Allegations of Espionage Threaten Peru-Chile Relations: Chilean Minister of Foreign Affairs Heraldo Muñoz announced on Sunday that Chilean Ambassador Roberto Ibarra would not return to his post in Peru in light of the country’s espionage complaints against Chile. On Friday, Peruvian Ambassador Francisco Rojas Samanez was recalled to Lima after Peruvian prosecutors claimed that several Peruvian naval officers sold confidential information about their navy’s surveillance of fishing boats to Chilean navy officials. Two of the naval officers implicated in the leaks have been placed in detention. Muñoz has stated that Ibarra is “in consultations” to craft a response to the allegations “with calmness and without harsh remarks.” Peruvian president Ollanta Humala called on Chilean president Michelle Bachelet to issue assurance “that such espionage activities will never be repeated.”
Panama to Mediate Conflict Regarding Hydroelectric Dam: The Panamanian government formally announced negotiations on Saturday to address growing conflict over the construction of the Barro Blanco hydroelectric plant on the Tabasará River, which is now 95 percent complete. A neighboring Indigenous community, the Ngäbe Buglé, is demanding cancellation of the $225 million project due to environmental concerns, and local protests stalled construction work on February 9. Negotiations over the dam are to be facilitated by the UN in the district of Tolé, 400 kilometers west of Panama City, and led by a high-level committee headed by the vice president and foreign minister of Panama, Isabel de Saint Malo de Alvarado. Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela expressed faith in the negotiations, saying, “we will do whatever we have to do in the negotiations to seek a solution. I have a lot of confidence and we will take the time that is required.” However, the president of the Regional Congress of the Traditional Ngäbe Buglé, Toribio García, said the community’s opposition to the dam is “not negotiable” and announced that they would not participate in the negotiations.
Guatemala to Eliminate Customs Duties with Honduras: Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina set a deadline of mid-December 2015 to eliminate customs duties between Guatemala and Honduras in an effort to improve both countries’ trade. Guatemalan Foreign Affairs Minister Carlos Raúl Morales also confirmed that three shared land border crossings between the two countries could also be phased out, and expressed hope that El Salvador and Nicaragua would eventually join the partnership. The plan is part of a coordinated response to the humanitarian crisis of thousands of migrants fleeing to the U.S. border in the summer of 2014. In September 2014, the three Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras formed the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle, a joint development plan that included eliminating customs to promote peace and prosperity in the region. The Northern Triangle’s combined population is 29 million and has the highest poverty levels in Latin America. The plan has received support from the Obama administration.
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.
Likely top stories this week: the deadline passes for children of undocumented immigrants to apply for legal status in the Dominican Republic; U.S. companies stand to lose billions of dollars in Venezuelan currency losses; Michelle Bachelet moves to end Chile’s abortion ban; relatives of Mexico’s 43 missing students meet with UN officials in Geneva; Puerto Rico’s economy continues to suffer.
Children of Immigrants to Lose Legal Status in the Dominican Republic: A deadline for the children of undocumented immigrants in the Dominican Republic to register for legal status expired on February 1 at midnight, potentially leaving some 200,000 people stateless—most of them of Haitian descent. The deadline was part of a May 2014 law designed to normalize the status of the children of undocumented immigrants in the D.R. after a September 2013 court ruling revoked the citizenship of Dominican-born children of undocumented immigrants, sparking an international outcry. Thousands of people affected by the law formed long lines to register themselves in the past weeks, but it is unclear if the government will extend the deadline. Human rights groups have harshly criticized the government’s failure to adequately publicize information about the law, and so far, only 5 percent of the estimated 110,000 people eligible to apply for legal status have been able to do so. Meanwhile, the government of the Bahamas has also introduced strict new requirements that have disproportionately affected Haitian immigrants and their children.
U.S. Companies Losing Billions in Venezuelan Currency: At least 40 U.S. member of the S&P 500, including General Motors and Merck & Co Inc., stand to lose billions of dollars in Venezuelan currency losses, a Reuters analysis shows. The American automotive and pharmaceutical giants together have at least $11 billion in assets in Venezuelan bolivars. Companies like Clorox have already exited the South American nation due to continued devaluation, insecurity and unfavorable conditions. While the official exchange rate is 6.3 bolivars to the dollar—with government-set rates SICAD 1 and SICAD 2 at 12 and 50 bolivars to the dollar, respectively—the black market rate registered at 190 bolivars to the dollar on Sunday.
Bachelet Proposes End to Total Abortion Ban in Chile: Chilean President Michelle Bachelet announced on Saturday that she would submit a bill to Congress that would end Chile’s total ban on abortions. The bill would permit abortions up to the 12th week of pregnancy in the cases of rape, a life-threatening pregnancy, or if the fetus will not survive—and abortions would be permitted until the 18th week for girls aged 14 and younger. Chile’s total ban on abortions began in 1989, a legacy of the 1973-1990 military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The anti-abortion lobby and Catholic Church remain a powerful influence in Chile, but some 15,000 to 160,000 abortions are still carried out in the country each year. “Facts have shown that the absolute criminalization of abortion has not stopped the practice,” Bachelet said. Chile, along with El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras, Haiti, and Suriname are the only countries in Latin America that outlaw abortion under any circumstance.
Relatives of Mexico’s Missing Students Rally in Geneva: Parents and relatives of the 43 Mexican students who went missing after a protest in Iguala, Mexico in September are in Geneva this week meeting with the United Nations Enforced Disappearances Committee. To date, no one has been tried in the case of the missing students. The parents reject Mexican officials’ claim that the students were killed and burned in a landfill by members of the Guerreros Unidos gang, asserting that the government is holding the students illegally. At least 23,721 people are missing in Mexico, according to official figures. The Mexican National Human Rights Commission will present a report to the UN today, requesting that the Enforced Disappearances Committee make recommendations to Mexico’s government.
Puerto Rico Enters Eighth Year of Recession: The economically battered U.S. commonwealth saw its economic activity drop 1.4 percent between December 2013 and December 2014. Puerto Rico is in its eighth straight year of recession, with over $73 billion in public debt. Puerto Rican government officials met with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in January to discuss strategies for strengthening the territory’s economy. The Puerto Rican House approved the borrowing of an additional $225 million for public works last Thursday.
After a four-year debate, the Chilean Senate has passed a bill allowing for same-sex unions. The law passed on Wednesday with a vote of 25 to 6, with three abstentions.
Under the new law, called the Acuerdo de Unión Civil (Civil Union Accord—AUC), same-sex couples are afforded many of the rights of married couples, including health, inheritance and pension rights. The law was originally proposed under the Sebastián Piñera administration, coined the Acuerdo de Vida en Pareja (Couple Life Agreement—AVP), and has been advocated for publically by President Michelle Bachelet, who promised to pass the AUC during her latest presidential campaign.
“We’re very happy that the State recognizes, for the first time, that same-sex couples also constitute a family and deserve protection,” said Luis Larraín, president of the LGBT rights group Fundación Iguales.
While the bill has now passed the Senate and the House of Representatives (on a vote of 78-9), it still needs to be approved by President Michelle Bachelet and then will go to the Constitutional Court. Upon its final approval, Chile will be one of three South American countries to allow same-sex civil unions, along with Colombia and Ecuador. Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay allow same-sex marriage.
Taking the next step to same-sex marriage remains unlikely in Chile, which has historically conservative laws based on Roman Catholic ideology. Divorce was illegal until 2004, and Chile is still one of the few countries in Latin America where abortion for any reason is illegal.
Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz said yesterday in a press conference that the country rejected any possible mediation from the Pope in a dispute with Bolivia over sovereign access through Chile to the Pacific Ocean that dates back to the nineteenth century.
Muñoz’s comments came after Bolivian President Evo Morales’ statement on Sunday that Pope Francis had requested documentation about the border dispute. On Monday, after a meeting with the advisory committee for the legal case, Muñoz said, “Chile has not accepted in the past, does not accept and will not accept any mediation in a matter that is absolutely bilateral, that concerns only Chile and Bolivia. Chile will never consider, does not accept nor will accept ceding territory under pressure or through any form of mediation. This is crystal clear for us, even more so as there is a case in The Hague.”
Bolivia decided to bring its case before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague on April 24, 2013, with the goal of forcing Chile to negotiate a point of sovereign access to the ocean—which Bolivia lost after the War of the Pacific, when it signed a peace treaty with Chile in 1904 that Morales says was forcefully imposed on his country. On July 15, 2014, Chile filed a preliminary objection to the ICJ’s jurisdiction in the matter. In November 2014, Bolivia filed a declaration claiming that the ICJ did have jurisdiction to rule on the case.
There have been heightened tensions recently regarding the longstanding conflict, with Morales asserting at the end of December 2014 that Bolivia would recover its access to the sea. Meanwhile, Muñoz published a piece in the Brazilian publication Folha de São Paulo entitled “What the Bolivian Lawsuit is Hiding.”
Beyond seeking to deepen trade links with Asia, the leaders of Chile, Peru and Mexico—the three Latin American member states of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)—used their time in Beijing to push for greater Chinese investment in their countries. The three leaders also backed a Chinese-led proposal for a Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP).
Peruvian President and Ollanta Humala and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet met with President Xi separately on Wednesday. In his meeting with Ollanta, the Chinese leader is reported to have proposed a bilateral trade agreement with Peru. The two leaders also reportedly signed a memorandum supporting the creation of a trilateral group with Brazil to plan the construction of a rail link between Peru and Brazil.
While Bachelet left China empty handed in terms of signed agreements, she made her objectives clear. “We have a high level of trade, but we have not made any progress in investments,” she said at a meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang on Monday. However, both Xi and Bachelet expressed confidence that the establishment of a Chilean branch of the China Construction Bank next year will spur future Chinese investment in Chile.
In a sign that the relationship between China and Mexico may not have been seriously damaged by Mexico’s recent cancellation of a bid awarded to a Chinese consortium for the construction of a high-speed rail link, the Chinese leader and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed 14 separate agreements and investment contracts at a meeting yesterday. Peña Nieto also announced plans to create a joint fund between three Chinese companies and the Mexican oil company Pemex, with the goal of raising up to US $5 billion for energy projects in Mexico.
In a pilot pain prevention program, the municipality of La Florida planted the first marijuana seeds for medical use in Chile on Wednesday. Once the marijuana plants have been cultivated, oil from the plants will be used to treat 200 selected patients as part of a clinical study on the effect of cannabis as a pain medication, administered by the Fundación Daya (Daya Foundation), a nonprofit dedicated to alleviating human suffering.
Daya Foundation employees planted a total of 850 seeds of the Durga Mata II, Wappa, IceCream and Pandora varieties imported from the Netherlands, which will grow on a plantation surrounded by electric and barbed wire fences. The plants will be heavily guarded to stave off any potential thieves.
The Chilean Ministry of Agriculture approved the cultivation of medical marijuana in September, and the harvest will begin in April of 2015, with treatments using cannabis oil scheduled to take place in May.
According to the United Nations, Chile is the third largest consumer of marijuana in South America, but while fellow South-American country Uruguay recently become the first country in the world to legalize the cultivation, production and state-run market of marijuana, the Chilean government has no plans to legalize the plant beyond medical use. “This is about providing people who are suffering from cancer with a natural, healthier and cheaper treatment for their pain,” said Rodolfo Carter, mayor of La Florida.
Both Carter and the Chilean actress Ana María Gazmuri, president of the Fundación Daya, were present for the planting of the first seeds.
Despite government support for the cannabis program, many in Chile’s medical community disapprove of the use of marijuana for medicinal use. Jorge Las Heras, a representative of the Chilean Medical Society, spoke out against the project on Wednesday, saying that there are “sufficient therapeutic alternatives” to marijuana, and that cannabis oil can have negative side effects, such as “convulsions, nausea and other conditions that have even led to death.”
Chilean police arrested three people early yesterday morning in connection to a bomb attack carried out in a Santiago metro station last week. In a statement made after the arrest, Southern Metropolitan Regional Attorney Raúl Guzmán, who is leading the prosecution, said, “We hope that they will be sentenced for these extremely serious acts.” The attack injured 14 and elicited a strong response from the Chilean government, which declared the bombing a “terrorist act” and vowed to charge suspects under the country’s Anti-Terrorist Law.
Guzmán has claimed that authorities have scientific evidence linking the suspects to the bombing. Nevertheless, the authorities have not ruled out that more people may have been involved in the attacks. “We are carrying out an investigation and will follow all leads in order to determine whether there are others who are responsible for these acts,” Guzmán said.
Authorities have not released the suspects’ identities. However, Interior and Security Minister Rodrigo Peñailillo indicated that two men and a woman had been detained. According to Attorney General Sabas Chahuán, they are members of an “enclosed anarchist cell.” Only one of the suspects is believed to have carried out the attack, while the other two are being held as accomplices. The government alleges that the suspects are also connected to another Santiago subway bombing carried out in July. That attack did not cause any injuries.
The Chilean branch of a Greece-based anarchist organization known as Synomosía Pyrínon Tis Fotiás (Conspiracy of Cells of Fire or Conspiración de células del fuego—CCF) has allegedly claimed responsibility for both the July and September bombings. In a statement published online, the group attempted to deflect responsibility for the attack’s casualties onto the police, claiming that the group alerted authorities about the bomb ten minutes before it detonated. The communiqué goes on to state that the CCF did not intend to injure “consumers and/or workers” but rather sought to target “power’s structures, property, and thugs.”
Just days after a bomb exploded in a Santiago metro station, Chile commemorated what is perhaps the most divisive event in the country’s modern history—the September 11, 1973 military coup that interrupted Chile’s democracy, and ushered in the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
In a speech at the presidential palace, La Moneda, on Thursday, President Michelle Bachelet linked the two events, saying that “there is no room for violence and fear” in Chile. Calling democracy the country’s “most precious asset,” Bachelet went on to declare that “we will not allow the culture of respect, of rights and of peace that we are celebrating today, which belongs to all of us, to be trampled, abused or scorned by anyone.”
The day, however, was marked by violence and signs of general unease. According to local reports, confrontations between security forces and protesters left 10 police injured and led to the arrest of at least 30 individuals. Police sources also reported receiving 35 false bomb alerts over the course of day. It is unclear who is responsible for the false alerts, or whether they are related to Monday’s bombing. Authorities are still investigating Monday’s attack, though government officials have blamed “terrorists.”
The government also announced yesterday that it intends to repeal the country’s 1978 Amnesty Decree Law. The law covers the period from 1973-1978, and critics say that it shields members of the Pinochet regime accused of human rights abuses from prosecution. The effort to repeal the law was announced by Justice Minister José Antonio Gómez. In an unrelated event, a national legislator, Rosauro Martínez, was arrested in connection to the death of three Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (Movement of the Revolutionary Left—MIR) activists in 1981.
An explosion at a fast food restaurant in Santiago, Chile on Monday injured 14 people and has led Chilean authorities to investigate a potential terrorist attack. No one has claimed responsibility for the blast, which occurred at a mini mall next to the Escuela Militar metro station in the residential Las Condes neighborhood. The station remained closed while authorities investigated, although the metro continued to run normally.
Government spokesman Álvaro Elizalde condemned the incident as a “terrorist act” and affirmed that the government will invoke harsh anti-terrorism laws, which allow for tougher sentences, to bring those responsible to justice. So far in 2014, there have been 30 bombings or attempted bombings in Santiago. In July, another explosion occurred in the metro, though no bystanders were hurt in the incident.
With Monday’s injuries, citizens will be looking to President Michelle Bachelet for action regarding the increase in bombings in recent years. Bachelet denounced the attacks as “cowardly,” but claimed that Chile is still a safe country.
This week, Chile will mark the 41st anniversary of the 1973 military coup d’état that overthrew socialist President Salvador Allende and installed a 17 year-long military government in which thousands of political dissidents were disappeared and killed. The week of September 11 in Chile is often a time of increased protests and violence in the country.