At the end of February, Americas Society released a white paper titled Political Representation & Social Inclusion: A Comparative Study of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Guatemala as a part of its Social Inclusion Program.
The white paper aims to answer the question: Does the increased presence of Indigenous and Afro-descendant representatives in national legislatures make a difference for these populations? The report presents the findings and conclusions of Americas Society’s Ford Foundation-funded research on political inclusion, with a goal to help bring greater attention to the gains and challenges of race- and/or ethnicity-based political representation in Latin America. It analyzes how political representation of traditionally marginalized populations has changed over time, from 1986 to 2012, and if it has affected policy in favor of these populations.
The report draws on field research conducted in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Guatemala—four countries with sizable Indigenous and/or Afro-descendant populations. The comparative report and individual country case studies explore the unique political and social movements and constitutional reforms that paved the way for greater ethnic or racial representation and their effectiveness in representing and defending their communities’ demands once in office. In total, 12 congressional sessions and two constituent assemblies between 1986 and 2012 are observed.
Access the full white paper: Political Representation & Social Inclusion: A Comparative Study of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Guatemala.
Ecuador’s Corte Constitucional (Constitutional Court) has delivered numerous controversial verdicts in the past six months with regard to freedom of the press and freedom of expression. But in a strange twist of events, on Monday President Rafael Correa pardoned the convicted defendants of two cases in which he was the plaintiff. It is a welcome change, but it is one nonetheless that is too little, too late. In fact, it presents a danger that the pressure from the international human rights community will lessen in Ecuador at this very crucial moment in which the proposed Ley de Comunicación (Communication Law) is being debated.
In late 2011, Ecuador's highest court ruled on three landmark cases with regard to freedom of expression. First, the court found the opinion editor and two directors the El Universo newspaper guilty of libel, sentencing them to three years in jail and $40 million in damages. The court also found the authors of the book El Gran Hermano, which was critical of Correa, guilty of libel and ordered each to pay a $1 million fine. Finally, Indigenous activist Monica Chuji was found guilty of spreading libel about Minister Vinicio Alvarado in an interview published in the newspaper El Comercio; Chuji was sentenced to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine; Chuji’s appeal is still being considered.
After much international pressure from human rights organizations, such as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), President Correa pardoned the convicted defendants in the El Universo and El Gran Hermano cases, effectively archiving the cases and dismissing the penalties. However, because the court already delivered their rulings for these aforementioned two cases, those decisions stand as precedent within the judicial system. Similarly, in his pardon Correa declared that if anyone was to publish similarly libelous material, he would not hesitate to bring suit again.
The strategic timing of these pardons reveals Correa’s true intent. First, the pardon aims to get the international spotlight off the Ecuadorian media and the debate surrounding the proposed Ley de Comunicación. A special commission of legislators presented the newly drafted communication law earlier this month; while it contains some important changes from the draft previously presented by President Correa in July 2009, it still remains ambiguous in key areas—leaving space for abuse by the executive and judicial branches.
Two journalists were ordered on Tuesday by Judge Maria Mercedes Portilla of the province of Pichincha to pay a total of $ 2 million to President Rafael Correa, on the grounds that they had caused him “moral damage.” Judge Portilla issued the sentence to journalists Juan Carlos Calderón and Christian Zurita over their book El Gran Hermano, in which they expose the often-obscure circumstances in which the president’s brother, Federico Correa, acquired various government contracts.
Both journalists said in a press conference that they intend to appeal the decision, and that they see this as yet another limitation by the Ecuadorian government on an individual’s right to free speech as well as on the right to free press. According to Zurita, “This is yet another method of punishing the work of journalists; the amount is absurd and irrational.” For his part, Correa’s lawyer defended his client by stating that the sentence shows that both journalists fabricated the information in order to make money.
The journalists’ sentence follows approval of a law on Monday by the Ecuadorian legislature that will limit the press and other media from publishing anything favorable or unfavorable about a candidate 45 days before an election—at any level. These two events constitute a further development in the Ecuadorian government’s efforts to crack down on media, including a referendum last May that curtailed the media and a severe ruling last July against the directors and former opinion editor of El Universo newspaper.
At a summit of the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Bolivarian Alternative to the Americas, or ALBA) this past weekend in Caracas, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, ALBA’s founder, backed Argentina’s claims for sovereignty of the Malvinas (or Falklands) Islands. ALBA’s eight member countries—Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, and Venezuela—agreed to ban vessels flying the Falklands flag from docking at their ports, echoing a similar Mercosur decision last December.
The islands have been a British overseas territory since 1833, when Argentina claims the United Kingdom stole the land from them. Argentina attacked the islands in April 1982, sparking a two-month war that retained British control over the archipelago. The UK will commemorate the 30-year anniversary of the war later this year.
Over the weekend, Chávez pledged the support of the Venezuelan army if Argentina ever reignited the conflict militarily. Chávez added, “I’m speaking only for Venezuela, but if it occurs to the British Empire to attack Argentina, Argentina won’t be alone this time.” Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa opened up the possibility of stronger economic measures, noting, “We have to talk about sanctions.”
Also at the ALBA summit, Chávez proposed to offset the global economic crisis by accelerating the usage of the SUCRE currency that was established in 2009. Chávez wishes to use the SUCRE as a substitute for the dollar; Venezuela has already paid for food imports from fellow ALBA countries with the virtual currency.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Venezuela yesterday afternoon to kick off his four-country tour of Latin America that will also include stops in Nicaragua, Cuba and Ecuador. The Iranian head of state may also attend the January 14 inauguration of Guatemalan President-elect Otto Pérez Molina. Ahmadinejad is accompanied by several members of his cabinet, including the ministers of foreign affairs, economy, industry, and energy.
Ahmadinejad was greeted at the airport yesterday by Venezuelan Vice President Elías Jaua and will meet today with President Hugo Chávez—who was in the eastern city of Puerto La Cruz filming Aló Presidente yesterday. At a critical juncture when Iran faces global concern over its nuclear program, including tough UN sanctions and even tougher additional U.S.- and EU-led sanctions, Washington worries that Venezuela will undermine those restrictions by sending oil and money to Ahmadinejad’s embattled regime. The U.S. already placed sanctions on PDVSA, Venezuela’s state-run oil company, in May 2011 for doing business with Iran.
Over their years-long friendship, Chávez and Ahmadinejad have signed roughly 270 accords on issues like trade, construction, energy, and banking. In addition to Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and Ecuador make up part of the Chávez-inspired Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas—the so-called “anti-imperialist” bloc of eight Latin American and Caribbean nations. Guatemala also plays an important role in global governance; it was recently awarded a temporary, two-year seat on the UN Security Council.
Ahmadinejad originally planned to visit Venezuela last September after the UN General Assembly, but cancelled at the last minute due to Chávez’ chemotherapy treatments in his recovery from cancer. Both Ahmadinejad and Chávez will fly tomorrow to Nicaragua to attend Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s inauguration for a second consecutive term—an event that Chávez cites as the “central purpose” of Ahmadinejad’s Latin American tour.
View a video of Ahmadinejad's arrival in Caracas:
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos made his first official visit to Ecuador on Monday, accompanied by Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguín and Minister of Transportation Germán Cardona Gutiérrez. President Santos met with his Ecuadorian counterpart, President Rafael Correa, to discuss ways to cooperate on trade, infrastructure and security.
One of the early outcomes of the visit was an agreement to consider flights between Quito and Bogotá as domestic travel, which President Santos said would avoid “red tape and cost overruns.” The leaders also pledged to agree on a maritime boundary and announced the construction of a bridge above the Mataje River that would join the coasts of both countries.
Minister Holguín also announced yesterday that both presidents seek to end the conflict involving truckers along the border. The Colombian Truckers Association began a protest in October, claiming that Ecuador’s truckers, by failing to comply with regulations established in the Community of Andean Nations regarding the transportation of cargo, created unfair competition.
President Santos’ visit comes almost four years after Colombian security forces conducted a deadly attack against a FARC camp on Ecuadorian territory in March 2008. President Correa pledged Ecuador’s commitment to cross-border security, saying “any criminal group that comes to Ecuador from Colombia will be sent back.”
The forty-second summit of members of the Southern Common Market (Mercado Común del Sur, or Mercosur) begins today in Montevideo, where Uruguay will hand the six-month presidency of the trade bloc over to Argentina. The economy ministers of the four founding countries—Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay—will convene today, and their presidents will do so tomorrow.
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, who has expressed interest in full membership in Mercosur, will also attend. Currently, Ecuador is an associate member of the bloc, along with Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela.
One of the top issues at the summit will be fast-tracking the upgrade of Venezuela’s membership to “full” status. The parliaments of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay have already ratified Venezuela’s bid, but it remains stalled in Paraguay’s congress. Despite the bid having the imprimatur of Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, many congressmen from the opposition Colorado party have concerns with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’ indifference to Mercosur’s “democratic clause.”
Mercosur’s charter mandates that accession of new members requires unanimous approval from the presidents and legislatures of current members. Venezuela’s bid is already five years old.
Uruguayan President José Mujica has said he would propose amendments to membership rules at this semiannual summit. He elaborated by saying that Venezuela’s membership in Mercosur is “important because it would provide a direct link between Mercosur and ALBA [Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América, or Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas].”
Ecuador confirmed on Monday that it had received $1.3 billion from the China Development Bank (CDB), the first installment of a $2 billion loan signed in Beijing in June. The Ecuadorian Ministry of Finance is free to use the loan for whatever purposes it deems appropriate. The remaining $700 million that is included in the loan will be delivered in the next months and will be used to finance priority projects in areas such as infrastructure, energy and agriculture. Chinese companies are active in Ecuador in these sectors.
The $2 billion loan—with an eight-year term and a 6.9 percent fixed annual interest rate—was signed by William Vasconez, Ecuador’s undersecretary of public credit. The loan helps the Ecuadorian government in its quest to come up with alternative financing sources after the country was shut out of international credit markets in 2008.
The receipt of the $1.3 billion adds to a growing financial relationship between the two countries. Since 2009, when Ecuador defaulted on $3.2 billion of bonds, the Andean country has received $6.68 billion from China to finance various projects. In June 2010, for example, the Export-Import Bank of China agreed to finance a $1.68 billion, 1,500-megawatt hydropower plant to be built by China’s state-owned Sinohydro Corporation in the Amazon region. This adds to the $1 billion-loan PetroChina Co., China’s largest oil producer, released in February 2011 in exchange for future oil sales.
Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino has expressed optimism that the ongoing talks to restore U.S.-Ecuadorian diplomatic relations will be resolved before the end of this year. Relations were downgraded five months ago to the charge d’affaires level but, in an encouraging sign, both countries recently nominated ambassadors for their respective embassies. U.S. President Barack Obama named career diplomat Adam Namm yesterday to be the ambassador in Quito, while Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa tapped Nathalie Cely, minister of coordination and production, over the weekend for the ambassadorship in Washington.
Patino revealed that Namm will have the consent of the Ecuadorian government to assume his post, although Namm still requires approval from the U.S. Senate. Cely’s nomination is still pending approval from Washington. During a press conference, Patino said, “We have maintained contact with the State Department and gradually advanced to this level of recovery.”
Bilateral relations hit a low point in April when a WikiLeaks cable from 2009 was published in the Ecuadorian newspaper El País, which revealed U.S. concerns of corruption among high-level national police officials and knowledge of such by President Correa. Shortly thereafter, U.S. Ambassador Heather Hodges was expelled from Ecuador, and in response Ecuadorian Ambassador Luis Gallegos was declared persona non grata in Washington, resulting in the formal downgrading of relations.
The tweeting Georgetown academic, former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela, announced his departure in early May. Four months later, the United States still does not have a nominee.
Of course, several well-qualified people have been bandied about as Valenzuela’s possible replacement.
Here’s a brief rundown of who’s been mentioned:
First, there is Kristie Kenney, a highly regarded career Foreign Service officer, a former ambassador to Ecuador, and, as of January, ambassador to Thailand. She is well-known for her social media smarts. There is also William Brownfield who is Kenney’s husband and equally as charismatic and talented as his wife. He is a former ambassador to Colombia, Venezuela and Chile, and became assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs in January. And there is Anne Patterson, a career foreign service officer with extensive and varied experience in Latin America. She has proven herself adept at dealing with tough issues especially in her current post as the ambassador to Egypt.