This Week in Latin America: U.S. and Cuba Establish Ties—Venezuela's Opposition Blocked—Another FARC Ceasefire—Argentina's Elections
July 20, 2015
Here's a look at some of the stories we're following this week:
U.S. and Cuba Establish Ties: The U.S. and Cuba re-established official diplomatic relations today for the first time since 1961. Bruno Rodríguez, Cuba's foreign minister, is in Washington DC to mark the occasion, and will meet with Secretary of State John Kerry following the inauguration of Cuba's embassy there. Kerry will travel to Cuba later this summer for the opening of the U.S. embassy in Havana. While historic, the degree to which the diplomatic breakthrough will improve relations between the two countries is open to debate. Several prominent members of the U.S. Congress have expressed opposition to the opening, and Cuban President Raul Castro reiterated to state media last week that the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba, which remains in place, is causing “damage and hardships for [the Cuban] people.”
FARC Ceasefire Takes Effect: A unilateral ceasefire by Colombia’s FARC guerilla group went into effect this morning, after a series of violent confrontations with government forces threatened to bring ongoing peace talks to a halt. President Juan Manuel Santos says the government will draw down operations against the group in response. The ceasefire—the sixth since talks began in 2012—comes at a critical time for negotiations. Santos has broached the possibility of a deadline to resolve outstanding issues, and says he will evaluate the process in November. Public support is dwindling. Earlier this month, a gallup poll showed that, for the first time since negotiations began, more Colombians favor a military solution to the conflict (46%) than prefer a negotiated settlement with the group (45%). Thorny issues, such as the question of transitional justice, have yet to be resolved. Still, Santos and the FARC leadership will be hoping that the ceasefire leads to a breakthrough—this may be the last chance for the two sides to come to an accord.
Venezuelan Opposition Blocked: The Democratic Unity (MUD) opposition coalition in Venezuela said it plans to hold protests this week after a third politician in 10 days was barred from holding public office. Pablo Pérez, a former state governor, says he was disqualified from government service for 10 years by the state prosecutor's office. The grounds for the decision are unclear. Pérez said the move was the latest attempt by President Nicolas Maduro to weaken the opposition ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for December 6, which polls suggest Maduro's United Socialist Party may lose. Pérez was not running in the December elections, but the two other opposition members who have been barred in recent days, Maria Corina Machado and Vicencio Scarano, planned to seek office. They were both banned for 12 months.
Argentina Election a Mixed Bag for Opposition: Horacio Rodríguez Larreta of the center-right PRO party won a narrow victory in mayoral elections in Buenos Aires, Sunday. Larreta, the former cabinet chief to outgoing mayor Mauricio Macri, defeated his rival Martin Losteau by three points. Buenos Aires has long been an electoral strongold for the PRO, and the vote was closer than many expected. That could spell trouble for Macri, who will run in presidential elections this fall. Early polling shows Daniel Scioli, a former vice-president and vocal member of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s ruling coalition, as the comfortable favorite. Still, with several months to go before the first round of voting in October, and amid growing dissatisfaction with Fernández de Kirchner's management of the economy, there's plenty of time for Macri to make a move.
June 8, 2015
This week’s likely news stories: Mexico’s ruling party wins the congressional elections; Canada and Japan block a G7 statement on carbon emissions; Latin American officials to discuss Mercosur at EU-CELAC Summit; Argentina’s debt inflates after U.S. court ruling; protestors demand Honduran president’s resignation.
Mexico’s Ruling Party to Maintain Majority in Lower House after Elections: Despite nationwide protests over its handling of a housing scandal and the unresolved disappearance of 43 students last October, Mexico’s ruling party appeared likely to keep its congressional majority after Sunday’s legislative, mayoral and gubernatorial elections. Mexico’s national electoral institute projected that President Enrique Peña Nieto’s Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) and its allies would secure between 246 and 263 seats in the country’s 500-member lower house. One of the notable governor races was in the state of Nuevo León, which elected the country’s first independent governor since a 2014 reform allowed independent candidates to run. Jaime Rodríguez Calderon, nicknamed “El Bronco,” called his election “the beginning of a second Mexican revolution.”
Canada Blocks G7 Statement, Agrees to Cutting Carbon Emissions: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper committed to reducing carbon emissions by 2050 during the second day of the G7 climate change summit in Bavaria today. Both Canada and Japan had blocked an earlier statement on greenhouse gas reductions in order to avoid binding targets, and were referred to as “the most difficult [countries] on every issue on climate” by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, host of the G7 summit. Senior government officials from Canada stated that Canada will make efforts to reduce carbon emissions by means of a “target that is in line with other major industrialized economies.” The G7 countries—Canada, the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States—will continue climate change talks in France this December.
Monday Memo: U.S.-Colombia Talks—Guatemala Protests—Buenos Aires Primaries—Puerto Rico Downgrade—Texas Delegation in Cuba
April 27, 2015
This week’s likely top stories: U.S.-Colombia Fifth Annual Bilateral Meeting; Protesters denounce corruption in Guatemala; Primaries for local elections held in Buenos Aires; S&P downgrades Puerto Rico; and Texas trade delegation visits Havana.
High-level Colombia-U.S. Talks on Mutual Cooperation: The U.S. and Colombia will hold high-level bilateral talks today in Bogotá, Colombia at the office of the Ministry of Foreign Relations. In the fifth annual bilateral meeting of its kind, discussions will be led by Colombian Minister of Foreign Affairs María Ángela Holguín and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken. Agenda items include security, the environment, energy, education, trade and human rights. Alongside the meeting, over 100 officials from both countries will convene for a session of the steering committee of the U.S-Colombia Action Plan for Racial and Ethnic Equality, in which they will discuss democracy, culture and economic opportunities including innovation, academic exchange and immigration.
Protesters Demand Resignation of Guatemalan President: On Saturday, tens of thousands of protesters met in Guatemala City to denounce the government and demand the resignation of President Otto Pérez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti after a corruption scandal surfaced last week. An investigation into the “La Linea” case has implicated various officials from the Guatemalan Superintendencia de Administración Tributaria (Superintendency of Tax Administration—SAT) for accepting bribes for reduced customs costs. The alleged leader of the corruption scheme is Juan Carlos Monzón Rojas, a former aide to Baldetti. Demonstrators claim that President Molina and Vice President Baldetti were aware of the corruption. More demonstrations are planned for coming days.
Primary Elections Held in Buenos Aires: On Sunday, the primary for the upcoming local government elections was held in Buenos Aires. This election marks the first time that porteños can vote to select the primary candidates following a 2009 electoral reform. According to exit polls, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta was nominated for the Propuesta Republicana (Republican Proposal—PRO) party, Mariano Recalde for the Frente Para la Victoria (Front for Victory—FPV) party, and Martin Lousteau was nominated to lead the Energía Ciudadana Organizada (Organized Citizen’s Energy Coalition—ECO). Citizens will vote for the mayor of Buenos Aires in July 2015.
April 22, 2015
Today, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner will kick off her state visit to Russia with a meeting of members of the Russian and Argentine business communities in Moscow. Fernández de Kirchner and Russian President Vladimir Putin are scheduled to meet on Thursday to review and follow up on a series of trade, energy and military deals that were signed in July 2014, when Putin visited Argentina.
Fernández de Kirchner landed in Russia on Tuesday. Members of her delegation include Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman, Legal and Technical Secretary Carlos Zannini, Defense Minister Agustín Ross, and other government officials. The president recently tweeted, “We are meeting with CEOs of Russian companies that want to invest in our country.”
Indeed, Argentina's National Commission for Atomic Energy (Comisión Nacional De Energía Atómica) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Rusatom on the sidelines of the Argentine-Russian business meeting headed by Fernández de Kirchner today. The MOU states that Rusatom’s subsidiary, TVEL, a nuclear fuel manufacturer, will supply nuclear fuel to scientific and power-generating reactors in Argentina.
Monday Memo: U.S. Delegation in Cuba—Venezuela Loan—Caribbean Fiber Optic Cable—Activist Murders in Honduras—Argentina-Falklands Oil
April 20, 2015
This week’s likely top stories: U.S. trade delegation arrives in Cuba; Venezuela receives a $5 billion Chinese loan; Caribbean’s longest fiber optic cable nearly complete; NGO says Honduras leads the world in per capita murders of environmental activists; Argentina sues five companies over Falklands oil exploration.
Governor Cuomo and U.S. Companies Visit Cuba: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo led a trade mission to Cuba on Monday, joined by executives from Pfizer, MasterCard and JetBlue, as well as State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and officials from the Plattsburgh International Airport, the New York Genome Center and the State University of New York. The trip is the first of its kind since U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced renewed diplomatic relations between the two countries in December 2014. According to Cuomo, the members of the delegation from New York will “serve as ambassadors for all that New York state has to offer and will help form the foundation for a strong economic relationship between New York and Cuba as legal restrictions on trade are eased in the future.” The delegation plans to meet with several Cuban officials and businesses during their 26-hour trip.
Venezuela Accepts $5 Billion in Loans from China: On Sunday, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced that his government has received $5 billion in Chinese financing for development. Maduro traveled to China in January 2015 and announced at the time that the country would be providing Venezuela with over $20 billion in investment. However, Maduro did not confirm yesterday whether the $5 billion was part of that amount. The loan will be helpful for Venezuela, which is currently suffering rising inflation and shortages of goods amid falling oil prices.
April 10, 2015
Argentina and the U.K. summoned each others’ ambassadors this week as tension between the two countries escalated over the territorial dispute involving the Falkland Islands, known as the Malvinas in Argentina.
Yesterday, the Argentine government announced that Deputy Foreign Minister Eduardo Zuain had called in British ambassador John Freeman to demand an explanation over media reports that the U.K. had conducted mass electronic surveillance on Argentina between 2006 and 2011 to prevent Argentina from launching attempts to reclaim the Falklands. The allegations, made earlier this month by the online publication The Intercept, were based on documents previously released by U.S. National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.
A statement released by the Argentine Foreign Ministry indicated Zuain also warned Freeman that Argentina would initiate legal action against multiple British energy companies for carrying out petroleum exploration activity on the continental shelf off the coast of the Falklands without the permission of Argentina’s Energy Secretariat. Later on Thursday, Argentina filed a lawsuit at the general prosecutor's office in Buenos Aires against the British firms Rockhopper Exploration Plc, Premier Oil Plc, Falkland Oil & Gas Ltd, Noble Energy Inc. and Edison International Spa. The lawsuit follows press releases from the oil companies Premier Oil Plc and Falkland Oil & Gas Ltd. on April 2 that they had made an oil well discovery off the South Atlantic Islands after nine months of drilling.
The events in Buenos Aires were preceded by a diplomatic meeting in London on Wednesday between British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and Argentine ambassador Alicia Castro. Hammond reportedly told Castro that his government disapproved of the “unacceptable” statements made by Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in recent weeks. On April 2—exactly 33 years after the 10-week Falklands War (Guerra de las Malvinas) broke out between the UK and Argentina in 1982—Fernández de Kirchner had stated that “International law and dialogue, not militarization, are the path to a reunion and sovereignty. We will see the islands form part of our territory again. It’s not just wishful thinking.”
A British Foreign Office spokesman said on April 9 that the U.K. “has no doubt about its sovereignty over the Falkland Islands and surrounding maritime areas, nor about the Falkland Islanders’ right to decide their own future. We object strongly to recent statements by the Argentine president and the Argentine ambassador to London and so summoned the ambassador to account for these.”
Monday Memo: Summit of the Americas—Venezuela–U.S. relations—Citibank Inspection—Bolivian Missile Trial—Canada-Venezuela Oil
April 6, 2015
This week’s likely top stories: The Summit of the Americas commences in Panama; petition criticizes U.S. action against Venezuela; Argentine Central Bank inspects Citibank; TSJ initiates missiles trial in Bolivia; Canada and Venezuela discuss investment in Venezuelan oil.
Americas Summit Begins This Week in Panama: The seventh Summit of the Americas will take place this week from April 10 to 11 in Panama City, the first summit in which the leaders of all 35 countries in the hemisphere—including Cuba—will participate. Topics such as climate change, immigration, violence, and energy needs will be on the agenda, although U.S.–Cuba relations may dominate the summit. Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro will meet in person for the first time since they announced renewed diplomatic relations in December 2014, and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson confirmed on Friday that there would be an “interaction” between the two leaders. Meanwhile, Cuban dissidents have been invited to a separate meeting for civil society at the summit. Cuban dissident Rosa María Payá A. stated on Twitter yesterday that Panamanian authorities stopped and searched her at the airport upon arrival in Panama, and she was released after several hours.
Petition against Obama’s Action on Venezuela Gains Ground: Critics of President Barack Obama’s March 9 executive action that declared Venezuela a national security threat have circulated a petition that had gained over 8 million signatures by Saturday. The petition began in Venezuela, although many countries throughout the region have expressed their support for Venezuela. In March, all member nations of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) rejected Obama’s action against the country, which also included sanctions against select Venezuelan officials accused of human rights abuses and corruption. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro thanked supporters via Twitter on Sunday. Growing tension between the U.S. and Venezuela, which have not had full diplomatic relations since 2008, threatens to overshadow other issues to be discussed at the Summit of Americas this week.
Argentina’s Central Bank Sends Inspectors to Citibank for Supervision: On Monday, the Argentine Central Bank sent regulators to Citibank headquarters in Buenos Aires for an inspection. Central Bank president Alejandro Vanoli said that the inspection aimed to ensure that Citibank would be able to run normally without CEO Gabriel Ribisich, who was dismissed by the Central Bank on Wednesday for not following local regulations regarding Argentine interest payments on restructured debt. The Central Bank gave Citibank 24 hours to find a replacement for Ribisich, but the deadline was extended to Monday, due to the closure of banks for local holidays. Local entities, such as the Argentine Banks Association, the Argentine Business Association and the United States Chamber of Commerce in Argentina expressed their support for Citibank and criticized the decision. Citibank could still appeal the decision today.
Monday Memo: Peru Spying Allegations—Argentine Debt—Costa Rican Energy—Venezuelan Opposition—Mexican Missing Students Case
March 23, 2015
This week's likely top stories: Intelligence chiefs to be replaced in Peru; Citigroup is permitted to process Argentine debt payment; Costa Rica sets global clean energy record; former Spanish PM to defend Venezuelan opposition leaders; Ayotzinapa victims’ families visit Amnesty International.
Peruvian Intelligence Chiefs Fired amid Spying Allegations: The Peruvian Presidency of the Council of Ministers issued two resolutions that were published on Sunday, announcing the dismissal of Ivan Kamisaki, the executive director of the National Directorate of Intelligence (DINI), and accepting the resignation of Javier Briceño, the national intelligence director. Kamisaki and Briceño were accused of spying and misconduct after media outlets published information allegedly gathered by DINI on citizens, including former President Alejandro Toledo and current Defense Minister Pedro Cateriano. In February, Prime Minister Ana Jara announced that DINI would be temporarily closed for restructuring in response to complaints that it had spied on opposition politicians.
U.S. Judge Authorizes Citigroup to Process Argentine Debt Payments: Citigroup announced in a statement on Saturday that U.S. judge Thomas Griesa has authorized the bank to resume processing interest payments for Argentine bonds, with payments now scheduled for March 31 and possibly June 30, 2015. The bank had been caught in the middle of the dispute between the Argentine government and U.S. “holdout” creditors who refused to restructure their debt, leading Argentina to go into default for the second time in 13 years in August 2014. Previously, Griesa had permitted Argentina to pay restructured bond holders, but later decided that Argentina could not pay those creditors until it had paid holdouts. NML Capital, one of the holdouts, said it had reached an agreement with Citibank on Sunday to allow the interest payments to resume. The bank recently said it could lose its banking license in Argentina if it is not allowed to make interest payments.
Costa Rica Sets Renewable Energy Record: On Sunday, Costa Rica set a global record for renewable energy use, cementing its status as a world leader in clean energy. The Central American nation has experienced heavy rainfall in recent months, and on Sunday, the country set a record by going 75 days in a row using 100 percent renewable energy. Costa Rica relies on four hydroelectric dams to supply its energy needs, has not used fossil fuels since December 2014. Renewable energy expert Jake Richardson warned that the country should make sure to diversify its renewable sources, as the availability of hydro power can vary widely with the seasons, and hydroelectric dams can harm river ecosystems.
Former Spanish Prime Minister to Defend Venezuelan Opposition Leaders: Felipe González Márquez, Spain’s Socialist Prime Minister from 1982 to 1996, will join the defense team of imprisoned Venezuelan politicians Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma, announced his spokesperson Joaquín Tagar on Monday. González, a lawyer by profession, has expressed concern about the current political and economic crisis in Venezuela. López has been incarcerated since February 2014 and Ledezma, the mayor of Caracas, was arrested in February 2015 for an alleged plot against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
Families of Missing Mexican Students Appeal to Amnesty International: Felipe de la Cruz, the father of one of the survivors of the tragic attack on students in Ayotzinapa, Mexico in September 2014, spoke to the U.S. branch of Amnesty International on Saturday in New York City. The families of the students went to Amnesty International to present their case in hopes of receiving recommendations from the human rights organization on how to advance their cause. The families also aim to visit the United Nations, but a meeting has not yet been confirmed. Saturday’s presentation was part of “Caravana 43,” a tour of 43 cities across the U.S. to boost support for an independent investigation into the victims’ fates.
Monday Memo: U.S.-Cuba Talks — Colombia Peace Talks — Latin American Currencies — New Uruguayan President — Peruvian Ecotourism
March 2, 2015
This week’s likely top stories:U.S.-Cuba talks promising; New delegation for FARC peace talks; Dollar strengthens against Latin American currencies; Tabaré Vázquez takes office; Peruvian businesses to learn from Costa Rican ecotourism.
U.S.-Cuba Normalization Talks Promising: After two rounds of talks—one in Havana last month and the second in Washington DC on Friday—the U.S. and Cuba announced that the re-opening of a U.S. embassy in Havana before the April 10-11 Summit of the Americas is not out of the question. While U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson and her counterpart—Joséfina Vidal Ferreiro, the director for United States Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba—agreed that the talks were productive, Cuba remains on the State Departments Sponsors of Terrorism list and the Cuban Interests Section in Washington DC remains unbanked. While not a precondition for further normalization, Vidal emphasized that the removal of Cuba from the terrorism list was a top priority. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry emphasized that the terrorism list was an issue separate from the negotiations, and that the review of Cuba’s position on the list would go through Congress. In simultaneous addresses on December 17, U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced the re-establishment of relations after Cuba released 65-year-old former U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contractor Alan Gross on humanitarian grounds and the U.S. released the three remaining “Cuban Five.”
Colombian President Announces New Delegation for FARC Peace Talks: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced on Monday that a new delegation of negotiators will be sent to Havana, Cuba on Tuesday to join the ongoing peace talks with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC). The emissaries—five active generals and one admiral of the Colombian Armed Forces—are joining the peace talks with the purpose of discussing a bilateral ceasefire. Santos also commented on the possibility of reaching a solution with the United States to not extradite FARC leaders, should an agreement ending the conflict be reached. Last week, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan attended the talks, declaring that any agreement must be just and meet international standards. “Transitional justice is an issue of concern and controversy,” he said. “However, I would like to emphasize that justice must fit the Colombian context—while respecting international minimum standards. No one shoe fits all.”
Dollar Strengthens Against Latin American Currencies: Several currencies in Latin America are at their lowest levels in years, due to the decline in commodity prices and the expansion of the U.S. economy. Higher U.S. interest rates are expected to drive funds out of riskier emerging markets, contributing to currency weakness in the region. This week, however, several currencies may make profits, with operators seeking to exchange them for dollars to avoid the risk of a currency relapse later in the year, in which the dollar may weaken. In Brazil, the real may decline to 3 reais per dollar this week, causing a further devaluation of the Brazilian currency as market players turn to the dollar. The Colombian peso may move from 2,480 to 2,600 pesos per dollar in the next few weeks. In Peru, the dollar is expected to continue strengthening against the Peruvian Nuevo Sol from 2.96 to between 3.090 and 3.105 Nuevos Soles per dollar. The Argentine peso will likely continue its slight decline to an official 8.77 pesos per dollar, but the informal market levels continue to stay at 13 pesos per dollar. Increased purchasing of dollars may continue the Latin American currency devaluation trend seen in the past five years.
Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez Takes Office: Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez was inaugurated on Sunday, taking over from 79-year old President José Mujica. Vázquez, a 75-year old oncologist who served as president from 2005-2010, represents the Frente Amplio (Broad Front—FA), a leftist coalition party. In his inauguration speech, Vázquez called for national unity, particularly regarding public education, health and housing. Vázquez will inherit a growing economy and historically low unemployment rates. This transfer of power marks 30 years of uninterrupted democracy in Uruguay since President Julio María Sanguinetti‘s 1985 election ended the country’s 12-year dictatorship. “I would like to earnestly greet the 30 years of uninterrupted democracy we enjoy in Uruguay,” said Vázquez.
Peruvian Businesses to Learn from Costa Rican Ecotourism Best Practices: Sixteen Peruvian businesses are attending the Seminario Internacional de Desarrollo y Gestión de Productos y Servicios Turístico Sostenible (International Seminar for Development and Management of Sustainable Tourism Products and Services) in Costa Rica from March 1-8 to learn best practices regarding ecotourism. Participants in the week-long seminar, organized by La Asociación Costarricense de Profesionales en Turismo (Costa Rican Association of Tourism Professionals—Acoprot), will visit Costa Rican businesses that have successfully created sustainable products and business models. The Peruvian entrepreneurs will learn from tourist guides, sustainable companies and hotels, and will participate in site visits to parts of Costa Rica that have applied sustainable tourism methodologies—the Monteverde Cloud Forest and La Fortuna volcano. The seminar offers technical round tables, keynote speeches and workshops.
February 11, 2015
The Unión de Naciones Suramericanas (The Union of South American Nations—UNASUR) and the Banco de Desarrollo de América Latina (Latin American Development Bank—CAF) announced plans on Tuesday to develop the first fiber optic cable exclusively financed by Latin American institutions.
The creation of the proposed Red de Conectividad Suramericana para la Integración (South American Connectivity Network for Integration) could reduce South America’s reliance on foreign businesses for the infrastructure needed to connect to the Internet, subsequently lowering costs of access as well as increasing connectivity speeds.
UNASUR Secretary-General Ernesto Samper explained in a press conference in Montevideo, Uruguay, that Internet speed in South America is significantly slower than in other countries because of the challenges of broadband connectivity in the region, causing prices to surge up to 20 times higher than in developed countries.
There are an estimated 22.3 million Internet users in Latin America, accounting for 54.7 percent of the region’s population. Samper expressed concern about the digital divide in South America, stating that “one who is not connected is lost” and that Latin America “needs to generate value added processes and create autonomous communications highways to strengthen its independence and cyber defenses.”
CAF has pledged an initial investment of 1.5 million dollars for the first phase of the project, which will involve an in-depth analysis of the current Internet technologies in each South American country to determine how they will incorporate existing cables into the future fiber optic grid. The vice president of CAF, Antonio Sosa, stated that the study would focus on demographics, technical issues and institutional framework in each country.
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