Uruguayan President José Mujica announced at the Council of Ministers on Monday his decision to withdraw Uruguayan troops from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). The Mission was installed by the UN Security Council in 2004 following the coup d’état against former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and was reinforced in early 2010 when a devastating earthquake resulted in more than 220,000 deaths, according to government figures.
The UN has encouraged a progressive reduction of MINUSTAH’s troops as the peacekeeping mission’s mandate is coming to an end in June 2014. The latest Security Council resolution established that troops must be reduced to 5,021 soldiers and 2,601 police agents—down from the 8,690 officials who are currently on the island.
According to Uruguayan Defense Minister Eleuterio Fernández Huidobro, Mujica ordered the early withdrawal of the Uruguayan troops, which must be done in coordination with the Security Council and other countries from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). The president stated that the process should not be postponed any further, since other countries like Brazil have already decided to leave.
With 950 officials in Haiti, Uruguay is second only to Brazil as the country that provides the greatest number of military officials to MINUSTAH. Besides Uruguay, other nations with peacekeeping troops in Haiti include Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Guatemala, El Salvador and Peru.
The presence of peacekeepers has been the target of popular protests and a source of controversy in Haiti because of the peacekeepers’ role in re-introducing cholera to the country, numerous cases of sexual exploitation and abuse involving MINUSTAH personnel—including the sexual assault of a young Haitian man by Uruguayan troops—and other abuses.
Peru Declares State of Emergency amid Mining Protests
The Peruvian government declared a state of emergency yesterday in the southeastern province of Espinar after a week of protests left at least two dead and 70 injured. Espinar residents are protesting a $1.5 billion expansion of the Tintaya copper mine, claiming that the mine’s Swiss owner Xstrata—the largest single mining investor in Peru—does not contribute enough to the local economy. Similar demonstrations took place last year in the province of Cajamarca, where residents protested the expansion of a gold mine.
Brazil Plans Five New Hydroelectric Dams
On May 25, Valor Econômico reported that the Brazilian government is forging ahead with plans to construct five hydroelectric dams in the Tapajos River basin, a tributary of the Amazon. The publication said that environmental studies are underway and bidding for operators will begin next year. Belo Monte—one of the country’s largest hydroelectric construction projects also located in the Amazon basin—encountered numerous obstacles to construction, including lawsuits and worker strikes.
Dilma Announces Changes to Polemical Forest Code
On May 25, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff issued a number of alterations to the new version of the Forest Code, a legal framework for forest preservation in Brazil. She made 12 line-item vetoes and 32 modifications, most notably nixing amnesty for large-scale illegal deforesters who cleared land before 2008. The law now returns to Congress, where it won’t likely be discussed until after Brazil hosts the UN Rio+20 environmental conference in June.
Read more about the Forest Code in an AS/COA News Analysis on environmental issues in Brazil.
Brazil, Venezuela Rank High in Software Piracy
Four Latin American countries—Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela—make the top 20 in the Business Software Alliance’s annual report on software piracy. Brazil comes out on top (and fifth overall) in terms of value of pirated software at $2.8 billion. But Venezuela leads the pack with the highest rate of pirated software—88 percent.
Venezuela Targets Civilian Aircraft in Drug Fight
The Venezuelan Congress passed legislation May 23 permitting the country’s air force to shoot down aircraft suspected of carrying illegal drugs. Though the government believes the law will help Venezuela in its fight against international organized crime groups, InsightCrime believes “a policy advocating the use of force against civilian aircraft carries risk.”
Poll Shows Narrower Lead for Chávez
A recent survey by Venezuelan polling firm Varianzas puts opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski within five points of his competitor, President Hugo Chávez. The current president leads with 50.7 percent of likely votes while Capriles has 45.5 percent, the poll found. However, 53.3 percent of respondents said they believed Chávez would win in October, compared with 42.4 percent for Capriles.
Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (CFK) will travel today to Salto, Uruguay, to meet with her Uruguayan counterpart José Mujica. Together they will preside over the opening of a new train line that will connect passengers in the two countries.
In recent years only cargo has crossed the Argentina-Uruguay border by rail. Passenger train service was discontinued nearly 30 years ago due to frayed bilateral relations. In recent years disagreement has centered on the construction of a cellulose plant in Fray Bentos, Uruguay, that Argentina alleged would pollute the Río Uruguay on the border of both countries. For the last three years, Argentines in the city of Gualeguaychú, Entre Ríos (at times with the support of the federal government), staged numerous protests including a blockade of the bridge over the Río Uruguay.
The new railway—and this afternoon’s inauguration ceremony, which hundreds of government officials from both countries are expected to attend—underscores the warming relations between the South American neighbors. CFK’s trip, replete with symbolism, will take her from across the Río Uruguay in Concordia, Entre Ríos, to Salto, as she and Mujica launch the rail line traversing the river border between their two countries.
This transnational infrastructure is part of El Plan de Acción Binacional Argentino-Uruguayo (Argentine-Uruguayan Bi-National Action Plan), that was signed earlier this month by the two countries’ ministers of transport. Today’s symbolic journey from Concordia to Salto will expand on September 9 to a weekly, 813-kilometer (505-mile) journey from Pilar, Argentina to Paso de los Toros, Uruguay. Service will become daily by December.
Just a decade ago, most Latin American governments looked to the United States and Europe as examples of how to improve governance, foster sustainable economic growth and institute more just societies. But today, there are some countries in Latin America that serve as case studies worth following—one of which is Uruguay. It may be the size of Washington State and have one of the smallest populations in the region (3.3 million), but it should be truly commended for its developmental progress in recent years.
Although dwarfed by the neighboring economies of Brazil and Argentina, Uruguayans overall have a better standard of living. Uruguay’s annual per-capita income is estimated at roughly $14,000—higher than that of Brazil and Argentina. Physical security is better, too, as evidenced by known cases of families moving from Buenos Aires to Montevideo in search of a safer environment. Recent regional rankings on tourism reflect Uruguay as a desirable destination. According to the 2010 Latin Business Chronicle’s Tourism Index, Uruguay is Latin America’s tourism champion. The country receives more than 2 million tourists a year, an amount equaling roughly 60 percent of its population.
Years of economic growth and state policy promoting technology usage by citizens, government and business has made the Uruguayans some of the most tech-savvy in the region. In May 2008, former president Tabaré Vázquez (2005-10) launched a government program called La Agenda Digital Uruguay 2008-10 (Uruguay Digital Agenda 2008-10) that worked toward the consolidation of all of Uruguay’s information technology programs. Its main objective was to create a more inclusive and democratic society. It gave high priority to Plan Ceibal, known in English as One Laptop per Child, which is responsible for distributing low-cost laptops to all public primary-school students and teachers. This open-source initiative has been so successful that it was extended to secondary schools, and inspired another project to make available affordable “triple play” (Internet, phone, and television) services to low-income families. By November 2010, Uruguay’s investment agency Uruguay XXI reported that the government had distributed 380,000 laptops, trained 18,000 teachers, created 280 free Wi-Fi areas in Montevideo and gave 220,000 families their first computer.
Former Argentine President Néstor Kirchner was chosen today to be the first secretary general of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) at a summit outside of Buenos Aires attended by heads of state and foreign ministers from the 12 countries that comprise the group. Speaking after today’s vote, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva called Mr. Kirchner “a person with a lot of experience" and called his nomination “yet another step in the consolidation of the organization.”
The crucial vote in today’s process was that of new Uruguayan President José Mujica who, in the end, decided to abstain. At a similar summit last year, former Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez vetoed Mr. Kirchner’s candidacy to protest Argentina’s position on a dispute that has resulted in the blocking since 2006 of a bridge linking the two countries. Last March, Uruguay began adopting a more conciliatory tone and Mr. Mujica has friendly relations with Mr. Kirchner and his wife, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
Seven of the region’s presidents were present for the vote. Other items on the meeting agenda include discussions on the recognition of Porfirio Lobo as President of Honduras, financial assistance for Haiti, a communal denunciation of an immigration law recently passed in Arizona, and the Falklands Islands conflict.
President of Uruguay José Mujica met Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in the presidential palace this morning during his first official visit to Caracas. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro received Mujica on Tuesday afternoon. Luis Almagro, foreign minister of Uruguay, and Roberto Kreimerman, minister of industry, accompanied Mujica.
Almagro said the two leaders planned to discuss the sale of crude petroleum to Uruguay as well as cooperation between the state Administración Nacional de Combustibles, Alcohol y Portland (Ancap) and Petróleos de Venezuela (Pdvsa). Raúl Sendic, future president of ANCAP, said the leaders would discuss the possibility of Venezuelan investment in a gasoline storage facility in the Nueva Palmira region.
Mujica also sought to secure more business for Uruguayan exports during the trip. Last year, Venezuela purchased $186 million of Uruguayan goods, mostly agricultural products, while Uruguay bought $520 million of Venezuelan oil.
In a clear signal of continuity of President Tabaré Vázquez' Honduras policy, President-elect José Mujica’s future minister of foreign affairs has said that
Luis Almagro made the statement at a meeting with foreign press correspondents, where he called the November 2009 election in
Mr. Mujica, like President Vázquez, is a member of the Frente Amplio coalition, and will take office on March 1.
Senator José Mujica of the Broad Front coalition received 47.5 percent of the vote and ex-President Luis Alberto Lacalle finished with 28.5 percent of ballots in Uruguay’s presidential election on Sunday. The top two candidates, with neither securing at least 50 percent support, will face off in the second round of voting on November 29. Running a distant third, Colorado Party candidate Pedro Bordaberry received 17 percent of votes.
Mujica assured his supporters of a clean sweep saying, “We have more support than the other top two parties combined…How can we not be happy about the indisputable fact that we are headed to victory.” Lacalle issued a similar message: “We will be in control of the executive branch on November 29.”
Official reports set voter turnout at 90 percent of the country’s eligible 2.6 million voters. Mujica, 74, plans to continue many of the policies from the administration of President Vázquez while Lacalle, 68, who was president from 1990 to 1995, campaigned to remove Vázquez’ income tax and downsize the government.
Mujica was a leader of the Tupamaros, a guerilla group that opposed military rule, before being imprisoned for 15 years and eventually released in a 1985 amnesty. Since then, he has helped transform the group into a legitimate political movement. Lacalle is a former lawyer and part of the Uruguayan political elite who helped found the Mercosur trading bloc.