I was born in June 1976, only weeks after Argentina’s most violent dictatorship began. Early in the morning on a sad March day before I was born, my father was taken away by the military regime. He didn’t meet me for the first time until almost a year later.
I was lucky; thousands of children never saw their parents again. More than 30,000 individuals—Argentines and foreigners, students and workers, people with or without university degrees, politicians and non-politicians, activists and non-activists, even priests and nuns—were tortured, abused, raped, killed, and disappeared by a self-appointed dictatorship that launched a “national reorganization process.” In many cases, the captors would wait until captured pregnant women had their babies before they kidnapped the newborns and killed and hid the bodies of the mothers.
The leader of the 1976 military junta, Jorge Rafael Videla, died this morning at 87 years old.
I grew up watching my country go through a bumpy transition from dictatorship to democracy. I have a clear memory of the madness of the Malvinas War in 1982, the hope and happiness of the democratic restoration in 1983 and the Juicio a las Juntas (Trial of the Juntas) in 1985. I also have a vivid memory of the anguish created both by President Raúl Alfonsín’s Ley de Punto Final (“full stop”) and Ley de Obediencia Debida (“due obedience”) amnesty laws, and President Carlos Menem’s pardons that, in my view, ruined the progress made in the Trial of the Juntas.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro embarked today on a three-day tour of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, all members of Mercosur (The Common Market of the South). Following Paraguay’s suspension from the free-trade group, Venezuela joined Mercosur last year and will assume the bloc’s temporary presidency for the first time on June 28 during a summit in Montevideo.
During a ceremony on Sunday to commemorate the two-month anniversary of the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Maduro announced that he would visit the other Mercosur countries to “continue bringing forward a perfect equation of financial, energy, cultural and political integration.”
In Uruguay, Maduro will meet with Uruguayan President José Mujica, as well as former Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez, union leaders and the electrical transformer company Urutransfor. Members of the Uruguayan opposition have criticized Maduro’s visit as “tactless and inconvenient” because of the current political tensions that exist in Venezuela. Later this week, Maduro will meet Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Buenos Aires and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in Brasilia to discuss the next steps for the regional bloc.
En el año 2000 la mayoría de los salvadoreños teníamos una idea, al menos vaga, sobre cual debería de ser la apuesta estratégica del país. El entonces presidente Francisco Flores y su gabinete nos hablaban sobre la viabilidad de convertir a El Salvador en un centro financiero y en un centro logístico de calidad mundial. El segundo aspecto fue incluso exacerbado con la inversión en la construcción de un nuevo puerto marítimo moderno en el departamento de La Unión durante la administración de Antonio Saca.
La apuesta fue concentrarse en la prestación de servicios y promover políticas públicas y leyes que facilitaran el proceso de transformación del país en ese centro financiero y logístico. Sin embargo, al parecer se nos olvidó que uno de los hubs logísticos más importantes del mundo y uno de los centros financieros de mayor trayectoria en el hemisferio occidental se encontraban a la vuelta de la esquina: Panamá.
El país amigo del istmo lo estaba haciendo bien, muy bien. Luego El Salvador cayó en una vorágine de violencia e inseguridad ciudadana que todos conocemos. La inversión se redujo debido a los crecientes índices de violencia. Al menos esa fue siempre la versión oficial. Para muchos difícil de aceptar o comprender cuando los países vecinos de Guatemala y Honduras, ambos con niveles de violencia similares o superiores, crecían dos o tres veces más que El Salvador.
Si en efecto, nos equivocamos, pues no hay mejor remedio que aceptarlo y rectificar. Sin embargo, lo más relevante que conviene rescatar es que a finales de los 90 y principios de milenio existía una propuesta de visión país. Esa visión es la que hoy día El Salvador carece. La semana pasada se realizó el XIII Encuentro Nacional de la Empresa Privada (ENADE) organizado por la Asociación Nacional de la Empresa Privada (ANEP). Durante el encuentro los líderes empresariales solicitaron favorecer la visión de largo plazo. En dicho encuentro la principal cámara empresarial del país hizo entrega a cada uno de los candidatos presidenciales de la propuesta que habría preparado la gremial.
The impasse in the genocide trial of Guatemalan General Efraín Ríos Montt should be cleared this week, following a succession of rulings by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court. On Monday afternoon, the court turned the case back over to presiding Judge Yassmín Barrios, who looked to resume the trial on Tuesday morning.
However, the 8:30 am proceedings were halted when Rios Montt's attorneys failed to show up, leading Judge Barrios to suspend the trial for two more days. May 1 is a national holiday in Guatemala, and it remains to be seen whether there will be a defense team in place when the trial resumes on Thursday. If not, Ríos Montt will be assigned a public defender.
The historic genocide trial against Ríos Montt and his former intelligence chief, José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, has been on hold since April 19, pending a Constitutional Court decision on how and when to proceed after Ríos Montt’s defense counsel abruptly walked out of the trial on April 18 in protest. On April 19, Judge Carol Patricia Flores stopped the trial—which was then being presided over by Judge Barrios—after she was reinstated by the Constitutional Court.
The news comes against a backdrop of increasingly powerful demonstrations by survivors and human rights groups on the one side, and by Ríos Montt sympathizers and ex-military veterans on the other. On Friday, Guatemala commemorated the anniversary of the murder of Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi, a co-author of a report by the Oficina de Derechos Humanos del Arzobispado (Office of Human Rights of the Archbishopric—ODHA) that documented over 400 massacres by the army during Guatemala’s 36-year internal conflict. Gerardi was murdered two days after the report was published in 1998. As a convoy of buses made its way from Nebaj, at the centre of the Ixil triangle where Ríos Montt is accused of ordering the deaths of 1,771 people, many Ríos Montt sympathizers carried inflammatory banners such as, “Hairy Hippies and Foreigners, Stop Making Money off the Lie of Genocide!”
Top stories this week are likely to include: Colombian civil society holds forum on political participation; Venezuela’s election audit begins on May 6; the U.S. Supreme Court upholds a lower court’s immigration ruling; Honduran police officials resign in the midst of a police crisis; and Brazil’s Maracanã stadium reopens after three years.
Colombian Civil Society Weighs in on Peace Negotiations: Hundreds of civil society groups convened in Bogotá on Sunday for a week-long forum on political participation in Colombia to discuss ways of integrating former FARC guerrillas into Colombian politics. The forum, organized by the UN and Universidad Nacional de Colombia, is the second to take place at the behest of the Colombian government and FARC negotiators after a forum on agrarian reform in December. Participants will send their suggestions to the peace negotiators in Havana on May 20. Former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, who has been highly critical of the peace negotiations, said that his political movement would not participate in the forum this week.
Venezuelan Vote Audit to Begin on May 6: Venezuela's Consejo Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Council—CNE) announced that an audit of ballots from the April 14 presidential election will begin on May 6 and last until June 4, but said that it was “unfeasible” to conduct a full recount of the vote. Opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who lost the election by less than 2 percentage points to rival Nicolás Maduro, called the audit a "joke" and has alleged dozens of cases of voter fraud and voter coercion during the elections. He said on Sunday that he would use “all the available instances” to fight Maduro’s victory.
U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Decision to Block Portions of Alabama Immigration Law: The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal by the state of Alabama to enact portions of the state’s controversial immigration law that was blocked by a federal appeals court last year. The Supreme Court’s decision allows last year’s ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to stand, meaning that Alabama cannot prosecute people who harbor or transport undocumented immigrants, but will still allow police to check people’s immigration papers if they are stopped by law enforcement. Justice Antonin Scalia was the only Supreme Court justice to dissent from the high court’s decision not to take the case.
Honduran Police Officials Resign: Following a strike of almost 2,000 police officers in Honduras this week, President Porfirio Lobo accepted the resignations of police officials Eduardo Villanueva and Mario Chinchilla, who led the country’s Dirección de Investigación y Evaluación de la Carrera Policial (Office of Investigation and Evaluation of Police Officers—DIECP). DICEP, the investigative body in charge of purging the Honduran police force of corruption, has been crippled by a lack of funds and by unrest among underpaid officers making only about $150 a month. Honduras’ Consejo Nacional de Seguridad Interior (National Internal Security Council—CONASIN) will convene Monday to propose candidates to take over the posts of Villanueva and Chinchilla.
Maracanã Reopens: Rio de Janeiro's iconic Maracanã stadium reopened on Saturday after three years of renovations intended to prepare the stadium for Brazil’s upcoming international sporting events. Maracanã will host the 2014 World Cup final and the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Olympics. However, media attending Saturday’s exhibition match reported that several parts of the stadium are still incomplete, even though the project was delayed by four months. Maracanã is the fourth of twelve World Cup stadiums to open. The stadium will be officially inaugurated on June 2 in a match between Brazil and England.
On Monday, after three days of severe disapproval, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos ruled out his proposal to run for re-election in 2014 only to serve for two more years—half the usual term—and amend the constitution to extend the presidential term limit to six years. “Four years are not enough to finish the job, he said.
The Colombian constitution currently allows incumbents to seek re-election for a consecutive four-year period. The bill submitted on Friday would extend term limits to allow presidents to serve for six years—but with no possibility of re-election—to give leaders more time to accomplish their government plans. The bill also extended the six-year term limits for mayors, governors and legislators to align the ruling terms of all elected officials in Colombia.
Santos, who came to power in August 2010, expressed that under no circumstances he would present a bill to congress that would cause more divisions among the ruling political parties. He also clarified that his proposal has nothing to do with the ongoing peace process between his government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) which began in November 2012.
The president, however, did not rule out the possibility of running for re-election in May 2014, but faces decreasing popularity. According to a poll released on Monday by Colombian firm Ipsos Napoleón Franco, Santos’s popularity has plummeted to 47 percent and only 39 percent of Colombians favor the president’s re-election.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Horacio Cartes will be Paraguay’s new president; Guatemala’s Constitutional Court will decide whether Efraín Ríos Montt’s genocide trial can continue; Argentines protested Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s government; Guantánamo prisoners’ hunger strike grows; the Venezuelan election audit process will take a month.
Horacio Cartes Wins Presidential Election in Paraguay: Tobacco magnate and soccer club president Horacio Cartes will be the next president of Paraguay after voters elected him with 46 percent of the vote on Sunday. Cartes’ main rival, Efraín Alegre of the Radical Liberal Party, captured 37 percent of the vote. Cartes’ victory marks the return of Paraguay’s Colorado Party to power and the likely normalization of Paraguay’s status with its Mercosur and UNASUR neighbors. The Colorados ruled Paraguay for 61 years before the election of former Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo in 2008.
Guatemala Awaits Fate of Rios Montt Trial: Guatemala’s Constitutional Court will determine whether or not the genocide trial of former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt will go forward. On Friday, Judge Yasmin Barrios declared that a decision to annul the trial by Judge Carol Patricia Flores was illegal. Judge Flores ruled on Thursday that all testimony since November 2011 had been invalid, a decision protested by human rights groups and victims of Guatemala’s internal conflict. Read more about the trial in an AQ blog post by Nic Wirtz.
Argentines Protest Government: Thousands of Argentines gathered in the streets on Friday in countrywide protests against a proposed judicial reform bill that would allow voters to elect magistrates that appoint and remove judges. Argentine legislators will vote on the judicial reform bill on Wednesday. Protesters, many from the political opposition and critical of Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, also expressed a general dissatisfaction with Argentina’s crime and high inflation.
Over Half of Guantánamo Prisoners on Hunger Strike: A U.S. military spokesperson said on Sunday that 84 prisoners being held at the Guantánamo Bay military prison are now on hunger strike, and that 17 are being force-fed through tubes. Some of the detainees have been striking since early February, protesting abuse and searches that the prisoners say are invasive. Many of the detainees have been in the prison for over a decade without any charges.
Audit of Venezuelan Elections will take a Month: Venezuela’s Consejo Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Council—CNE) said it will take a month to carry out an audit of the April 14 presidential election results, and said that the results of the audit will not alter the election’s outcome. The CNE has said that president-elect Nicolás Maduro defeated rival candidate Henrique Capriles by 1.8 percentage points. Maduro was sworn in as president on Friday, but the U.S. government has not yet recognized him as Venezuela’s new president. Meanwhile, Maduro has begun to appoint his cabinet members.
It wasn’t supposed to go this way. When the Venezuelan government announced in March that it would hold elections on April 14 to replace the deceased former President Hugo Chávez everything seemed to favor Chávez’s handpicked replacement, Vice President Nicolás Maduro. Only six months earlier, Chávez – battling cancer at the time, though it was unknown to the voters – handily beat the same opposition candidate Hernique Capriles by 11 percent.
But despite the massive outpouring of public grief for Chávez, and the government’s near monopoly control over the media and public resources, Maduro managed to lose more than 1,000,000 votes between October’s contest and last Sunday’s. As a result, it was an unexpected squeaker of an election – 50.8 percent for Maduro and 49 percent for Capriles, with a mere 250,000 votes separating the two.
What had happened was that 14 years of economic and administrative mismanagement had finally caught up to Chávez’s political heir. Lacking the charisma of his predecessor, Maduro struggled during the campaign to evoke the image of the popular leader, even claiming that Chávez had appeared to him in the form of a little bird. But it wasn’t enough. With inflation close to 30 percent, food and electricity shortages throughout the country, and two recent devaluations that have lowered the value of the Venezuelan currency the bolivar by more than 30 percent, voters demonstrated that in the post-Chávez era they are going to be more issue-oriented.
In reality, it shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise; when he was alive, President Chávez’s approval ratings always stood above popular assessments of his government’s performance in public opinion polls. But clearly, it caught the Chavista government by surprise, which thought that the warm and fuzzy memories of their founder would last longer than six weeks.
Paraguayans head to the polls this Sunday to elect their next president amid a tightening in the race between the two main candidates, Horacio Cartes of the Partido Colorado (The Colorado Party–PC) and Efraín Alegre of the Partido Liberal Radical Auténtico (The Liberal Party—PLRA). Cartes leads Alegre by nearly six percentage points (37.6 percent support versus 31.7 percent) in an April 5 public opinion survey conducted by First Análisis y Estudios. This is the last poll to be released prior to the election as election law prohibits voter surveys within 15 days of a vote.
Either candidate would inherit a country still trying to move past the impeachment last year of former President Fernando Lugo.
Cartes is a political newcomer and millionaire who is trying to put the Colorado Party back in power after its six decades of uninterrupted rule was broken by the 2008 election of former President Lugo. Despite having lost in 2008, the Colorado Party still maintains a strong grip on the three branches of government. Alegre is a long-time politician and attorney who served as Lugo’s public works minister.
Throughout the campaign both candidates have been accused of corruption, however no charges have been formally brought against them. Cartes faces accusations of tax evasion, money laundering and trafficking contraband, and Cartes claims that Alegre embezzled $25 million upon his departure from the ministry of public works and “handles public money as it were private.” Both deny the allegations.
Paraguay’s membership in Mercosur and Unasur was suspended last year after Lugo’s impeachment, saying there was a “rupture in the democratic process.” Both candidates would look to quickly rejoin both blocs. Although nearly 40 percent of Paraguayans live in poverty, the economy is projected to increase by 13 percent—due to record soybean production—after having contracted by 1.2 percent last year.
According to data from the Justicia Electoral (Electoral Justice), approximately 3.6 million Paraguayans are eligible to vote in the general elections this Sunday, of which 21,981 are enrolled abroad.
Los resultados electorales del pasado domingo en Venezuela no solo desafiaron todas las encuestas que apuntaban a una holgada victoria del oficialista Nicolás Maduro—heredero del fallecido Hugo Chávez—sobre el opositor Henrique Capriles, sino también atizaron la polarización en la nación con mayores reservas mundiales de crudo. Entre demandas de reconteo de votos, marchas fallidas, cacerolazos y cohetazos, todo parece indicar que mañana viernes, Maduro se posicionará como presidente para el período 2013-2019.
La pelea electoral puso a prueba a toda la región. Entre reconocer al gobierno del "hijo de Chávez"—todos los países a excepción de Estados Unidos y Paraguay lo hicieron—y llamar a un legítimo reconteo de votos, posición que matizó la Organización de Estados Americanos después de condenar duramente la violencia post-electoral que causó siete muertos, se convocó a una reunión en Unasur con carácter de urgencia. Los otros 10 países del bloque—Argentina, Brasil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, Uruguay, Guyana, Surinam, y Perú—ya han sentado una posición al lado de la institucionalidad de Venezuela. La crisis política desatada por la supuesta falta de transparencia electoral preocupa al continente y Maduro aseguró que dejaba todo en manos del CNE (organismo electoral en su país), es poco probable que haya lugar para el reconteo de votos, que le dieron la victoria por solo 230.000 sufragios.
A saber: cuatro de los cinco rectores electorales son chavistas, y el Tribunal Supremo de Justicia ya sentó su posición al asegurar que la constitución y las leyes locales no prevén un conteo manual. Aunque esto es cierto, la auditoria ciudadana sí está reconocida pero sólo sobre el 54 por ciento de las urnas escogidas al azar. Esta vigilancia según Maduro ya se hizo, aunque en las denuncias el candidato opositor Henrique Capriles, muchos de sus testigos electorales fueron retirados a la fuerza en al menos 285 centros de votación.