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.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Mercosur convenes; first week of Enrique Peña Nieto’s presidency; FARC peace negotiations resume; Peru, Chile dispute their border at The Hague; and Rousseff’s oil royalties veto makes waves in Brazil.
Mercosur Considers Ecuador and Bolivia: When Mercosur’s member nations convene on Friday in Brasilia, they will consider upgrading Bolivia and Ecuador—currently associate members—to full membership. Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota cites a desire to deepen South American integration. AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini notes that “with each new addition to Mercosur the original intent of the customs union is becoming diluted. The additions may be economic benefits to Brazil and serve a broader political end, but with Venezuela and now potentially Bolivia and Ecuador the task of coordinating a common external tariff and ensuring that monetary policy doesn't interfere with internal trade is nearly impossible.”
Peña Nieto in the Presidency: After announcing his cabinet on Friday and transitioning into power the following day, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto undergoes his first full week in Mexico’s highest office. Yesterday, the main domestic political parties announced the Pacto por México (Pact for Mexico) that outlines desired political reforms for Peña Nieto’s term. The reforms center on three areas: strengthening the state; economic and political modernization; and expansion of social rights. As AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak observes, “the show of unity with the joint signing of the Pacto por México is an important accomplishment for Peña Nieto but the specifics of how to implement these reforms will be the real challenge especially with PRD legislators already threatening to block them.”
Peru, Chile at The Hague: Beginning today, the International Court of Justice will hear a lawsuit by Peru brought against Chile over an unclear maritime border. In the lead-up, however, both Chilean President Sebastián Piñera and his Peruvian counterpart Ollanta Humala have discouraged their respective citizens from being belligerently nationalistic. Piñera wrote against “exacerbated nationalism, which poisons the soul of the people,” while Humala urged for both countries to consider the outcome of the lawsuit as “the end point of a dispute between brother countries.”
Colombia, FARC Continue Talks: Both sides will resume peace negotiations in Havana on Wednesday. The Colombian government’s chief negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, has stressed “a stable and enduring peace” as the desired outcome of the talks; President Juan Manuel Santos recently announced that he has designated November 2013 as the deadline for an agreement.
Impact of Dilma’s Partial Veto: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was absent at last Friday’s Unasur meeting in Lima due to “domestic engagements.” The issue in question was whether she would sign into law a controversial law on oil royalties, which would spread the nation’s resource wealth to non-producing states. According to Reuters, Dilma’s veto “changes the bill so that producer states continue to receive royalties on output from existing oil concessions. She signed most of the rest of the bill passed [in early November] by Congress, redistributing royalties from all future oil concessions so that non-producing states get a greater share.” The oil-producing states had threatened to take their case to the Supreme Court, which would have dragged out the case amid Brazil’s preparations for the 2014 and 2016 sporting mega-events. Pay attention this week to see further reactions within Brazil to Dilma’s partial veto.
The soon-to-close electoral race for the presidency of Venezuela between Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Henrique Capriles Radonski will certainly be remembered as one of the most fascinating campaign periods in this country’s recent political history.
On one hand, the race has been silently colored by the uncertainty that surrounds Chávez’ health. On the other, it has been marked by a series of unpredictable events that have intensified a complex and divisive political climate.
But in the midst of this bitterly-fought campaign, Chávez scored what should have been a major political victory for his administration: on July 31, he managed to secure Venezuela’s formal admission to Mercosur, the largest trading bloc in South America. Venezuela has already sent its first "Mercosur shipment" to Uruguay, but the bulk of future commerce will follow a set of rules that are currently being negotiated.
Despite its potential importance for Venezuela’s economic future, the electoral impact of Venezuela’s admission to Mercosur was surprisingly insignificant. The news was splashed across headlines and became the topic of opinion pieces and conversations. But Venezuela’s formal admission to Mercosur did not tangibly represent a major boost for Chávez’ candidacy. Why might this have been the case?
Top stories this week are likely to include: Enrique Peña Nieto tours Latin America; United Nations General Assembly gets underway; Venezuela’s presidential election intensifies; European Union continues free-trade talks with Canada; and Paraguay seeks reparations from Mercosur.
Peña Nieto Visits Latin America: Mexican President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto departed yesterday evening for his six-country Latin America tour, which will take him to Guatemala, Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Peru this week. Eduardo Sánchez, spokesperson for Peña Nieto, says that the trip’s purpose is to strengthen “the position that Mexico has in the region and the possibilities that it has as a country to build itself as a facilitator” in Latin American relations. Issue topics that are expected to dominate the agenda include security, migration and trade. AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak adds, “each visit will highlight how a Peña Nieto government will seek to elevate Mexico’s role in the region and in working with each country bilaterally. Strengthened cooperation with Guatemala is critical for improving security and migration flows, Colombia has important lessons learned in security, the Chile and Peru visits are linked to trade and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the Brazil visit will likely seek to set the two countries on a path toward trade collaboration rather than trade competition.” Peña Nieto told Brazil’s Época magazine that “free trade, far from protectionism, is the path that we should take to make Latin America a thriving actor in the global economy.”
UNGA Gets Underway: The sixty-seventh session of the United Nations General Assembly opens debate tomorrow afternoon at 3:00p.m. in the New York secretariat. Access the agenda here. Heads of state are expected to arrive next week, where they will make their plenary addresses.
Venezuela's Presidential Election: In the lead-up to Venezuela’s October 7 presidential contest, it was revealed over the weekend that incumbent President Hugo Chávez would not select a running mate in spite of his widely speculated deteriorating health. Chávez’ challenger, Henrique Capriles, has not selected a likely vice presidential candidate either. Further, Venezuelan polling firm Consultores21 released a poll over the weekend putting Capriles Radonski two percentage points ahead of Chávez – 48 percent to 46 percent.
Related: Americas Society and Council of the Americas will host a discussion on September 18, titled “The Road to Venezuela’s Elections: A Look at the Media, Public Opinion, and the Economy.” The president of Consultores21 will speak on the panel.
EU - Canada Trade Talks Continue: Officials from the European Union will arrive in Ottawa this week for the penultimate round of negotiations with Canada on a free-trade pact. An agreement is farther behind schedule. As Americas Quarterly reported in early 2011, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement was anticipated to be signed in the middle of last year.
Paraguay to Demand Reparations from Mercosur: The Paraguayan foreign ministry filed grievances with the Argentine, Brazilian and Uruguayan embassies in Asunción a few days ago on the charge of “grave arbitrariness” since its suspension from Mercosur following the ouster of former President Fernando Lugo. In a separate release, the foreign ministry noted that “Paraguay has the right to demand moral reparation for the offences infringed upon the dignity of the Republic, as a State and as a member of the international community, as well as claim compensation for the economic losses and damages suffered.” President Federico Franco has charged Mercosur as an “ideological club of friends,” and is intensifying his rhetoric against the South American trade bloc that does not recognize his presidency as legitimate. Expect Argentine, Brazilian and Uruguayan responses from the grievances this week.
Extra: Today begins the first full week of National Hispanic Heritage Month in the U.S., which lasts from September 15 to October 15.