July 7, 2015
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff recently concluded her first state visit to the U.S. after abruptly canceling a trip scheduled for October 2013 due to allegations that the NSA had spied on her. While in the U.S., President Rousseff responded to questions about the spying issue, saying, “Some things have changed […] I believe President Obama.” But fresh information about the scope of U.S. surveillance could imperil the rapprochement.
The Intercept has reported that National Security Agency documents released by WikiLeaks show the NSA's list of targets in Brazil was broader than previously known. In addition to close members of President Rousseff’s team, such as her secretary and chief of staff, the NSA targeted a number of top figures in Rousseff’s government, including high-level officials in the ministries of finance and economics and the country’s central bank.
Meanwhile, an attack on the Italian surveillance software firm, Hacking Team, raised concerns that Latin Americans across the region may be increasingly vulnerable to digital snooping by their own governments. After being hacked on Monday, Hacking Team’s Twitter account began directing readers to 400GB of the company’s internal documents. In addition to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and several governments with poor human rights records, including Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan, a number of Latin American countries are reported to have been Hacking Team customers, among them Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Honduras, and Panama.
Hacking Team’s software allows users to remotely control targets’ computers, record digital communications and even activate the cameras on infected computers.
According to a tweet by the Mexican digital rights group, Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales (Digital Rights Defense Network—R3D), Mexico was Hacking Team’s highest paying client country. Up to 14 Mexican institutions may have purchased surveillance and hacking software from the company, including the federal police, national intelligence service (CISEN), defense ministry, and several state governments. So far, there are no reports regarding if and how these organizations deployed Hacking Team’s products, or the legal framework for their use.
July 3, 2015
When Chile takes the field against Argentina in this Saturday's final of the Copa América football competition, they can do more than just win. They can redeem a "golden generation" that went before them, and make good on decades of missed opportunity.
It was a 1989 World Cup qualifying match in Rio de Janeiro’s Maracanã stadium and things were not looking good for Chile. Down 1-0 to Brazil, the team known as La Roja had to win in order to qualify for the World Cup set to take place the following year.
“The game was slipping away,” Chile’s goalkeeper Roberto “Condor” Rojas told The New York Times four years later. “I was waiting for the right opportunity.”
With 20 minutes left to play, Rojas spotted his chance, and what followed would change Chilean soccer for a generation.
This week in Latin America: the Pope on climate change—teacher evaluations in Mexico—Brazil's corruption scandal—the beautiful game
June 22, 2015
Here’s a look at some of the stories we’re following this week:
Religious Leaders Respond to Pope Francis' Climate Views: Reaction was swift and loud following the publication of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Friday. While his sweeping indictment of the global response to climate change inspired some to question the pontiff's understanding of economic policy, the reception in Latin America was more positive. Catholic leaders from Mexico to Peru echoed Francis' call for action in their own climate-related sermons on Sunday. The publication of the encyclical comes just weeks ahead of the pope’s trip to Bolivia and Ecuador, two countries with complicated histories when it comes to the environment, and Paraguay, where the government has positioned itself as an important player in UN climate negotiations, as Guy Edwards and Timmons Roberts argue this week in an AQ Online exclusive.
Education Reform Stunted in Mexico: An instructor evaluation program that began over the weekend was marked by low participation and protests by teachers groups. More than 17 percent of teachers who had been scheduled to take evaluation exams failed to show up. Emilio Chuayffet, Mexico's public education secretary, must now negotiate terms with the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (CNTE), a powerful and sometimes violent teachers union, whose opposition to reform contributed to low turnout and led to the outright suspension of evaluations in Oaxaca and Michoacan states. The difficulty in advancing even modest reform underscores a dramatic drop in President Enrique Peña Nieto’s political capital. After successfully pushing through changes to the country’s stiffly regulated energy sector last year, a series of scandals and increasing levels of violence have disrupted the president’s agenda. This week, responsibility for righting the ship lies largely with Mr. Chuayffet.
Brazilian Construction Execs Arrested: An ongoing corruption scandal in Brazil reached new heights on Friday with the arrests of Marcelo Odebrecht and Otávio Marques, two high-level construction executives. The arrests came as part of Operation Carwash, a federal police investigation into decades of graft and bribery at the state-run oil company, Petrobras. The scandal has already lead to the indictment of dozens of government and business officials in the country, and weakened President Dilma Rousseff’s standing among a frustrated populace, though she has not been implicated directly. Still, the accusations may be getting a bit too close for the president’s comfort, and just how far the effects of the scandal will reach is an open question.
Soccer Tournaments Near Conclusion: Finally, the beautiful game will be on display this week, as the Copa America (South America’s most important national soccer tournament) and the Women’s World Cup both enter their decisive knockout stages. The Copa America’s round of sixteen gets underway on Wednesday, with tournament host Chile taking on Uruguay. Despite student protests in the lead up to the tournament, drama on the field has captured most of the attention thus far. Meanwhile, three countries from the hemisphere are still competing at the Women’s World Cup. Canada has already locked down its place in the tournament’s final eight, but the other two regional players, the United States and Colombia, will go head-to-head tonight to determine who will progress.
June 11, 2015
In an environment of international soccer scandal and domestic frustration, Chile will kick off its run as host of the Copa América today when it takes on Ecuador in the first match of the three-week tournament. Chilean President Michele Bachelet will help inaugurate the tournament Thursday as student protesters try to draw attention to the country’s education system.
A wave of student protests marked the lead-up to the event, beginning in the country’s capital of Santiago on Monday. Protestors have promised to continue demonstrations throughout Copa América’s duration. Students are protesting the country’s education system, which many say continues to foster inequality and diminish student autonomy.
In May, Bachelet responded to years of student protests by signing into law a bill that bans for-profit universities and aims to progressively end family co-pays for schools that receive public funding. While the bill addresses key student demands, activists have called the move insufficient, and protests have revamped as the president’s approval rating has fallen to historical lows in the midst of political scandals and a cabinet reshuffle.
The Confederación de Estudiantes de Chile (Confederation of Chilean Students —Confech), the country’s leading coalition of university students, estimated that 200,000 “students, professors, workers, and citizens” attended a march it led in Santiago on Wednesday.
"We are seeing the support from Chilean society for our demands, which are essential for change and the transformation of education in Chile,” Confech spokesperson Nicolás Fernández told reporters. On Thursday, high school students and striking teachers marched through Santiago’s main thoroughfare.
Meanwhile, a year after Latin America’s impressive collective success at the 2014 World Cup, the Copa América will determine a winner from 12 teams from South America’s Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries, along with Jamaica. Competition is expected to be tough, with Argentina, Brazil and defending champions Uruguay the favorites to take the title. Colombia and Chile, which is looking to end a nearly 100-year losing streak, are considered dark horses. The tournament will conclude on July 4.
June 3, 2015
Despite last month’s cabinet shuffle in response to a series of corruption scandals that have shaken Chile’s political establishment, President Michelle Bachelet’s approval rate has dropped to an all-time low of 29 percent, according to a poll conducted by Gfk Adimark.
“Both the anticipated Cabinet change and her annual State of the Union address had marginal positive effects […] however, the tense climate of mistrust and accusations surrounding how political activities are financed were ultimately more important,” said the pollster.
Since taking office for her second term in May 2014, Bachelet has been faced with many challenges, including a series of corruption scandals within her government and family. Last September, an independent national prosecutor’s office and the Internal Tax Service discovered that one of Chile’s largest financial holdings companies, Penta Group, used false invoices and tax fraud to circumvent electoral laws and conceal illegal corporate financing for political campaigns. Additionally, in February, Bachelet’s son, Sebastián Dávalos, was accused of using his influence to obtain a $10 million loan to buy land for his wife’s consulting firm, Caval.
Bachelet has responded to the corruption scandals with a series of anti-corruption measures aimed to restore public faith in Chile’s political system. In addition to her cabinet reshuffle, Bachelet appointed an advisory council to propose new regulations on the ties between politics and business. In her May 21 State of the Union address, Bachelet acknowledged the difficulties facing her government and stated that she was not going to sweep the nation’s recent troubles “under the carpet.” She also discussed her plans to reduce inequality in Chile by providing housing subsidies, greater access to healthcare, labor reform to strengthen unions, and a bill to make universities free for the majority of students.
While Bachlelet has passed important reforms in education, taxation and the electoral system and has announced measures to curb corruption, she faces a challenging job ahead. “There is a political crisis when over 70 percent of the population believes that the political system doesn’t work, that people lie and that the system should change,” said Marta Lagos, director of the regional public opinion firm Latinobarómetro. “As long as the government doesn’t address this crisis, its program of reforms will take a back seat.”
Monday Memo: Marches in Venezuela—Guatemalan Protests—Chilean Education Law—Transgender Inmates in Rio—Colombian Murder Trial
June 1, 2015
Thousands Amass in Venezuela for Anti-Government Protest: Nearly 3,000 Venezuelan demonstrators clothed in white marched in Caracas on Saturday in the largest protest since last year’s surge of anti-government demonstrations. In a video filmed from his jail cell prior to the protests, former opposition Mayor Leopoldo López encouraged supporters to protest peacefully to demand the release of political prisoners, an end to censorship and a date for the nearing legislative elections. López and former Mayor Daniel Ceballos were both imprisoned in 2014 for mobilizing protests in 2014 that resulted in 43 deaths, and both men went on hunger strikes last week to protest their imprisonment. Protestors in Caracas spoke out against inflation, violent crimes and shortages, and smaller protests occurred in other cities across the country.
Guatemalans Call for President Resignation: Nearly 20,000 protestors from across Guatemala gathered in the capital on Saturday to call for the resignation of President Otto Pérez Molina over charges of corruption. Protestors converged in the Plaza de la Constitución for the sixth consecutive weekend after scandals in the government have prompted several government officials, including former Vice President Roxana Baldetti, to resign. While Pérez Molina has not been accused of any crimes, his administration has been troubled by allegations of pervasive corruption. Presidential elections are set for September, and the president has vowed not to step down before completing his term.
May 21, 2015
Manuel Contreras, the former police chief during Chile’s 1973-1990 military dictatorship under Augusto Pinochet, received a 15-year sentence for murder on Wednesday, adding to the 490-year term he is currently serving. In 2013, the Supreme Court convicted Contreras, 86, for the December 1974 disappearance of Alejandro de la Barra and Ana Maria Puga, members of the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR—Revolutionary Left Movement). Four other officials from the Pinochet era were also convicted by the Court.
The Court’s rulings are a historical feat in Chile, marking the first time that disappeared Chileans have been acknowledged as victims of secuestro permanente (permanent kidnapping), which enables the crimes to be prosecuted despite the country’s 1978 amnesty law. The only way Contreras would have been able to evade a prison term on permanent kidnapping charges was “by producing the remains of the disappeared person or fully demonstrating that he or she is indeed dead,” according to Latin America Press.
Contreras has been found guilty of a slew of atrocities. Throughout Pinochet’s dictatorship, Contreras headed the Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA—National Intelligence Directorate), an agency responsible for managing torture centers where hundreds were slain. Contreras completed a seven-year prison term between 1994 and 2001 for the 1976 assassination of former Ambassador Orlando Letelier in Washington DC. In 2004, Contreras was sentenced to 12 additional years in prison for the kidnapping and disappearance of a MIR guerrilla member Miguel Ángel Sandoval. Contreras received a 490-year sentence for crimes against humanity carried out during the early years of the military regime.
May 18, 2015
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang begins an eight day trip to South America today, landing in Brazil with a promise of some $50 billion in Chinese investments in Brazilian infrastructure. This trip follows on and is consistent with the promise that President Xi Jinping made in January to invest $250 billion in Latin America and the Caribbean over the next 10 years.
Talk about checkbook diplomacy: whether each of these investments is ultimately consummated—and China has a history of big announcements that go unfulfilled—Latin American and Caribbean nations are paying attention.
The promise of infrastructure development is not unwelcome, even by the United States, which sees chronic underinvestment in Latin America’s creaking infrastructure to be a limiting factor in regional development. Resources are insufficient, and Chinese largesse meets a need. At the same time, China is not pursuing charity. Investments up to this point and into the future are clearly focused on the procurement of strategic natural resources, including energy and agriculture, and also the infrastructure to bring them to market—i.e. get them to China.
Monday Memo: Castro visits Pope—Chilean Cabinet—Colombian Coca—Guatemalan Corruption—Central American Geothermal
May 11, 2015
This week’s likely news stories: Raúl Castro has an audience with the Pope; Michelle Bachelet shakes up her Cabinet; Colombia bans coca spraying; a Guatemalan judge is linked to a corruption scandal; Germany will invest in Central American geothermal projects.
Cuban President Meets with the Pope: Cuban President Raúl Castro met with Pope Francis this Sunday at the Vatican and thanked the Pope for his assistance in improving relations between the U.S. and Cuba. On several occasions, the Pope has called on the U.S. to end its embargo on Cuba. Castro said he was so influenced by his audience with the Pope that he might return to the Roman Catholic Church. The Pope is planning to visit Cuba on his way to the U.S. in September 2015. Also this weekend, French President François Hollande travelled to Cuba in the first visit by a French leader since 1898. Hollande is expected to meet with Castro on Monday, although the Cuban government has not confirmed whether or not there will be a meeting. France hopes to benefit from new openings with Cuba, and Hollande is travelling with business leaders as well as ministers.
Bachelet Names New Ministers to her Cabinet: On Monday, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet announced changes to nine ministers in her cabinet, following her request last week that all of her ministers resign. New appointments include Finance Minister Rodrigo Valdés, Interior Minister Jorge Burgos, Minister of the Government Secretariat Jorge Inzunza, and government spokesperson Marcelo Díaz. Tiago Severo, Latin America economist at Goldman Sachs, noted that “Rodrigo Valdes is certainly going to be most likely perceived as a market-friendly new minister, who could perhaps instill a renewed sense of confidence in the outlook for the economy.” The reshuffling of the cabinet comes amid record low approval ratings for Bachelet after a number of corruption scandals marred the administration.
Colombia Announces Ban on Coca Spraying: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced this weekend the decision to stop using glyphosate in the country's coca spraying programs. On Saturday, he asked the National Drug Council to ban glyphosate sprayin gdue to the recent announcement by the World Health Organization that the substance is likely carcinogenic. The aerial spraying of coca fields, a program started in 1994 and backed by the United States, has been highly controversial. Farmers have claimed that the herbicides have killed their coffee plants and other crops, and citizens have called on the government to end the program due to the health risk. Santos stated that despite the decision, he will continue to fight drug trafficking in Colombia.
Guatemalan Supreme Court Justice Implicated in Corruption Scandal: On Monday, Guatemalan Supreme Court Justice Blanca Stalling was implicated in the corruption scandal that forced Guatemalan Vice President Roxana Baldetti to resign on Friday. Wiretappings uncovered by the AP include a conversation between lawyers, suspects, and businessman Luis Mendizábal that reveal a judicial bribery scheme to get suspects detained in the recent customs corruption scandal released. In the phone call, Mendizábal reportedly told defendant Javier Ortíz that he would be released soon, and mentioned Stalling. Stalling denies any wrongdoing.
Germany to Invest in Geothermal Energy in Central America: On Saturday, Nicaraguan news site El 19 reported that Germany will lend $112 million for geothermal energy projects throughout Central America. This weekend, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega met with Klaus Krämer, the head of the Division of Regional Development Policy for Central America and the Caribbean of the German Economic Cooperation and Development Ministry, to discuss the program and how Nicaragua can participate. Following the meeting, German Ambassador in Managua Karl-Otto König stated that there is a strong desire on both sides to continue collaboration. Last Thursday, the German Development Bank extended a line of credit of $6.71 million to Nicaragua for a water treatment project in Managua.
May 7, 2015
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet called for the resignation of her cabinet Wednesday as the fallout from a corruption scandal among top-level officials continues to take its toll on her administration. The president announced her plans to reshuffle the cabinet the same day a new poll put her disapproval amongst Chileans at a record high.
"A few hours ago, I requested the resignation of every minister," Bachelet said during a TV interview on Wednesday, adding that she may decide to keep certain ministers in her cabinet. The president said the decision would have come sooner were it not for a recent series of natural disasters in the country, including severe flooding in the north and the eruption of the Calbuco volcano in the south.
The president’s move—which Reuters reports was received positively by most members of Bachelet’s center-left party—came as her approval ratings fell to the lowest level in her political career. A Gfk Adimark poll released Wednesday measured the president’s disapproval at 64 percent.
Fourteen months into Bachelet’s second administration, the Chilean political class is facing a crisis marked by scandal. In addition to allegations of illicit campaign finance schemes involving wealthy businessmen and right-wing politicians, members of Bachelet’s own family have also been accused of corruption. In Februrary, her son Sebastian Davalos resigned from his position as socio-cultural director of the presidency amid allegations that he and his wife used their political connections to obtain a $10 million bank loan to purchase land they later sold for $15 million.
The cabinet reshuffle is one of several moves the president have made to react to the corruption scandals. In March, Bachelet announced a series of anti-corruption measures requiring government officials to publically declare all assets.
Bachelet has attributed her falling approval ratings to a “crisis of confidence” among Chileans rocked by corruption allegations in a country traditionally perceived as the least corrupt in the region. On Wednesday, she said a new cabinet would represent a “new cycle.”
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