Almost two weeks after Ecuador held its sixth referendum in three years, the National Electoral Council (CNE) announced last night that nine of 10 referendum questions received majority votes in favor of President Rafael Correa’s proposals. Official results indicate that votes in favor of the proposals accounted for between 44.96 and 50.46 percent of votes cast, while votes opposed to the questions received between only 39.25 and 42.56 percent of votes. The results omit nullified votes or “blank” votes.
The final referendum question on whether to outlaw cock and bullfighting, a question to be addressed by individual districts, received approval in 127 of 221 districts. It will be implemented only in those districts where approved.
The referendum, viewed by many as a vote of confidence in the president himself, was largely expected to be approved. However, growing resentment of the president’s perceived reach into control of the media and his proposal to revamp the judiciary led many to believe that this would not be a landslide victory for Correa. The victory may bolster Correa’s chances for reelection in the next presidential elections, to be held in 2013, although its narrow margin suggests such an outcome may not be as easily achieved as was previously thought.
The results of the referendum now await final confirmation from the CNE, and opposition politicians may still contest the results by filing complaints with the electoral authorities.
Uruguay’s Senate voted yesterday to annul the Ley de Caducidad, or Expiry Law, which since 1986 had granted military officers immunity from prosecution for crimes against humanity committed during the country’s military dictatorship from 1973 to 1985. The vote effectively overrules two prior national referendums in 1989 and 2009, which had upheld the Expiry Law, and opens the door to the possible prosecution of former military officials. The measure keeps intact amnesty for crimes committed during the same period by left-wing militants.
The vote fulfills a major demand of the left-wing members of the Frente Amplio (FA) governing coalition and complies with a 2009 Uruguayan Supreme Court ruling that found the Expiry Law unconstitutional. The measure faced opposition from right wing political party leaders, retired military officials, and even some members of FA like retired Colonel Jose Carlos Araujo, who says repealing the law despite two referendums shows a lack of “respect [for] the decisions of the people.”
In 2003, an independent peace commission found that 175 political opponents were killed during the 12-year dictatorship, including 26 in clandestine torture centers. Only about a dozen officials have been prosecuted for those killings. The repeal passed by a 16-15 vote after a 12-hour debate. It is backed by President José Mujica and will now move to the Uruguay’s lower house for amendments and a vote, which could come as soon as May 20.
Jimmy Carter arrived in Cuba yesterday afternoon for a three-day visit to the island by invitation of the Cuban government. Carter’s travel to the island, billed as a private trip, will include meetings with Catholic and Jewish authorities as well as a meeting with Raúl Castro. The former President is expected to address U.S.-Cuba relations, Cuban economic reforms and the upcoming sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba scheduled to meet from April 16 to 19.
There is also speculation that the former President will also seek to gain the release of imprisoned U.S. government contractor Alan Gross, who was sentenced two weeks ago to a 15-year prison term for providing satellite communication equipment to Jewish groups in Cuba. Authorities claim this was an attempt to provide Internet access to dissidents to destabilize the island.
This trip marks the second time Carter has visited the island and he remains the only sitting or former U.S. President to visit Cuba since Fidel Castro took power in 1959. Carter’s last trip to Cuba was in 2002 during which he pressed Cuban authorities to improve human rights and to introduce democracy. Upon his return, the President urged U.S. authorities to lift the trade embargo against Cuba. As in 2002, Carter will once again be accompanied by his wife, Rosalynn.
Yesterday, Carter met with the head of the Council of the Hebrew Community of Cuba and with Cardinal Jamie Ortega of the Catholic Archdiocese of Havana. Today, he is scheduled to visit the Belen Convent in downtown Havana followed by a meeting with Cuban President Raúl Castro. A press conference will be held at the Havana Palace of Conventions before returning to the United States.
When songwriter Billy Joel penned this classic song about New York City, it had a big nostalgic overtone. In short, it is very hard to be away from New York City for long. The new Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, has sounded a similar tone about New York State and its past leadership role among the 50 states—a time when the Empire State was the “go-to” state and not a “move-from” state.
With statistics at hand, the Governor pointed a somber picture of where New York State is and convincingly argued that the state was at a crossroads. Lagging behind in economic development, healthcare performance, education results on a national level and along with the highest taxation in the nation, he has argued for reinventing, reorganizing and redesigning the state and its government. He has also promised to make the necessary cuts—about $10 billion—in the next budget, due within a few weeks. Finally, he has sounded a realistic tone that clearly indicated that his program and agenda were not a short term, quick fix approach. Rather, it would require an effort over the long haul and would involve both the executive and legislative branches of the government.
It is heady stuff. Using impressive technological support and an unconventional venue, Cuomo demonstrated to his audience at his swearing-in ceremony a command of the situation, and more importantly, he engaged his most crucial partners, Assembly Speaker and fellow Democrat, Sheldon Silver, and new Senate Republican Majority Leader, Dean Skelos in the exercise. The message was clear: we are all on the same ship sailing in one direction.
At the swearing in, both Speaker Silver and Senate Majority Leader Skelos struck a tone of cooperation and promised to work together looking for common solutions, encouraging bipartisanship, and displaying a firm commitment to work beyond the partisan divide. The bar will be high and there will be many difficult choices ahead, but for the over 2,000 people present in the Albany State Convention Center, it marked a new beginning and indicated new opportunities to turn things around.
Cuomo closed his first remarks as governor by reminding the audience that New York State was once the beacon for problem solving and innovation. This was his “New York state of mind” moment. While it is too early to predict how all this will turn out, it was a moment of attention and encouragement that New Yorkers seem to have longed for many years. Just that in itself makes it a good start for the new administration and legislature, and a moment to savor for our New York friends.
*John Parisella is a guest blogger to AQ Online. He is Québec's Delegate General in New York, the province's top ranking position in the United States.
Uruguay’s highest court ruled that a law providing amnesty for human rights violations committed during the 1973-1985 dictatorship and protected former military and law enforcement officials from prosecution is unconstitutional. The ruling comes as the case for human rights abuses and the deaths of 20 people comes to trial against Juan María Bordaberry, the former Uruguayan president and dictator.
The so-called Expiry Law has been upheld by referendums held in 1989 and again in 2009 and requires that all judicial investigations into alleged crimes committed by security force members during the dictatorship be approved by both the executive branch and the Supreme Court. No such investigations had been approved until the election of then-President Tabaré Vázquez, a Frente Amplio (FA) candidate, in 2005.
Proponents of the repeal of the Expiry Law have submitted a bill for approval of the Senate that would recognize all international human rights conventions that the country has signed to be protected by the constitution. Passage of this bill would also invalidate the Expiry Law as it would also broaden prosecutorial powers for prosecuting human rights violators. Opponents of the bill argue that it is an attack on Uruguay’s institutions.
Monday’s ruling allows an investigation into Bordaberry for the deaths of 20 people brought against him by various human rights groups. Bordaberry is currently serving 30 years for constitutional violations and an additional 30 years for extrajudicial killings. He is under house arrest due to health concerns.