Top stories this week are likely to include: Venezuelans continue to await news on Chávez; Bolivian soldiers are released but tensions remain; Cardinals meet to discuss possible papal candidates; Argentina offers to issue new bonds for defaulted debt; and Mexico’s PRI ends its opposition to private investment in the state oil company.
Venezuelans continue to wait for news on Chávez' health
Supporters and opponents of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez demonstrated in Caracas again this weekend after Vice President Nicolás Maduro announced on Friday that Chávez was once again undergoing chemotherapy to treat his cancer. Miranda state Governor Henrique Capriles, who lost to Chávez in the 2012 presidential election, said Friday that Maduro was lying about Chávez' true condition. Meanwhile, Venezuelan Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas denied today that the government has lied about the president’s health and said that Chávez has been experiencing “highs and lows” since returning to Venezuela on February 18.
Bolivia says Chile violated international norms
Bolivian President Evo Morales announced Sunday that he would bring Chile before international authorities for detaining three Bolivian soldiers who crossed into Chile with weapons at the end of Janaury, saying the detention violated international norms for transnational cooperation on crime. The soldiers' case in Chile was suspended Friday after they agreed not to enter the country for a year. They returned to Bolivia but tensions between the two countries are continuing to escalate. Bolivia is also mounting a renewed effort to dispute its international borders with Chile; access to the Pacific Ocean was lost in 1879.
Cardinals meet to discuss the next pope
More than 140 Catholic cardinals are convening today to discuss possible papal candidates and conduct Church business. According to the Vatican, the cardinals have not yet set a date for the conclave that will determine whom to choose as Pope Benedict XVI’s successor. Vatican journalists say that possible successors to Pope Benedict, who officially stepped down as pope last Thursday, include Brazilians João Braz de Aviz and Odilo Scherer, and Argentine Leonardo Sandri.
Argentine government agrees to compromise offer on debt standoff
Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced before Congress on Friday that the country would be willing to issue new bonds for private equity fund NML Capital Ltd., which is suing the country for $1.3 billion in defaulted debt. Fernández de Kirchner had previously refused to pay the “vulture funds,” which she has accused of profiting from Argentina’s 2002 economic crisis. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals will give Argentina until March 29 to explain the terms of a new debt swap.
PRI approves private investment in Pemex
Mexico's Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) voted unanimously on Sunday to end its opposition to constitutional changes that would permit private investment in the state oil company, Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX). Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is expected to send bills to Congress later this year that would propose constitutional changes to permit new energy and fiscal reforms. The PRI controls 241 of the 500 seats in Mexico’s lower house, but would need additional congressional support for the reforms to pass.
This week’s announcement that Pope Benedict XVI has resigned and will relinquish his official papal duties at the end of the month has brought into relief the important role of the Catholic Church in Latin America, and the important role of Latin America in the Catholic Church. Home to over 40 percent of the world’s Catholics, some Latin Americans are suggesting that the next Pope to be elected should—for the first time in history—come from outside Europe and, specifically, that he should come from Latin America.
Whatever the merits arguing in favor of a geographic approach to Church leadership, the discussion highlights an important point: increasingly, the vibrancy of the Catholic Church is coming not from its traditional base in Europe and North America, but from developing regions of the world.
Much as a shift in broader global governance is underway, with power diversifying from north to south, this pattern is being repeated in the religious sphere as well—not just in the Catholic Church, but even more so in Protestant evangelical churches.
For years, the growing influence of evangelicals across Latin America has been noted by observers. Adherents have multiplied dramatically, building on a base established primarily but not exclusively from North American missionaries working within the region. But the pattern of evangelization is rapidly changing. In fact, according to Dr. Rodolfo Girón, for many years a pioneer in Latin American missions, the mentality of Latin American evangelical churches is changing from being receivers of missionaries to being senders of missionaries.
Pope Benedict’s resignation on Monday took the world by surprise, and brought hope to Latin America—home of 42 percent of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics—that the next leader of the Catholic Church could be the first to come from outside of Europe.
According to two senior Vatican officials, Latin America’s time has come. Archbishop Gerhard Muellet told Düsseldorf’s Rheinische Post newspaper that ”Christianity isn't centered on Europe,” and on a similar statement, Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch stated that the Church's future is no longer in Europe. For others, however, the higher number of European Cardinals may shift the odds against a Latin American Pope.
All Cardinals less than 80 years old are candidates and can vote to choose the new Pope at a conclave, a closed-door election process that takes place in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. The leading Latin American candidates in the next conclave are Odilo Scherer, 63, archbishop of Sao Paolo, and the Italian-Argentine Leonardo Sandri, 69, who announced to the world the death of Pope John Paul II on April 2005.
Despite Latin America’s long Catholic tradition, a pontiff’s first visit to the region didn’t take place until 1968 when Pope Paul VI visited Bogota, Colombia. The most recent visit was in 2012, when Pope Benedict XVI visited Mexico and made a historic appearance in Cuba, at a time when, according to Cuba Study Group’s Tomas Bilbao, the country “has openly recognized the failure of its current economic model, has encouraged its citizens to openly debate the need for change, and has even recognized the legitimate role of Cubans living abroad in Cuba’s future.”
Pope Benedict XVI, 85, will step down for health reasons on February 28, becoming the first pontiff in nearly 600 years to give up his post. The new pontiff’s first visit to the region could take place in July 2013 during World Youth Day celebrations in Brazil.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Calderón and Harper at the White House; FARC releasing its remaining hostages; the Mexican presidential campaign officially underway; Good Friday declared a holiday in Cuba; and Brazil’s currency hits a six-month low.
Harper and Calderón in Washington: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Mexican President Felipe Calderón and U.S. President Barack Obama are meeting today for the North American Leaders’ Summit. According to a White House press release, the meeting will have a “particular focus on economic growth and competitiveness, citizen security, energy, and climate change.” AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini says, “President Obama has met with these two leaders more than any other world leaders; it makes perfect sense given our levels of trade and the importance of both countries to our security, though this fact has escaped attention.”
FARC Releasing Hostages: After announcing in February that it would release the 10 remaining hostages in its custody, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) will begin doing so today and later this week. The FARC has also announced that it will stop kidnapping civilians for money; asks Sabatini, “Could this be the end of the FARC?”
Campaign Season Underway in Mexico: On Friday the three leading candidates launched their presidential campaigns in a bid to succeed incumbent Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) President Felipe Calderón, who is term-limited from seeking re-election. Expect much attention to be paid to the first full week of official campaigning among the candidates—Enrique Peña Nieto (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI), Andrés Manuel López Obrador (Partido Revolucionario Democrático, PRD), and Josefina Vázquez Mota (PAN). AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak notes, “Although much of the campaign will focus on security policy, the next three months will also be crucial for further defining visions of other important issues, namely energy reform, competition, education, and fiscal policy. These issues must get their due attention as well.” Mexico votes on July 1.
Good Friday in Cuba: Pope Benedict XVI proffered during his visit to Cuba last week that Good Friday be declared a holiday in the island nation; over the weekend the Cuban government granted the papal request. This is particularly interesting for Cuba, which has a small Catholic population relative to other Latin American nations. Could this mean a growing influence of the Church in Cuba? Sabatini observes, “Religious space—any space—is important in Cuba. I hope, though, that the Pope’s trip helped produce more than this.”
Brazilian Currency Hits Six-Month Low: Bloomberg has reported that the value of the Brazilian real dropped to its lowest level since September 2011. How will President Dilma Rousseff respond? Despite much global fears about slowing growth in China, Rousseff expressed frustration with what she termed a “monetary tsunami” on the part of developed economies including the United States. Given that President Rousseff will hold a bilateral meeting with President Obama next week, pay attention to how currency discussion unfolds in the coming days.
Meeting with Fidel Castro and in a Mass before half a million people, Pope Benedict XVI urged Cuba to allow for greater freedom for the Catholic Church. On the last day of his Latin America tour, which also included stops in Mexico and Santiago, Cuba, Pope Benedict XVI met with Cuba’s revolutionary leader at the Vatican Embassy in Havana. The meeting, which lasted about a half-hour, was marked by “intense, cordial and serene dialogue,” said Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi.
This is the first time Fidel Castro, 85, has met with Pope Benedict XVI, 84. He met with Pope John Paul II twice—at the Vatican in 1996 and in Cuba in 1998. According to Lombardi, the two joked about their age, and Castro asked the Pope about changes in the Catholic liturgy since his days as a young student at a Jesuit school. For his part, Pope Benedict spoke of his gladness to be in Cuba and the warm reception he had received.
The intimate meeting between the two leaders followed remarks by the Pope before a much larger audience in Revolutionary Square, where he delivered a midday Mass. With an estimated 500,000 people in attendance, and President Raúl Castro seated in the front row, the Pope’s message of religious—and political—opening was clear. “It must be said with joy that in Cuba steps have been taken to enable the church to carry out her essential mission of expressing her faith openly and publicly,” he said. “Nonetheless, this must continue forward.” The Pope told those gathered in the square to search for truth, the search for which “supposes the exercise of authentic freedom.”
It was unclear how the Pope’s homily was received. Many cheered on his call for an expanded role of the Catholic Church in Cuba, while others simply said they “came for curiosity.”
Top stories this week are likely to include: Pope Benedict XVI’s ongoing trip to Latin America; Hugo Chávez in Havana for radiation therapy; Latin America’s verdict on the World Bank presidency; pro-FARC sentiments in Caracas; and Chávez neck-and-neck with Capriles Radonski.
Benedict XVI in Latin America: In his six-day trip to Mexico and Cuba, the Pope has already waded into the thorniest political issues. He condemned drug trafficking in Mexico and urged followers of the Catholic Church to wield their faith against poverty and other social challenges. “Besides being a successful visit for the Pope, on the political front the question is whether his message will in fact translate into a boost in the polls for PAN presidential candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota,” observes AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak. Amid an ongoing crackdown on human rights in Cuba ahead of Benedict XVI’s landing in Santiago today, the pontiff has spoken out against Cuba’s communist model, adding that “today it is evident that Marxist ideology in the way it was conceived no longer corresponds to reality.” The reserved response given by the Castros may overshadow the Pope’s visit through Wednesday.
Chávez’ Therapy in Cuba: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez arrived back in Havana, the site of his two surgeries after being diagnosed with cancer, for further radiation treatment. He is expected to remain there until Thursday, and he will return to Venezuela for three days before flying back to Cuba for another five-day treatment. But the Venezuelan people still do not know the severity of their president’s health. Notes AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini, “This has already sparked the rumor mill. The lack of transparency on the part of Miraflores is troubling.”
Brazil and the World Bank: Brazil, Latin America’s strongest economy, has not yet decided whom to support for the World Bank presidency despite nominating José Antonio Ocampo (Colombia) on Friday. The two other candidates are Jim Yong Kim (U.S.) and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria). Brazil has long argued for greater representation in global governance on the part of emerging markets, despite casting its vote for Christine Lagarde over Mexican Central Bank (Banxico) head Agustín Carstens last year for the International Monetary Fund managing director post. “Even under the realignment in the voting system, Brazil only controls just over 2 percent of the votes while the U.S. controls nearly 16 percent. Developing countries will certainly have more of a say in this election but the vote of countries like Brazil will ultimately be more of a political statement than one that will dramatically affect the outcome of the election,” notes Jason Marczak. The three candidates will be interviewed to succeed the World Bank’s outgoing President Robert Zoellick, with a decision to be announced at the latest next month.
Outrage over Tirofijo Tribute: Former FARC commander Manuel Marulanda Vélez—nom de guerre Tirofijo—was given a tribute over the weekend in Caracas to commemorate four years after his death. The Colombian government expressed indignation at the event, saying that Tirofijo represents “decades of terror of the FARC.” Venezuela’s perceived coziness with FARC and other rebel groups has always caused rifts with Colombia; Christopher Sabatini says: “President Santos’ policy of improving relations with his counterpart in Caracas helped to cool tensions and address regional issues. But this event is just another that tries those ties. Are they intended to provoke?”
Chávez Tied with Presidential Challenger: President Chávez is in a statistical tie with the opposition candidate, Miranda Governor Henrique Capriles Radonski, according to a Consultoras21 poll released last Friday. Chávez received 46 percent support and Capriles Radonski 45 percent, marking the first time in the general election that Capriles Radonski has moved to a technical tie with the incumbent. Chávez is seeking a third term on October 7; Christopher Sabatini observes that “there’s a long time until voting day, but things are certainly getting interesting.”
Pope Benedict XVI’s first visit to Mexico will begin on March 23 but unlike his predecessor, Benedict will not feel as comfortable calling Mexico siempre fiel—and so hopefully some of his agenda will include discussion on religious diversity.
Pope John Paul II called Mexico “forever faithful” in 1990 due to Catholicism being the dominant faith in the country. However, rising popularity of other religions and the emergence of atheist and agnostic thought in the country could very well be pushing Mexico to a tipping point, leading to question the favored role Catholicism plays in sociopolitical life.
To this day, many large companies in Mexico (national and international) hold posadas, celebrate Christmas and observe other Catholic holidays such as Easter. Some even hold mass within their facilities to kick off special events. On the flip side, there are very few companies in Mexico that observe Yom Kippur or Ramadan. It is still a commonplace human resource practice to ask potential employees what their religion is during recruitment and—though none will publicly accept it—religion still plays a criteria in actual talent selection (otherwise, why would they ask about it?). This, by the way, is illegal under Article 3 of the Federal Labor Law.
Catholicism is not just favored in the private sector. During the first weeks of December and leading up to the 12th (Day of the Virgen de Guadalupe) Catholics are not only allowed to march on some of the busiest streets in the cities as part of their pilgrimage while causing transit chaos, they are even escorted by public officials to guarantee their safety. This is a nicety not usually awarded to other faiths and it is funded by taxes paid for by people of all faiths.
The Cuban government released the last of the Ladies in White yesterday after more than 70 members of the group were detained over three separate incidents one week ahead of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit. The opposition group was founded by relatives of those detained during the Black Spring of 2003 and its members are known to walk through western Havana after mass each Sunday wearing all white to demand the release of political prisoners.
Nineteen of the group’s members were detained on Saturday evening during a march in central Havana. The following morning an additional 36 protesters were arrested, including the group’s leader, Bertha Soler, and her husband, who remains in custody. After mass, 22 more women and two men were arrested as they began marching toward the city center.
Many dissident groups see the Pope’s two-day visit as an opportunity to increase pressure on the Castro regime and draw attention to human rights abuses committed by the government. In a statement responding to the detention of the Ladies in White yesterday, the White House called on Cuban authorities to “abandon their tactics of intimidation and harassment to stifle peaceful dissent.” The Cuban government has not issued a statement of the matter.
The detentions over the weekend are indicative of the tension building between the government and dissident groups prior to the Pope’s arrival on March 26. Last Thursday, the Cuban police raided the Church of Charity in Central Havana and evicted 13 protesters who had been occupying the space since for two days.
Top stories this week are likely to include: the pope’s visit to Mexico and Cuba; Chávez at home and in campaign mode; Argentina’s threat of legal action on the Malvinas/Falklands; drug decriminalization talks in Central America; and Venezuela taking a stand against narcotrafficking.
Papal Visit to Mexico and Cuba: Pope Benedict XVI will arrive in Mexico on Friday for a five-day, two-country tour that will wrap up in Cuba. Benedict XVI will land in León—in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato—and celebrate a holy mass at the Parque del Bicentenario on Sunday.
But expect greater a focus around Benedict XVI’s visit to Cuba. AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini predicts: “Will he repeat Pope John Paul II’s call for Cuba to open up to the world and the world to open up to Cuba? And if he does, how will he frame it? While Cuba hasn’t done much, the U.S. hasn’t changed the embargo at all. How much weight will the Pope give to the Castros’ release of prisoners and the economic reforms—likely more than he will give to President Obama’s tinkering on the margins of the embargo.”
Chávez Back Home: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez tweeted late Friday afternoon that he was departing Cuba after a three-week sojourn for a second surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. Shortly after arriving home, his first public appearance in Caracas turned into an impromptu campaign rally. As Chávez transitions into radiotherapy, expect continued speculation about his long-term health to grow while the president remains publicly visible and boisterous.
Argentina Ready to Sue: Last week, Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman announced that he promised to sue any companies that exploit natural resources in or around the Malvinas/Falklands Islands. This is the latest salvo in intensifying rhetoric between Argentina and the United Kingdom ahead of the April 2 anniversary of the 1982 war over the archipelago. Will Argentina carry through with litigation?
Decriminalization Talks in Central America: Less than three weeks after the Central American presidents met with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in Honduras, the region's leaders will come together again later this week in Antigua, Guatemala, to discuss the idea of drug decriminalization. "The March 24 meeting gains increased importance now that decriminalization will be part of the agenda at the Summit of the Americas in mid-April. This is especially true for Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, who is leading the charge, and is looking to convince skeptical countries like El Salvador and Honduras to get behind him. It will not be an easy task," says AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak. Will the region come up with a unified stance?
Venezuela Combating Narcotrafficking: Venezuela’s military announced Operation Sentry last week: a plan to move 15,000 troops across its borders with Brazil, Colombia and Guyana. This appears to be a sign of seriousness from President Chávez’ administration, particularly from Defense Minister Henry Rangel, to confront the narcotics threat. With only 2,000 troops dispatched thus far, look for any progress this week regarding the deployment of the remaining 13,000.
This year is already proving that it will be an exciting one for news. Take the U.S. elections, for starters. The presidential election, as it's been said by at least one GOP nominee, represents a battle for nothing less than America’s soul.
As for Latin America, what should we expect to make headlines?
Before ticking off possible headlines, it’s important to note the substantial—and frustrating—distinction between what should be covered and what will likely be covered. There are so many issues that never make it to (online) print or broadcast, given the tough competition for airtime and eyeballs.
Here are my top-10 most anticipated stories:
10) Health of Hugo Chávez: There will be many reports well-timed with Venezuela’s election cycle—Venezuelans go to the polls in October—that cite “well-placed, unnamed” sources claiming President Hugo Chávez is healthier than ever after his surgery last summer in Cuba to remove a cancerous abscess. These reports will appear within days of other stories that cite other unnamed sources professing to know the awful truth of just how horribly sick Chávez is and how he is trying to hide his fatal illness. Both stories will include hypotheticals (and wishful thinking) on the future direction of chavismo and bolivarianismo when Chávez ultimately leaves power, one way or another.