This week’s likely top stories: the FIFA World Cup kicks off in Brazil; Colombian voters return to the polls; Venezuelan protesters call for the release of Leopoldo López; President Enrique Peña Nieto defends Mexican reforms in Spain; Argentine Vice President Amado Boudou testifies in court.
World Cup Begins in Brazil Amid Subway Strike: The FIFA World Cup will officially open on Thursday, June 12, with the opening match between Brazil and Croatia at Arena Corinthians stadium in São Paulo. Meanwhile, protesters clashed with police in São Paulo as they supported a subway workers’ strike that began last Thursday when metro employees called for a 12.2 percent salary increase ahead of the tournament. On Sunday, the subway workers’ union voted to continue the strike indefinitely, which will inevitably affect transportation to the Arena Corinthians stadium 12 miles east of central São Paulo. A São Paulo labor court has fined the union $175,000 and said it will add $220,000 per day that the work stoppage continues.
Colombian Runoff Elections: Colombian voters will return to the polls on Sunday to choose between current President Juan Manuel Santos of the Partido de la U and challenger Óscar Iván Zuluaga of the Centro Democrático in what is expected to be a very tight race for president. The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC), who have agreed on three points of a six point peace agenda with the Colombian government in Havana, announced a three-week ceasefire from June 9 to June 30 in recognition of the June 15 runoff election. The government and the FARC recently announced the creation of a truth commission to investigate the deaths of the estimated 220,000 people killed in the country’s 50 year-old internal conflict.
Venezuelan Opposition Calls for Release of Leopoldo López: Members of the Venezuelan opposition protested in Caracas on Sunday to call for the release of opposition leader Leopoldo López, who has been imprisoned since February 18—and are also demanding new presidential elections as soon as possible. López was formally charged in April by Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz of damaging property, arson and instigating violence in the February 12 protests that set off a wave of anti-government demonstrations across the country. Those charges were upheld last week by Judge Adriana López, who concluded that López must remain in custody. At least 42 people have died in protest-related violence.
Enrique Peña Nieto Defends Mexico’s Reforms: In a speech delivered at a meeting of business and political leaders in Madrid, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto defended the political and economic reforms he has passed during his time in office. In the conversation, the president signaled that the introduction of foreign capital into the energy sector would make Pemex a “productive industry of the state,” rather than just an “industry of the state.” He added that Mexico is attempting to deepen its relationship with its Latin American neighbors, citing Mexico’s participation in the Pacific Alliance alongside Chile, Colombia and Peru. Enrique Ochoa Reza, head of Mexico’s Comisión Federal de Electricidad (Federal Commission of Electricity—CFE), and Spanish energy company Iberdola also signed a collaborative agreement.
Argentine Vice President Boudou Appears in Court: Argentine Vice President Amado Boudou is expected to testify on Monday in a criminal corruption probe for his possible involvement in a corruption and influence-peddling scandal. Boudou is accused of using his position as economic minister of Argentina to illegally lift bankruptcy proceedings against the Ciccone Calcografica printing company in return for 70 percent ownership of the firm in 2010. Boudou will appear before prosecutor and federal judge Ariel Lijo in a closed court session. Bodou denies any wrongdoing and asked that Monday’s court session be broadcast before the Argentine public—but that request was denied.
This week’s likely top stories: Candidate Óscar Iván Zuluaga is implicated in a Colombian hacking scandal; Gustavo Madero wins the PAN’s internal elections in Mexico; the Colombian government and FARC reach an agreement on drugs; the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights will visit Guatemala; Argentine Vice President Amado Bodou may be called to testify in a criminal investigation.
Colombian Hacking Scandal Deepens with Release of New Video: A video released this week has implicated Colombian presidential candidate Óscar Iván Zuluaga in a hacking scandal just a week ahead of the country’s presidential election on May 25. The video was published by Colombian news magazine Semana and shows Zuluaga discussing illegal interceptions of military intelligence with his advisor, Andrés Sepulveda, who was arrested and charged with hacking and espionage early this month. Last week, Zuluaga took a narrow lead in the polls over current President Juan Manuel Santos, who is running for re-election. Former Bogotá Mayor Enrique Peñalosa, also a candidate in Sunday’s elections, has called on Zuluaga to quit the race.
PAN Leader Re-elected in Mexico, Improving Chances of Reforms: The leader of the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN), Gustavo Madero, easily won re-election on Sunday in the party’s internal election process, increasing chances that oil and telecom reforms in Mexico will pass. Madero has been working with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to pass the reforms, although his party has been divided by its cooperation with Peña Nieto’s Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI). Madero won 57 percent of the votes cast by 155,984 PAN party members, easily defeating his rival, Ernesto Cordero, who won 43 percent of the vote and said that the PAN should be “responsible and firm” in its opposition to the PRI.
Colombia and FARC Reach Agreement on Drugs: The Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) reached an agreement on Friday to stem the country’s illegal drug trade, the third point of their six-point peace agenda. The government and rebels had already reached agreements on land reform and political participation last year. Humberto de la Calle, the government’s chief negotiator in Havana, said that the FARC has agreed to sever any ties to drug trafficking and that both sides have agreed to clear rural areas of land mines. FARC negotiator Iván Márquez said the government will address the health consequences of spraying toxic chemicals on coca fields by paying reparations to those affected.
UN Deputy High Commissioner on Human Rights to Visit Guatemala: United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Flavia Pansieri will pay an official visit to Guatemala on May 25 in order to conclude the office’s technical assistance to the country, according to a press release from the high commissioner’s office. Pansieri is expected to meet with Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, as well as with several government ministers, members of congress, and the president of the Comisión Presidencial de Derechos Humanos (Presidential Commission of Human Rights—COPREDEH). She will also travel to Izabel to meet with Indigenous women who were victims of sexual violence during Guatemala’s armed conflict and will speak with human rights activists. Pansieri will conclude her visit on May 29.
Argentine Vice President Bodou May Testify in Criminal Investigation: An Argentine appeals court on Friday rejected a request by Argentine Vice President Amado Bodou to be removed from an ongoing tax evasion and influence-peddling investigation. The case focuses on a family-run printing firm, formerly known as Ciccone Calcográfica S.A., which was saved from bankruptcy in 2010 after receiving an injection of capital from a firm run by an acquaintance of Boudou’s close friend, and eventually passed into state hands. Bodou didn’t become involved in the investigation until 2012, after a police raid on an apartment he owned turned up evidence that he may have been involved. Boudou has maintained that he was not involved in any criminal wrongdoing, and has declined to take a leave of absence from office. The court may call on him to testify in the case.
From the 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.
Secretary Clinton Delivers Major Policy Speech in Quito
Before an audience at El Centro Cultural Metropolitano in Ecuador, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a major policy speech in which she articulated the Obama Administration’s vision for U.S.-Latin American relations, with a focus on combating social inequity. Clinton spoke on a range of issues from access to education, to economic equality and social justice to the environment. During her remarks, Clinton paraphrased Latin American historical figures such as South American independence leader Simon Bolivar—a hero of U.S.-critic and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez—and Cuban national hero José Martí as she highlighted points about overcoming social inequities. But she stressed the role of the private sector as well, emphasizing five areas of "opportunity" to overcome impediments to social inclusion: education, reforming inefficient tax systems, empowering women, job creation, and public-private sector partnerships. "If you pit the government against the private sector, that’s a lose-lose proposition," she said. She rounded out her speech with a call to the future rather than the past. "Sometimes, we in America are accused of not paying enough attention to our history," she said. "But the obverse can also be true. Sometimes people are captives of their history. So let us resolve to meet in the present."
Foreign Policy's Madam Secretary blog comments that Clinton charmed Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa, who said during her visit: "[W]e are not anti-American. We love the U.S. very much. It is a trade partner. In fact, I spent the happiest four years of my life with my family in that great country."