Subway workers in Buenos Aires on Monday temporarily ended a strike that had paralyzed the capital and left 1 million commuters stranded per day for the past 10 days. The strike was called off last night after the Subway and Premetro Workers’ Union Association (Asociación Gremial de Trabajadores del Subte y el Premetro—AGTSyP) and Metrovías, the private company that operates the Uquiza Line commuter rail in Buenos Aires, reached an agreement over workers’ salary increases.
The strike, which was the longest in the subway’s 100-year history, began on August 3, when 2,500 subway workers, represented by the AGTSyP, demanded a 28-percent salary increase. Both parties agreed to a 23-percent increase, but union leaders maintain that it’s a temporary solution. “The conflict continues, but we’ve decided to make a gesture towards commuters and workers,” said Roberto Pianelli, secretary general of the AGTSyP in a press conference on Monday.
Some among the Argentine media are framing the strike as a stand-off between the administration of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri, an opposition politician who is expected to run for president in 2015.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Fidel Castro’s birthday; Buenos Aires subway shutdown continues; public teachers to end striking in Panama; talks to renew in Colombia between the government and the Indigenous Nasa; and a possible dialogue over Venezuela’s detained U.S. Marine.
Fidel Turns 86 Years Old: Cuba’s revolutionary leader and former president, Fidel Castro, turns 86 years old today. He faces health issues, having stepped down from the presidency in 2006 after undergoing intestinal surgery—and has not been seen in public or mentioned in the news since June 19, according to Reuters. AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini notes of the occasion, “Six years ago when Fidel Castro stepped aside to pass the torch to his brother Raúl, people thought the end was near. Give the man's staying power credit, but really, what modern country in the region and in the world remains as centered and fixated on an 86-year-old man? It's a sign of how little Cuba—and U.S. policy toward the island—has progressed. We're all stuck in the past.”
Subway Shutdown in Buenos Aires: A strike by union employees of Buenos Aires’ municipal subway system is entering its tenth day today, with no end in sight after talks broke down on Friday with the administration of Mayor Mauricio Macri. The subway shutdown has inconvenienced between 600,000 and 1 million daily commuters. Macri, the most prominent figure of the opposition Propuesta Republicana (Republican Proposal—PRO) party, is blaming the ruling Frente para la Victoria (Front for Victory—FPV) party, to which President Cristina Fernández belongs. Macri is accusing FPV operatives of inciting the union workers, who are demanding a 28 percent increase in pay. Buenos Aires Deputy Mayor Maria Eugenia Vidal stated that the city officials “just don’t have the means to pay for this.” Pay attention to see if there will be any breakthrough in negotiations this week.
Teacher Strike to End in Panama: Leaders of a teacher strike in Panama reached an understanding with the government on Saturday to end the weeklong strike today. Teachers were protesting over issues such as decaying classrooms and insufficient pay.
Santos-Nasa Mediation To Resume in Colombia: Leaders of the Indigenous Nasa group expect to set a date by this Tuesday for the resumption of mediated talks with the government of Juan Manuel Santos. More than 10,000 Nasas marched in the department of Cauca yesterday demanding the government return to the table. Cauca, in southwest Colombia, is home to many rebels belonging to the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC). The Santos administration, therefore, has placed many Colombian soldiers in Cauca as part of the ongoing internal conflict with the FARC, which the Nasa view as a threat to their territorial sovereignty. The Nasas and the government, however, hope to reach an agreement through mediation.
Venezuela-U.S. Showdown Over Detention: After Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced late last week that police have detained an American citizen who claimed to be a former U.S. Marine, tensions have flared between the U.S. and Venezuelan governments. According to the Associated Press, a State Department official said that the U.S. authorities were not notified of his arrest. Chávez has openly suspected that the detainee, whose name has not been released, may be a “mercenary” scheming to destabilize Venezuela. Stay tuned to see if there may be more updates on this case in the coming week.
EXTRA, Rio 2016: After yesterday’s closing ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, the world’s attention turns to Rio de Janeiro for 2016. But is the city ready? Check out AQ’s television segment on Brazil and the Olympics on the “Efecto Naím” program on NTN24.
Mauricio Macri, incumbent mayor of Buenos Aires since 2007, was re-elected yesterday by a nearly two-to-one margin over challenger Senator Daniel Filmus. The election, which had entered a run-off last month after no candidate won an outright majority on July 10, ended with Macri claiming 64.3 percent of votes and Filmus the remaining 35.7 percent.
Filmus was President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s hand-picked candidate from her Frente para la Victoria (Front for Victory—FPV), which controls both the presidency and a combined 118 seats in the 329-seat bicameral Argentina National Congress. Although Macri enjoys widespread popularity as mayor, his Propuesta Republicana (Republican Proposal—PRO) alliance holds only 11 seats in the national congress.
This election was viewed by observers as a bellwether for Argentina’s presidential race. Macri was considered a leading challenger to Fernández de Kirchner in the upcoming October election, but he declined to enter the race earlier this year in favor of seeking another mayoral term. Although Fernández de Kirchner currently leads in the polls, a first-round victory—which requires at least 40 percent of the vote—is not a foregone conclusion. Macri’s endorsement is widely sought after among all potential candidates and he has pledged to speak with each of them prior to deciding who to back.
The next mayor of Buenos Aires will be decided on July 31 after no candidate secured an outright majority during Sunday’s vote in the Argentine capital. Mayor Mauricio Macri—the frontrunner and leader of the Propuesta Republicana (PRO) party—won 47.1 percent of the vote while Daniel Filmus of the Peronist Frente para la Victoria (FPV) party received 27.8 percent of ballots cast, according to results posted with 79 percent of the ballots counted. Fernando ‘Pino’ Solanas from Proyecto Sur received nearly 13 percent of the votes.
Macri reacted with euphoria: “This was greater than what we imagined. I am happy.” Filmus called on other parties to join him in July. “I’ve heard a lot of coincidences. A lot of forces talking about a fairer Buenos Aires. Those forces need to join me in a common project,” he said.
The July 31 runoff election will serve as a thermometer of the political environment preceding the presidential election on October 23, when President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (FPV) will run for re-election. Macri himself previously pulled out of the presidential election to focus on the city; he campaigned on a project of inclusion.
President Fernández de Kirchner called Filmus yesterday evening and told him to “fight the battle.” However, only her ministers attended Filmus’ press conference yesterday.
The passing of Verónica Viviana Medina, who died last Thursday from burn wounds, is part of Argentina’s troubling trend of female deaths after being lit on fire by their partners. Since February 2010, 14 women have been murdered through such extreme acts of domestic violence. Ms. Medina, 32, passed away in a Buenos Aires hospital after over 60 percent of her body was burned three weeks ago.
Police reports say that Medina began an argument with her husband in front of their two children that escalated quickly. Medina’s husband then doused her in alcohol and set her ablaze. Medina was able to run onto the street shouting for help from her neighbors. She identified her husband, Daniel Fernando Rodríguez, 32, as the perpetrator. This was considered rare as most of the 14 women were not able to escape their attackers and notify the public.
Ms. Medina’s death was one of three that have already occurred in 2011, with many additional hospitalizations. In another incident last week, Vanesa Barrera, 21, was lit on fire by her 22-year-old boyfriend in the La Matanza district of Buenos Aires. She remains hospitalized with 80 percent of Barrera’s body having suffered serious burns.
Last week, thousands of poor families (13,000 people according to initial government counts), mostly non-citizens from bordering countries, took over a huge Indoamericano park nearby the Buenos Aires city town of Villa Soldati, and began constructing makeshift homes. The lack of immediate government response to the public park squatters, led angry neighbors to attempt to forcibly kick them out. The result was dramatic civilian riots and clashes reminiscent of 2001 that led to three dead, two Bolivians and one Paraguayan. More than just an embarrassing scene for both national and city governments, the act, which has led to a propagation of similar take-overs, reveals major socioeconomic deficiencies and highlights real concerns over political extortion and sabotage.
Shortly after the Villa Soldati riots, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner acquiesced to demands to send the Gendarmerie and Navy Prefectorate to control the park. The president, however, refused to clear the park and decided instead to erect barricades to protect the protestors as the government conducted a census. Somewhat ironically, televised reporting revealed caged, angry squatters demanding provisions like food and water from the government as if they were being held prisoners.
If he had the equipment and manpower at his disposal, the city´s conservative mayor, Maurcio Macri, would have cleared the park, but his newly created metropolitan police force does not have mob control capacity. In the initial stages of the fiasco, the mayor argued that the national government is responsible for maintaining public order. But the president refused to treat the squatting as illegal, referring to it rather as a protest and demanding that the mayor provide suitable housing for the masses.
The episode was so dramatic and disturbing, that shortly thereafter that President Fernández de Kirchner ordered the creation of a new security ministry and appointed the acting minister of defense since 2005, Nilda Garré, at its helm. She then appointed the former governor of Santa Cruz Province, Arturo Puricelli, as the minister of defense. Most of the political opposition criticized the move as rash decision-making, but most agree that the country is in desperate need of a clearly defined security policy. According to the local media, the first mission of the newly created ministry will be to purge the federal police and create strict government control of the forces to ensure a focus on human rights and transparency. Ms. Garré has also announced the creation of a “citizen participation” commission to incorporate representatives from civil society to control security forces.
Buenos Aires-based civil court judge Marta Gómez Alsina effectively blocked Latin America’s first gay marriage yesterday when she filed an injunction to stop today’s marriage of Alex Freyre and Jose Maria di Bello until the case could be reviewed by the Supreme Court.
The couple, whose initial marriage license application was denied in April, won the right to marry when a judge ruled on November 10 that that laws limiting marriage to a man and a woman violated their constitutional right to equality under the law. Local reactions to the November decisions were mixed as Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri announced that he would not appeal the judge's decision, while Catholic Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio released a statement expressing his disapproval.
Argentina’s capital has been at the forefront of gay-rights issues since 2002 when it became the first major city in Latin America to approve civil unions for gay couples. However, while Buenos Aires' civil-union law was considered a victory for gay and lesbian rights, it did not allow gay couples to adopt children in the name of both parents, to enable a partner to gain citizenship and to inherit wealth or to be included in insurance policies. The couple, both of whom are gay-rights activists, has vowed to press forward with the ceremony despite the ruling.