This week’s likely top stories: World leaders gather for the UN General Assembly; Leopoldo López’ trial resumes in Venezuela; U.S. to approve aid to El Salvador; 8 killed in Guatemala conflict over cement plant; Clorox discontinues operations in Venezuela.
World leaders converge in New York; thousands march for action on climate change: Some 140 heads of state have arrived in New York City to participate in the UN General Assembly at United Nations headquarters, where the General Debate opens on Wednesday, September 24. Along with U.S. President Barack Obama, the presidents of Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic and Honduras are expected to speak on Wednesday, followed by more speeches from Latin American leaders throughout the week. Meanwhile, this Sunday, over 300,000 demonstrators marched through Manhattan to call for international leaders to take action regarding climate change. The march came ahead of Tuesday’s 2014 UN Climate Summit, where world leaders will be discussing ways to reduce emissions, promote sustainable agricultural practices, and develop clean energy, among other goals, and large companies will be making pledges to reduce their carbon footprint. This week’s summit comes ahead of two global summits on climate change in Peru and France—the COP20 conference in Lima in December, and the COP21 conference in Paris in 2015.
Leopoldo López goes to trial: The trial of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López will resume today over López’ role in the national protests that rocked Venezuela this spring. López has been imprisoned for seven months on charges that he had incited violent protests in February, including charges of criminal association and arson. López and his family have maintained his innocence, and human rights groups have said that López and other Venezuelan political prisoners should be released. Until now, López’ defense team has not been allowed to produce evidence or witnesses to support his case. López could face more than 13 years in prison if he is found guilty.
U.S. will provide $277 in aid to El Salvador: The U.S. is expected to sign off on a $277 million economic aid package for El Salvador now that the U.S. Treasury Department has confirmed that it will not hold up the funds due to its concerns about money laundering. El Salvador is currently in the process of reforming its standards to police money laundering and corruption more effectively, recently passing a bill to report on the financial transactions of powerful individuals and their families. $101 million of the U.S. aid package has been allocated to provide job training for young Salvadorans who might otherwise leave the country and migrate to the United States.
Clash over cement factory in Guatemala kills 8: At least eight people were killed and dozens injured in a clash late Friday between community members in the town of Los Pajoques, about 25 miles from Guatemala City. The chain of violent events is one in a series of conflicts surrounding a cement plant and highway that have been under construction in the town of San Juan Sacatepéquez since July 2013, and that many community members oppose due to environmental concerns. Cementos Progreso, which owns the plant, said that its employees and the families that have sold their land have been harassed by the plant’s opponents. Meanwhile, protesters who have opposed the project since 2007 say that they have received threats from people they believe are affiliated with the project.
Clorox to leave Venezuela: Clorox Company announced today that it will immediately discontinue its operations in Venezuela due to hyperinflation, supply shortages and price freezes. The company is seeking to sell its assets, but the move will cost Clorox $65 million. The household products company said that the economic situation in Venezuela forced Clorox to sell products at a loss, and the company could not break even, despite price increases approved earlier this year by the Venezuelan government. A number of other U.S. companies, including Exxon Mobil and American Airlines, have either left Venezuela entirely or drastically cut their operations in the country.
Colombian lawmakers accused former President Álvaro Uribe of links to right-wing paramilitary groups during a polemic Senate debate on Wednesday. Senator Ivan Cepeda led the questioning of Uribe during a 90-minute presentation in which he introduced documents supporting the former president’s alleged ties to paramilitary groups and drug cartels, including the Medellin Cartel financier Luis Carlos Molina Yepes. Cepeda also played an audio clip allegedly of Uribe congratulating Salvatore Mancuso—then-second in command of the paramilitary group Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia—AUC)—on successfully defeating guerrilla groups in the Córdoba department.
“Colombia is at a crossroads between perpetuating war, hate and violence or opening the difficult path to reconciliation and peace. Knowing the truth is key for the political process our country is undergoing,” said Cepeda. Uribe, who served as president from 2002 to 2010, was reelected to the Senate in 2014, has long been accused of associations with paramilitary groups, but rebuffed Cepeda’s accusations and eventually left the room in protest. The former president in turn accused Cepeda of “inciting violence” and Senator Jimmy Chamorro of dealing with drug traffickers.
Colombian newspapers live streamed the debate, which was also broadcast on live television. Tweets with hashtags like #DebateParamilitarismo #EstoyConUribe, #UribeCobarde and #SeRetiraComoUribe flooded Twitter throughout the presentations. The debate comes in the midst of President Juan Manuel Santos’ administration’s ongoing peace talks with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC), taking place in Havana, Cuba.
Stay tuned for Americas Quarterly’s upcoming Fall 2014 issue, which will take in in-depth look at the current peace talks and ongoing conflict between the Colombian government and paramilitary groups.
With only a few days left for Scottish voters to decide about their future in or out of the United Kingdom, the international media hype around Scotland’s September 18 referendum on independence has intensified. The fact that the “yes” side—supporting Scotland’s independence from the U.K.—has narrowed the gap with the “no” side in recent polls only adds to the drama.
The rather complacent British political and economic establishment is now showing serious concern about the potential of a “yes” victory. On the other hand, pro-independence movements outside the U.K. appear enthused at the prospect of a “yes” victory on September 18. Just recently, Catalans in Barcelona took to the streets over their own referendum on independence, scheduled for November 9.
In Québec, pro-independence emissaries from the Parti Québécois (PQ) and Bloc Québécois (BQ) have gone to Scotland in the closing days of the campaign, and are salivating at the possibility that the 307-year union between Britain and Scotland could come to an end. Will a “yes” vote have direct repercussions for the independence movement in Québec? What are the overall implications if the “yes” side wins in Scotland?
This week’s likely top stories: Venezuela is expected to win a seat on the UN Security Council; Brazilian President Rousseff and Marina Silva are tied in a new poll; U.S. deportations are at their lowest level since 2007; Santander’s new chairwoman will maintain the bank's current strategy; Ecuadorian President Correa asks supporters to mobilize against anticipated protests.
Venezuela likely to earn seat on UN Security Council despite critics: As the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly opens in New York this week, Venezuela is poised to gain a long-awaited seat on the UN Security Council. At a meeting in July, Venezuela obtained unanimous regional support for its candidacy to represent Latin America. While the country still has to gain a two-thirds majority in a secret vote among all 193 UN member countries, there is no rival candidate in the region and Venezuela is likely to win. Critics of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro are concerned about his impact on the Security Council, given the current human rights allegations against his administration. When Venezuela tried to gain a seat in 2006, the U.S. successfully blocked the attempt, claiming that Venezuela would be a “disruptive” influence. U.S. President Barack Obama will preside over a UN Security Council summit the week of September 22.
President Rousseff and Marina Silva tied in recent poll: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her chief political challenger, Marina Silva, are now statistically tied in the polls as Brazil’s October 5 presidential elections approach, according to a poll released Friday by the Instituto Brasileiro de Opinião Pública e Estatística (Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics—Ibope). The poll indicates that in a run-off vote, Silva would receive 43 percent of the vote while Rousseff would take 42 percent—a much closer race than the previous nine-point gap that put Silva in the lead. In the likely event that no single candidate wins a majority of votes on October 5, a run-off election will take place on October 26.
U.S. Deportations at lowest level since 2007: U.S. immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials reported that ICE deported 258,608 immigrants between October 1, 2013 and July 28, 2014—the lowest level reported for that 10-month period since 2007, and the greatest decline in deportations since President Barack Obama has been in office. Last year, 320,167 people were deported from the United States during the same period. More than 2 million immigrants have been deported during the Obama administration, but a White House spokesman said that the president’s decision to shift resources to the border to deal with an influx of unaccompanied minors from Central America may be one reason for the recent decline in deportations.
Santander’s new chairwoman says bank will stick to strategy: After the death of former Santander chairman Emilio Botín, newly-appointed chairwoman Ana Botín said on Monday that she would continue her late father’s strategy to increase international diversification and maintain the bank’s generous dividend policy with shareholders. On Monday, shareholders also agreed to buy 25 percent of the bank’s Brazilian unit, Santander Brasil, for $6 billion. The bank has major operations in ten countries, including Brazil, Mexico and Argentina, and reported a 22 percent increase in profits in the first half of 2014.
Correa calls on supporters for impending protests: Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa on Saturday asked supporters to rally against expected workers’ protests against his government this coming week. Ecuadorian workers’ organizations are planning a Jornada Nacional de Movilización (National Mobilization) on Wednesday to mobilize for labor rights and to call for reforms to the country’s penal code, water policies, and education system, among other concerns. “If there are 3,000 of them on Wednesday, there will be 30,000 of us,” Correa said.
A survey published on Tuesday by the polling firm MDA and commissioned by the Confederação Nacional do Transporte (National Transport Confederation—CNT) showed that Brazilian incumbent President Dilma Rousseff would be statistically tied with Partido Socialista Brasileiro (Brazilian Socialist Party—PSB) candidate Marina Silva if the elections went to the second round on October 26. The poll, which surveyed 2,002 respondents from September 5 to September 7, revealed a 4.9 percentage point improvement for President Rousseff and her Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers' Party—PT) from two weeks ago.
The President had seen her numbers slump in the face of a struggling economy including less than 2 percent growth per year under the PT leader, a recession during the first half of the year, 6.5 percent inflation, and a threat from Moody’s Investor Service to downgrade Brazil’s credit rating. President Rousseff’s popularity also suffered from frustration over the lack of public services that led to over one million people protesting across 100 Brazilian cities shortly before the 2014 World Cup.
Despite popular frustration, the president’s approval rating seemed to improve in the polls after frontrunner Marina Silva faced criticism for withdrawing her support of marriage equality and nuclear energy. It’s unclear how the corruption scandal at the state-run oil company Petróleo Brasileiro S.A. (Petrobras) will affect the president’s numbers as details continue to emerge.
The first round of the general elections will be held on October 5, and they will proceed the second round if any one candidate fails to garner more votes than the other two candidates combined. While the MDA poll shows her leading the first round with 38.1 percent, it would not be enough to overcome the combined 48.2 percent support for Silva and Social Democrat Aécio Neves.
This week’s likely top stories: Barack Obama delays executive action on immigration; a former Petrobras director names 40 politicians in scandal; former Salvadoran President Flores turns himself in; private equity fundraising in Latin America this year could reach $8 billion; Chileans remember September 11, 1973.
Immigration reform stalled: U.S. President Barack Obama’s promise to use his executive authority to reform immigration has hit a roadblock in the run-up to midterm elections, angering immigrant rights activists who hoped he would take action to ease deportations after Congress’ August recess. Polls conducted this summer revealed that voters in states like Arkansas and Iowa were overwhelmingly opposed to executive action on immigration, and a July survey by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press showed that a majority of respondents believed Obama had mishandled the surge of unaccompanied minors at the border this summer. A White House official said this weekend that the president will take action on immigration at the end of the year.
Petrobras corruption scandal: Paulo Roberto Costa—a former director of Brazilian state-run oil company Petróleo Brasileiro S.A. (Petrobras) who was arrested in 2013 for corruption—alleged that more than 40 Brazilian politicians received commissions for contracts signed with Petrobras between 2004 and 2012. Brazilian media revealed on Saturday that most of the individuals Costa named were members of the ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT), further complicating President Dilma Rousseff’s re-election bid on October 5. Costa struck a plea deal with prosecutors before naming the politicians. Rousseff said Saturday that she would await official information to “take all appropriate measures” to investigate the scandal.
El Salvador’s Francisco Flores under house arrest: Former Salvadoran President Francisco Flores, of the ARENA party, turned himself in to Salvadoran authorities on Friday, four months after a warrant for his arrest was issued in May. Flores was accused of misappropriating $15 million during his 1999-2004 presidential term, funds allegedly provided by Taiwan to help with reconstruction efforts after two earthquakes, as well as to fight drug trafficking and crime. On Friday, Flores—who had been missing for months—said he had turned himself in “voluntarily and out of respect for the law.” He is currently under house arrest and denies the charges against him.
Private equity push in Latin America: Private equity and venture capital fundraising in Latin America has already reached $3.5 billion in the first half of 2014, indicating that year-end totals could reach as high as $8 billion, according to new data from the Latin American Private Equity & Venture Capital Association (LAVCA). In 2011, a record $10.27 billion was raised, and in 2013, investments reached a six-year high—but have decreased by 10 percent for the same period this year. According to LAVCA, information technology attracted 30 percent of total investments, followed by healthcare.
Chileans march in memory of September 11: Thousands of Chileans marched through Santiago on Sunday to commemorate the anniversary of the September 11, 1973 military coup that overthrew President Salvador Allende and led to the death or disappearance of some 3,000 people. The march was largely peaceful, according to Chilean police, although four journalists were injured when some of the protesters threw objects at the police. More marches are planned for Thursday, September 11.
If the U.S. wants to keep the Summit of the Americas process on track and regain some measure of influence in the hemisphere, it will have to change its Cuba policy, pronto. Reframing our policy and saving the Summit process isn’t as tough as it seems; it just takes leadership.
In coming months, the United States is going to face a tough choice: either alter its policy toward Cuba or face the virtual collapse of its diplomacy toward Latin America. The upcoming Summit of the Americas, the seventh meeting of democratically elected heads of state throughout the Americas, due to convene in April 2015 in Panama, will force the Obama administration to choose between its instincts to reset Cuba policy to coincide more closely with hemispheric opinion and its fears of a domestic political backlash.
During her visit to Washington on September 2, Panama’s vice president, Isabel Saint Malo, indicated her intention to invite Cuba to the Summit, but public U.S. statements failed to commit President Obama’s attendance.
The periodic inter-American summits have become more important than ever for U.S. regional diplomacy, but our Latin American neighbors have said—firmly and unanimously—that unless Cuba is invited, their chairs will be empty. At the same time, the alarming specter of photos of Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro conversing around the same table, apparently as equals, will set off a political reaction among the Cuban-American hardliners, Democrats and Republicans alike—the thought of which gives the White House politicos heartburn.
Presidential hopeful Marina Silva of the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (Brazilian Socialist Party—PSB) and incumbent President Dilma Rousseff of the Partido das Trabalhadores (Worker’s Party—PT) harshly criticized each other’s economic plans, leading to tension during yesterday’s second presidential debate. The Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (Party of Brazilian Social Democracy—PSDB) candidate Aécio Neves and five other candidates also attended the debate, ahead of the first round of elections on October 5.
A Datafolha poll from August 29 showed a tie between Rousseff and Silva in the first round, with each earning 34 percent of the vote, and predicted that Silva would beat Rousseff in the second round with 10 percentage points. Responding to the threat from her challenger, Rousseff criticized Silva’s plan to strengthen the Central Bank’s independence, affirming that it will make regulation more difficult. She also called into question how Silva will raise the money required to increase spending on public services. Silva claimed that Rousseff’s administration created higher inflation and debt and accused her of failing to place importance on renewable energy.
Silva became a presidential candidate after her running mate, Eduardo Campos, died in a helicopter crash on August 20. Over the weekend, the former environment minister under Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva made two “corrections” to her official platform, retracting her support for gay marriage and nuclear power.
Teachers continue to strike in Asunción, Paraguay today, demanding salary increases and greater public investment in education. The strike began across the country yesterday after continuing labor negotiations between the Paraguayan Ministry of Labor and representatives from the education sector failed to reach an accord on Tuesday. Several streets were closed due to the protests and classes were canceled for two days.
Last week, Education and Culture Minister Marta Lafuente rejected demands set by the Unión Nacional de Educadores (National Educational Union—UNE-SN) for a 10 percent salary increase for all teachers, stating that only those making less than minimum wage should receive a raise. UNE-SN’s demands also include a static investment of 7 percent of Paraguay’s GDP to be allocated to the education sector for better resources and infrastructure improvements.
“To speak of a quality education is to talk about a better salary, training, better infrastructure, school lunches, and additional benefits,” said union leader Blanca Ávalos. However, the Ministry of Education and Culture claims that they do not have the funds for the additional $27 million that would be needed in order to raise salaries for teachers per UNE-SN’s demands.
“It’s very easy to grant raises, but we ask for time—we have to know when to give. We can’t be populists and give what we don’t have,” said President Horacio Cartes, asking for the teachers for patience with regard to the reforms.
Students and medical professionals showed their solidarity with the teachers through their own organized protests throughout the week as discontent with the Cartes Administration continues to mount. This afternoon the teachers will evaluate whether to extend their strike.
Following a week of debate, Peru’s Congress approved President Ollanta Humala’s new 20-person cabinet yesterday, which will be led by Prime Minister Ana Jara. The cabinet was voted on a third time after the first two votes had too many abstentions to be valid, and approval was ultimately granted by a minimal margin for victory: 55 in favor, 54 against, and 9 abstentions.
Opposition legislators had made various demands of the administration before the debate, including that Energy and Mines Minister Eleodoro Mayorga resign. President Humala refused to get rid of any of his ministers, but did make concessions to the opposition, including suspending a law that required independent workers to pay into a pension fund.
Reacting to the news, Mesías Guevara, secretary-general for the Acción Popular (Popular Action) centrist opposition party said that President Humala “practically lives in a bubble” if he believes that the newly-approved cabinet is a strong one. The vote by Congress bolsters the Humala Administration at a time when it has been involved in frequent disputes with the legislative branch and the president’s approval rating is a paltry 25.8 percent.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.