The Unión de Naciones Suramericanas (The Union of South American Nations—UNASUR) and the Banco de Desarrollo de América Latina (Latin American Development Bank—CAF) announced plans on Tuesday to develop the first fiber optic cable exclusively financed by Latin American institutions.
The creation of the proposed Red de Conectividad Suramericana para la Integración (South American Connectivity Network for Integration) could reduce South America’s reliance on foreign businesses for the infrastructure needed to connect to the Internet, subsequently lowering costs of access as well as increasing connectivity speeds.
UNASUR Secretary-General Ernesto Samper explained in a press conference in Montevideo, Uruguay, that Internet speed in South America is significantly slower than in other countries because of the challenges of broadband connectivity in the region, causing prices to surge up to 20 times higher than in developed countries.
There are an estimated 22.3 million Internet users in Latin America, accounting for 54.7 percent of the region’s population. Samper expressed concern about the digital divide in South America, stating that “one who is not connected is lost” and that Latin America “needs to generate value added processes and create autonomous communications highways to strengthen its independence and cyber defenses.”
CAF has pledged an initial investment of 1.5 million dollars for the first phase of the project, which will involve an in-depth analysis of the current Internet technologies in each South American country to determine how they will incorporate existing cables into the future fiber optic grid. The vice president of CAF, Antonio Sosa, stated that the study would focus on demographics, technical issues and institutional framework in each country.
Likely top stories this week: Independent forensic team deems Mexico’s 43 missing students case inconclusive; Cuban authorities to expand Internet centers in 2015; archaeological relics uncovered along Nicaragua Canal route; a general strike in Haiti on eve of Carnival; Unasur seeks to facilitate U.S.-Venezuela dialogue.
Independent Forensic Team Deems Mexico’s 43 Missing Students Case Inconclusive: A forensic report conducted by a team of Argentine experts was released on Saturday, questioning the Mexican government’s announcement last month that the 43 missing students in Iguala were definitively murdered. Hired by the students’ families to conduct an independent investigation, the Argentine Forensic Anthropologists concluded that Mexico’s official statement does not provide sufficient evidence to close the case. The report also issued a list of discrepancies in the Mexican attorney general’s investigation, including mistakes in the collection of 20 genetic profiles from family members that rendered them unusable, and allowing the trash dump—a key crime scene—to be unguarded for weeks. The Argentine team insists that investigations into the students’ disappearances should continue. The attorney general’s office has not responded to the statement.
Cuba to have 300 Internet Centers by Late 2015: Cuban authorities plan to create more than 300 Internet centers by the end of 2015, according to the state-run telecommunications company, Etecsa. There are currently 155 public “cyber points,” established by Etecsa in June 2013, that provide restricted access to the Internet at the steep cost of $4.50 per hour—as much as 20 percent of the minimum monthly wage. Etecsa also announced the possibility of creating Wi-Fi networks in hotels. Currently, only certain professionals have access to the internet—with government authorization. In January, the U.S. eased export restrictions on IT equipment to improve telecommunications and Internet access in Cuba, a market of 11 million people.
15,000 Pre-Columbian Artifacts Discovered along Nicaragua Canal Route: Nicaragua Canal developers have discovered 15,000 pre-Columbian artifacts—mainly shards of pottery and obsidian—along the interoceanic canal’s proposed 173-mile route. The relics were found above ground, but archaeologists expect to unearth more artifacts once digging officially begins. Environmental Resources Management (ERM), a British consulting firm, and Jorge Espinoza, a Nicaraguan archaeologist, plan to work with the Nicaraguan government and the Chinese development firm HKND to conduct a number of specific archaeological excavations along the route. “Due to the quantity, it would be impossible to preserve every last relic,” says ERM. The $50 billion project is estimated to take five years and has faced significant pushback from Nicaraguan farmers citing social and environmental concerns.
General Strike in Haiti on Eve of Carnival: The three-month-long protests against Haitian President Michel Martelly are expected to continue today, with a two-day general strike planned in the capital city of Port-au-Prince over the high cost of gasoline. While the global price of crude oil continues to fall, and is currently at about $53 per barrel, the Haitian government has emphasized that it cannot lower the price of gasoline—currently at $4.50 a gallon after a recent $0.25 reduction—due to its PetroCaribe debt. Haiti’s debt to Venezuela’s preferential fuel program is currently at about $1.5 billion. Protestors have threatened to disrupt Haiti’s Carnival, set to begin on February 15, if the prices aren’t lowered further. Haiti’s long-delayed elections originally sparked the anti-government protests in December, and President Martelly continues to rule by decree. Despite threats of violence during the strike, protests against the high cost of fuel that drew about 6,000 people over the weekend were largely peaceful.
Unasur Seeks to Facilitate U.S.-Venezuela Dialogue: As the meeting of the foreign affairs ministers of the Unión de Naciones Suramericanas (Union of South American Nations—Unasur) requested by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro drew to a close in Uruguay today, Ricardo Patiño, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ecuador, expressed Unasur’s concerns over U.S. sanctions against Venezuela. Patiño emphasized the committee’s interest in opening up direct channels of communication between the U.S. and the South American nation after receiving a report on the potential impact of recent U.S. sanctions against Venezuelan government officials, which stem from charges of corruption and human rights violations following mass protests in Venezuela last year. The U.S. sanctions have frozen assets and restricted travel visas for former and current government officials who are believed to have taken part in human rights abuses, and were expanded to include their immediate family members last week after the Venezuelan government ignored “repeated calls for change,” and “continued to demonstrate a lack of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms,” according to U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
La estabilidad interna de Venezuela es un tema relevante a la agenda política latinoamericana. La revolución bolivariana, cargada del ímpetu de su discurso anti-imperialista, puso a la disposición de la región recursos y voluntad para la materialización de un proyecto conjunto. Sin embargo, hace más de un mes que la violencia política y la represión aumentan en Venezuela. El fracaso económico del país petrolero se manifiesta en una inflación galopante y desabastecimiento, alta criminalidad y un próspero mercado de armas ilegales. La desesperación de la clase media comienza a permear a los más pobres, y la ausencia de un líder carismático ya no puede ser compensada con incrementos del gasto público.
Era de esperarse que este mes los principales mecanismos internacionales encargados de gestionar este tipo de crisis—o bien la Organización de Estados Americanos (OEA) o la Unión de Naciones Sudamericanas (UNASUR)—se activasen.
Suramerica aparenta estar paralizada: El embajador panameño, Arturo Valliarino, convocó ante la OEA una reunión de cancilleres para tratar el tema de Venezuela. Rápidamente, el embajador venezolano, Roy Chaderton, bloqueó los intentos de reunión. El canciller venezolano, Elías Jaua, entonces acusó a Panamá de seguir la agenda de Washington para perjudicar la imagen del gobierno de Venezuela y alentar una intervención. Justo después de una reunión privada del consejo permanente de la OEA—y coincidiendo con los actos del primer aniversario de la muerte de Hugo Chávez—Nicolás Maduro rompió relaciones con Panamá.
Likely top stories this week: results in the race for governor of Baja California; protests over legislation in Peru; Costa Rica approves same-sex civil unions; Brazil responds to surveillance reports; and UNASUR divided over Evo Morales’ flight interruptions.
Baja California’s Next Governor
On Sunday, nearly half of Mexico's 31 states held elections for mayors and local legislatures, but the most watched contest is the unfolding results in the governor’s race in the state of Baja California—the only gubernatorial election on Sunday—where the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN) has held the governorship for the last 24 years. Significantly, in 1989, the PAN’s electoral win in Baja California was the first state loss for the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI), and a victory that is often seen as eventually leading to the PAN winning the presidency in 2000.
On Sunday, shortly after polls closed, both Francisco "Kiko" Vega de Lamadrid of the Unidos por Baja California alliance (which includes the PAN and Partido de la Revolución Democrática, PRD) and Fernando Castro Trenti of the Compromiso por Baja California alliance (which includes the PRI) claimed victory. With 92.5 percent of the votes counted as part of the Preliminary Electoral Results Program (PREP), Kiko Vega held a slight advantage (47.19 percent versus 44.09 percent) over Castro Trenti.
A dispute in the electoral results could result in new tension in the Pact for Mexico—an agreement of 95 loosely defined proposals signed by the three main political parties and unveiled on President Enrique Peña Nieto’s first day in office last December.
Peruvian Students and Civil Servants Protest Reforms
On Thursday and Friday, Peruvian police clashed violently with protesters, when hundreds of students and civil servants in Lima marched toward Congress to protest reforms that would impose tougher standards on universities and public employees. According to the protesters the reforms would force many students from their jobs and would compromise the autonomy of the country’s universities. President Ollanta Humala, who proposed the law, says it aims to improve the quality of government services and bolster a higher education system that lags behind many in the region. Humala signed the Civil Service Law, which imposes strict annual evaluations for government employees, on Thursday. A separate bill to reform universities and tighten standards for professors is pending in Congress.
Costa Rica’s Congress Inadvertently Approves Same-Sex Civil Unions
On Friday, Costa Rica’s Congress was shocked to learn that it had inadvertently legalized same-sex civil unions after President Laura Chinchilla signed a bill late Thursday governing social services and marriage regulations for young people. Earlier versions of the bill had defined marriage as the union between a man and a woman, but the bill that the mostly conservative Congress approved included revised language that "confers social rights and benefits of a civil union, free from discrimination." Jose Villalta of the Broad Front Party had inserted the new language that was unanimously approved.
When lawmakers noticed the new language—after having approved the bill—they asked Chinchilla to veto the new law, but she refused. A group of conservative congressman from the Christian Costa Rican Renovation Party has pledged to launch a legal challenge to the new law.
Brazil Demands Explanations about Reports of U.S. Surveillance
On Sunday, Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota expressed deep concern over a report that the United States has collected data on billions of telephone and email conversations in Brazil. Over the weekend, O Globo newspaper reported that information released by National Security Agency (NSA) leaker Edward Snowden shows that the NSA had logged nearly the same number of telephone and email messages in Brazil as it had in the United States. The article was written by Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian reporter who originally broke the Snowden leak story. The Brazilian government demanded clarifications from the U.S. embassy in Brasilia and pledged to approach the UN to set ground rules for international espionage to protect citizens’ privacy and to preserve national sovereignty.
UNASUR Holds Emergency Meeting
On Thursday, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) held an emergency meeting in Cochabamba, Bolivia, to discuss the bloc’s response after several European countries closed their airspace to Bolivian President Evo Morales on Wednesday over concerns that his plane, which left from Moscow, was carrying Edward Snowden. President Rafael Correa of Ecuador called for the meeting, which was attended by Morales, President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina, and José Mujica of Uruguay. The Colombian, Chilean and Peruvian presidents—all of whom maintain strong relationships with the United States—did not attend. During the meeting, regional leaders called for apologies from Italy, Portugal, France, and Spain for violating Bolivia’s sovereignty and condemned the U.S. for violating human rights through their surveillance programs. The lack of participation among key UNASUR members highlights the bloc’s divide on the issue.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Mexico’s presidential inauguration; Kyoto Protocol up for renegotiation; reaction to a new oil field find in Mexico; UNASUR meets in Peru; and Argentina-Ghana dispute to be reviewed by the UN.
Enrique Peña Nieto Assumes Power: On Saturday, President Felipe Calderón will conclude his six-year term and hand the presidential sash to President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto. He won the July 1 election with a nearly 7 percentage point advantage over the second-place finisher, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. In advance of his inauguration, Peña Nieto will travel to Washington DC and meet with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House tomorrow. “Expect immigration, security, border cooperation, and economic cooperation to be on the agenda but the main takeaway from their meeting will be to lay the foundation for building on the expanded working level cooperation achieved over the last few years,” notes AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak.
Extra: Look for an AQ Web Exclusive analysis on the inauguration—and the next six years—later this week from Dr. Rafael Fernández de Castro, chair of the international studies department at the Instituto Tecnológico Autonómo de México (Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico—ITAM).
COP18 Gets Underway: The 18th United Nations Climate Change Conference—known as COP18—begins today in Doha, Qatar and runs through December 7. COP18 comes after other UN-sponsored summits—from Rio+20 in Brazil (2012) to COP17 in South Africa (2011) to COP16 in Mexico (2010) —have not managed to renew global commitment toward climate change and with the Kyoto Protocol set to expire this year. The U.S. and Canada are the only countries in the Americas not to ratify the Protocol.
Mexico Finds More Oil: President Calderón announced the discovery of a large oil field in Tabasco state yesterday that may have reserves of up to 500 million barrels. With President-elect Peña Nieto discussing opening up Petróleos Mexicanos (Mexican Petroleums—PEMEX) to private investment, expect discussions this week about what this latest find can mean for its domestic development and geopolitical strategy.
UNASUR Summits: A group of UNASUR defense ministers, known as the South American Defense Council (SADC), is meeting today through Wednesday in Lima. Two working groups, one on the transparency of military stock and the other on the incorporation of women into the defense sectors, are expected to report. The SADC summit occurs ahead of the Fourth Regular Meeting of the Heads of State and Government of UNASUR this Friday, also in Lima.
UN to hear Argentina-Ghana Dispute: After the Argentine vessel ARA Libertad was detained in a Ghanaian port due to unpaid national debts early last month, there has been much back-and-forth between Argentina and bondholders. After Argentine Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman took his complaints to the UN, the UN Law of the Sea Tribunal—based in Hamburg, Germany—will hear the arguments on Thursday and Friday. Read more on the dispute between Argentina and its debt holders.
Top stories this week are likely to include: López Obrador files a legal challenge to Peña Nieto’s win; cholera spreads in Cuba; standoff between Bolivia and a multinational Canadian mining firm; the Chávez factor in the U.S. presidential election; and Unasur sends a delegation to Paraguay.
López Obrador Contests Peña Nieto’s Victory: Although Enrique Peña Nieto won the July 1 presidential election according to the independent electoral authority Instituto Federal Electoral (Federal Electoral Institute—IFE) earlier this month by over 6 percentage points, runner-up Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has now filed a legal challenge to the ruling, claiming fraud on the part of Peña Nieto’s Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI). AMLO’s team says it will prove that “illicit money” was used to buy votes. Despite IFE having recounted over half the ballots and still upholding its verdict of Peña Nieto’s win, AMLO’s legal challenge submitted to IFE will now be forwarded to the Federal Electoral Court; in turn, the Court will deliver a ruling before early September.
AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini notes, “While fraud remains a problem in Mexican elections and with it people's trust in the results, AMLO is going to have an uphill battle explaining the direct, logical connection between any allegations of fraud and 3 million plus votes of difference between him and the winner, Enrique Pena Nieto."
Cuba and Cholera: According to the Cuban health ministry in a release over the weekend, there have been no new cholera-related deaths since the three ones reported earlier this month in the eastern city of Manzanillo. However, the health ministry has reported 158 cases of the disease, a significant increase from the 56 initially disclosed. Given that the health ministry has remained rather quiet, leading to rumors about a wider problem with the outbreak, pay attention this week to growing concerns about the spread of cholera.
Top stories this week are likely to include: the Mexican presidential election pushes forward after last night’s debate; Chávez to file presidential candidacy today; Fernández de Kirchner to visit UN on Thursday; new UNASUR Secretary-General takes over; Brazil responds to lowered GDP projections; and B-20 business summit in Los Cabos.
Mexican Presidential Election: After last night’s second and final debate between the top four contenders for the Mexican presidency, the final weeks of the campaign are likely to see continued discussion over the candidates’ positions on how to fight nacrotrafficking and insecurity. Each candidate sought to spell out how their approach would differ from President Felipe Calderón’s heavy reliance on the military. According to the New York Times, the candidates, “while vowing to continue to fight drug trafficking, say they intend to eventually withdraw the Mexican Army from the fight,” pledge “to devote more attention to programs that address the social inequality that leads young people to join criminal groups.” In polling, PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto continues to hold a steady lead while PRD challenger Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has moved into second. On AMLO, AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini notes that “despite his recent rise in polls, credible surveys still put him a very distant second and well outside the margin of error.”
Chávez to File Today: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez will register his presidential candidacy in person today for re-election to a third term in the October 7 contest. Henrique Capriles Radonski, opposition challenger, filed his candidacy yesterday after a 6.2-mile (10 kilometer) march through Caracas flocked with tens of thousands of supporters. Chávez’ debilitating health after nearly a year of cancer treatment raises a constant red-flag. Notes Sabatini, “Capriles Radonski’s march through the city was intended to be a demonstration of strength, a counterpoint to Chávez’ absence and the mystery of his health. But will it work? Many of the old wedge issues remain, irrespective of perceptions of Chávez’ health: What will happen in a post-Chávez scenario both in terms of political turmoil and the still-popular misiones?”
Brazil Reacts to Lower GDP Projections: Economic forecasters have lowered Brazil’s projected 2012 GDP growth from 2.72 percent to 2.53 percent, according to Reuters. The revised figures are due to problems in the manufacturing sector and the European debt crisis, according to a poll from Brazil’s central bank. “While Europe and a slowing in Chinese demand are adversely affecting Brazilian manufacturing, the long-term challenge is to reduce the ‘Brazil cost’ of excessive bureaucracy, inadequate infrastructure and other manufacturing hurdles that companies face,” according to AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak.
CFK at the UN on Thursday: Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (CFK) will attend the UN Special Committee on Decolonization meeting, known as the Committee of 24, this Thursday. According to Argentine Cabinet Chief Juan Manuel Abal Medina, CFK “expects a strong definition in terms of advancing in the path of dialogue and reaching an agreement to recover our Malvinas Islands.”
New UNASUR Secretary-General: Today, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) secretariat shifts from Colombia to Venezuela. All chancellors of UNASUR countries are currently in Bogotá for a ministerial-level meeting at the Casa de Nariño, where María Emma Mejía, former Colombian foreign minister and current UNASUR secretary-general, will hand over the secretariat to Venezuelan businessman Alí Rodríguez Araque, who was formerly the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) secretary-general and president of Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA), Venezuela’s state-owned oil company.
B-20 Summit to Precede G-20: The B-20 business summit will convene on Sunday and Monday in Los Cabos, Mexico, as an antecedent to the G-20 next week. The B-20’s objective, according to its website, is to promote dialogue between governmental and business leaders, enrich the discussions of the G-20 and facilitate the G-20’s objectives such as economic growth and social development. A sample of working groups in this year’s B-20 will include food security, green growth, employment, anti-corruption, and trade and investment.
From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Mexico Hosts First 2012 Presidential Debate
On Sunday night, the four top Mexican presidential candidates faced one another in the country’s first of two planned presidential debates. The debate was seen as an opportunity for candidates to gain an edge as the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s (PRI) Enrique Peña Nieto maintains a lead of over 20 percent. Though the National Action Party’s Josefina Vázquez Mota and the Party of the Democratic Revolution’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador attacked Peña Nieto’s record, polls after the debate show no diminished support for the PRI candidate. The Wall Street Journal noted that the debate revealed areas of agreement between Peña Nieto and Vázquez Mota, such as allowing foreign investment in Mexico’s state oil company and fighting crime. The paper said this “suggests that Mexico could begin to see consensus on key issues like energy, where attempts at reform have been blocked by a divided Congress for years.”
Social Media a Double-Edged Sword in Mexico's Election
Mexico’s 2012 election marks the first time many of Mexico’s tech-savvy youth will vote, giving social media—and especially Twitter—a tremendous influence on the campaign, writes Nathaniel Parish Flannery for The Atlantic. “For the campaigns, the hope is that something that comes out of social media will get picked up as news and broadcast more widely,” commented the Council on Foreign Relation’s Shannon O’Neil in the article. However, Flannery writes that “[c]andidates have…seen the strategy backfire, as viral videos of awkward stumbles during important speeches by both Josefina [Vázquez Mota] and Enrique Peña Nieto spread rapidly across the web.”
U.S. House Speaker Urges Engagement with LatAm
On May 8, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) addressed the Council of the Americas’ 42nd Washington Conference, cautioning that disengaging Latin America could threaten security and economic stability in the Western Hemisphere. He advocated for a free enterprise zone in the Americas, and spoke about the threat of organized crime in the region. “The best defense against…the destructive aspirations of international criminals is for the United States to double down on a policy of direct engagement,” he said.
Access full coverage of COA’s 42nd Washington Conference on the Americas, including summaries of remarks by speakers such as Boehner, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, and Argentine Vice President Amado Boudou.
The foreign affairs ministers of Union of South American Nations (Unasur) member-countries gathered in Buenos Aires, Argentina on Wednesday for a meeting on economic cooperation and diplomacy. The members agreed on plans to send Unasur monitors to upcoming regional elections but could not reach a consensus on the group’s position on recent developments in Libya.
Members are divided between those—like Colombia and Brazil—who suggest formally recognizing Libya’s National Transition Council (NTC) and those, like Venezuela and Ecuador , who question the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) multilateral military intervention.
Brazil’s Antonio Patriota added the Libya conflict to this year’s meeting agenda and proposed that the bloc recognize the NTC alongside Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain and others. In Latin America, only Colombia has officially recognized the governing body.
“We exchanged our views and recognized that this is a situation in permanent evolution but we have not established a position about it”, said Carolyn Rodrigues-Bickett, Guyana’s Foreign Affairs minister and also president pro tempore of the Union.
Members also agreed that Unasur will start working on the design of a multilateral payment system to reinforce the use of local currencies and the creation of a regional bank, Banco del Sur. The 12 countries also agreed on steps to coordinate the use of their reserves to quell economic volatility.
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has dismissed any speculation that he will take over the vacated leadership position of the Unión de Naciones SurAmericanas (UNASUR) when he leaves office in January, according to his spokesman, Marcelo Baumbach. The leadership position of UNASUR currently remains vacant following the October 27 passing of former Argentine President Néstor Kirchner. Baumbach further stated in comments yesterday that Brazil had no candidate to fill the position ahead of the UNASUR summit in Guyana this Friday.
Lula’s post-presidency plans remain speculative though he has made statements specifically addressing his desire to remove himself from public service. After stepping down in January, Lula plans to do a lot of “resting” and “traveling” throughout Brazil while further pledging to “extract myself from the presidency.” On representing the country abroad, Lula has stated “I don’t look like an ambassador. I don’t want to be an ambassador. I just want to be a simple Brazilian citizen once more and travel a lot across Brazil.”
This Friday’s UNASUR meeting in Guyana is not likely to include electing a new head for the multi-national organization as it seems that no countries have candidates for the post. The summit will instead focus on the possible creation of a human rights council and on the adoption of a “democratic clause” that would suspend countries transitioning power by non-constitutional means from UNASUR. This clause is being discussed as a response to “the crisis caused by the police uprising” in Ecuador on September 30, Baumbach said. President Lula will use this Friday’s meeting as an opportunity to also meet with Guyana’s President Bharat Jagdeo to discuss joint infrastructure projects.