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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

Brazil’s INOVAR: Building an Entrepreneurship Ecosystem

August 5, 2014

by Sophia Sciabica

Lately, Brazil has been in the business of building things from the ground up. From stadiums that hold millions of people to entire market ecosystems, this is challenging work for a government. In anticipation of the World Cup, Brazil received heavy criticism for its infrastructure development. However, Brazil’s efforts at developing an entrepreneurship ecosystem have consistently been touted as a success by many policymakers and investors.  

Yet while some Brazilian programs have been relatively successful at addressing superficial holes in the entrepreneurship ecosystem, such as access to financing, the government has yet to address the structural issues from which these problems stem. 

Entrepreneurial capital in the form of micro-enterprises and self-run businesses has long been part of the economic fabric of Brazil. However, throughout Latin America in the last 20 years, there has been more focus on encouraging the “opportunity entrepreneur.” As highly skilled individuals eligible for salaried employment these people choose to start their own businesses out of opportunity rather than necessity. It is widely recognized that encouraging these individuals to start entrepreneurial and innovative enterprises creates productivity gains and economic growth within a country.

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Tags: Brazil Infrastructure, Entrepreneurship

Mexico’s Energy Reform: Lessons from Colombia and Brazil

August 4, 2014

by Christian Gómez, Jr. and Sophia Sciabica

In the early 2000s, Colombia’s oil industry was weakening. There had been a decrease in new discoveries, followed by a decline in production from a peak of 800,000 barrels per day (b/d) in 1999 to nearly 550,000 b/d in 2004. Exploration and production had moved to increasingly remote areas with higher security risks and risky geology, requiring more capital and technology. As such, the Colombian government remained dependent on Ecopetrol, the state oil company, which represented the entirety of the Colombian oil industry.

Today, Mexico’s oil industry stands in a similar state of decline, as described by a recently released Americas Society/Council of the Americas white paper, “Mexico: An Opening for Energy Reform.” Oil production in Mexico as a whole has fallen from 3.8 million b/d in 2004 to 2.5 million b/d in 2013. Production of the Cantarell oil field, the most lucrative of Mexico’s shallow water reserves, peaked in 2003 at 2.1 million b/d, and is now producing less than one quarter of that.

Just as in Colombia, the problem in Mexico does not lie in a lack of resources, but rather in a lack of capital and technology. Mexico in particular maintains extensive shale deposits that remain largely untapped. The roots that bind Petróleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, and the Mexican government run even deeper than those that once bound Ecopetrol and the Colombian government. Mexico’s state oil enterprise pays for approximately 40 percent of the country’s budget—and since the government acts as both a regulator and an owner, transparency and accountability suffer.

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Tags: Mexican Energy Reform, Colombia, Brazil

Brazil's Marina Silva Calls For a New Vision of Development

July 30, 2014

by Talia Fox

From the age of 10, Marina Silva would wake up before dawn to prepare food for her father, so that he could set off through the dense jungle before the heat of the tropical sun made it impossible for him to keep working. In Silva’s community of rubber tappers in Brazil’s northwestern state of Acre, survival depended on the collection of natural latex that bleeds like sap from the Amazon’s seringueira tree.

Today, the vice-presidential candidate and former minister of environment draws upon her past experiences in Acre as a model of sustainable living, promoting a government policy of cooperation with forest-dwellers to develop Brazil. 

“Gone is the logic of doing for the people,” Silva said last week during the 66th annual meeting of the Sociedade Brasileira para o Progresso da Ciência (Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science–SBPC). “It is [a logic of] doing with the people…a new vision for the development of Brazil…that takes into account sustainability in all of its dimensions: economic, social, environmental, cultural, political, even aesthetic.”

Silva presented her new vision at the conference, held at her alma mater, the Universidade Federal do Acre (Federal University of Acre–UFAC), in the state capital of Rio Branco. The meeting in the oft-forgotten state of Acre united some 5,400 national and international policymakers, rubber tappers, subsistence farmers, student activists, and individuals from over a dozen Indigenous ethnicities.

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Tags: Marina Silva, Amazonia, Brazil

Monday Memo: Mercosur Summit – General Hugo Carvajal – Gov. Jerry Brown – Mexican Energy Reform – Argentine Debt

July 28, 2014

by AQ Online

This week’s likely top stories: Mercosur leaders meet in Caracas; former General Hugo Carvajal returns to Venezuela; California Governor Jerry Brown visits Mexico; Mexican Congress discusses energy reform; Argentina nears its debt deadline.

Mercosur leaders to address Israel at Mercosur summit: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is expected to lead Mercosur leaders in condemning Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip at Tuesday’s summit of Mercosur presidents in Caracas. Last Thursday, Israel referred to Brazil as a “diplomatic dwarf” after Rousseff recalled Brazil’s ambassador to Israel and the Brazilian Foreign Ministry cited Israel’s “disproportionate use of force” in Gaza.  All five presidents of Mercosur’s full members—Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela—are expected to attend the summit, along with Bolivian President Evo Morales, whose country is in the process of joining the bloc. Argentine President Cristina Fernández is also expected to deliver a speech condemning “vulture funds” only one day before Argentine debt talks are set to expire.

Venezuelan ex-general freed in Aruba: Former Venezuelan General Hugo Carvajal received a hero’s welcome in Venezuela after he was released from detention by Aruban authorities on Sunday. U.S. officials have accused Carvajal of aiding in drug trafficking and supporting left-wing guerillas in Colombia. While Carvajal was waiting to be confirmed as Venezuela’s consul in Aruba, he was arrested last Wednesday at the request of the United States, but the Dutch government finally agreed that he “should have diplomatic immunity as nominated consul to Aruba.” The United States has accused the Venezuelan government of threatening  the governments of Aruba and the Netherlands to release the former general.

California Gov. Jerry Brown trade mission to Mexico: California Governor Jerry Brown has arrived in Mexico to discuss immigration and trade with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and leaders from Central America. The governor will meet with Peña Nieto today and with Central American leaders on Tuesday to discuss the wave of undocumented minors arriving in the United States. The focus of the trip will be the economy and trade, and the governor will be joined by a delegation of more than 100 state government, business, economic development, investment and policy leaders to foster trade, educational exchanges, climate change, and tourism between California and Mexico.

Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies to discuss energy reform legislation: Members of Mexico’s lower house will begin discussion today on secondary legislation for Mexican energy reform. The reform will permit the participation of private national and foreign investment in Mexico’s oil and gas company PEMEX and the Comisón Federal de Electricidad (CFE–Federal Electricity Commission) for the first time in the country’s history. The Partido Acción Nacional (National Action PartyPAN) has promoted the creation of a Fondo Mexicano del Petróleo (Mexican Fund for Oil) with profits derived from the oil industry in order to invest in infrastructure and technology. The director of CFE, Enrique Ochoa Reza, emphasized the benefits of the reform, including generating cheaper and more environmentally friendly forms of energy.

Argentina at risk of default as debt deadline nears: Upon the news that the Argentine government will not meet with a debt mediator until tomorrow, Argentina’s government bonds dropped to a one-month low today. The Argentine government has met with court-appointed mediator Daniel Pollack on four occasions, and negotiations over $1.5 billion in unpaid debts remained deadlocked after no progress had been made with talks on Friday. If negotiations are not completed by July 30, or a court delay is not offered, Argentina will default for the second time in only 13 years.

Tags: Mercosur, Immigration, Hugo Carvajal, Argentine debt

Travelogue FIFA: A Journalist’s World Cup Journey

July 18, 2014

by Flora Charner

For the past month, I have been working in Brazil providing production services for international broadcasters covering the World Cup. Twelve Brazilian different cities hosted the tournament, which began on June 12 in São Paulo, and 32 nations from all over the globe participated—bringing hordes of players, fans and reporters to remote parts of Brazil that had never heard their languages or seen their flags before.

I traveled to six of these host cities by air and road, and witnessed just how vast and versatile this country of 200 million people really is—and I didn't even see the half of it.

My four-week journey began in the northeastern city of Natal, capital of Rio Grande do Norte, where I flew into the new São Gonçalo do Amarante–Governador Aluízio Alves International Airport. The privately-owned terminal had been inaugurated a week before our arrival. Its tall ceilings and glass façade were beautiful and modern, with curvy windows that reflected the light from the afternoon sunset. Our 12 pieces of luggage arrived promptly and the employees were helpful and courteous.

However, the airport is far from Natal’s city center, and street signs and pavement were absent at several points along the 20 mile (32 km) route. My taxi driver complained that the airport only had one entry, and cursed the new structure and the World Cup for making the local airport twice as distant as the old one.

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Tags: 2014 World Cup, Brazil

Building the Relationship, BRICS by BRICS

July 11, 2014

by Christine V. Gomes

On July 15, the leaders of the five BRICS countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—will convene in Fortaleza, Brazil. This will mark the sixth official meeting between the member nations since the creation of the group in 2009.

Only two days after the final of the World Cup, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has the opportunity to extend the global spotlight on her country by hosting the BRICS leaders.

For  Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, this will mark his first visit to Brazil and only his second international tour since entering office in May—so Indians will be listening closely to hear his public stance on various issues. Chinese President Xi Jinping will also be making his first trip to Brazil, though he is in no way a stranger to Latin America, an important source of raw materials for China and target for foreign direct investment. Russian President Vladimir Putin will likely be thankful for the change in landscape after receiving such negative attention from the West for Russia’s policies toward the Ukraine. And President Jacob Zuma of South Africa is hopeful that the sixth Summit will produce results that were envisioned in the fifth meeting he hosted last year in Durban.

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Tags: Brazil, BRICS summit, Fortaleza

World Cup Unifies Brazil in Joy, Despair

July 10, 2014

by Stephen Kurczy

In 1945, the Brazilian football clubs Remo and Paysandu took the pitch here in Belém, gateway to the Amazon in the northeastern state of Pará. One of many face-offs of their famous century-old rivalry, the match became significant for more than just the 7-0 drubbing that Paysandu inflicted. It would leave a deep scar on Remo’s psyche. 

The score still haunts Remo supporters such as Fabrico Bessa, even though his team has since bested Paysandu many times, including this year in the annual Clássico Rei da Amazônia (King of the Amazon Classic). 

“We won the local championship this year, but anytime I try to talk about it to someone from Paysandu they just look at me and say ‘7-0’,” said Bessa, a 34-year-old optometrist with a practice here. “We will always have to swallow that, because we don’t know how to explain how we lost 7-0.” 

In a small way, Bessa told me, that’s how this entire nation feels after the World Cup host lost 7-1 to Germany in the semifinal of the planet’s most-watched sporting event. Local newspapers reflected the agony on their front pages: “Massacre,” “Humiliation,” “An embarrassment for eternity.” Brazil had been the runaway favorite to win it all, with pre-tournament analytical models giving the seleção at least a 50 percent chance of claiming the trophy.

“It’s too sad to be real,” Bessa said. 

Brazil is now in mourning. But in that is something to be noted: Brazil is also unified.

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Tags: Brazil World Cup, Dilma Rousseff, World Cup 2014

Brazil Crashes out of the World Cup

July 9, 2014

by AQ Online

Brazil was routed 7-1 by Germany during yesterday’s World Cup semifinal match in Belo Horizonte, marking the South American nation’s biggest defeat in the history of the tournament. Neymar Jr., Brazil’s star player, was out of the lineup with a fractured vertebrae from Friday’s physical clash with Colombia. But more than their striker, the seleção sorely missed team captain and defensive leader Thiago Silva, who received a second yellow card on Friday and was prohibited from playing against Germany.

In Silva’s absence, Brazil’s back line looked scattered, allowing four German players to score five goals in the first 30 minutes alone—sending a shock to the country that has won more World Cup trophies (5) than any other team. Following the game, President Dilma Rousseff said on Twitter, “I am immensely sorry for all of us,” and  Brazilian coach Luiz Scolari said in a post-game interview that “It was the worst day of my life.”

Dilma will be feeling the pressure as Brazil’s attention turns from the World Cup to the presidential elections in October. Rousseff’s opposition, centrist candidate Aécio Neves, is currently polling at 20 percent, well below the president’s 38 percent voter support. But that margin could become slimmer if Brazilians’ frustration with the $11 billion price tag for hosting the tournament boils over into more protests like those that gripped several Brazilian cities during last summer’s Confederations Cup and immediately preceding this summer’s World Cup.

Tags: Brazil, World Cup, President Dilma Rousseff

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