercosur meetings, Muñoz will also meet with Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro’s administration and with the Venezuelan opposition coalition Mesa De Unidad Democrática (Democratic Unity Coalition–MUD), at their request.
Muñoz is expected to express Chile’s interest in restarting and facilitating the stalled peace negotiations between MUD and the Venezuelan government. It is unclear whether he will address the continued imprisonment of opposition leader and former mayor Leopoldo López of the Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) party.
President Bachelet’s absence was attributed to a winter cold and emergency meetings regarding her signature tax, healthcare and education reform.
This week’s likely top stories: Mercosur leaders meet in Caracas; former General Hugo Carvajal returns to Venezuela; California Governor Jerry Brown visits Mexico; Mexican Congress discusses energy reform; Argentina nears its debt deadline.
Mercosur leaders to address Israel at Mercosur summit: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is expected to lead Mercosur leaders in condemning Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip at Tuesday’s summit of Mercosur presidents in Caracas. Last Thursday, Israel referred to Brazil as a “diplomatic dwarf” after Rousseff recalled Brazil’s ambassador to Israel and the Brazilian Foreign Ministry cited Israel’s “disproportionate use of force” in Gaza. All five presidents of Mercosur’s full members—Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela—are expected to attend the summit, along with Bolivian President Evo Morales, whose country is in the process of joining the bloc. Argentine President Cristina Fernández is also expected to deliver a speech condemning “vulture funds” only one day before Argentine debt talks are set to expire.
Venezuelan ex-general freed in Aruba: Former Venezuelan General Hugo Carvajal received a hero’s welcome in Venezuela after he was released from detention by Aruban authorities on Sunday. U.S. officials have accused Carvajal of aiding in drug trafficking and supporting left-wing guerillas in Colombia. While Carvajal was waiting to be confirmed as Venezuela’s consul in Aruba, he was arrested last Wednesday at the request of the United States, but the Dutch government finally agreed that he “should have diplomatic immunity as nominated consul to Aruba.” The United States has accused the Venezuelan government of threatening the governments of Aruba and the Netherlands to release the former general.
California Gov. Jerry Brown trade mission to Mexico: California Governor Jerry Brown has arrived in Mexico to discuss immigration and trade with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and leaders from Central America. The governor will meet with Peña Nieto today and with Central American leaders on Tuesday to discuss the wave of undocumented minors arriving in the United States. The focus of the trip will be the economy and trade, and the governor will be joined by a delegation of more than 100 state government, business, economic development, investment and policy leaders to foster trade, educational exchanges, climate change, and tourism between California and Mexico.
Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies to discuss energy reform legislation: Members of Mexico’s lower house will begin discussion today on secondary legislation for Mexican energy reform. The reform will permit the participation of private national and foreign investment in Mexico’s oil and gas company PEMEX and the Comisón Federal de Electricidad (CFE–Federal Electricity Commission) for the first time in the country’s history. The Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN) has promoted the creation of a Fondo Mexicano del Petróleo (Mexican Fund for Oil) with profits derived from the oil industry in order to invest in infrastructure and technology. The director of CFE, Enrique Ochoa Reza, emphasized the benefits of the reform, including generating cheaper and more environmentally friendly forms of energy.
Argentina at risk of default as debt deadline nears: Upon the news that the Argentine government will not meet with a debt mediator until tomorrow, Argentina’s government bonds dropped to a one-month low today. The Argentine government has met with court-appointed mediator Daniel Pollack on four occasions, and negotiations over $1.5 billion in unpaid debts remained deadlocked after no progress had been made with talks on Friday. If negotiations are not completed by July 30, or a court delay is not offered, Argentina will default for the second time in only 13 years.
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.
Likely top stories this week: Mercosur leaders pledge to withdraw envoys from Europe; Mexican opposition demands electoral reforms; some Guantánamo prisoners break their hunger strike; Peruvian legislator Nancy Obregón to be investigated for Shining Path ties; four are arrested after Guatemalan police station massacre.
Mercosur Countries to Withdraw European Ambassadors: At the Mercosur summit in Montevideo on Friday, leaders from Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Venezuela pledged to withdraw their envoys from France, Italy, Portugal, and Spain after a plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales was grounded in Austria on July 2. European authorities suspected that the plane was carrying U.S. National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden from Russia. The governments of Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela have all offered asylum to Snowden. Morales withdrew his ambassadors in protest to his plane being grounded last week.
Mexican Opposition Threatens to Walk Away from Pact for Mexico: Members of Mexico's political opposition said Sunday that they will withdraw their support for the Pacto por Mexico (Pact for Mexico)—through which Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto hopes to promote a series of energy and tax reforms—unless the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) supports an overhaul of the country's electoral system. Leaders of the PAN and PRD asked for the administration to investigate charges of electoral fraud during the July 7 elections in the states of Aguascalientes, Coahuila, Durango, Quintana Roo, Veracruz, Tlaxcala, and Zacatecas. The opposition parties also propose reforms that would permit direct run-offs between presidential candidates, consecutive re-election, and tougher penalties for electoral crimes. A special session of Mexico’s lower house of Congress is expected to meet this week to discuss the potential reforms.
Some Hunger Strikers in Guantánamo Resume Eating: The U.S. military said Sunday that a number of hunger-striking prisoners at the Guantánamo detention center in Cuba recently resumed eating to mark the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, which began on July 8. The military said that 25 of the 106 striking prisoners had eaten an evening meal since Thursday, though it was unclear whether they would resume their strike at a later date. Prison authorities said that they have instituted a new policy that will permit prisoners to eat and pray in groups if they break their hunger strike, but forty-five of the prisoners are still being force-fed through nasal tubes. Many of the prisoners have been hunger-striking since March.
Former Peruvian Legislator Detained for Alleged Ties to Shining Path: Former Peruvian congresswoman Nancy Obregón and 29 other people were arrested by Peruvian authorities on Sunday for alleged ties to drug trafficking and the Shining Path rebels. Obregón, a legislator from Peruvian President Ollanta Humala's Partido Nacionalista (Nationalist Party), was a leader of peasant coca farmers in Peru's northeast and gave testimony during the trial of Shining Path guerrilla leader "Comrade Artemio," who was sentenced to life in prison in June. Police entered Obregón’s home in the early hours of the morning and inspected her house in search of arms and drugs, which they apparently did not find. Peruvian authorities will conduct a 15-day investigation of Obregón and the other people arrested.
Four Arrested in Guatemalan Police Station Massacre: On Sunday, Guatemalan security forces arrested four men—including two police officers—who are suspected of carrying out an attack on June 13 against a remote police station in Salcajá in Guatemala's Quetzaltenango department. Heavily-armed assailants shot and killed eight police officers on duty and kidnapped the commander, who is presumed dead. The Guatemalan government has sent 100 troops to make further arrests near the Mexican border, where police are seeking at least another ten people for involvement in the attack.
A summit of Mercosur countries—a regional bloc that includes Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Venezuela as full members with Paraguay suspended from the group—will convene tomorrow in Montevideo to discuss Paraguay’s possible re-admission to the group as Venezuela takes the helm of the South American trade bloc.
Venezuela, which became a full member of Mercosur in July 2012, will assume pro tempore presidency of the bloc for the first time on Friday, taking over from Uruguay. Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay admitted Venezuela to the group last year, despite vehement opposition from Paraguay—an obstacle that disappeared when Paraguay was suspended from Mercosur after the controversial impeachment of former Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo in June 2012.
The Paraguayan government’s relationship with Venezuela cooled further when Nicolás Maduro, the Venezuelan president who was foreign minister at the time, reportedly called for troops to enter the streets of Asunción to prevent Lugo’s impeachment.
Last week, Maduro said that his country would make every effort to re-admit Paraguay to Mercosur once his country had assumed leadership of the trade bloc. However, Paraguayan Foreign Minister José Félix Fernández said on Tuesday that Paraguay was not interested in rejoining Mercosur if Venezuela took over as chair of the group. “If international law is not complied [with], if the rule of law and Paraguay’s institutions and dignity are not recognized and respected, we can’t continue in Mercosur,” said Fernández.
For his part, Paraguayan President-elect Horacio Cartes said on June 25 that he would not accept Venezuela’s leadership of Mercosur. Cartes will be sworn in as president of Paraguay on August 15. At that point, Paraguay will be eligible to return to the group.
Other matters to be discussed at the summit include Bolivia’s possible incorporation into Mercosur, Ecuador’s request to join the bloc, and the expected entry of Guyana and Suriname as associate members.
Al tiempo que el presidente Nicolás Maduro se reunía con sus pares en Uruguay, Argentina y Brasil, la oposición venezolana preparó una gira paralela, en cuya parada en Buenos Aires sus miembros fueron recibidos por legisladores opositores al gobierno de Cristina Kirchner.
“No hay manera de ocultarle al mundo que somos mayoría, durante años el chavismo dijo que Venezuela era una lucha entre ricos y pobres, y hoy la mitad votó por nosotros y claramente la mitad de los venezolanos no son ricos. No vamos a retroceder”, resumió el líder opositor y ex alcalde del municipio Chacao, Leopoldo López, para definir la cruzada que emprendió la oposición con el ánimo de contar la realidad de esa otra Venezuela que impugnó las elecciones.
Confiados en que sí hay un acompañamiento internacional a sus denuncias, estas prosperarán y se podrán repetir las elecciones, López y los asambleístas venezolanos Nora Bracho y Freddy Guevara estuvieron esta semana en la Cámara de Diputados en Buenos Aires.
"La mejor manera de definir las elecciones que pasaron [el 14 de abril] es una pelea de David contra Goliat", disparó López en momentos en que Maduro, a quien llaman "El ilegítimo" se encontraba a pocas cuadras en la Casa Rosada con su homóloga Cristina Kirchner.
Ese Goliat representado por la estatal petrolera PDVSA, ministerios, gobernaciones, alcaldías y la Fuerza Armada nacional fue el aparato que, según López, dedicó todo su poder a “contaminar el proceso electoral entero”, razón por la cual la impugnación que interpuso Henrique Capriles esta semana no se debe sólo a los resultados.
“Nuestra queja comienza sobre la mancha anticonstitucional y manipuladora que ocurrió el 9 de enero cuando permitieron la continuidad del gobierno de Chávez [en su ausencia], sólo para que quien iba a ser candidato del chavismo, pudiera ser presidente mientras era candidato”, expresó López.
Con cifras en la mano, López relató todas sus quejas: en 10 días de campaña, el oficialismo tuvo 65 horas de cadena nacional, versus los 23 minutos de publicidad a los que tuvo derecho Henrique Capriles; se reportaron en total 230 violaciones a leyes electorales, y 5.623 irregularidades ocurrieron en las mesas de votación.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro embarked today on a three-day tour of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, all members of Mercosur (The Common Market of the South). Following Paraguay’s suspension from the free-trade group, Venezuela joined Mercosur last year and will assume the bloc’s temporary presidency for the first time on June 28 during a summit in Montevideo.
During a ceremony on Sunday to commemorate the two-month anniversary of the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Maduro announced that he would visit the other Mercosur countries to “continue bringing forward a perfect equation of financial, energy, cultural and political integration.”
In Uruguay, Maduro will meet with Uruguayan President José Mujica, as well as former Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez, union leaders and the electrical transformer company Urutransfor. Members of the Uruguayan opposition have criticized Maduro’s visit as “tactless and inconvenient” because of the current political tensions that exist in Venezuela. Later this week, Maduro will meet Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Buenos Aires and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in Brasilia to discuss the next steps for the regional bloc.
The most controversial outcome of last month’s second CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) summit in Santiago, following close on the heels of the first EU-CELAC meeting, was the decision in Santiago to appoint Cuban President Raúl Castro to the chairmanship of the 33-member regional body.
Castro, who will be splitting the two-year term with his Costa Rican counterpart, Laura Chinchilla, could not resist several pointed remarks aimed at the United States. He decried the presence of multinational companies in the region and the U.S.’ continued possession of Puerto Rico. The 81-year-old leader’s message was clear, however:
“We are building the ideal of a diverse Latin American and Caribbean region united in a common space of political independence and sovereignty over our enormous natural resources to advance toward sustainable development [and] regional integration,” Castro said.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos described Cuba’s leadership of CELAC as a “very significant political development with special symbolism.” Though absent from the summit, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez wrote in a letter that the act told “the U.S., with a single voice, that all the attempts to isolate Cuba have failed and will fail.”
Heads of state of Mercosur member countries are meeting in the Brazilian capital today, marking the first time that Venezuela will participate as a full member in the South American trade bloc after Paraguay’s suspension in June paved the way for its membership. But health concerns are preventing Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez from joining his counterparts from Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, with Minister of Petroleum and Mining Rafael Ramirez participating in his place.
The Venezuelan president arrived in Venezuela this morning after 10 days of medical treatment in Cuba. Chávez, 58, was diagnosed with cancer in mid-2011, and since then, has had three cancer surgeries on the island. His prolonged absences have triggered rumors around his health, and bonds have surged as a result of increased uncertainty over Venezuela’s future. When asked about his absence, Chávez explained that his departure from Cuba was delayed by a conversation with Fidel Castro, with whom he had been discussing poetry. He also asserted that Venezuela is “eight days away from the next victory,” referring to the upcoming regional elections that will take place on December 16.
Chávez has been absent from every regional meeting in the past year, including the Summit of the Americas held in Cartagena, Colombia, in April and the Ibero-American summit held in Cadiz, Spain, in November.
One of the central points on today’s agenda is Paraguay’s suspension from Mercosur, following the impeachment of former President Fernando Lugo in June. Paraguay’s suspension will likely continue after the meeting and will likely be extended until a newly-elected president takes office in August 2013.