Aunque los cálculos políticos y militares anunciaban una pronta liberación del general del Ejército Rubén Darío Alzate Mora, secuestrado por las FARC en el Chocó, el hecho que provocó la suspensión del proceso de paz entre el gobierno colombiano y esa guerrilla por primera vez en dos años de diálogo, todavía lo tiene en vilo.
Las operaciones de rescate de la Cruz Roja Internacional, lideradas por los países garantes Cuba y Noruega e iniciadas el pasado 19 noviembre, podrían tomar más tiempo de lo esperado por la necesidad de cesar operaciones militares en el Chocó. Una versión del plagio habla de que el General y sus acompañantes, el cabo Jorge Rodríguez y la abogada Gloria Urrego, se subieron de manera voluntaria en una chalupa en el corregimiento de las Mercedes con dos guerrilleros vestidos de civil, y se fueron río abajo. Otra dice que los sujetos iban armados hasta los dientes y los obligaron a hacerlo.
Cuando se de la esperada entrega del general, vendrá por primera vez la rendición de cuentas de un ex secuestrado: al militar le espera una citación al Senado para que explique qué hacía vestido de civil y desarmado, en una zona roja de alta presencia guerrillera, que él mismo conoce como la palma de su mano. No en vano estaba allí al mando de una fuerza de Tarea Conjunta antiguerrilla, en uno de los departamentos más golpeados por la violencia de las FARC.
Las misteriosas circunstancias del histórico plagio de un General de la República, el hecho de que el ex-presidente Álvaro Uribe fue el primero en dar la noticia en su Twitter y el debate que el Congreso está dando sobre el proyecto del fuero militar, no son hechos aislados. Al contrario, ponen sobre el tapete la fuerte voz que quieren tener los militares y los sectores de ultraderecha en el proceso de paz, y la necesidad del gobierno—en particular a través de su ministro de defensa, Juan Carlos Pinzón—de hacerles sentir que nadie está claudicando en el terreno de la guerra. Que la moral de las tropas debe estar siempre en alto. Que las fuerzas militares, entregadas ellas mismas por 50 años a combatir al terrorismo, jamás serán equiparadas con los guerrilleros en términos de juzgamiento y condena—no importa cuántos excesos hayan podido cometer o con quién se hayan aliado para lograr la derrota de ese gran y único enemigo llamado FARC.
This week's likely top stories: Colombia’s peace talks suspended over kidnapping; U.S. will grant refugee status to select minors from Central America; Brazilian police arrest 27 in Petrobras corruption scandal; Cruise ship tourism is booming in Cuba; Pemex invests millions in hydrocarbon production and exploration.
Kidnapping Halts Colombian Peace Talks: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has suspended peace talks with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) after the rebel group kidnapped a Colombian army general this weekend. General Rubén Darío Alzate Mora—who was apparently dressed as a civilian when captured—and two other people were reportedly abducted on Sunday by the FARC’s 34th front in the western department of Chocó, making General Alzate the first general ever to be kidnapped by the guerrillas. Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón deployed hundreds of troops to the area on Sunday. On Santos’ orders, Colombian government peace negotiators will not travel to Havana today to participate in the second round of the two-year-old peace talks with the FARC.
Some Central American Minors to Receive Refugee Status: Vice President Joe Biden announced on Friday that the U.S. government will grant refugee status to minors from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador if their parent is a legal U.S. resident. The program, to be launched next month, will permit immigrant parents to request refugee status for any children under age 21 living in any one of the three Northern Triangle countries. Upon arrival, the children will be eligible to work and will eventually be eligible for permanent residency and citizenship. Currently, a maximum of 4,000 Latin American immigrants per year from Colombia and Cuba only are eligible for refugee status in the United States. Biden’s announcement comes amid growing concerns about the surge of unaccompanied Central American migrant youth who entered the U.S. illegally this year. The Obama administration is expected to announce further reforms to the immigration system in the coming weeks.
Brazilian Police Arrest 27 in Petrobras Corruption Scandal: In response to mounting political pressure to resolve the Petrobras corruption scandal, Brazilian police made 27 arrests on Friday in connection with the investigation by order of federal prosecutors at the Ministério Público Federal (Federal Public MInistry). Those arrested included Renato Duque, the former director of engineering and services at the state-owned oil company, as well as nine executives from construction firms who signed fraudulent contracts with Petrobras. Authorities also froze $277 million in assets belonging to 36 suspects and three unnamed companies. Former Petrobras director Paulo Roberto Costa, arrested in March, first disclosed the details of the company’s alleged decade-long, $3.8 billion dollar kickback scheme to buy influence among the members of the ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT). Responding to the arrests, President Dilma Rousseff, who chaired the board of Petrobras from 2003-2010 while serving as energy minister, commented that “This will change forever the relationship between Brazilian society, the Brazilian state and private companies.” Following Petrobras’ statement that it would delay the release of its third quarter earnings, the company’s stock fell five percent on the IBOVESPA exchange.
Hike in Cruise Ship Tourism Projected in Cuba: The state-run Cuban tourism agency, Cubatur, announced late last week that it is expecting the arrival of more the 200 cruise ships at ports throughout the island during the upcoming winter season, which ranges from late November to April. Tourism is the nation’s second largest source of income (after technical and medical expertise), and it brought 2.85 million visitors to the island in 2013. The resurgence of cruise ship tourism reflects the Cuban government’s attempt to diversify its tourist offerings. The cruise ship industry had been all but abandoned in Cuba since the Spanish firm Pullmantur was acquired by the U.S.-owned Royal Caribbean cruises in 2006 and subsequently shut down all operations to the island. The Cuban government has rejuvenated the cruise ship tourism sector by establishing joint operations with international companies. This was made possible by the Foreign Investment Law, inaugurated in 2014, which aims to attract foreign investment through concessions such as new tax breaks, more flexible labor policies, and a reinforcement of the offer of allowing 100 percent ownership.
Pemex to Invest Millions in Upstream Oil Industry: Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) announced to investors today that it is planning to invest up to $161.7 million between 2015 and 2019—or 78 percent of its available capital—to its upstream search for potential underground and underwater sources of hydrocarbons. Pemex’s investment may cover shale gas extraction from the Agua Nueva deposit in the Tampico-Misantla Basin and deep-water drilling across the Perdido Fold Belt in the Western Gulf of Mexico. By comparison, only $34.4 million will be rerouted back into downstream activities—such as refining, marketing and distribution—to increase the efficiency of oil refineries like the complexes in Tula, Salmanca, and Salina Cruz. Since peaking in 2004, Pemex’s crude oil production has fallen by nearly one million barrels a day. Moreover, this past October, the state-owned oil company posted its eighth consecutive quarterly loss. Against this grim background, the redistribution of capital resources into upstream projects represents Pemex’s long term objective of achieving national energy security by diversifying the national energy portfolio.
For U.S. Democrats, hiding President Barack Obama and making the U.S. midterm elections about local politics was supposed to curtail the predicted gains of the Republican Party.
That strategy did not work, and the GOP gains turned into a wave. While midterms are not presidential elections, the new U.S. electoral map may favor the possibility of a trifecta sweep for the GOP in 2016.
We can therefore expect a spirited race for the Republican presidential nominee in 2016. And unlike the Democrats, who could claim Hillary Clinton as their nominee early in the primary season (if not before), the Republicans will dominate the news cycle once the Iowa caucuses meet in January 2016. This could favor the GOP if the party veers closer to the political center.
Is it over for Obama? On November 6, Canada’s most respected daily, The Globe and Mail, published an editorial entitled “Obama is still alive and living in Washington.” Yet despite the convincing GOP victory on November 4, U.S. pundits on the Sunday shows have been careful to avoid concluding that the Obama presidency is over. Quite the opposite: spokespersons of both political parties recognize that political gridlock was likely uppermost in voters’ minds on Election Day. Talk of bipartisan immigration reform, tax reform, and an infrastructure rebuilding project was heard on various news shows in the course of the week, thereby keeping Obama potentially relevant in the political mix.
Brazil’s October 26 election was undoubtedly contentious. As incumbent Dilma Rousseff edged out centrist opposition leader Aeció Neves in a runoff with only 51.6 percent of the vote, it was one of the closest elections in Brazilian history.
Ultimately, the Brazilian people opted for another four years with the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT). So what does Rousseff’s re-election mean for the political representation of Brazilian women? In what way do Brazilian women perceive Rousseff to be advancing their calls for progress and opportunity in a society in which “machista” ideals have traditionally disregarded women’s political and social prowess?
Prior to the runoff, Pesquisa Datafolha published research data revealing that women were more inclined to vote for Rousseff than men. Women in the North and Northeast—where poverty is highly concentrated among the predominantly Afro-Brazilian population—and less educated Brazilians were also significantly more likely to vote for Rousseff. Rousseff’s overwhelming support in the North and Northeast led to claims that the PT “bought votes” through the conditional cash transfer program Bolsa Familia and other social programs. Meanwhile, the Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil, Secção Bahia (The Bahian Section of the Brazilian Bar Association—OAB-BA) received numerous human rights complaints about hate crimes against Brazilians from the Northeast after the election.
On the afternoon of February 27, a bright and warm winter day in Cuba, the staff at the Hotel Nacional in Havana busily prepared for the arrival of former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who was due to a give a talk to a group of business people that afternoon. Meanwhile, I was seated on a couch in the rear of the hotel, overlooking the Caribbean Sea, chatting with Sergio Jaramillo, the high commissioner for peace in Colombia.
Jaramillo is leading the government delegation to the peace talks between the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia— FARC) and the Colombian government. He told me he was reading the Duino Elegies by Rainer Maria Rilke, and that those long, difficult poems helped him remain alert. “In general, people are very self-centered,” Jaramillo said. “Here, you need to think about what the other is thinking, what the other thinks I'm thinking. It is an exercise in extrapolation that helps you think differently, helps you find common ground. It is a cliché, but it's true.”
Jaramillo probably has the most challenging job in Colombia. Since February 2012, there has not been a single month that he hasn’t traveled to Havana to meet with representatives of the FARC. Over the past four decades, guerrilla and paramilitary groups have kidnapped 358 mayors and 75 congressmen. In the last century, six presidential candidates have been killed while campaigning. According to the Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica (National Center of Historical Memory—CNMH), the conflict with the FARC has caused at least 220,000 deaths since 1958, and more than four out of five killed are estimated to be civilians. Colombian society is traumatized. Therefore, negotiating with the FARC is a political and personal risk for everyone involved.
This week's likely top stories: Ecuador's National Assembly dismisses referendum on controversial constitutional amendments; Argentina suspends Proctor & Gamble for fiscal fraud; Brazil grants contracts for 31 new solar parks; U.S. gears up for midterm elections and immigration reform; Colombian court sentences AUC paramilitary leader to 8 years.
Ecuador’s National Assembly Strikes Down Referendum on Amendments: On Friday, the Ecuadorian Constitutional Court dismissed the proposal for a referendum on a package of constitutional amendments sponsored by President Rafael Correa’s ruling party, Alianza País (Country Alliance—AP). Instead, the decision will be passed on to the National Assembly, where parliamentary approval of the amendments is virtually guaranteed given the AP’s two-thirds majority. The most contentious of the reforms would allow for the indefinite re-election of public officials, which would effectively permit Correa, who is currently serving his third and last term as president, to run again in 2017. Despite Correa’s high approval rating, a September poll found that 73 percent of Ecuadorians supported the referendum, which was called by Guillermo Lasso, a former presidential candidate and leader of the opposition party Creando Oportunidades (Creating Opportunities—CREO).
Argentina Bars P&G from Business for Tax Fraud: The Argentinian tax bureau, Administración Federal de Ingresos Públicos (Federal Administration of Public Revenue—AFIP), announced on Sunday that it has suspended the operations of multinational consumer products corporation Proctor & Gamble for alleged fiscal fraud and capital flight. AFIP stripped P&G of its importers/exporters registration upon discovering that the company evaded paying duties totaling up to $138 million on hygiene products imported from Brazil by billing through a Swiss subsidiary. P&G, which has been operating in Argentina since 1991, will be allowed to resume business once it has paid its tax bill and fines accordingly. In asking Argentine courts to place travel restrictions on top officials at the local P&G affiliate, AFIP chief Ricardo Echegaray commented, “Our main goal is for P&G to repay the Central Bank the stolen currency as well as the customs sanctions and the income tax that has been evaded.” P&G responded by announcing that it is working to understand and resolve the allegations.
Brazil Grants Contracts for 31 New Solar Parks: As the output from key hydroelectric plants in Brazil has decreased substantially amidst the worst drought in 80 years, the country has kickstarted the solar power industry by granting contracts for the construction of 31 solar parks on Friday. Brazil’s energy regulator brought the country’s first solar energy auction to a lucrative close on Friday by signing 20-year energy supply contacts with companies to invest $1.67 billion to begin powering the national grid by 2017. The parks, which are the first large-scale projects of their kind in Brazil, will have a combined capacity of 1,048 megawatts (MW), and at a price of $89 per megawatt-hour, the Brazilian government has earned itself one of the lowest rates in world. Brasília has been a latecomer to the photovoltaic industry—which currently supplies a meager 1 percent of the country’s electricity—because the government levies high tariffs on imported solar panels.
U.S. Midterm Elections and Immigration: U.S. voters will go to the polls on Tuesday in midterm elections that will be crucial for the future of immigration reform in the United States. Recent polls suggest that the Republican candidates are outperforming Democrats in several key states, and thus the GOP could pick up six new seats to take control of the Senate. Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said on Sunday that if Republicans win the Senate, comprehensive immigration reform will be a top priority. Last year, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) refused to bring a bipartisan immigration bill passed in the Senate to a vote. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama is expected to use his executive authority to overhaul immigration rules shortly after Tuesday’s elections.
Sentenced AUC Leader Says Colombian Military Collaborated: In sentencing Colombian paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso to a maximum sentence of eight years on Friday, Judge Alexandra Valencia said that “the military and the army were institutionally responsible” for the deaths of hundreds of civilians in northern Colombia. Mancuso, who led the Colombian paramilitary Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia—AUC) between 2004 and 2006 and was later extradited to the U.S., said that the Colombian army was complicit in the AUC’s military offensives in the late 1990s that led to the deaths of hundreds of civilians. As part of a plea bargain with Colombia’s special Justice and Peace prosecution unit, Mancuso admitted to leading four massacres and committing hundreds of crimes. According to Mancuso, the Colombian military gave him special access, trained paramilitaries, and had informants in both the police force and the regional prosecutor’s office to warn paramilitaries of investigations or raids. “Without the action or inaction of the State, we wouldn’t have been able to grow the way we did,” he said.
In a presidential contest that may have seemed like déjà vu, Uruguay’s elections on Sunday produced some unexpected headlines: former President Tabaré Vázquez earned nearly 48 percent of the vote—a full 17 points ahead of challenger Luis Lacalle Pou; Vázquez’ center-left Frente Amplio coalition (Broad Front–FA) has retained its parliamentary majority; and a plebiscite to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 18 to 16— referred to during the campaign as la baja—was convincingly defeated.
Aside from the accurate prediction that no candidate would earn more than 50 percent of the vote—resulting in a November 30 runoff—these were not the results expected by Uruguayan pollsters, who have begun a period of self-criticism after pollster Ignacio Zuasnabar from Equipos Mori admitted that the old polling methods need to be refreshed using Facebook and cell phones. Nearing October 26, pollsters believed Lacalle Pou was closing the gap on Vázquez, and some even said that right-wing Partido Colorado (Red Party–PC) candidate Pedro Bordaberry would achieve about 17 percent of the vote. In the end, Bordaberry did not even earn 13 percent.
Meanwhile, Vázquez, who has already run for president three times, and Lacalle Pou of the center-right Partido Nacional (National Party–PN), the son of former president Luis Alberto Lacalle, will return to the trenches for the final phase of their campaigns. Third-place candidate Bordaberry, the son of former president Juan María Bordaberry—whose government ushered in Uruguay’s 1973-1985 military dictatorship—has already voiced his support for Lacalle Pou.
The re-election of President Dilma Rousseff as president of Brazil was not a foregone conclusion as little as a week ago. While the campaign could not have been dirtier, with charges of corruption, womanizing and wife-beating flying around, Rousseff’s Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers' Party—PT) now seems set for another four years in office.
The PT is on the verge of having the longest-running rule of one party in Brazil since the end of military rule in 1985.
Watching the Brazilian presidential campaign in Rio in its final days provided a useful window to talk to voters.
If this election reveals anything about the Brazilian electorate, it is that they are not yet ready to give up the socioeconomic gains of the years under the PT’s stewardship of the country.
The 12 years of PT government so far have created expectations for many millions of Brazilians to become part of the middle class. Even though the right-of-center candidate, former Minas Gerais governor Aécio Neves, promised to keep the social programs going, the majority of voters opted for the status quo.
The electorate was closely divided, though. With the final votes counted, Rousseff, with 51.6 percent of the vote to Neves' 48.5 percent, had only a 3 percent—or 3.5 million vote—difference.
That foreshadows a polarization of what some have characterized as two irreconcilable halves—much as is the case now in the United States.
This week’s likely top stories: Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff is re-elected; Uruguayan elections move to a second round; Venezuela scraps the sale of Citgo Petroleum; Haitians protest a lack of elections; a Brazilian consortium acquires Chiquita.
Dilma Rousseff Re-elected President of Brazil: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was narrowly re-elected on Sunday in a runoff election that will extend the ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT) government’s mandate until 2019. Rousseff captured 51.6 percent of the vote, defeating challenger Aécio Neves of the Partido da Social Democracia (Brazilian Social Democracy Party—PSDB), who received 48.4 percent after nearly all ballots were counted. Rousseff’s victory marks the fourth straight presidential victory of the PT, although the party has recently come under public scrutiny due to a kickback scandal involving state oil company Petrobras, and has been criticized for an underperforming economy. In her victory speech, Rousseff acknowledged the challenges ahead, saying, “I want to be a much better president than I have been until now.”
Uruguayan Election Goes to Runoff: After Sunday’s election failed to deliver an outright majority to any presidential candidate, Uruguayans will return to the polls on November 30 to make a final decision between former President Tabaré Vásquez of the ruling Frente Amplio (Broad Front—FA) and Luis Lacalle Pou of the Partido Nacional (National Party). Pedro Bordaberry of the right-wing Partido Colorado (Colorado Party) endorsed Lacalle Pou shortly after the results came in, forming a conservative alliance to challenge Vásquez in the next round of voting. Also at stake in the election is the fate of Uruguay’s historic marijuana legislation, passed by outgoing President José “Pepe” Mujica, which legalizes the production, distribution and sale of marijuana to Uruguayan adults. The FA has governed Uruguay since 2005, with Vázquez serving as president from 2005-2010.
Venezuela Fails to Sell Citgo Petroleum: Venezuela will not sell the state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA)’s U.S.-based refining subsidiary Citgo Petroleum Corp, the government announced Sunday. Strapped for cash yet unable to find a buyer for Citgo, PDVSA needed the estimated $8 billion to $10 billion from the sale of Citgo to help offset falling oil prices, scheduled debt payments to China and Russia, and the country’s economic recession. In a memo to its clients this month, Barclays Plc predicted that Venezuela would be forced to adjust its economic policies, and could consider curbing subsidized oil to PetroCaribe members, devaluing the bolivar, and renegotiating loans from China. Another possible reform package could include hiking domestic gasoline prices.
Protestors in Port-au-Prince Demand a Vote: Haitian protestors armed with voting cards marched through the downtown slum of Bel Air in Port-au-Prince on Sunday to demand a chance to vote in legislative and local elections overdue since 2011. Although President Michel Martelly called for elections earlier this year, a stalemate over electoral law between the government and six opposition senators has left voters unable to exercise their basic sovereignty. While Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe accuses opposition politicians of seeking to extend their time in office without election, the opposition candidates say they are defending the Haitian Constitution against an administration seeking to remain in power by decree. One of these candidates, Sen. Moise Jean Charles, led the protesters through the streets of the capital on horseback. As the terms of 10 senators will expire in mid-January, the Haitian government is under pressure to organize a vote on Martelly’s electoral law before Parliament dissolves in early 2015.
Brazil’s Cutrale-Safra Purchases Chiquita Brands: The Brazilian Cutrale-Safra consortium agreed on Monday to acquire U.S. banana behemoth Chiquita Brands International Inc., formerly United Fruit, for about $682 million. The Cutrale Group—owned by “Orange King” Jose Luis Cutrale—and Safra Group—a network of companies controlled by Brazilian banker Joseph Safra—snagged Chiquita for $14.50 per share. The takeover was approved only three days after Chiquita shareholders voted to reject the company’s proposed merger with Irish banana producer Fyffes Plc., which would have created the world’s largest banana seller. Safra, who is seeking to diversify his $16 billion portfolio, and Cutrale, who is looking to expand the family business because of a global decline in orange juice consumption, overcame three previous failed attempts to acquire Chiquita. The transaction is expected to close by early 2015, after regulatory approvals have been made.
Last night, President Dilma Rousseff was re-elected to Brazil’s presidency in one of the most contested elections in the country’s history.
According to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), Rousseff won with 51.57 percent of the vote. Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (Social Democratic Party—PSDB) challenger Aécio Neves lost by less than 3 points, with 48.43 percent.
This was the narrowest margin ever registered during a presidential election since the fall of the country’s dictatorship in 1985. Rousseff swept the northern and northeastern states, home to some of the country’s poorest residents. The opposition won in the south and in São Paulo, where more than 20 percent of the voting population lives.
One of the decisive states in the election was Minas Gerais, where both candidates were born, and where Neves served two terms as governor. Despite leaving that office with a 92 percent approval rating in 2010, he lost the state to Rousseff by nearly five points.
It was also one of the most aggressive and divisive campaigns Brazilians ever witnessed.
In her acceptance speech, President Rousseff said establishing a “dialogue” will be her top priority.
“I’m very hopeful this mobilizing energy will help create fertile ground to build bridges,” Rousseff said as she spoke on stage in Brasília with dozens of supporters, including her predecessor and mentor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. “I believe it will be possible to build a common ground.”
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.