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Teacher Strike Continues in Paraguay

August 28, 2014

by AQ Online

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.

 

Tags: Teachers Strike, Horacio Cartes

Peru’s Congress Approves New Cabinet

August 27, 2014

by AQ Online

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.

Tags: Peru, President Ollanta Humala

Monday Memo: Marina Silva – Colombian Peace Talks – Mexican Energy – Julian Assange – Toxic Spill in Mexico

August 18, 2014

by AQ Online

This week’s likely top stories: Marina Silva agrees to face Dilma Rousseff in Brazil’s presidential election; victims of Colombia's armed conflict speak to peace negotiators; Mexico will announce new energy projects; Julian Assange plans to leave Ecuador’s embassy “soon”; classes in Mexico are suspended due to a copper mine’s toxic spill.

Marina Silva agrees to run for president: Former Brazilian Environmental Minister Marina Silva has agreed to run for president in the place of the late Eduardo Campos, who died August 13 in a plane crash in the Brazilian city Santos. Silva’s entry into the race will raise new challenges for President Dilma Rousseff. Although Rousseff maintains her lead in the polls, Silva has quickly gained almost three times the support that Campos had–around 21 percent–and would defeat Rousseff in a hypothetical second-round contest, according to polling company Datafolha. Silva was Campos’ vice presidential running mate for the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (Brazilian Socialist Party–PSB) before he was killed last week, and she also ran for president in Brazil’s 2010 election. Over 100,000 people attended Campos’ funeral in Recife on Sunday, including Rousseff, presidential candidate Aécio Neves from the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (Brazilian Social Democracy Party–PSDB), and former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Victims of Colombia’s armed conflict address peace negotiators: Twelve victims of Colombia’s 50-year-old internal conflict met with members of the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) on Saturday to urge a peace agreement in Havana. The participants, whose loved ones are among the 220,000 people killed during the armed conflict, said that they were willing to forgive the killings by the FARC, paramilitary groups, and government security forces, as long as the negotiators reach an agreement. A total of 60 victims’ relatives chosen by the UN, Roman Catholic Church and National University are expected to speak to the peace negotiators in the coming weeks. The negotiators have already reached agreements on three points of the six-point peace agenda, but must still decide on victims’ rights, disarmament, and the implementation of a peace deal.

New Mexican energy projects to be announced: Mexico’s Comisión Federal de Electricidad (Federal Electricity Commission—CFE ) is expected to announce 16 new electricity projects today worth a total of nearly $4.9 billion, according to a report obtained by the daily newspaper El Financiero. The projects—which are expected to include four pipelines, three electricity plants, upgrades to an existing plant, and eight new transmission lines and substations—will be the first auctions under the energy sector reforms signed into law by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto last week.  Those reforms opened Mexico’s oil, gas and electricity sectors to private investment.

Julian Assange to leave Ecuadorian embassy in London: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been seeking refuge at the Ecuadorean embassy in London for over two years, announced Monday that he will be leaving “soon” because of anticipated legal reforms in Britain that would help him avoid extradition to Sweden. Assange did not mention a specific date of departure from the embassy. In 2010, two women accused Assange of sexual assault and rape, and he faces questioning by prosecutors in Stockholm. Yesterday, Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino, accused the British government of human rights abuses and questioned their commitment to finding a diplomatic solution. Assange denied that he will be leaving the embassy for health reasons, as the UK Press has reported.

First day of classes suspended because of toxic spill in Mexico: A toxic spill at a copper mine in northern Mexico has closed 88 schools in the Mexican state of Sonora due to concerns that contaminants have entered local drinking water. The spill occurred on August 6 at the Buenavista copper mine near the U.S.-Mexico border, reportedly after a poorly-designed holding area containing toxic materials overflowed due to heavy rains. The Sonora state government has distributed clean drinking water to between 80 and 90 percent of local residents, although those living in more isolated areas have not yet received potable water. Classes were supposed to start today in seven municipalities affected by the spill; they are expected to begin later this week.

Tags: Marina Silva, Brazilian elections, Mexican Energy Reform

Brazil's Eduardo Campos Killed in Plane Crash

August 13, 2014

by AQ Online

Brazilian presidential candidate Eduardo Campos and six other people were killed Wednesday morning when the plane they were traveling in crashed in the coastal city of Santos in São Paulo state. Brazilian television reports said that the plane, a Cessna 560XL, struggled in bad weather and hit a three-story building in the neighborhood of Boqueirao, killing all those aboard.

Campos, 49, the former governor of Pernambuco state, was the presidential candidate for the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (Brazilian Socialist Party). The latest opinion polls showed him in third place behind Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff of the ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers' Party) and challenger Aécio Neves, of the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (Social Democracy Party).

President Rousseff temporarily suspended her re-election campaign and declared three days of national mourning for Campos and the other victims of the crash. Meanwhile, the Partido Socialista Brasileiro must submit the name of a new presidential candidate within 10 days. Campos' running-mate, vice presidential candidate Marina Silva, previously ran for president in 2010 and may be a possible contender.

Tags: Brazilian elections, Eduardo Campos, Marina Silva

Blood Spilled in Pursuit of Truth in Mexico

August 12, 2014

by Arjan Shahani

This June, Mexico’s Procudaría General de la República (Federal Prosecutor’s Office–PGR) issued a report that paints a gruesome picture of the country’s freedom of the press situation, releasing worrisome numbers on crimes and homicides committed against reporters and journalists for the past 14 and a half years.  

Between January 2000 and June 2014, an average of one journalist has been reported assassinated in Mexico approximately every 52 days.  In the 36 months between 2010 to 2012, 35 journalists were killed, and there were 71 homicides against journalists reported between 2006 and 2012, during the administration of former Mexican President Felipe Calderón.  

Of the 102 murders cited in the report, which occurred in 20 out of 32 Mexican states, 61 percent of the crimes took place in Chihuahua (16 murders), Veracruz (15 murders), Tamaulipas (13 murders) Guerrero (11 murders) and Sinaloa (7 murders).These five states are no strangers to drug cartels and organized crime. 

The report also mentions 27 other types of crimes continuously perpetuated against the press—not just by criminals, but also by the police. These crimes include deaths threats, murder attempts, abuse of power from authorities, illegal detainment, kidnapping, corporal violence, theft, intimidation, illegal wire-tapping, illegal seizure of property, and entering journalists’ homes without search warrants. Additionally, from 2010 through June 2014, 14 journalists have gone missing and today are presumed dead.

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Tags: Mexico, Journalism, Freedom of expression

Argentina: ¿En Default?

August 11, 2014

by Jenny Manrique

El “default” de Argentina tiene tantas lecturas como tenedores de bonos argentinos hay en EEUU. La apreciación sobre si el país está o no en cesación de pagos ha extendido el debate económico al campo político, en donde el concepto “soberanía” se ha agitado de manera preponderante por el gobierno de Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

Para las calificadoras de riesgo Standard & Poor’s, Fitch y Moody’s, Argentina entró en un default selectivo el 31 de julio tras no cumplir el pago a los llamados “fondos buitres,”ordenado por un fallo del juez norteamericano Thomas Griesa. Sin embargo, para la Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe (CEPAL), el país todavía se encuentra en un litigio inédito en la Corte Suprema de EEUU, y la Asociación Internacional de Derivados y Swaps (ISDA)  revertió su apreciación inicial de default para decir que no hubo moratoria en el pago de la deuda–al fin y al cabo, el dinero del 93% de los bonistas está en las cuentas del Bank of New York Mellon.

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Tags: Argentina, Argentina Debt Default

Monday Memo: Santos’ Cabinet – Venezuela-Colombia Border – Codelco – Argentine Ex-Captain Deported – Pemex Fire

August 11, 2014

by AQ Online

This week’s likely top stories: President Juan Manuel Santos announces new ministers; Venezuela and Colombia crack down on smuggling; Codelco’s CEO has new plans for Chuquicamata Mine; Bolivia deports an Argentine accused of crimes against humanity; a fire at a Pemex refinery kills at least four people.

President Santos to announce new Cabinet: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is expected to announce new Cabinet ministers today as he launches his second term in office. Of the 16 Cabinet positions, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón, Minister of Finance Mauricio Cárdenas, and Minister of Foreign Relations María Ángela Holguín will retain their titles, while former Minister of the Interior Aurelio Iragorri will now be Minister of Agriculture, and Juan Fernando Cristo, former president of the Senate, will take Iragorri’s place at the ministry of the interior. At his inauguration address last week, Santos said that in addition to signing a peace agreement with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC), he will focus on education and equality as pillars of his 2014-2018 presidential term.

Venezuela to shut its border with Colombia at night: Effective today, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos have agreed to close the Colombia-Venezuela border between the hours of 10 pm and 5 am each night in an effort to reduce smuggling. Heavily subsidized Venezuelan goods—such as food and fuel—can be sold at much higher prices in Colombia, causing tax losses for the state and profits for drug gangs and guerrilla groups. So far this year, the Venezuelan government has seized 21,000 tons of food and 40 million liters of fuel that were destined for Colombia. Maduro and Santos agreed to the measures on August 1 at a summit in Colombia.

New Codelco CEO says open-pit mine must go underground: Nelson Pizarro, the new CEO of Chile’s state-owned copper mining company Codelco, said on Sunday that Chile’s open-pit Chuquicamata Mine should be transformed into a subterranean mine to make it profitable. Pizarro, who was named Codelco’s CEO at the end of July and will officially take over on September 1, faces opposition from the miners’ unions, who say that the plan to revamp the mine will cause many to lose their jobs because many are not trained to work underground. Pizarro replied that “if the unions don’t do their part, there will be no future for Codelco.” Codelco is currently the largest producer of copper in the world.

Bolivia deports Argentine accused of Dirty War crimes: Jorge Horacio Páez Senestrari, a former infantry captain during Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship, has been deported back to Argentina after he was captured on Friday in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Páez was accused of committing crimes against humanity in the Argentine province of Santa Cruz during the dictatorship. He had been temporarily released from prison in San Juan in 2011 to await his trial, but after he failed to attend his hearing, local police and Interpol issued an international alert for his arrest. Now that he has returned to Argentina, Páez’s trial is expected to resume.

Pemex refinery accident in Mexico: A fire that broke out on Friday at a Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) oil refinery in Ciudad Madero, Mexico, had killed at least four people as of Sunday night. Seven refinery workers were still hospitalized, according to Pemex officials. The latest explosion happened as workers performed maintenance on an empty petroleum coke tank, which was used to hold a solid carbon by-product of the oil refining process. On July 24, a different fire had broken out at the refinery, injuring 23 workers. Last week, the Mexican government passed secondary legislation to open its energy sector to private and foreign investment for the first time in over 70 years, in an effort to increase production and attract foreign expertise and technology.

Tags: Juan Manuel Santos, Codelco, Pemex, Argentine dictatorship

Santos to Continue Peace Process in Second Term

August 8, 2014

by AQ Online

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos began his second term yesterday after winning reelection in the second round in June, defeating Óscar Iván Zuluaga who was backed by former President Álvaro Uribe. Santos based his campaign on the promise of a peace, with the hope of coming to an agreement the left-wing guerrilla group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC).

When Santos initiated the process of peace talks with the FARC in 2012, he broke with Uribe, his former mentor, who had a military-based approach toward dealing with the guerrilla groups. In response, the FARC announced a cease-fire—though the group has engaged in some acts of violence since this announcement—and the Colombian government began peace negotiations in Havana, Cuba in November 2012.

The Corte Constitucional de Colombia (Constitutional Court of Colombia) decided on Wednesday that it will allow guerrillas who give up their arms to participate in politics, unless they have been accused of committing crimes against humanity or genocide. This is seen as another victory for Santos, as Rafael Guarín, a former vice minister of defense and uribista, had previously challenged Santos peace reform in court, attempting to block any future political participation of guerrillas in the Colombian government.

Santos will face an uphill battle, with 61 percent of Colombians skeptical that FARC is interested in peace, and 50 percent disapproving of Santos’ approach towards peace. He also has faces opposition from Uribe, who now serves as a senator, and his allies in congress, as well as a smaller guerrilla group, the Ejército de Liberación Nacional, (National Liberation Army—ELN), who have recently been stepping up attacks on infrastructure.

Tags: Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia, FARC

Dear AP, Sometimes a Democracy Program Is Just a Democracy Program—Even in Cuba

August 7, 2014

by Christopher Sabatini

For the past several years, with almost predictable regularity, The Associated Press (AP) has been producing a series of articles supposedly revealing the secret, unaccountable cloak-and-dagger misdeeds of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in its Cuba program. For all the implied sinister intentions, bureaucratic overreach and shades of John le Carré-like intrigue, though, all the AP has exposed are really just democracy programs—not that different from those that have been conducted in many other countries, often with the support of human rights organizations, local citizens and the international community. The problem is, this is Cuba, where nothing’s ever straightforward. 

To be sure, there’s plenty to complain about and cloud U.S. policy toward Cuba even—or especially—when it comes to the work of the U.S.’ official development agency, USAID. First, there’s the odious, ridiculous policy of a 50-plus-year embargo on the island.  Sadly, USAID’s democracy work was added to that failed policy in 1997, when Congress forced USAID to develop a democracy assistance program as a component of the Helms-Burton Law.

The law politicized USAID’s democracy work from its inception. Helms-Burton (or, as it is officially and unironically named, the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act) codified the U.S. embargo into law, and established an unprecedented set of human rights and democracy standards that would have to be met before the president could even ask Congress to lift the embargo, thereby unconstitutionally tying the president’s hands in conducting foreign affairs.  It also explicitly tied USAID’s development policy to Congress’ political agenda and was (let’s just say) a unique law in U.S. foreign policy. 

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Tags: Cuba, USAID

The United States Restricts Travel for Top Venezuelan Officials

July 31, 2014

by AQ Online

The U.S. has issued a travel ban for a list of unnamed Venezuelan officials who are accused of involvement in human rights abuses after the Venezuelan military and police cracked down on anti-government protests earlier this year. 

The ban affects 24 high-ranking officials from Venezuela, ranging from cabinet members and senior judiciary members to members of the military and the police. Venezuelan Foreign Minister and former Vice President Elías Jaua called the move “desperate” and a “reprisal… against the role that Venezuela plays in a new world, in an independent Latin America.”

Diplomatic tensions between the United States and Venezuela had already worsened after a former general and aid to Hugo Chávez, Hugo Carvajal—accused by the United States of drug trafficking and supporting left-wing guerrillas in Colombia—was released from Aruba on Monday. U.S. concerns that Caracas had pressured the Dutch government to release the formal general were confirmed by the chief prosecutor of Aruba, Peter Blanken, but Blanken emphasized that Carvajal was released because of “diplomatic immunity,” and not because of the “actions against Aruba from the Venezuelan government.”

Meanwhile, in Venezuela, the executive secretary of the opposition’s Mesa de la Unidad (Democratic Unity Roundtable–MUD), Ramón Aveledo, resigned from his post on Tuesday, citing the need to renew the opposition movement. Aveledo, who had lead MUD for five years, was responsible for uniting Venezuela’s fractious opposition. Earlier this year, at least 43 people were killed during protests led by students and the political opposition.

In the 2014 Summer issue of Americas Quarterly, Boris Muñoz examines the challenges that Venezuela is facing in his article, Venezuela: How Long Can This Go On?

Tags: Venezuela, Ramón Aveledo, Hugo Carvajal

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