Likely top stories this week: Venezuela’s National Assembly is increasing presidential powers for President Nicolás Maduro; Demand for U.S. oil grows in Latin America; Michelle Bachelet enters second round of presidential elections in Chile; Arrest warrants are issued for bankers and politicians involved in Brazil’s biggest corruption trial; Cristina Fernández de Kirchner returns to office.
Presidential Powers in Venezuela: Venezuela’s National Assembly gave initial approval to a bill last week that would grant President Nicolás Maduro decree powers for 12 months. Maduro says he plans to use the new authorities to combat corruption and the country’s ongoing economic crisis, yet critics fear it will be used to suppress the opposition. The bill still requires final approval from a special commission, but is unlikely to undergo substantial changes.
Demand for U.S. oil grows in Latin America: Demand for U.S. fuels has doubled in Latin America during the past five years and continues to grow. The increased demand is due to economic growth and outdated Latin American refineries that have been unable to sustain production at levels comparable with market demands.
Bachelet Enters Second Round Presidential Elections in Chile: Michelle Bachelet won nearly twice as many votes as her second-place opponent, Evelyn Matthei, in the first round presidential elections in Chile. Bachelet won 47 percent of votes and Matthei won 25 percent, leading the two into a final and second round which will be Chile’s first in which both candidates were women. Bachelet’s center-left Nueva Mayoría (New Majority) coalition failed to win a super-majority in Congress, posing a challenge to the candidate’s proposed social and economic reforms.
Supreme Court Issues Arrest Warrants in Brazil Corruption Trial: Brazil’s Supremo Tribunal Federal (Supreme Federal Tribunal—STF) issued arrest warrants on Friday for 12 of the 25 convicted politicians, businessmen and bankers involved in the country’s Mensalão (monthly allowance) corruption scandal. Several prominent politicians—including José Genoino, the former president of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT), and José Dirceu, former chief-of-staff to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva—immediately turned themselves into federal authorities.
Cristina Fernández de Kirchner Returns to Office: Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner returned to office Monday after taking a six-week medical leave and undergoing surgery to stop internal bleeding caused by head trauma. Following her doctors’ recommendation, Kirchner remained on leave for a week longer than she had originally planned.
Not every election sparks debate on issues which define individual lives nor offers voters the chance to fundamentally shape the direction of a nation.
This Sunday Chileans will vote for 120 deputies, 20 senators and one president, bringing an end—to the first chapter at least—of a campaign race which has witnessed both the best and worst of the democratic process and vacillated from enthralling to infuriatingly dull to down-right bizarre.
A historic nine presidential candidates and campaign issues ranging from a new constitution to the right of rape victims to abort have made for an engaging spectacle and led to public discussions on topics which, for more than 20 years, have either been considered too divisive or too inconvenient to consider.
Symptomatic of a country at last free of the fear of dictatorship, whose emerging middle class has found its voice or whose historic struggle against exploitation has once again resurfaced—depending on which analysis one ascribes to, and which according to opinion polls, no longer trusts the political establishment——the 2013 school of presidential hopefuls are a motley crew. Among the nine is vegan, spiritual leader and former World Bank economist Alfredo Sfeir; seamstress-turned-activist Roxana Miranda; porsche-driving professor and celebrity economist Franco Parisi, and the combative intellectual who seeks to unite student, labor and environmental movements, Marcel Claude.
Likely top stories this week: Chilean voters go to the polls; El Salvador and Honduras face off over Isla Conejo; the Venezuelan government seizes the electronic chain Daka; Chilean forensic experts conclude that Pablo Neruda was not poisoned; the Argentine president is cleared to start working.
Chilean Presidential Elections: Chilean voters will go to the polls on Sunday to elect their next president, with former President Michelle Bachelet heavily favored to win. Bachelet may forgo a presidential runoff with the second-place candidate if she is able to win more than 50 percent of the vote; polls thus far predict she will do so by winning a first-round majority. However, this is the first presidential election in Chile in which voting is no longer compulsory but in which all eligible voters are automatically registered; the new system may have some impact on the vote.
El Salvador Appeals to UN Over Isla Conejo: Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes announced on Sunday that his government would send a letter to the UN and OAS regarding its diplomatic dispute with Honduras over Isla Conejo, which is claimed by both countries. The Honduran military has occupied Isla Conejo since the 1980s, but El Salvador's recent purchase of ten A-37 fighter planes from Chile has made the Honduran government uneasy, with the Honduran government calling the purchase "an open threat." Funes denied the claims on Sunday and said that El Salvador was a peaceful nation and was not planning to go to war.
Government Seizes Venezuelan Electronics Chain: As the Christmas season and Venezuela's December 8 municipal elections approach, the Venezuelan government on Friday ordered the seizure of the electronics chain Daka, saying that prices of goods like plasma TVs were overpriced by as much as 1000 percent. After the government instituted a rapid price reduction of Daka's goods, Venezuelan customers lined up for hours to take advantage of the new prices. Shortages of basic goods have plagued the Venezuelan economy and inflation is estimated at 54 percent. Maduro says he is cracking down on unscrupulous businesspeople and has instituted a number of strategies—including kicking off Christmas celebrations in the first week of November—to shore up support ahead of the elections.
Neruda Not Poisoned, Experts Say: Experts from the Chilean Forensic Service said on Friday that no evidence of poison was found in the remains of Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda, who was exhumed earlier this year and whose body underwent six months of test by a team comprised of 15 Chilean and foreign forensic scientists. Neruda apparently died of prostate cancer just days before the coup of General Augusto Pinochet in September 1973. Neruda's driver, Manuel Araya, maintained for decades that the poet was poisoned after entering the hospital. Chile's Communist Party, of which Neruda was a member, has called for further studies.
Fernández de Kirchner to Resume Duties: A month after undergoing emergency surgery due to a blood clot in her brain, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has been given medical clearance to resume presidential duties starting on Monday. She will undergo more tests next month and is not allowed to fly for another 30 days. Argentine Vice President Amado Boudou was formally in charge of the government during Fernández de Kirchner’s recovery.
Likely top stories this week: Protesters clash with Brazilian police forces in Rio de Janeiro; A commuter train crash injures 30 in Buenos Aires; Hurricane Raymond builds strength near Mexico’s Pacific coast; Michele Bachelet leads the polls in next month’s presidential elections in Chile; Newly leaked documents reveal that the U.S. spied on former Mexican President Felipe Calderón.
Violent Clashes Between Police and Protesters Ahead of Brazilian Oil Auction: 300 protesters clashed with national police forces today outside a state auction for offshore oil exploration rights of the Libra oil field, near Rio de Janeiro. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff requested heavy security for the event after mass protests erupted last week in support of teachers’ strikes in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Media reports said a small group of protesters tried to set a car on fire, and that the police fired tear gas and stun grenades onto a nearby beach with tourist onlookers.
Commuter Train Crashes in Buenos Aires: 30 passengers were injured in a Buenos Aires train crash this Saturday. The accident took place at Terminal Once, the same station where a crash killed 51 people and injured over 700 others last year. Last year’s crash reduced public support for Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and analysts expect her popularity to be damaged once again ahead of the upcoming Congressional elections scheduled for October 27. The crash comes amidst growing concerns over the quality of the Argentine capital’s rail system and a recent proposal by the federal government to seize administrative control of the city’s commuter rail operations.
Hurricane Raymond Builds Strength Near Mexico: Hurricane Raymond was upgraded to a category three hurricane by the Mexican Comisión Nacional del Agua (Mexican Water Commission—CONAGUA) today. Meteorologists said the storm currently reports sustained winds of 195 km/h (120mph), and that it would be the first category three storm to hit Mexico this year. Public officials say they are still recovering from the damage left by Ingrid and Manuel, two tropical storms that simultaneously affected Mexico’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts last month. The storms killed over 150 civilians and resulted in billions of dollars in damage.
Michelle Bachelet Leads Polls in Chile: A new poll by Universidad Diego Portales finds that former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet is expected to win 37.7 percent of votes in the country’s November 17 presidential election. Bachelet served as Chile’s first woman president from 2006 to 2010 and returns to her home country following her role as the first executive director of UN Women. A runoff is expected between Bachelet and one of the eight other presidential candidates. Bachelet polls far ahead of even the second-place candidate, Evelyn Matthei, who received 12.3 percent of expected votes in the poll.
New Revelations on U.S. Surveillance in Mexico: Newly released documents revealed that U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) secretly spied on former Mexican President Felipe Calderón. The documents state that the agency acquired access to the former president’s email communications with cabinet members. The Mexican Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores (Ministry of Foreign Relations—SRE)— which modestly criticized revelations in September that the U.S. had spied on Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto during his campaign—said more forcefully yesterday that U.S. surveillance in Mexico was “unacceptable, unlawful and contrary to Mexican law and international law.”
Forty years since right-wing military generals swept socialist President Salvador Allende from office, Chile remains as divided as the day the bombs fell on La Moneda, the Chilean presidential palace.
In 2013, amid renewed social movements, the first presidential election since the coming in of the first right-leaning administration following the country’s return to democracy, the events of September 11, 1973 are as relevant as ever before.
Few Chileans were left untouched by the coup. Hundreds of thousands were killed, tortured, exiled or simply “disappeared” during the coup and the 17-year military rule that followed it. But even those born after the 1990 transition to democracy live under the shadow of General Augusto Pinochet.
The legacy of dictatorship is present in almost every facet of the country’s political and economic institutions, down to the very constitution that underpins it: its economy is rooted in the regime’s drastic free-market reforms; politics confined by the electoral system it pioneered; and schools, hospitals and pensions administered according to the model the constitution imposed.
To this day in Chile, that legacy remains disputed—even as thousands of protesters link stark economic inequalities to the years of military rule, others affiliate them with the country’s overall financial success.
But though the horrors of the military regime continue to haunt Chile, despite the fact that its political, economic and cultural reverberations continue to this day, change may be in the air.
For the first time, those involved in the military regime—many of whom, far from being punished, have gone on to positions of further authority—have begun to publicly address the issues of their past. The Chilean mainstream media is candidly addressing the dictatorship’s human rights abuses in a way it rarely had previously done. The issue of constitutional reform is forefront in the presidential race.
Much more needs to be addressed—and acted upon—before the wounds of the dictatorship can be healed and the stark divisions in Chile reconciled. But with dialogue finally beginning to open on the subject of human rights and a presidential campaign gearing toward full swing this year, 40 years after the coup that so drastically altered the course of a nation, Chile finally has the chance to put the horrors of September 11, 1973 behind it.
Turmoil on the Right may open the door for a third party or independent presidential candidate—or pave the way for a Bachelet tsunami.
A turbulent few weeks in Chilean politics have made for a seismic shift in the race for La Moneda. And with the debut of primary elections, voluntary voting and a clamor for change unprecedented in the country’s modern democratic era, Chile’s November 17 presidential vote has the potential to make history.
Last month, weeks after claiming a surprise victory in primary elections, conservative candidate Pablo Longueira abruptly resigned, citing clinical depression. After days of barely concealed infighting, party brass appointed Evelyn Matthei—also of the Unión Demócrata Independiente (Independent Democratic Union—UDI)—as his replacement.
The dramatic nature of Longueira’s resignation and Matthei’s ascension captured worldwide media attention, with the international press focusing on two themes: gender and history.
The decision, it was reported, seemingly ensured that Chile’s next leader would be a woman, with Matthei taking on former president and overwhelming favorite Michelle Bachelet.
The second factor to give the story international traction was the two candidates’ intriguing personal history. Both are daughters of military officers and were childhood playmates, but their family friendship was ruptured by the coup of September 11, 1973, when Matthei’s father sided with the military junta and Bachelet’s father fell victim to it.
The fallout from the change in leadership, however, may extend beyond the two women in the international spotlight.
Likely top stories this week: demonstrators protest in Peru; a Chilean lawyer investigates the death of Michelle Bachelet’s father; FARC–Colombian government peace talks resume; a new report faults the UN for Haiti’s cholera outbreak; and assailants kill a Mexican vice-admiral.
Protesters and Police Clash in Peru: Thousands of demonstrators clashed with hundreds of riot police and plainclothes officers in Lima, Peru, on Saturday as protesters marched toward Congress on the eve of Peruvian Independence Day. In the midst of a national doctors' and nurses' strike, the demonstrators are protesting proposed education reforms, the continued poverty of many Peruvians, and the political appointment of 10 public officials (which the government eventually revoked last week following public outcry). Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, who completed his second year in office this weekend, is registering a 33 percent approval rating—his lowest since taking office. He addressed Peruvians on Sunday, defending his government’s economic policies and commitment to social programs.
Bachelet and Matthei Face Questions Over Fathers' Pasts: A Chilean lawyer is seeking to charge General Fernando Matthei, presidential candidate Evelyn Matthei’s father, with the death of General Alberto Bachelet, the father of former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. Matthei and Bachelet are both candidates in the November 17 presidential election. Human rights lawyers Eduardo Contreras says that Gen. Matthei knew that Gen. Bachelet was being held at the Air War Academy, where he was tortured in 1974 during Chile's military dictatorship. Gen. Bachelet eventually died in prison of his wounds. Gen. Matthei, who is 88, has not spoken in public about the case, but his daughter claims that the two generals were friends and that the charges against her father are politically motivated. Former President Bachelet said that she has not asked Contreras to represent her in the investigation of her father's death.
FARC and Colombian Government Resume Peace Talks: The Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) reopened peace talks in Havana on Sunday, just over a week after 19 Colombian soldiers were killed in two separate attacks reportedly carried out by FARC guerrillas. Government peace negotiator Humberto de la Calle said that the government would hold the guerrillas accountable for the latest violence, and added that the Colombian government would continue military operations against the FARC until a peace agreement is reached.
Haitian Cholera Victims' Charges Bolstered by Report: A new report released by an international group of scientists found that UN peacekeepers from Nepal are responsible for causing a 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti that has killed over 8,000 people. Citing new microbiological evidence, the report concludes "that personnel associated with the [...] MINUSTAH facility were the most likely source of introduction of cholera into Haiti.” The scientists first produced a report in 2011 that found no specific cause for the cholera outbreak, leading the UN to reject a 2011 compensation claim by cholera victims' families. With the new evidence, the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti is preparing to file more lawsuits against the UN in U.S. and Haitian courts.
Gunmen Murder Mexican Vice-Admiral: Assailants attacked and murdered Vice Adm. Carlos Miguel Salazar and Ricardo Fernández Hernández, an officer accompanying the admiral as a bodyguard, on Sunday in the Mexican state of Michoacán. Salazar was one of Mexico's highest-ranking naval officials, and the highest-ranking officer killed by gunmen since Mexico's government offensive against cartels began in 2006. He and Fernández were shot as they took a detour on a dirt road near the town of Churintzio. Worsening drug war violence in Michoacán caused Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to send thousands of federal troops and police to the area two months ago to improve security.
Likely top stories this week: Evelyn Matthei will be the UDI’s new candidate in Chile’s presidential election; Pope Francis I arrives in Brazil; Colombian government sends troops to Arauca; U.S. lawmakers debate the KIDS Act; Venezuela ends its attempt to normalize relations with the U.S.
Chile's New Presidential Candidate: The Unión Demócrata Independiente (Independent Democratic Union—UDI), has chosen Labor Minister Evelyn Matthei to run for president as the candidate for the incumbent Alianza por Chile coalition after Pablo Longueira unexpectly quit the race on Wednesday. Longueira was running against former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet in the lead-up to the country's November 17 election, but he announced last week that he was stepping aside due to depression. So far, Bachelet is expected to win the presidential election. In a March 2013 poll by Adimark, Matthei enjoyed a 56 percent approval rating.
Pope Francis in Brazil: Pope Francis I arrives in Brazil on Monday for a seven-day trip, marking his first international visit since the beginning of his papacy. On Thursday, he is expected to visit Varginha, a favela in Rio that was recently pacified and will travel the beach of Copacabana without the bullet-proof popemobile favored by his predecessors. The Pope's visit comes amid protests that have convulsed Brazil for more than a month, and more protests are expected during the Pope's visit, which is expected to cost Brazil $52 million for security and logistics.
Colombian Government Vows Crackdown after Ambush: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos ordered troops to the eastern Arauca department this weekend after suspected FARC guerrillas killed 15 Colombian soldiers in an ambush on Saturday. Santos told troops "not to stop shooting until the conflict is over," but also said that peace talks between the government and FARC rebels in Havana should proceed normally. The government hopes to sign a peace accord by November, and FARC lead negotiator Ivan Márquez said last week that the half-century long conflict was reaching an end.
Republicans Propose Kids Act: The House Judiciary Committee is expected to hold a hearing this week on a bill that would address the legal status of undocumented immigrant youth and provide a Republican alternative to comprehensive immigration reform. The sponsors of the bill, Republican congressmen Eric Cantor and Bob Goodlatte, are calling the proposed bill the KIDS Act. A number of DREAM activists have criticized the bill, which has not yet been introduced: Edgar Morelos of the California Dream Network said that the KIDS Act was an attempt “to pit DREAMers against their families,” because it would not offer all undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship.
Venezuela Angered By U.S. Diplomat's Comment: Venezuela's foreign ministry said in a statement Friday that Venezuela has ended its process of normalizing diplomatic relations with the U.S. in light of "disrespectful" comments by the nominee for U.S. envoy to the UN, Samantha Power. In a Senate confirmation hearing last week, Power referred to Venezuela—along with Cuba, Iran, and Russia—as "repressive regimes" and said she would seek to address their "crackdown on civil society." Since the OAS General Assembly in early June, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elías Jaua had made overtures to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to improve relations between the two countries, which have long been strained.
Former Economy Minister Pablo Longueira of the Independent Democratic Union (Unión Demócrata Independiente—UDI) withdrew from the Chilean presidential campaign on Wednesday just weeks after winning the June 30 primary of the incumbent Alliance for Chile (Alianza por Chile) coalition. His son, Juan Pablo Longueira, informed the press that his father had been suffering from severe depression and could no longer be a part of the race. The election will be held on November 17, 2013.
The Alianza coalition must now overcome any internal divisions to choose a new candidate to run against former President Michelle Bachelet, the Nueva Mayoría pact’s candidate.
According to a survey released on July 12 by El Diario La Segunda and Universidad del Desarrollo Ms. Bachelet has a 39 percent approval rate among likely voters.
Possible Alianza candidates include Labor Minister Evelyn Matthei of the UDI and former Defense minister Andrés Allamand of the National Renewal (Renovación Nacional—RN). According to Carlos Huneeus, director of Centro de Estudios de la Realidad Contemporánea, “the task is daunting for those who want to run against Bachelet.” Longueira entered the race just three months ago after the center-right candidate and businessman, Laurence Golborne, dropped out due to a financial scandal.
Thousands of protestors—with estimates as high as 150,000 people—marched through the streets of Santiago yesterday to voice their frustrations over social inequality, living wages and the country’s pension system. The demonstration was part of a nationwide strike organized by Chile’s largest labor union, the Central Union of Workers (Central Sindical Unitaria de Trabajadores - CUT) demanding a raise in the monthly minimum wage from $380 to $490, improved labor conditions, tax reform, and a replacement of the privately managed pension system with a state-run one.
The protestors halted traffic during the morning rush hour, causing major delays in Santiago, and set a public bus on fire after the bus driver and passengers disembarked. Sixty-seven people were arrested. Miners also joined in the protests, and blocked the entrance to the world’s largest copper mine, National Copper Corporation of Chile (Corporación Nacional del Cobre de Chile – Codelco). Approximately 15,000 plant workers and another 30,000 contractors were called to participate in the strike. The company estimated a $41 million loss as a result.
The president of the National Association of Public Employees (Asociación Nacional de Empleados Fiscales - ANEF), Raúl de la Puente, asserted that 90 percent of the 100,000 public-sector employees took to the streets, in contrast to the government’s figures that only 6.4 percent (10,200) of public sector workers joined the strike.
These labor strikes took place amid ongoing and escalating social tensions surrounding Chile’s education system, with students demanding free, quality higher education.